Sunday 15 January 2023

Flora Nkiru Nwapa

Flora Nkiru Nwapa was Nigeria’s first female novelist and the first female novelist in all of black Africa to be published internationally, in the English language. She was also Africa’s first female to publish a novel. She’s regarded as the Mother of Modern African Literature. She was born on 13th January, 1931, in Ugwuta, Imo State. She was the 1st daughter out of six children.

Flora was born into two prominent Nigerian families—Nwapa Nduka and the Onumonu Uzaru. Her parents were an early influence, especially her mother, Martha Onyenma Nwapa who was one of the most prominent women in Oguta. Martha was the first woman to obtain the “customary standard six examinations” from St. Monica’s, a missionary school in the town. A studious woman, she went on to teach schools in Oguta & encouraged all her children to develop a love for reading. Flora’s father, Christopher Ijoma Nwapa, was an important land owner & managing director of one of Britain’s largest exporting companies; his primary business was the foreign sale of palm oil, a major commodity used by the British.

At an early age, Flora attended the C.M.S. Central School Ugwuta, Imo state and the Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls School, PortHarcourt, RiversState. In 1950, she took post secondary courses at Queens College, Lagos. After completing her studies, Nwapa taught briefly at Priscilla Memorial Grammar School in Oguta, a school founded by her uncle, Chief Richard Nzimiro, the first mayor of Port Harcourt, and her illustrious aunt Mary Nzimiro. Nwapa was soon in pursuit of another diploma at Edinburgh University in Scotland. She received her Diploma in Education in 1958 and then traveled Europe, observing the various cultures.

From 1953 to 1957, Nwapa studied English, History and Geography from the University of Ibadan. While she was there, she became the president of the Queen’s Hall. And in 1956, she met with the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip during their official visit to Nigeria. In 1958, Nwapa graduated with a Diploma in Education from the University of Edinburgh. She returned from Scotland to Calabar and became an Education Officer. Later, she taught Geography and English in Queen’s School Enugu in 1959. She also became Assistant Registrar of the University of Lagos, from 1962 to 1967.

Flora was married to Chief Gogo Nwakuche and had 3 children, 2 girls and a boy. She was the Minister of Health and Social Welfare of East Central State, from 1970 to 1971, shortly after the Nigerian civil war. In this position, she found a home for some 2,000 war orphans. She was also commissioner for Land, Census and Urban Development from 1971 to 1974.

Flora made entrance into the literary career with the novel Efuru. It is based on an old folktale about a woman chosen by the goddess of the sea to be her worshipper. Efuru was published in 1966. The first English novel to be written by a Nigerian woman.

Flora Nkiru Nwapa, Nigeria’s foremost novelist, was given a national honour OON (Officer of the Order of the Niger), by President Shehu Usman Shagari in 1983. She was a member of Africa’s Writers Series. In 1992, she was member of Commonwealth Prize Committee. On 16th October, 1993, she died of Pneumonia in University Teaching Hospital Enugu. She was buried in her home town, Ugwuta in Imo State. She was given the highest chieftaincy title in her community in Ugwuta, known as ‘Ogbuefi’. She encouraged other African women to go beyond being just housewives, but becoming more.

Over the course of 27 years, Nwapa wrote six novels, nine Children’s books, six plays, two collection of short stories, a book of poems and countless essays. Her last novel, The Lake Goddess, was posthumously published in 1995. Ugwuta or Oguta is not just home to Flora Nwapa, but is also the home of Dr. Alban (Alban Uzoma Nwapa), his cousin, Charlie Boy (Charles Chukwuemeka Oputa) and Senator Arthur Nzeribe.

We have come to the end of this History lesson.

Gone but not forgotten!

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