Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi, a Nigerian author of novels, short stories, and children’s fiction, was a teacher, pharmacist, broadcaster, and author (26 September 1921 – 4 November 2007). He was well-known both for his several remarkable artistic creations and for being the son of an elephant hunter.
Early Life and Education
Cyprian Ekwensi was born in Minna, Niger State, on September 26, 1921, but he is originally from Nkwelle Ezunaka in the Nigerian local government of Oyi, in the Anambra State. He was a son of Mr. David Anadumaka, an elephant hunter and storyteller.
Throughout his academic journey, Cyprian visited a number of educational institutions, including Government College in Ibadan, Oyo State; Achimota College in Ghana; and the School of Forestry in Ibadan, where he later served as a forestry officer for two years. Additionally, he completed pharmacy studies at the University of London’s Chelsea School of Pharmacy, the Lagos School of Pharmacy, and the Yaba Technical Institute.
Cyprian Ekwensi began his career as a teacher at Igbobi College after serving as a forestry officer at the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria in Ibadan. Ekwensi served as Head of Features for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and the Ministry of Information during the First Republic. He later advanced to the post of Director. He quit his work in 1966 and moved to Enugu with his family before the Civil War. He then served as the head of Nigeria’s Bureau for External Publicity prior to Biafra’s reabsorption by that nation.
Ekwensi wrote numerous novels, including children’s books, as well as radio and television screenplays, as well as thousands of short stories. His debut book, People of the City, which was released in 1954, was well-received by critics. His 1960 novel Drummer Boy was a crisp and compelling depiction of the wandering, homeless, and underprivileged existence of a street artist, and it was based on the life of Benjamin “Kokoro” Aderounmu. His most well-known book was Jagua Nana (1961), which was about a Pidgin-speaking Nigerian woman who leaves her husband to work as a prostitute in a city and falls in love with a teacher. This is followed by a sequel he also penned, Jagua Nana’s Daughter.
Burning Grass (1961) is essentially a collection of short tales about the Fulani family. Its greatest contribution is the understanding it offers into the manner of life of these pastoral people, which is based on a real family he had previously lived with. Between 1961 and 1966, Ekwensi published at least one notable piece per year. The most notable of these were the short story collections Rainmaker (1965) and Lokotown (1966), as well as the novels Beautiful Feathers (1963) and Iska (1966). Some of Ekwensi’s later works include the books Divided We Stand (1980), Motherless Baby (1980), The Restless City and Christmas Gold (1975), Behind the Convent Wall (1987), and Gone to Mecca (1991).
Five children were born into the union of Ekwensi and Eunice Anyiwo. He has many grandchildren, the oldest of whom being Adrianne Tobechi Ekwensi; Cyprian Ikechi Ekwensi, his son, is named after his grandfather. Ekwensi passed suddenly at the Niger Foundation in Enugu on November 4, 2007, following surgery there for an undisclosed ailment. The distinction, which was originally going to be given on November 16, 2007, was modified to a posthumous award by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).
- When Love Whispers (1948)
- An African Night’s Entertainment (1948)
- The Boa Suitor (1949)
- The Leopard’s Claw (1950)
- People of the City (London: Andrew Dakers, 1954). (This novel has been translated into Sinhala by Kumudu Champike Jayawardana.
- The Drummer Boy (1960)
- The Passport of Mallam Ilia (written in 1948, and published in 1960)
- Jagua Nana (1961)
- Burning Grass (1961)
- An African Night’s Entertainment (1962)
- Beautiful Feathers (novel; London: Hutchinson, 1963)
- Rainmaker (short stories; 1965).
- Iska (London: Hutchinson, 1966).
- Lokotown and Other Stories (Heinemann, 1966).
- Restless City and Christmas Gold (1975).
- Divided We Stand: a Novel of the Nigerian Civil War (1980)
- Motherless Baby (Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishing Company, 1980).
- Jagua Nana’s Daughter (1987)
- Behind the Convent Wall (1987)
- The Great Elephant Bird (Evans Brothers, 1990)
- Gone to Mecca (Heinemann Educational Books, 1991)
- Jagua Nana’s Daughter (1993)
- Masquerade Time (children’s book; London: Chelsea House Publishing; Jaws Maui, 1994).
- Cash on Delivery (2007, collection of short stories)
- Books Abroad, Autumn 1967
- Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, October 1965.
- Times Literary Supplement, June 4, 1964.
- World and I, October 2000, Charles R. Larson, “Fame and Poverty: The Career of Nigerian Novelist Cyprian Ekwensi Exemplifies the Plight of the African Writer,” p. 254.
- World Literature Today, autumn, 1988; winter, 1989.
Awards and Honours
- Dag Hammarskjöld International Prize in Literature in 1969
- Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters
- The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) awarded him a posthumous medal of honour shortly after his death.
His net worth is currently unavailable.