In 1966 Flora Nwapa published her first novel Efuru thereby becoming the first woman to be published in Africa in a male dominated literary sphere. This research spells out the extent at which she contributed to global feminism through her books, achievements and legacy. Interviews were conducted with professionals and experienced authorities which explains how much she has contributed even after her death. Also, books, thesis and dissertation, articles, have been examined to trace the extent of her contribution. Nwapa was able to fictionalize the things she saw in the reality of African societies; hence she exhibited courage and used her books to share her observations of what was happening and how women can combat some of the issues that are against them. While she might have targeted Nigerian readers, she didn’t ignore the global market, in 1992 she published five of her locally self published works in the United States with Africa World Press Inc. Nwapa led a busy life attending book fairs, conferences, seminars and other literary events in Africa, Europe and the US especially after the establishment of Tana Press in 1977. Flora Nwapa is an icon, a role model to women in Nigeria, Africa and beyond.

INTRODUCTION

If anyone had told Flora Nwapa her impact will be felt to this extent maybe she might have doubted. Her ambition to write about the experiences of women in her society and her determination to refurbish the image of women caught the attention of the global world. To determine the extent at which she contributed to global feminism, I used both primary and secondary sources. I conducted interviews with experienced authorities and I was able to discover what inspired her writings, the things she wanted to achieve and how she was able to achieve them. The interviews gave credence to the materials I examined and gave inspiration to draft more important questions that I discussed with my interviewees.

In her book Nigerian Women, Pioneers and Icons Bolanle Awe stated that Nwapa is best known for her creative work and writings, dedicated towards the promotion of African culture, gender equity and equality, and also highlighting the growing moral decadence in the Nigerian society.[1]

”More than anything else, Professor Flora Nwakuche is famous for championing the fight of discrimination against women in our society; she being a devoted women’s right activist”.[2]

Flora Nwapa was born in Oguta, on 13 January 1931 into the famous Nwapa family, her education started at Elenlewa Girls School Port Harcourt, which she continued at the C.M.S. School in Lagos (1936-1944).[3] After her post primary education proceeded to the University College Ibadan, between 1953 and 1957 where she read English and obtained a B.A. degree.[4] She holds a diploma in Education from the University of Edinburgh (1957-1958). Flora Nwapa was contemporary at the University of Ibadan with the great Nigerian writers, the likes of Wole Soyinka, J.P Clark, Chinua Achebe whom she sent the manuscript of her first novel Efuru before it was finally published by Heinemann, London.[5]

While she returned from Scotland in 1958 from the University of Edinburgh, she accepted the chieftaincy title Ogbuefi, which literally means “killer of a cow”, in Oguta, this title is always bestowed on women of means, integrity, and good standing in the eyes of the elders.[6] Flora Nwapa worked as an education officer for the ministry of Education at Calabar, for a year, she also taught at Queens School, Enugu, from 1962 to 1967.[7]  Nwapa worked as an assistant to the registrar at the University of Lagos in Apapa, Nigeria.[8] In August 1967, at the start of the Civil War, she married Gogo Nwakuche, an Oguta man; she gave birth to three children, Ejine, Uzoma, and Amede.[9]


Flora Nwapa (1931-1993)

Nwapa created strong and resilient characters in her novels. Most of her novels were centered on women; she is referred to as the “Mother of African Literature” as she was the first woman to be published.[10] Her first book Efuru was published in 1966, followed by Idu (1970), Never Again (1975), One Is Enough (1981), Women Are Different (1986), The Lake Goddess, and the rest.[11]

In 1983, President Shehu Shagari honored her with the coveted officer of the Order of the Niger Award for her service to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Creative Writing and Publishing.[12] Her illustrious career in literary production also earned her the University of Ife’s Merit Award for Authorship and Publishing in 1985.[13] She died in 1993 living traceable impacts.

Flora Nwapa with her younger sister

BACKGROUND TO THE PERCEPTION OF WOMEN DURING THE COLONIAL ERA AND THE REFORMATIVE EFFORTS OF FLORA NWAPA

At inception, Nigerian literature was not very kind to the females in the society as women were portrayed as the devalued other.[14] In the works of the first generation of Nigerian writers, the likes of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, J.P Clark-Bekederemo, et al., women are portrayed as subservient and inferior to men, to be seen, but not be heard.[15] However, women writers and later male writers have undertaken a counter-portrayal of the female character in such a way as to refurbish the image of women in Nigerian literature.[16] This reformative effort begins with Flora Nwapa’s eponymous Efuru and Idu that overshadow their under-achieving male counterparts.[17] She created the character of Efuru a distinguished and successful business woman, who was able to pay her own bride price when her husband couldn’t afford to pay.[18] Nwapa used the character of Efuru to depict women as thoughtful beings, capable of reasoning and taking decisions on their own.[19]

According to Professor Bolanle Awe, a retired professor of oral history at the University of Ibadan, Department of History, and a great feminist voice who was a school mate of Flora Nwapa at one point, during the colonial era, the colonial government didn’t pay much attention to women.[20] She stressed that women were not recognized as playing an important role in the society; they were known as housewives, mothers etc.[21]

Dr Doyin Aguoru a lecturer in the Department of English, University of Ibadan and a playwright, who has taught Efuru for several years, and who sees Flora Nwapa as a role model from secondary school days stated that during the colonial era, Europeans have been portraying Africans in a particular manner; as a result, there was a gap that needed to be filled.[22] It got to a point where women started complaining that Soyinka and the rest didn’t write about them, Flora Nwapa then took the bulls by the horns and wrote about women.[23]

Dr Mutiat Oladejo a gender-based researcher and a lecturer in the Department of History, University of Ibadan, argued that Flora Nwapa was one of the notable women that contributed to Nigeria’s nation building from the colonial era.[24] She went further to state that Nwapa was within the cultural space of African society and she understood how the society treated women, the advantages and disadvantages women have in the society, especially within the Igbo culture.[25] She suggested that as result of her determination and ambition to give a voice to the women, she decided to switch career having discovered that the only way to achieve this ambition was for her to engage in full time writing.[26] Nwapa achieved this by fictionalizing the things she had seen in the reality of African society.[27]

CNN interview with Kodili Ogbonna

Flora Nwapa in Women Are Different continued what she started in Efuru by creating the character of 3 women: Dora, Agnes, and Rose.[28] These women despite the challenges of life fought their way to stardom, though they had their own shortcomings but made sure that those shortcomings didn’t deter them.[29] In Women Are Different education was portrayed as a great tool that women can use to empower themselves in creativity, financially, and how best they can tackle challenges that shows up in their way.[30]

THE CONCEPT OF AFRICAN FEMINISM

Dr Mutiat Oladejo argued that Nwapa was one of the few women that defined what African feminism is, what direction of paradigm we should begin to think around the lives of women in traditional societies.[31] She pointed out that that during the colonial era African societies were actually complicated and in a kind of quagmire as they were complexities between tradition and modernity.[32] It was difficult in the colonial era to actually say exactly what African women represented.[33] She laid emphasis on African women and gave the reason to be that, though Nwapa’s writings were motivated by the things she saw as an Igbo woman within the Igbo culture setting, the experience cuts across African societies.[34] Hence she was part of the few women that were able to define what African feminism looks like within the global space.[35]

Prof Bolanle Awe referred to Flora Nwapa as a great feminist who exhibited courage and used her books to share her observations of what was happening and how women can combat some of the issues that are against them.[36] She also submitted that African feminist do not take their example or lessons from western feminism, they assert themselves, they look at their society not western society and they try to examine what is right and what is wrong and assert themselves within that context.[37]

Wane in African Indigenous Feminist Thought argued that the roots of African feminism are found in the features of most African societies that stress the communal, rather than individual values and the preservation of a community as a whole, she went further to state that African feminism is a philosophy that comes from the lived experiences of African women before colonization.[38] Emecheta, cited in Nfah-Abbeniyi, (1997:11) stated that the oppression experienced by African women cannot be identified within the paradigm of Western feminism as they have different goals and agenda.[39]

Wane opined that Africa feminism also identifies with women’s emancipation struggles from a global perspective.[40] She gave a broader definition of African feminism by saying that it is a struggle for the liberation of women, and encompasses epistemologies, methodologies, theories, and modes of activism that seek to bring an end to the expression and subordination of women by men.[41] The conditions giving rise to feminism in Africa include the history of ancient civilizations as well as colonial rule and imperialism, women’s involvement in nationalist struggles and contemporary social movements.[42]

According to Dr Doyin, Nwapa created the real strength of An African woman, Flora was not in any way against men in her writings.[43] In furtherance, she stated that Nwapa portrayed both male and female characters the way they exist in the society where we have villains, heroes, and heroines.[44] In her words “the characters she portrayed are very strong feminist oriented characters”.[45] It is pertinent to note that some of her works have received criticisms, and compliments by writers, intellectuals across the globe, Flora Nwapa herself pointed out that it is expected as the beauty of every work or piece is for people to analyze, critique, and commend, this is in alignment with one of the interviews she granted, you can use this link.[46]

Fragment of the documentary on Nigerian Writer Flora Nwapa
(1987, Norwegian TV network NRK TV)

ESTABLISHMENT OF TANA PRESS AND FLORA NWAPA AND COMPANY

Speaking of some of the challenges that Flora Nwapa faced in the process of publishing her books, Dr Mutiat Oladejo submitted that Nwapa realized that her writings were not welcomed in the global publishing space: the content in her writings made little sense to the publishers around the 1960’s and 1970’s.[47] In order to voice her opinions, she needed a platform to do so. She observed that African women lack the platform, there and then she decided to establish her own Printing Press and publishing house and in 1977.[48] She launched Flora Nwapa and Company and Tana Press Limited; which made her the first African woman to establish an independent publishing enterprise.[49] She used this platform to not only project her own writings, but to also project other women’s writings and things related to Africa.[50] She also submitted that creating Tana Publishing was a platform used by African women to define feminism in African terms and also to preach beyond Africa that women can be creative, can take reasonable decisions, and that they can be accepted by the community and also function beyond traditional roles of wives and mother. [51]

Dr Doyin Aguoru opined that at some point, globally speaking women had difficulty in publishing, that is why the Bronte sisters pretended like they were men just so they could be published.[52] She pointed out that regardless of this challenge Flora Nwapa was the first African woman to be published.[53] Prof Bolanle Awe noted that it was exciting to have an African woman a Nigerian woman published and the publishing world was very anxious, very keen to publish and therefore she became a best seller for a long time and even long after we still had programs projecting her, telling people about her.[54] In furtherance, Prof Awe submitted that at some point she faced some challenges while trying to publish her books and she took it as a challenge that whether male or female you can set your own publishing outfit.[55]

HER CONTRIBUTION TO GLOBAL FEMINISM

Dr Doyin stated that Nwapa inspired her right from her college days, as she read Efuru in secondary school days.[56] The book helped her to understand that women have their own inner strength and they are able to manifest it in every situation.[57] She stressed that anybody who comes in contact with her impacts and achievements will be inspired. Having said that, she also noted that it is not just about being a feminist, a woman should be empowered because the society is patriarchal in nature, and when a woman is empowered she won’t be limited in such environment, and Nwapa has laid the foundation of how best to do that.[58] In terms of how women are perceived now, Dr Doyin mentioned that the thematic-preoccupation have become diverse, the reach network have also increased.[59] She also highlighted that Nwapa is one of the first women in the world who has taken that kind of leadership position to present the women of her continent appropriately.[60] She referred to Nwapa as a pace setter, a leader who took it upon herself to portray women and their concerns.

Prof Bolanle Awe described Flora Nwapa as an assuming person, very observant and she saw what was happening and was able to put it down in black and white, so that people can see that corrections can be made and women themselves can begin to have some confidence in themselves, that they also have a role to play in the society and it’s a vital role which should not be ignored.[61] She also stated that we are in a society where the men play a dominant role, one that puts the women in a position, “I wouldn’t say inferiority, but a second position”.[62] In furtherance, she submitted that the time is past when a woman is second rate, “a feminist is someone who insists that you should recognize her, if she doesn’t do well it shouldn’t be because she is a woman, but because she does not have the ability to do well”.[63]

Comparing the time of Flora Nwapa to now,  Prof  Bolanle commented that women now stand for elections, they vote, they speak out in public spaces, they write, they do all the things they feel a woman should be able to do without fear or favor, not limiting herself because of her gender, thereby making it possible for people to realize that male or female we do have the same grey matter and with that you should be able to express yourself and assert yourself and do what you think is right.[64] She went further to state that Nwapa’s books made it clear that women can be creative, function beyond traditional roles, her books also give a picture of problems that women have to undergo and how in a very subtle and clever way they are able to overcome those problems.[65]

Uimonen P. stated that through Tana Press, Flora Nwapa could break through some of the structural challenges she faced as an African woman writer.[66] Uimonen P. citing (Umeh 2010, 115) stated Nwapa also played an active role in distributing, promoting and selling books at various book fairs around the world, while her literary transnational network helped promote Tana Press books throughout Africa, America and Europe.[67] Flora Nwapa has been researched about, used as topic for conferences like Igbo Conference in partnership with SOAS London, (Afrikult-Efuru at 50), [68]and also the Efuru at 50 Event which was celebrated November 29th to December 11th 2016, and the venues were Oguta, Enugu, Lagos, Maiduguri, Guri and Abuja.[69]


Poster designed fornational celebration of Flora Nwapa’s book Efuru

Conference on Flora Nwapa’s book Efuru

Flora Nwapa Society Award at the 2017 African Literature Association Conference at YALE, June 17.

Uimonen P. citing (Umeh 2010, 113) stated that while Flora Nwapa printed most children’s books through her own printing press, she also printed novels in London and Taiwan, getting a higher quality at a lower cost.[70] She was also successful in soliciting grants from Nigeria Ministries for education, for the production of books for children in primary and secondary schools.[71] When it came to her own success, it appears that Flora Nwapa’s fourth novel One is Enough (1982) sold in over 50,000 copies in two years, affording her to buy a flat in St John’s Wood, a posh area of London.[72]

While Nwapa may have targeted Nigerian readers, she did not ignore the global market. In 1992, she reprinted five of her locally self-published books in the United States with Africa World Press Inc (Umeh 1998a, 678).[73] Thus, rather than writing for either local or international audience, Nwapa wrote for both, her creolized aesthetic and cosmopolitan orientation enabling her works to move across vernacular and cosmopolitan literary circuits.[74]

Uimonen P who witnessed the celebration of Efuru at 50 stated that the new edition of Efuru was presented at the event; it has a foreword by Sabine Jell-Bahlsen noting earlier edition of Efuru, while underlining Nwapa’s pioneering work:

Efuru is the first novel by a female African author published internationally, a trailblazer, an inspiration and a “first” in many ways. Flora Nwapa was posthumously recognized in New York as Nigeria’s First lady of Letters, she has presented the first narration of an African village woman’s life and plight from an insider’s female perspective. She has protected women throughout her life and career, and she is an icon and role model for women in Nigeria and beyond”.[75]

Flora Nwapa herself led a busy life, attending book fairs, conferences, seminars and other literary events in Africa, Europe and the US especially after the establishment of Tana Press in 1977. If anything, her networking accelerated over time, culminating in numerous international (Dutch, Kenyan, Swedish and US), and national (Owerri, Nsukka) engagements in 1992, the year before she passed on (Umeh 1998a, 675-9). [76]

CONCLUSION

Nwapa through her books contributed immensely to global feminism by creating strong and diligent characters. Her books which were her major tool to achieving her ambition has been read, analyzed, interpreted across the globe. There is a popular saying that says “were legs can’t get to, books get there”, Nwapa might not have visited all the countries, but her books have travelled far and wide, inspiring some of the feminist writers that we have today, the likes of Bucchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zulu Sofala, Zaynab Alkali, Amma Darko etc. Flora Nwapa is a trailblazer, a pacesetter, and a great inspiration to women across the world. Initially, Flora Nwapa was reluctant to adopt the name “feminist”, even during her tours to Europe and America. Reason being that she like many others perceived feminism as anti-men, even though everything about her screamed feminism. Years after, she embraced the name having understood the real meaning of feminism through explanations from some of her colleagues; Obioma and Ama Ata Aidoo. She then argued that feminism is about possibilities and choices, and we shouldn’t be scared to say that we are feminist as we need one another globally.

SOURCES                                                                                                                                        

Oral interview with Oladejo Mutiat, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, The Department of History and a researcher in Women and Gender studies, online interview, 28th of April 2022.

Oral interview with Aguoru Doyin, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, The Department of English, a playwright and an advocate for women, online interview, 22nd of June, 2022.

Oral interview with Awe Bolanle, a retired Professor at University of Ibadan, The Department of History and a great feminist voice, Aare Bodija, 4th of July, 2022.

Abiodun Adeniji, “Nigerian Literature: Issues then and now”, Vol 11.2, June 2018.

Awe Bolanle, Nigerian Women Pioneers and Icons, Ibadan, Nigeria, Childsplay Books Limited, 2016.

Nwapa Flora, Efuru.  London: Heinemann, 1966 print.

Nwapa Flora, Women are Different, Tana Press, 1990.

Uimonen, P. 2020. Invoking Flora Nwapa: Nigerian writers, femininity and spirituality in world literature, Stockholm: Stockholm University Press.

Wane Njoki, 2011, African Indigenous Feminist Thought: An Anti-Colonial project in Wane Njoki, Arlo Kempf, Marlon Simons (Eds.), The Politics of Cultural Knowledge.

Women writing Africa, Vol 2, West Africa and the Sahel, Edited by Esi Sutherland Addy and Aminata Diaw.

REFERENCES

[1] Awe Bolanle “Nigerian Women Pioneers and Icons”. Ibadan, Nigeria, Childsplay Books Limited, 2016, Pp 55.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Women writing Africa, vol 2: West Africa and the Sahel, Edited by Esi Sutherland Addy and Aminata Diaw, PP272.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Abiodun Adeniji, “Nigerian Literature: Issues then and now”. Vol 11.2, June 2018.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Nwapa Flora, Efuru, London, Heinemann, 1966 print.

[19] Nwapa Flora, Efuru, London, Heinemann, 1966 print.

[20] Oral interview with Awe Bolanle, a retired oral history Professor at University of Ibadan, Department of History, an author and a great feminist voice, Aare Bodija, 4th July, 2022.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Oral interview with Aguoru Doyin, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, Department of English, a playwright and an advocate for women, online interview, 22nd June, 2022.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Oral interview with Oladejo Mutiat, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, Department of History, an author and a researcher in women and gender studies, online interview, 28th April, 2022.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Nwapa Flora, Women are Different, Tana Press, 1990.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Oral interview with Oladejo Mutiat, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, Department of History, an author and a researcher in women and gender studies, online interview, 28th April, 2022.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Oral interview with Awe Bolanle, a retired oral history Professor at University of Ibadan, Department of History, an author and a great feminist voice, Aare Bodija, 4th July, 2022.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Wane Njoki, 2011, African indigenous Feminist Thought: An Anti-Colonial Project in Wane Njoki, Arlo Kempf, Marlon Simons, (Eds.), The politics of Cultural Knowledge, PP10.

[39] Wane Njoki, 2011, African indigenous Feminist Thought: An Anti-Colonial Project in Wane Njoki, Arlo Kempf, Marlon Simons, (Eds.), The politics of Cultural Knowledge, PP13.

[40] Wane Njoki, 2011, African indigenous Feminist Thought: An Anti-Colonial Project in Wane Njoki, Arlo Kempf, Marlon Simons, (Eds.), The politics of Cultural Knowledge, PP14.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Oral interview with Aguoru Doyin, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, Department of English, a playwright and an advocate for women, online interview, 22nd June, 2022.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Oral interview with Oladejo Mutiat, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, Department of History, an author and a researcher in women and gender studies, online interview, 28th April, 2022.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Oral interview with Aguoru Doyin, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, Department of English, a playwright and an advocate for women, online interview, 22nd June, 2022.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Oral interview with Awe Bolanle, a retired oral history Professor at University of Ibadan, Department of History, an author and a great feminist voice, Aare Bodija, 4th July, 2022.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Oral interview with Aguoru Doyin, a senior lecturer at University of Ibadan, Department of English, a playwright and an advocate for women, online interview, 22nd June, 2022.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Oral interview with Awe Bolanle, a retired oral history Professor at University of Ibadan, Department of History, an author and a great feminist voice, Aare Bodija, 4th July, 2022.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Uimoneni, P. 2020, Invoking Flora Nwapa: Nigerian writers, femininity and spirituality in world literature. Pp.129-160. Stockholm: Stockholm University Press, DOI:https://doi.org/10.16993/bbe.e.License:CC-BY 4.0.

[67]. Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Youtube.

[70] Uimoneni, P. 2020, Invoking Flora Nwapa: Nigerian writers, femininity and spirituality in world literature. Pp.129-160. Stockholm: Stockholm University Press, DOI:https://doi.org/10.16993/bbe.e.License:CC-BY 4.0.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

 

OLUWAYEMI ADELAKUN
I am Adelakun Oluwayemi Mary, a 400 level student of University of Ibadan, the Department of History. I love to research about gender, society and culture. I'm into the media, broadcast and print. Sometimes when I read books I develop interest in the author. Having read Efuru, I was motivated to know more about her, in the process I became curious about some certain things. I decided to do this project to get answers which I was able to get while doing this project. I also wanted to add to the existing papers on Flora Nwapa. Finding out that she was the first African woman to be published and that she holds a place of pride in the world of writers was very inspiring for me. I became more interested when I discovered that her impact is felt globally. Flora Nwapa caught my attention, hence I decided to do this project.
OLUWAYEMI ADELAKUN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.