Faugore But there are plenty of ideas as well, many circulating around the experience of the Czechs under the Russians. But in the town they adopted Pidgin English as the lingua franca. Jan Hus well; it underlines the importance of Czech history and the consequences of our decisions that are depicted throughout the novel. Jagua Nana, no longer young but still irresistible, lives a life of hedonism in Lagos: Customers who bought this item also bought.
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Also like many of his characters, Ekwensi tried his hand at several professions. Trained as a pharmacist, he taught biology and chemistry before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, where he became head of the features department. He also practiced journalism, for which he had a certain flair, and began writing fiction. It is urban, erotic, picaresque, written in a popular idiom, and devoted to the dilemmas of romantic love, a subject that university-educated Nigerian writers avoided, at least at that time.
Ekwensi became ever more proficient at refining his pulp fiction. In the U. Of these, Jagua Nana is his widely acknowledged masterpiece. It captures the heady spirit of an era in which everything seemed possible, even the improbable good fortune of a sexy middle-aged prostitute who somehow always lands on her feet. Events in History at the Time of the Novel Pre-independence Nigeria From the mid to late nineteenth century, Great Britain exercised authority over parts and then all of Nigeria.
Forming a colony with little regard for the cultural mix, the British created a restless amalgamation of ethnic groups. Over the decades power in the colony shifted from British to Nigerian authorities, who belonged to the various ethnic groups. By the time of the novel, most local rule had in fact devolved into Nigerian hands with the promise of complete independence in the offing.
Ekwenski sets Jagua Nana in the city of Lagos and the town of Ogabu during this era of promise, the decade preceding Nigerian independence in The three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria—Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba—were also the three largest in Africa, and each had a political party dedicated primarily to its welfare.
Of these, the Hausa were the most numerous and the most conservative; they were ruled through emirates established by the marauding Fulani in the early nineteenth century. Fiercely religious, the Hausa-Fulani rulers had kept Christian missionaries—and their schools—out of the northern emirates. The North was therefore at a comparative disadvantage in relation to the South , where the Igbo and Yoruba had accepted missionary schools and therefore had many more Western-educated professionals prepared to take over government administration.
For this reason the North purposely delayed the date of independence, which Nigeria might otherwise have been granted several years earlier, until a sufficient number of northerners had achieved higher education. Since the foundation of the colony in the nineteenth century, the steamy Yoruba port city of Lagos, in the southwest corner of the country, had been its designated capital.
Changing the ethnic composition of the city, migrants from all over Nigeria—mostly Igbo, but also people from smaller tribes—flooded into Lagos in quest of those jobs. Lagos was transformed into one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Africa. The greatest number of these migrants came from the east, the overcrowded homeland of the Igbo people who looked to Lagos as if it were a foreign country where men and women could make their fortunes, as long as they did not forget who they were and why they had come to this place.
The Nigerian economy grew very quickly in the s, based primarily on agricultural exports cocoa, palm products, peanuts , and increasingly on oil, which had been discovered in the eastern delta region. Nigeria would soon become one of the main oil exporters in the world, increasing the national income. In short, there was a great deal of money in the city, but a lot more people who were in pursuit of it. The Yoruba AG was in opposition.
By this uneasy coalition fell apart and the rivalry among the main ethnic groups increased greatly. The coup faltered and was downgraded to a mutiny, a failure engineered by the mass of loyal government soldiers and the Igbo general who was the British-appointed head of the Nigerian army of independence.
There was, in effect, a coup within the coup. The loyal military stepped in and took control of the government. Civil war followed in , in the wake of pogroms that decimated the Igbo communities in Lagos and elsewhere in the Federation of Nigeria. As with most countries in modern Africa, the borders of Nigeria were artificially constructed by European imperialists. It was Britain, at the end of the nineteenth century, that cobbled together a nation out of the three largest ethnic groups in Africa: the Hausa in their emirates north of the Niger River, the Yoruba in forest kingdoms west of the Niger, and the Igbo in village clusters mostly east of the Niger.
Of these three groups, the Igbo were the least cosmopolitan at the time of conquest. Political allegiances rarely transcended villages, which were usually ruled by councils of elders, together with people usually men who had achieved status through prowess and entrepreneurship. Igbo diaspora British rule caused the Igbo to question many of their traditional measures of success, which stressed defiance over negotiation, and prowess over pliancy.
Why, they asked, had the British succeeded in conquering them? At first it seemed their old adamant gods may have been deficient, and so Igboland experienced one of the most rapid and thorough conversions to Christianity in all of Africa. But the Bible did not bring power, so the Igbo turned to Western education. Villages taxed themselves to send favored sons overseas to school, and to build so many high schools that teachers could not be found to staff them.
Many of the semieducated, who left school before graduation, became disenchanted with village life and so struck out for the rapidly growing cities in search of new lives.
Jagua and her erstwhile boyfriend, Freddie, are living, like hundreds of thousands of other Igbo, in the Yoruba city of Lagos. Every important Nigerian city had a similar diaspora community. Because jobs were always scarce, there were constant tensions between the original inhabitants and the newcomers. Frequently willing to take any job without regard to its prestige, and to work tirelessly to achieve commercial success, the Igbo often proved more financially successful than other groups in these new urban environments.
Afraid of losing her beauty, Jagua whose assumed name is meant to evoke the glamour of the Jaguar automobile clings to Freddie, a young, impoverished law student whom she hopes to marry after he completes his studies.
However, taking a cue from his promiscuous mistress, Freddie proves unfaithful, leaving Jagua to descend ever deeper into the moral swamps of Lagos society. With his Pontiac car, his bagful of ten shilling notes, and his Falstaffian laughter, Uncle Taiwo seems immune from the race for money, since the corrupt nature of Lagos politics keeps his pockets well-lined with cash. But in the town they adopted Pidgin English as the lingua franca.
Pidgin is a hybrid language, derived from several European and African languages. Its grammar and intonation closely resemble the coastal languages of West Africa. As she tells Freddie: But as you is only a poor school teacher you no reach yet for marry Jagua woman.
An you can look after me, in me old age. Jagua Nana, p. She bribes just the right people to get a passport Freddie cannot get for himself. She makes all the arrangements for his room and board in England. Clearly, Jagua has not spent her time merely drifting in Lagos—she has mastered the wiles of the city. The source of the corruption and the allure is the same: money, which arbitrates everything in this wicked city. It decides all matters of life and love among Jagua and her friends. The relentless pursuit of money brings Jagua and the other hotel girls to the Tropicana club to solicit, motivates the politicians to murder each other with hired thugs, and gives everyone a market value.
There she manages to end a chieftaincy dispute with a neighboring village that had been threatening to flare into war for years. Between these delicate political maneuvers, she also manages to slip in a brief but torrid affair with Bagana town chief Ofubara. For her, the cloth trade has always represented the best alternative to prostitution at the Tropicana. Her brother, Fonso, a merchant prince, explicates the attractiveness of trading for a certain kind of Igbo woman: The merchant princesses, he boasted, were independent women, and he knew that his sister loved independence.
And they were free. They turned their minds to business, not frivolities. They were grown-up women. With her hoard she then settled in Lagos and became the talk of the town. Her fashions were sought by all the smart set.
But, we are told, three years have elapsed since Jagua has collected any new stock. She is prevented from such a trip by the realistic fear that younger women might replace her as Queen of the Tropicana should she leave Lagos for any length of time. And now, in a brief visit back home, she discovers that she will need more than Tropicana payoffs to begin the life of a merchant princess.
She resumes her relationship with Uncle Taiwo, and becomes one of his chief campaign assets. Poor Freddie has not taken proper measure of his opponents. Taiwo sends out his goons to rough him up, and he dies from their blows. There is an uproar over this assassination and Uncle Taiwo loses the election. Uncle Taiwo is murdered, as is his chief henchman, Dennis Odoma with whom Jagua also has had a little fling. Although Jagua had deserted her father and her village ten years before the start of the novel, she knows she can return and be welcomed as the prodigal daughter.
In fact, it is only when this nearly year-old woman returns to her roots that she is able to conceive a child—by an anonymous lover, during a tryst near the river shrine of the traditional Igbo deity of fertility. The death of that infant a few days after its birth seems like the penitential price Jagua must pay for all her decadent years in Lagos. But the gods have one more trick left to play. Flight east. In contrast to the greed and corruption of Lagos, Ekwensi describes Ogabu as a paradise, not lost to our heroine, but temporarily set aside: In Ogabu the people tilled the soil and drank the river water and ate yams and went to church, but came home to worship their family oracles.
They believed that in a village where every man had his own yam plots, there is much happiness …. But regeneration comes to Jagua when she resumes the natural rhythm of Ogabu life. In an odd sort of way, her shameless story becomes the archetypal quest narrative for the Igbo in diaspora.
For a while, a woman of unparalleled beauty and great natural skills forsakes her village, her family, and the traditional path of duty. But in the end she returns to Igboland, ready to commence the trade that will make her rich and happy. Communal attacks against them marked periods of political tension throughout the s and s. Following the overthrow of the First Nigerian Republic in , thousands of Igbo were killed in riots, and hundreds of thousands more fled back to the East.
In eastern Nigeria declared its independence as the Republic of Biafra , and a bloody civil war followed. Unsuccessful in their attempt to secede from the rest of the country, the Igbo would be reintegrated back into the federation of Nigeria in Much of the plot of Jagua Nana is shadowed by this history: the social life of the Igbo diaspora community in Lagos; the competition for jobs and scholarships; and the haunting desire of many Igbo to flee back to the safety of their natal villages.
In her own return to Ogabu, the fictional Jagua precedes by a decade the mass exodus of her fellow Igbos from Lagos at the start of the Biafra War. Sources and literary context Urbanization and the spread of education created a new social class in Nigeria. Originally from overcrowded rural areas, members of this class came to the city looking for further education and a chance to make money. A natural center for this migration was Onitsha, a city that has always had the largest number of secondary and commercial schools in the country.
The students, petty traders, artisans, and school leavers who constituted this new class developed a taste for reading through their limited education, but did not have the background reading ability to appreciate most conventional forms of literature.
Although the majority of market literature is didactic, the most vigorous writing was fictional, and the bestsellers were novellas or plays.
As usual I celebrate serendipitous co-readings. I have just finished three novels about displacement, countries in transition, and how human relationships change in such times. Each novel is also at least in part a road trip; they contain one or more journeys of varying length and means of transit, from lorry and canoe to spaceship and motorcycle to science fiction doorways. Each book ends with a return to childhood home, but in very different ways.
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