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Biography of Amadi ELECHI

Nigeria > Literature : Amadi ELECHI

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Born on 12/05/1934 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Elechi Amadi. Nigerian writer

writer; college administrator; government official

Personal Information

Born on May 12, 1934, in Aluu, Nigeria; son of Daniel Wonuchuku and Enwere (Weke) Amadi; married Dorah Nwonne Ohale (a midwife), 1957; children: seven daughters, one son
Education: University College of Ibadan, BSc, 1959.
Religion: Protestant.
Military/Wartime Service: Nigerian Federal Army, 1963-66, captain, rejoined 1968, served with Marine Commandos during the Civil War.


Government assistant, Calabar, Nigeria, 1953-55; surveyor in Enugu, Nigeria, 1959-60; science teacher in Oba and Ahoada, 1960-63; Asa Grammar School, headmaster, 1966-67; author, 1966-85; administrative officer, Port Harcourt, government divisional officer, Ahoada, 1968-69, various other offices held from 1969-90, including commissioner of lands and housing, 1989-90; Rivers State College of Education, various positions, 1984-87, head, department of literature, 1991-.

Life's Work

Nigerian writer Elechi Amadi achieved international literary acclaim during the 1960s and 1970s for his novels depicting rural village life in West Africa and its subsequent disintegration due to post-colonial political strife. His debut work, written in English, was The Concubine, and its 1966 publication brought him critical plaudits. An essay by Emmanuel Obiechina in the Dictionary of Literary Biography noted, "In his novels African villagers come alive in the immense variety of their individual and group activities, which are deeply informed by a shared sense of religion, ethics, social etiquette, and culture."

Born on May 12, 1934, Amadi grew up in a village in the southeastern Nigerian rainforest. He married a midwife, Dorah Nwonne Ohale, in 1957, while still studying physics and mathematics at the University College of Ibadan, located in Nigeria's second-largest city. After earning his degree in 1959, he worked as a surveyor for a year, and then became a science teacher. From 1963 to 1966 he served in the Nigerian Army, and upon his discharge took a job as headmaster of the Asa Grammar School. The Concubine was published at about this time, and the book solidified his reputation as a writer, both in his country and abroad. He was hailed as the successor to fellow University of Ibadan alumnus Chinua Achebe, whose 1958 novel Things Fall Apart broke new ground for African writers. Research in African Literatures critic Clara A. B. Joseph wrote: "Although not to the same extent as with Achebe's works, Amadi's works are peppered with witty translations of proverbs and numerous references to age-old customs. His narratives highlight the importance of tradition (more than language) in the creation of a political community."

The Concubine is the tale of a young woman, Ihuoma, who belongs to Nigeria's Igbo ethnic group. Her plight involves her past life, when she was said to be the wife of the mythical Sea King deity. This gives her great status in the present, but portends doom for any mortal man who seeks to marry her. As the novel progresses, Ihuoma is wed and widowed three times, as a result of the wrath of the Sea King toward those who would usurp his bride. Though it seems a traditional cautionary tale on the surface, Obiechina asserted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography essay that "the strength of The Concubine rests on the fact that it is not folklore but realistic-style fiction, in spite of its strong penetration by the super-natural."

Amadi's writing career was disrupted by civil war in Nigeria in 1967. That year, an armed uprising and establishment of secessionist state by Nigeria's Igbo group resulted in the breakaway nation of Biafra. Amadi was stranded there and had to escape, rejoining the Nigerian Army in 1968 and serving with a Marine commandos unit. The war raged on for three years until Biafra's surrender in 1970, and it was a disastrous episode in modern Nigerian history. Biafra was unable to feed its people, and a million inhabitants within its dwindling borders were estimated to have perished from starvation and malnutrition during the war.

Amadi's next work seemed to be a metaphor for the conflict. The Great Ponds is set in the years before World War I, but its plot centers around a long struggle for control of a part of the Niger River delta. Two villages battle one another over communal fishing rights at the Wagaba pond. The main figures are the warrior Olumba from the Chiolu village, and Wago, a famed leopard-killer from neighboring Aliakoro. "In the tradition of heroic contests," wrote Obiechina, "the possession of the pond becomes a challenge and a channel through which the warriors on each side celebrate their bravery, martial sagacity, and magical prowess."

Amadi spent the next several years of his life as a provincial government official in Port Harcourt, the city in Nigeria's Rivers State province that was once a part of Biafra. He turned to playwriting in his spare time, producing Isiburu, a drama about a wrestler which enjoyed a run at the National Arts Theatre in the Nigerian capital of Lagos in 1973. Peppersoup delved into the topic of interracial marriage, while another play from 1977, The Road to Ibadan, took place during the civil strife in Biafra. A 1978 work for the stage, Dancer of Johannesburg, was an espionage thriller set in South Africa and ended, presciently, with the dismantling of that country's apartheid system.

Amadi also wrote a diary of his civil-war experiences, Sunset in Biafra, published in 1973 by Heinemann, the esteemed London publishing house. He wrote no new novels until 1979, when The Slave appeared. Its story, again set in a rural West African village, concerns the fate of Olumati, who is the last in his family line. His parents were ostracized long ago and had to flee their home village, and have since been forced to serve as slaves to a god at a cult shrine in another village. Olumati is expected to take over this duty. He tries to restore his family's standing, but forces conspire against this plan. "Whatever social obstacles lie in the way of Olumati's efforts to restore his family's place and reputation are not as formidable as the state of deep unease and insufficiency within himself," wrote Obiechina in the Dictionary of Literary Biography profile. "In the end his failure becomes inevitable because he has suffered psychological damage from which he cannot recover."

Estrangement was both the last of Amadi's novels and the first to be set in Port Harcourt. The 1985 work recounts the tale of a woman named Alekiri and the traumas she experiences during the Biafran civil war. Her marriage ends, she becomes romantically involved with an army officer, and struggles to regain her footing after the hostilities end. "Every one of the major characters bears the scar of the war. ... but the end of the war also finds them gathering together the pieces of their shattered lives," Obiechina wrote.

Over the years, Amadi held a number of government posts in the Rivers State government, including commissioner of education and commissioner of lands and housing. He has also had a long involvement with the Rivers State College of Education, and was named head of its department of literature in 1991. That same year, he discussed his literary career in a brief essay for Contemporary Novelists. "I like to think of myself as a painter or composer using words in the place of pictures and musical symbols," he reflected. "I consider commitment in fiction a prostitution of literature. The novelist should depict life as he sees it without consciously attempting to persuade the reader to take a particular viewpoint. Propaganda should be left to journalists."


International Writers Program grant, Univ. Iowa, 1973; Rivers State Silver Jubilee Merit A ward, 1992; Ikwerre Ethnic Nationality Merit Award for Literature, 1995.


Selected writings:

The Concubine (novel), Humanities, 1966.
The Great Ponds (novel), Humanities, 1969.
Okpukpe (prayerbook in Ikwerre), C.S.S. Printers, 1969.
(With Obiajunwo Wali and Greensille Enyinda) Okwukwo Eri (hymnbook in Ikwerre), C.S.S. Printers, 1969.
Isiburu (play; produced in Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Aiyetoro, and at the National Arts Theatre, Lagos), Heinemann, 1973.
Sunset in Biafra (Civil War diary), Heinemann, 1973.
Peppersoup [and] The Road to Ibadan (plays), Onibonoje, 1977.
Dancer of Johannesburg (play), Onibonoje, 1977.
The Slave (novel), Heinemann, 1979.
Ethics in Nigerian Culture (philosophy), Heinemann, 1982.
Estrangement (novel), Heinemann, 1985.

Last update : 11/23/2009

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