Adaobi Muo and Ositadimma Lemoha
The publication of Flora Nwapa’s Efuru in 1966, represents a landmark in modern African literature. Efuru is remarkable for two reasons. First, it has a female author. Second, it deviates from previous representations by creating the first literary image of the African woman as an articulate and dynamic producer rather than a silent consumer. Armed with Richard Bauman’s concept of Intertextuality,this essay first argues that Efuru refers to its precursors and donates the temerity and template for its successors. It further analyzes Nwapa’s art as a strategy for reorganizing the socio-economic sector of Africa to provide space for an anonymous category to attain prominence. The essay submits that through the ingenuity of such new superstars, Efuru suggests workable solutions to socio-economic adversity, including economic crisis and child labour, afflicting Nigeria and other African countries. It concludes that with Efuru, Nwapa becomes a maker of a ‘new’ text in African literature.
Key Words: Transformation, Anonymous, Superstar and New.
In 1966, African literature took a new route with Efuru by Flora Nwapa, the first African woman to be published internationally. In terms of content, Efuru connects with its precursors, including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) and Arrow of God (1964), Mongo Beti’s Mission to Kala (1957) and Onuora Nzekwu’s Wand of Noble Wood (1961). However, in terms of perspective, the novel differs from these original texts. In pre-Efuru creative writings, Okonkwo, Nwakibie, Ezeulu, Nwaka, and others, are the main characters, and occupy the entire political and socio-economic landscape of their universe. There are “many women but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders” (Things Fall Apart 62) and “they are quiet” (Arrow of God 94).Thus,Nwapa’s new perspective is motivated by her observation that early African fiction, written by men, “neglect to point out the positive side of womanhood” and minimize their contributions to the development of their societies (“Women” 527-8). She further reveals that her novels, including Efuru, engage in “reversal of roles” to demonstrate that the woman’s position in Africa “is crucial for the survival and progress” of the black race (“Women” 527; 531). Thus, her works emphasize the ignored efforts of women in building their society and proclaim the end of the silent woman in African literature. The new era is announcedin the following riposte. “You stay there and talk of being quiet … who wants to be quite these days … Don’t you know that if you don’t lick your mouth the harmattan will lick it for you” (33), (emphasis added). The statement, couched in question and axiom, refers to original texts represented by Arrow. In addition, Nwapa’s effort elicits a “let me speak” (The Last of the Strong Ones 59) effect evident in texts like Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter. Therefore, Efuru provides a model for the transformation of several creative dreams into legible and legitimate realities. Consequently, it extends and enriches the African literary conversation.
Many critics have noted Nwapa’s novel approach. For instance, Jane Bryce (318) and Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi (60) respectively submit that early African literature is “masculine by origin and definition” as it deals “almost exclusively with male characters and male concerns.” Ogunyemi adds that Nwapa employs Efuru to anticipate and inaugurate “the female coming” and “female concerns as also a legitimate aspect of literature” by its representation of “a new woman … with a female culture” (61). Hence, no holistic analysis of Efuru can afford to ignore its gender dynamics. However, these observations seem to represent but an aspect of Nwapa’s vision and intension. Efuru’s concern with the contributions of a large percentage of African population towards the development of the continent still begs for more attention. In addition, the author’s employment of the text to anticipate and proffer solutions to Africa’s contemporary socio-economic predicament needs to be further examined. This essay represents an attempt at searching for such solutions. It also serves as a tribute to Nwapa’s ‘new’ text, Efuru, as part of the African literary world’s celebration of its golden jubilee in 2016.
The article argues thatEfuru is orientationally related to its precursors and successors, especially those authored by writers of Igbo extraction like Achebe and Adimora-Ezeigbo and therefore can only be fully comprehended in the light of such texts. It further demonstrates that Nwapa’s text, byextending the frontiers of its forerunners, represents an original approach in African fiction. Moreover, the essay submits that by dramatizing the achievements of female characters, the primary text accounts for some of the neglected forces that have shaped the African economy as it provides solutions to socio-economic problems. To achieve its objectives, the essay moves away from the gospel of Feminism, often applied to the reading of texts like Efuru. It draws its interpretative insight from Richard Bauman’s concept of Intertextuality.
Bauman’s concept of Intertextuality, by his acceptance, draws primarily from Mikhail Bakhtin’s postulation that a text exists solely by “coming into contact with another text (with context)” (Bauman 4). Bakhtin holds that it is solely at this moment of contact that a particular text is linked to a dialogue and previous and subsequent texts are illuminated. Bauman’s idea also borrows from the assumptions of other prominent scholars of Intertextuality, including Northrop Frye and Julia Kristeva. In Frye’s assumption, which initially advances the dogma of Intertextuality, literature is a corpus which encapsulates life and reality “in a system of verbal relationships” (Ayo Kehinde 372). Kristeva, in her discourse with Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of Heteroglossia and Polyphony, speculates that each text is created as an assimilation and alteration of another text(s). Consequently, every text represents a medley of citations, site of countless other texts, an “intertext” and exists only in relation to others. Bauman’s interpretation narrows Kristeva’s conceptualization to literary texts.
Bauman (4) defines Intertextuality as “the relational orientation of a text to other texts.” For him the important factor under this idea is “the way in which each act of textual production presupposes antecedent texts and anticipates prospective ones” (4). In other words, Intertextuality assumes that the contact between texts clarifies both posterior and anterior texts and joins a particular text to a dialogue. In Bauman’s speculation a text:
Is discourse rendered decontextualizable: … decontextualization from one context must involve recontextualization in another, which is to recognize the potential for texts to circulate, to be spoken again in another context. The iterability of texts, then, constitutes one of the most powerful bases for the potentiation and production of intertextuality. (4)
Consequently, the scholar claims that when texts get de-contextualized in one context and re-contextualized in another, they share specific features of their meanings. The implication is that each literary piece can no longer be regarded as a sole production by one author as each engages in reconstructions, which in turn leads to further productions. In Bauman’s observation, the awareness that literary creativity considerably depends on the alliance of a text to preceding ones and in expectation of prospective texts has elicited “critical – and ideological – attention to this reflexive dimension of discursive practice” (1). M.H. Abram’s critical attention to Intertextuality deepens Bauman’s insight by its explanation that the concept explains:
The multiple ways in which any one literary text is in fact made up of other texts, by means of its open and covert citations and allusions, its repetitions, and transformations of the formal and substantive features of earlier texts or simply its unavoidable participation in the common stock of linguistic and literary conventions and procedures … (325)
Intertextuality, as conceptualized by Bauman, functions to account for the multi-dimensional relationships existing among different texts. It goes beyond accounting for one author’s influence on the other(s), which tends to be author-centered and evaluative. Hence, it provides a more objective and broader perspective to literary analysis. The concept facilitates the examination of a literary text by focusing on how it refers to another text or other texts from the position of title, theme, subjects, character, storyline, or scene. The examination works to create and/or facilitate comparison, dialogue or destabilization. Destabilization involves an entry by disruption.
Bauman’s concept of Intertextuality is, in this context, considered capable of steering the required analysis for the following reasons. First, by postulating on the relational orientation of a text to others the concept can explain the multifaceted relationship between Efuru, its precursors, and successors, exemplified by Wand of Noble Wood and The Stillborn. Again, its view on the circulating potential of texts can account for Efuru’s overt and covert repetitions and reconstruction of conventional and essential aspects of previous representations, like TFA, as it motivates further productions, exemplified by Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen. In addition, the view has the capacity to clarify Efuru’s employment of female characters, early 20th century Igbo rural setting, socio-economic subjects, themes and dimensions. From these perspectives, the concept can also identify Efuru’s novel perspective as an entry by disruption as her creativity interrupts literary conversation within the context of African literature. Furthermore, by linking intertextual interaction to meaning content of texts, the concept acquires the competence to explain how the relationship between Efuru, and its precursors and successors facilitates a better understanding of the meanings encapsulated in the primary text.
Metamorphosis of Anonymous to Superstar
Efuru’s intertextual relationship with its precursors, especially Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, henceforth TFA and Arrow, starts with Nwapa’s choice of the novel tradition and setting – early 20th century Igbo society under colonial powers. However, in characterization, the reversal reaches one of its peaks. The text employs females, especially Efuru and Ajanapu, as main characters. Thus, Efuru destabilizes its forerunners’ patterns of character/characterization by choosing the other gender to render the narrative of Oguta; its riverine locale. The protagonist of the eponymous novel, unlike her ancestors, is highly individualized. “Efuru was her name” and she is the only child of her father’s favourite wife (7). She is unique, “very beautiful” and “self-willed” (18; 16). Again, for Efuru “life … meant living it fully. She did not want merely to exist. She wanted to live and use the world to her advantage” (78). Therefore, physically, and psychologically, Efuru is described in superlative terms and energized, from the beginning to conquer her world. She is vested with the kind of determination and prominence reserved for Okonkwo in TFA. Her characterization also suggests a recontextualization of Ezimma’s beauty and “right spirit” in TFA (46). However, in Efuru, the right spirit seems to receive fuller attention. The same trend is observed in Nwapa’s subsequent novels, Idu and One is Enough.
In addition, Ajanapu, a major character, is crafted as “strong-willed, outspoken, courageous” (Helen Chukwuma “Efuru” 93). She is described as one who “believes in speaking her mind at all times” (164) and is certainly the most loquacious character in Efuru. The character functions regularly as Nwapa’s speaking voice. Through her, the oratorical power residing with Nwaka, Achebe’s “owner of words” (Arrow) is transferred to the ‘other’ (Edward Said) to introduce a new voice in the African society. Ajanapu’s fluency is reiterated in Amaka’s mother’s active tongue (One is Enough) and continues in Chieme’s “power of oratory and poetry” (The Last of the Strong Ones 7). Nwapa employs Ajanapu to campaign against voicelessness. Thus, in an all-female summit convened at the birth of Efuru’s girl-child, Ogonim, Ajanapu observes that “it is time to put alligator pepper in the baby’s mouth” to set “her tongue … free” and save her from becoming “deaf and dumb” (33). The baby’s subsequent yell introduces a new voice into on-going conversations. Again, Nwapa, through Ajanapu, validates the vocal woman by submitting that it “is alright” for the baby to “be very talkative” (33). The character’s function parallels Nwapa’s whose Efuru draws an avalanche of women writing into the politics of self-representation and self-righting. Ajanapu’s sense of pride over her key role in the tongue-loosening therapy and ritual suggests Nwapa’s consciousness of her pioneer status in the domain of women writing in Africa. The deliberate reframing, at the level character/characterization, functions to induct a new class into the socio-economic hall of fame in order to alter the previous account of the Igbo personality and celebrity.
Furthermore, Efuru’s connection with its forerunners and successors is manifest in its treatment of socio-economic matters of dowry, commerce, philanthropy, manufacturing, debt management, and child labour. First, a close study of Efuru, in relation to texts like TFA, Arrow, Wand of Noble Wood and The Bride Price (Emecheta), reveals a circulation of the dowry tradition. Efuru’s cohabitation with Adizua, who is too poor to pay her bride price, intensifies the undermining of the bride price protocol started in TFA. In TFA Ekwefi flees to young Okonkwo, who cannot afford her bride price. UsingAdizua’s position that “all that matters” is that both have agreed to marry (8), Efuru expressly endorses the same agreement TFA synecdochically relays in Okonkwo frantic search for “the loose end of her (Ekwefi) cloth” (76). Nevertheless, Efuru disrupts Okonkwo’s image as a hardworking farmer and courageous warrior by making Adizua an “imbecile” and “so lazy” (11; 20). Adizua’s characterization tends to derive from Unoka whose laziness assumes a legendary proportion in TFA. Adizua tends to be burdened with laziness, failure, and scorn to justify the text’s undermining of the male gender and institution of its female counterpart as the producer and provider rather than consumer. Moreover, Efuru’s boldness and vocality tends to be a reframing of Okuata’s “bashfulness” in Arrow (122). Ironically, Efuru’s emphasis on the cultural illegality of the couple’s union intensifies Nwapa’s view of marriage as a personal, rather than, communal business. Moreover, the author approves Efuru’s defiance by making her happy in her new home. Therefore, she suggests that assertiveness is necessary for a woman’s personal happiness in African societies.
The dramatization of bride price at the beginning of Efuru works to emphasize the endorsement of society’s perception of one gender as a common commodity in many traditional texts in order to interrogate it. Thus, the novel denies Efuru’s father his cultural rights of his daughter’s bride price. Conversely, it accords its protagonist the right to decide when and how “the dowry must be paid” (10). The embedded note of authority makes Efuru “a welcome deviation from the lack-luster, passive, voiceless, docile woman characters of early African novels” (Helen Chukwuma “Efuru” 92). Again, by providing Efuru’s dowry through her business, the primary text dislodges the husband’s cultural right of ownership over his wife. Consequently, by crossing its society and precursors’ boundaries, Efuru animates a dormant category and enthrones gender equality in Africa. Paradoxically, the primary text, following its forerunners, validates the dowry tradition for it is only after the payment that the couple “for the first time … felt really married” (24). This makes Nwapa’s creative attitude a bit ambiguous and provides a template for texts like The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta. By locating the episode at the beginning of the novel, Nwapa prepares a reader for a close encounter with a ‘new’ text.
Moreover, Nwapa’s ‘new’s text reframes previous accounts by depicting the woman as a conscious and active economic being through a dialogue between Gilbert and Efuru. While Gilbert suggests that Efuru visits him on Nkwo market day, Efuru reminds him that “no woman in our town has time for any other thing except to buy and sell on Nkwo day. After the market, she goes to collect her debts. Nkwo is not a day to make social calls it is a day for business” (116). Gilbert’s proposal, unlike Efuru’s response, shows lack of business consciousness. Efuru’s response also accounts for the active participation of women in their society’s economy through commerce. The scene further illustrates a transfer of the economic hub of Igbo land from Achebe’s men to Nwapa’s women and from farming, to trading. Hence, Efuru:
Refused to go to the farm with her husband. ‘If you like’, she said to her husband, ‘go to farm. I am not cut out for farm work. I am going to trade.’ That year the man went to the farm while his wife remained in the town. (10)
Efuru goes ahead to establish a trading business and eventually decides that Adizua should “leave the farm … (and) come to town” so they can “trade together” (20). The partnership prefigures wealthy African women, exemplified by Nigerian Folorunsho Alakija, who “involved him (her husband) … in Famfa Oil … her company” (E. M. Nikki 1). Efuru therefore locates commerce as a viable economic prospect begging to be explored in its society and puts the sector under the woman’s custody. Thus, Efuru heads a successful trading firm in which her husband plays a subsidiary role. Such portrayal departs from the original texts’ where the “man is the head of the family and his wives do his biddings”, is the “lawfully entitled … lord and master” and “he-who-must-be-obeyed” (TFA 94, Mission to Kala 10, Wand of Noble Wood 69). Efuru’s assertive and decisive attitude contradicts her position that her husband is “the lord and master” and a woman has “no say” in most things (55; 39). Efuru tends to reecho the previous stance to mock the literary validation of one gender as mute and brainless and interrogate gender inequality in Africa. This makes the statement an irony.Efuru’s assertiveness reconstructs the servility embedded in Okonkwo’s wives who find farm work tasking and “suffered … but dared not complain openly” as they “lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper” (TFA 10; 9). The reversal is continued in Nwosu who “dreaded his wife” (101). Hence, there are apparent overlapping and neutralization of utterances between the primary and original texts. They are therefore in intertextual communion.
Furthermore, the narrative of Efuru’s commercial venture dramatizes women’s active participation in the economic growth of Africa even in the face of daunting challenges. Her trade is described as a “risky business” because it requires days of paddling across the “Great River” infested with pirates and exposed to possible shipwreck (21). The paddle becomes a symbol of power, courage, hard work, determination, dynamism, and flexibility. With it, the outsider navigates herself out of obscurity into limelight. Efuru and Adizua’s countless business trips across different regions to source food items, like yams, dry fish and crayfish, pay off. However:
It was in crayfish that they (Efuru and her husband) made their fortune. They were the first to discover the trade that year. … They bought crayfish in bags … paddled back and sold the crayfish making a profit of over a hundred percent. (21)
To give Efuru full credit for the success of their trade and set her on the path to prominence, the narrator reveals that Adizua is “not good at trading” Efuru is “the brain behind the business”, she is “a good trader (whose) … hands make money” (36; 58). Efuru’s economic success is also embedded in her praise name ‘Nwaononaku’ (132), which loosely means ‘one who is in wealth’. Hence, the essence of Nwapa’s novel is “the economic independence of women” (Yemi Mojola 127). Adizua’s incompetence and lack of initiative is further exposed in the diminished profit and capital experienced by their trade during Efuru’s maternity leave. Conversely, Efuru’s discretionary ability and business insight are demonstrated in her informed analysis of market forces and conclusion that it is time to change to another line of business. This is when Adizua is merely asking, “what are we going to do” (21)? The scene energizes the woman in Efuru and enervates the man in Adizua as it introduces a new voice into the boardroom of African economy. Efuru’s lucrative trade reframes Nwakibie and Nwaka’s thriving farming enterprises (TFA and Arrow) as its international and wholesale dimensions enlarge their local scope and space. These reconstructions relieve the Nwakibies and Nwakas (TFA and Arrow) of their duty as drivers of African economy and transfer the same responsibility to the Efurus and Ajanapus. Hence, the burden of playing the second fiddle shifts from one gender to the other. Efuru’s economic prowess therefore functions to create an upwardly mobile woman – a superstar – who can acquire “the type of wealth … not bestowed on women … but men” (One is Enough 116) in the original texts. Through the reversals Efuru replaces its predecessors’ image of “women who cannot stand by themselves” (64) with “the newly rich” superstars (49). Therefore, in Efuru, the other gender assumes the responsibility of the master, provider, decision maker, and leader in her family and society. The author’s artistic intention is revealed in her confession that she projects Efuru’s “resourcefulness and industriousness (to) debunk the erroneous concept that the husband is the lord and master and that the woman is nothing but a property” (“Women” 528).
Moreover, in an attempt to deflate what she considers a flawed concept, Nwapa also twists polygamy to the woman’s advantage in order to give her additional room to work herself to eminence. Thus, Ajanapu recommends a wife for her husband as she is “too busy” with her trade to take proper care of her family (57). This makes the character an embodiment “of African womanhood hallmarked with communalism, vibrancy and dynamism” (Opara 35). In Ajanapu, Nwapa “projects the accomplished village woman” (Chukwuma “Efuru” 93). The author’s conscious selection of commercial register is best observed in the portrayal of Efuru and Ajanapu’s trades and invigorates the economic energy of the novel. Efuru’s original perspective influences its successors. For instance, Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn creates the character Li who, by personal efforts, rose to become the “man of the house” (101). These representations publish the hitherto silenced accounts of the huge contributions of one gender to the development of the African economy. Such accounts heal the female gender of the anonymity imposed upon it by Efuru’s forebears.
In addition, the attention given to Efuru’s philanthropic gestures suggests a further attempt at writing the woman out of obscurity. Thus, Efuru earns eminence through her efforts at healing her ailing society, symbolized by Nwosu and Nnonna, and raising its living standard. The image of Efuru as a philanthropist and humanist suggests a revision of Achebe’s Nwakibie in TFA. The wealthy Nwakibie participates in the economy of his society as a capitalist. He is “stingy with his yams” (his capital) (16), which he only invests where it could earn maximum interest. Conversely, even at the risk of being taken for granted, Efuru finds it “difficult to deny these people anything” (172). Eaglewoman, in Adimora-Ezeigbo’s House of Symbols, adopts Efuru’s attitude and never “withholds help” from people (319). The texts as such display an intertextual relationship. Through her charity, Efuru becomes “well known … a great woman” (77), loved and respected and this is irrespective of her failed marriages and childlessness. Nwapa later “disproved this belief” that wealth and children “did not go together,” as expressed through Efuru, in One is Enough, using Amaka (117; 116). The amendment functions to equip the underdog with everything that make one a celebrity in the Igbo society of Africa. The idea of the successful and respected single woman is still extended to One is Enough (Nwapa) where Amaka does “perfectly well without a husband” (118), The Last of the Strong Ones (Adimora-Ezeigbo) with the phenomenal Umuga chanter, Chieme, and So Long a Letter (Mariama Ba) with Aissatou. Consequently, the primary text is decontextualized and recontextualized in other contexts. Efuru’s fame becomes Nwapa’s evidence againstits predecessor’s validation of the African cultural belief that a woman cannot attain independence and can only find fulfillment in marriage and motherhood. Thus, with Efuru’s superstar status, the primary text mocks its precursors thus: “What can a woman do?” you say every day. In the end, a woman does something and even then you still look down on women” (166).
Mojola (123) concludes that Efuru, and Idu, “when viewed in their entirety, constitute Flora Nwapa’s ideal image of the Igbo woman rather than representatives of the ordinary Igbo woman.” However, Nwapa reveals that she was inspired by “solid and superior women who held their own in society … successful traders … astonishingly independent” and responsible wives and mothers ignored by her predecessors’ account (“Women” 528). She concludes that:
The woman writer cannot fail to see the woman’s power in her home and society. She sees her economic importance both as a mother, farmer, and trader. She writes stories that affirm the woman, thus challenging the male writers and making them aware of woman’s inherent vitality, independence of views, courage, self-confidence, and, of course, her desire to gain a highsocial status. (“Women” 529)
Therefore, Nwapa’s tale accounts for several women who achieve eminence by actively supporting the unstable economy of the continent in the same way Li supports her crippled husband in Alkali’s Stillborn.
Nwapa’s attempt to fill a yawning gap pushes a number of important issues to the front burner of discourses on African economy. First, Efuru’s trade anticipates the need for diversification in order to establish a multilateral economic culture as against the oil-based mono-economic system adopted by Nigeria. Again, it demonstrates the need for private sector participation and self-employment to reduce the pressure on the saturated job market. In addition, her business strategy advocates for feasibility study and market survey at this period when imported ‘tokumbo’ items constitute environmental nuisance in African countries like Nigeria. Moreover, Efuru’s trade promotes food distribution and, by extension, agriculture. It therefore makes an appeal for food security in Africa where food shortage is becoming endemic in cities while some rural dwellers “don’t know what to do with yams” and cassava (Efuru 112). Furthermore, it speaks for the development and security of waterways towards ensuring access into the hinterlands and reducing the pressure on roads. Consequently, the portrayal of Efuru’s trading venture in the primary text employs a group neglected by its precursors to show the way out of the present economic crisis in Nigeria and some other African countries. Efuru therefore proves that “literature ought to construct alternative vision for those saddled with engineering the direction the society should follow” (Anote Ajeluorou 37).
Apart from commerce and philanthropy, Efuru also provides the first literary account of women’s contributions to the growth of African economy through the manufacturing sector. This dimension is explored by means of Ugwunwa’s daughter, a gin producer and merchant, who runs an underground factory in the farm. According to Ugwunwa, the young manufacturer circumvents the colonial authority to deliver her finished product to consumers in town and by boat at night. The gin maker thus models the possibility of developing pragmatic solutions to African economic needs. The distribution channel also involves Ugwunwa who, once the drinks are delivered, hides them away from the prying eyes of the colonial law. The author further recruits Ugwunwa to examine and find the homemade gin equal in essence to its imported alternative. On this basis, she insists that “we shall continue to cook our gin” (13) despite its official illegal status. This articulates the author’s Post-colonial stance and antidote for the growing obsession with imported items, which makes the economy import-dependent, stalls creativity and industry and displays mimicry. In the gin tale, Nwapa’s argument oscillates between gender to race and the double perspective dramatizes Kimberie’s Crenshaw’s concept of Intersectionality. The wholly indigenous economic chain – producer, distributor, and consumer – challenges Africa to shift from consumption to production, by including all her citizens irrespective of gender, age, and class. The episode expresses Nwapa’s confidence in the capacity of women and indigenous products to drive the African economy. The character’s enterprise represents a more resilient and sophisticated version of Obiako and Nwokafo’s palm-wine trade in TFA (15) and Arrow (78). It also anticipates Ejimnaka’s successful “mat-making and marketing business” in The Last of the Strong Ones (23). The primary text, in this way, forms an alliance with preceding and prospective texts. In the manufacturing narrative, Efuru creates a striking image of the underrated population as focused, ingenious, resilient, and dauntless. By this reconstruction, Nwapa pushes one human group from obscurity to prominence.
Furthermore, Efuru’s exploration of debt management, a central and complex aspect of financial system, revisits the traditional texts in order to narrate African women’s contribution to the fiscal advancement of Africa. Efuru pays overt attention to defaulting and repaying, mainly portrayed through dialogue, a recurrent technique in the text. Both seem like legal tenders in the text and function to intensify the image of the woman as an articulate and active participant in her society’s economy. Efuru analyzes the perennial problem of default, traces its root cause, and suggests a workable solution using Ajanapu. The origin and cause of default are identified in the statement that “debtors don’t pay their debts these days … because there is famine and consequently business is dull and people “have no money” (121; 112). This predicts the present economic condition in Nigeria. Furthermore, Ajanapu’s recovery strategy is contained in her observation that nobody:
Uses discretion when it comes to debts; if you don’t go often to remind them, your money is lost. … unless you worry a debtor he will never pay you; when he has the money he uses it for other things. (121)
Efuru validates Ajanapu’s assumption using Nwosu who owes Efuru but takes a title against his wife’s insistence that he repays his debt. This tends to make financial irresponsibility a property of men; the original texts’ preferred population. It also positions the female gender as touchstone of accountability and prudence and hence remedy to Africa’s addiction to borrowing. Again, the episode decries incessant borrowing and wanton spending which have plunged Africa into economic chaos and left her at the mercy of Western-controlled institutions like IMF and World Bank.
Moreover, the primary text identifies the African woman as capable of enforcing financial discipline, which facilitates economic development, by employing Ajanapu to recover her husband and Efuru’s respective debts. Ajanapu’s CV includes expertise in debt recovery even though she admits that she is “knee-deep in debt …” herself (121). The character’s precise mission statement in Nwabuzo’s house, is telling of her approach, commitment and persistence. The statement introduces her as Efuru’s agent and summarizes the debt value, history, agreement, and consequences of default. Through Ajanapu’s effective method, Efuru repeats but alters elements of TFA where Okoye’s diplomacy and verbosity fail to make Unoka pay his belated debt. The scene holds many lessons for debt recovery agencies, and anti-corruption bodies, like the Nigerian EFCC. Ironically, the next episode dramatizes Ajanapu’s efforts at evading payment of an overdue loan. The proximity of both scenes makes the irony more poignant and helps Ajanapu’s characterization achieve complexity. The representation of Nwabuzo and Ajanapu as the face of default in Efuru functions to make the female gender less saintly and absolve Nwapa from charges of gender bias. It also dramatizes the ubiquity of corruption in Africa and questions the moral authority of the continent’s anti-corruption agents.
Additionally, Efuru’s socio-economic discourse links child labour to poverty and commissions the woman to fight both in a manner that turns the logic of her voicelessness and passivity on its head. Child labour and poverty are exhibited in the existential condition of Nwosu’s family worsened by the flooding of his farm. Nwabata, Nwosu’s wife, admits that “what molested her was poverty” (168) and the debilitating consequence is displayed in her premature aging and “sense of insecurity” (167). Poverty, especially in the rural areas, is further expressed by lucid images of children, with protruding “shiny tummies,” left to fend for themselves while their parents work in farms (100; 91). The effect is amplified in Ogea, Nwosu’s ten year-old daughter, pawned to Efuru for ten pounds to enable her father pay his debts and taxes. The exchange also elicits Nwabata, Ogea’s mother’s resolve to save money and trade in order to rescue her other children from Ogea’s fate (166) Consequently, Efuru projects women, through Efuru and Nwabata, as messiahs in the lives of hapless children in different African societies. The flooding episode alludes to, but widens, Okonkwo’s unpalatable experience as a struggling farmer in TFA. Ogea’s initial misery in Efuru’s house also connects with Ikemefuna’s in Okonkwo’s home and extends the intertextual relationship between Efuru and TFA.It reflects the agony of many children, from poor families, condemned to domestic servitude. The episode emphasizes the need for African governments to tackle poverty-inducing natural and socio-economic disasters like flooding, erosion, and poverty.
No comprehensive analysis of Efuru can afford to ignore its manipulation of femininity, both at the natural and supernatural levels, especially as exhibited in characters like Ajanapu, Efuru’s mother and the deity, Uhamiri. Ajanapu functions as Efuru’s confidante and defender in a manner that depicts the concept of sisterhood and female bonding. Their friendship reflects the tie between Okonkwo and Obierika, Ezeulu and Akuebue as well as Ramatoulaye and Aissatou in TFA, Arrow and So Long a Letter. Ajanaku’s construction as “a strong woman” who possesses “fighting spirit” … in abundance” (217; 79), underlies her defender role. Using this image, Nwapa submits a new list of “the strong ones” (Adimora-Ezeigbo) to deregister her gender from imposed obscurity and helplessness. Ajanapu’s reprisal attack on Gilbert, when he accuses Efuru of infidelity, displays the “fighting spirit” and bravery of Nwapa’s ‘new’ woman. The pestle, a kitchen utensil that functions as Ajanapu’s weapon, becomes a metaphor as it stands as “an emblem of power” (Opara 35).The incident suggests that Feminism existed tacitly in Africa before being popularized by Western scholarship. The concept of kitchen gadgets as instruments of retaliation is recontextualized in Symbols where Ossai, for slapping his wife, is battered with a grinding stone (179). It is given a more radical thrust in Beatrice and Firdaus’ respective murders of their oppressive men using food and knife (Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero). The intertextual relationship existing between the texts is unmistakable.
Moreover, by her father’s account, Efuru’s success is traced to her late mother who was “so rich that she became the head of her age group … (and) took titles. She was about to take the title of “Ogbu-efi” when she died” (150). This reflects Arrow where Nwaka’s success is traced to his forebears and he has one of the highest titles in Umuaro. Adimora-Ezeigbo’s The Last of the Strong Ones follows Efuru’s pattern through Chieme who “accumulated wealth … became Loolo” and took the title of Omesarannaya (85). The representations again imply that the woman works her way out of her culturally imposed anonymity into limelight by her contributions to the society’s well-being, using her work and wealth. Efuru therefore endows the other gender everything she is denied by its forerunners – name, eloquence, wealth, prominence, leadership, and even titles. Thus, by its overt and covert allusions, the primary text cites original texts and anticipates prospective ones. Its approach validates Kzina Kalogirou and Vasso Economopoulou’s position that reading is “a process of moving between texts … every text has its meaning only in relation to other texts” and so meaning exists between one text and every other text it relates and refers to (180).
Furthermore, the goddess Uhamiri is a central component in Nwapa’s creative composition and illustrates her religious consciousness and the Igbo worldview also exploited by her predecessors. Nwapa thus intensifies the efforts of her predecessors, like Achebe and Nzekwu, to activate and preserve for posterity elements of the endangered Indigenous African Religion, including gods, diviners, ancestors, and kolanut. Uhamiri is eulogized as “the goddess of the lake … our goddess … a great woman … very kind to women” who protects and “shower(s) riches” on her worshippers. This encapsulates her domain, status, interest, rights, and responsibilities. Uhammiri’s devotees, mostly women, own almost all “the storey buildings” in their society (153). The houses are symbols of power and prominence for the hitherto insignificant gender. The goddess as such provides a cure for women’s socio-economic ailment. According to Chioma Opara (32), Uhamiri is represented as “a deity of renaissance, renewal, and economic empowerment … (with) a transformative power.” The evocation of a powerful female deity, with socio-economic power in a patriarchal society, implies Nwapa’s feminization of the supernatural in the same way she does the natural. It introduces some elements of magical realism into the plot line of the primary text and Efuru’s liaison with the deity in her dreams invigorates the mystical quality of Efuru. The Uhammiri dimension also enables Nwapa to join Achebe in expressing respect for the Igbo language and culture as illustrated by the dibia, Enesha Agorua’s “salutation name … Ogbu madu ubosi ndu na agu ya” (153).
The image of Uhamiri refers and relates to, but reverses Eru, a male god who when he “likes a man wealth flows into his house” (Arrow 9). In addition, the frosty relationship between Arrow’s gods Ulu and Idemili is repeated in Uhamiri who is “not on speaking terms with Okita, the owner of the Great River” (199). Again, like the Sea-King in Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, Uhamiri seems to demand total loyalty and detest any type of competition and so Efuru’s two attempts at marriage fail and her only child dies. However, while the Sea-King is depicted as a blood-thirsty deity, Uhamiri is not. The modification tends to absolve African female gods from bloodshed in order to present them as more benign than their male counterparts.
Nwapa, in Efuru, refers to its precursors but reframes their representations. The primary text supplies the impetus for prospective renditions. Efuru expands the scope of African literature by including the neglected account of the input of a large percentage of African population to the socio-economic development of the continent. In addition, by displaying the other side of early 20th century Igbo society, the text anticipates the current socio-economic condition of Africa and provides pragmatic solutions. Consequently, Flora Nwapa becomes the maker of a ‘new’ text in African literature. Finally, Nwapa’s approach validates Ayo Kehinde’s observation that:
Literature … depends on the socio-political realities of its enabling milieu and the precursor texts … for its impetus. Thus, for the proponents of intertexuality literature evolves from literature. African writers also depend on earlier texts for their themes and styles. This is quite pertinent in this era of multiculturalism and globalization. (375)
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