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The death of Elechi Amadi a big loss to the African literature

By George Orido | July 5th 2016

Curtains have come down on the illustrious and one of the pioneers of African literature Elechi Amadi.

Renowned for his classic The Concubine, Elechi died at the Good Hospital at Port Harcourt for unknown illness yesterday evening.

Born 82 years ago in Aluu Community Ikwerre area of the Niger Delta, Nigeria, Elechi wrote and told African stories with such a passion and dedication that unlike writers before him, he did not tell of African-Western cultural conflict but kept fidelity to the African cosmology.

His other books include The Road to Ibadan, Sunset in Biafra, Pepper soup, The Slave and Estrangement and the Women of Calabar as well as The Dance of Johannesburg, The Slave and The Great Ponds.

His death has brought to an end, a chapter of vibrancy of a man whose stories were unapologetic about African Culture, yet immortalized by his same works.

"He is one of the pioneers of African writing apart from his compatriot Chinua Achebe and Sierra Leonean William Conton. He put the African story in the map of the World," remembers Professor of comparative Literature Chris Wanjala of Elechi.

Professor Wanjala is one of the people who hosted Elechi in Nairobi five years ago when the latter came with his beautiful wife and linguists Priye Iyala –Amadi.

Elechi was in town to see he logistics of reprinting of his book by the powerhouse East Afrcan Educational Publishers then.

Published in 1966, The Concubine was and is still widely used in the Kenyan Educational curriculum and a materiel for instruction in literature studies.

The Concubine is about a beautiful girl named Ihuoma and Ihuoma charming looks and mannerisms made her the most beautiful girl in the village of Omokachi, even though she is originally from a neighbouring village Omigwe.

She gets married to Emenike, but later Emenike is killed by his best friend, Madume after a land dispute turns tragic.

Unknown to many, Ihuoma, the main character in this book is married to the sea-king and god of the sea who does not want her get marry to any man on earth.

When the best medicine man in the village tells a young man in love with and inspiring to marry Ihuoma the of the dangers of having any such ideas, the young man vows that if he married Ihuoma for only a day and then died, his soul would travel away happily.

It happens that he is struck just a little before marrying Ihuoma proving that she is indeed a goddess and therefore a god's concubine.

It is his colorful description of characters that had endeared Elechi to so many readers including Moi University don Dr Frederick Mbogo who describes Elechi as one of the most brilliant writers the continent has ever had.

"Elechi is a great writer who brings characters to life in a way few people could," he says adding that Africa has lost a true son.

But whilst Oby Obyerodhyambo compares the writers' prowess to such greats as Chinua Achebe and AmOs Tubola, he has issues with the title of his most popular writing, The Concubine.

In his adaptation of the play some decade back Oby, a renowned playwright and teacher of literature refused to use a similar title and called his adaption La Femme Fatale.

"When I did the adaptation of the Concubine as La Femme Fatale it was a feminist reading of the story; posing questions why the female character was being thus misrepresented. I think that the reading of that novel to see Ihuoma characterized as the cause of death did not sit very well with us then," he explained whilst mourning the death of this foremost African writer.

Whilst on his last visit to Kenya, I got the opportunity to meet this writer and his wife and I had an impression of a man who was content with himself as an African.

His full, grey but well kempt grey hair enhancing his eminence as someone who had seen much and who had served his society well.

"I welcome you to Port Harcourt, Come and we have some Peppesoup with yams as I tell the stories of my home, he invited me as we parted ways at the New Stanley Hotel where he had had kept residence for the period.

I actually made the trip to Port Harcourt one year later but could not connect because I was on transit to Yenagoa city in Bayelsa Sate to cover the Africa Movie Academy Awards under tight police escort.

But yes our encounter with had solidified the images of the Rivers State and was useful in conceptualizing my writing during the ten day sojourn in the Naijaland.

Incidentally the prolific writer was physics and mathematics graduate of the University of Ibadan and had also enlisted in the Nigerian army and continued serving in it during the civil war, despite coming from the Niger Delta, which was part of the breakaway state of Biafra.

"I did not support the Biafra war because it was something that was going to divide us a people. We needed and we still need a united Nigeria that aspires for the betterment of Nigerian youth and future generations," he had told me during my interview with him then.

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