The recent death of Buchi Emechita got us thinking about Flora Nwapa. Flora Nwapa’s seminal novel, Efuru, was one of the first novels to be published by an African woman, and probably the first to be written by a Nigerian women.
At the time, African’s literary environment was a bit of a boys club, which regarded women with suspicion. While there were quite a few great novels written by men in those early days of the African Writer’s Series, the excellence did not always seem to extend to the female characters who were generally pastiches, victims, or one-dimensional villains. Efuru was the first novel to actually challenge this literary hegemony. Not only that, she later became a pioneering publisher, setting up the first woman-run publishing house on the continent, Tana Press. Although she never claimed to be a feminist, there can be no denying her influence on literature not just for women but in general.
It was therefore quite apt that in the year of the 50th anniversary of the Efuru’s publishing, there were more than a few panels and roundtables dedicated to late Ms. Nwapa and her work at the 2016 African Literature Association Confrerence, which held in Atlanta, USA.
ARDA attended one of these roundtables. It was a lively one where the convener, Professor Marie Umeh really knew her subject, having been close to not just Ms. Nwapa when she was alive, but also her children. In fact there were a few of her children at the roundtable which was really neat to behold.
The main topic of the roundtable was to discuss the efforts of getting Flora Nwapa on one of the Naira notes, with the aim of getting her on the 100-Naira note. Professor Umeh noted that there were no women on any of the Naira notes currently in circulation except the nameless woman on the 50-Naira note.
There were a few women on the back of various notes as farmers, dancers and weavers but none of our female national icons and heroes are represented anywhere.
There are a few pressure groups for this change and a few politicians with a bit of clout are also behind it like Kema Chikwe, the former Aviation Minister.
The importance of keeping Flora’s name alive cannot be understated. In Nigeria, we don’t really pay much heed to history beyond the basics so it could happen that her name could fade into the ether. Her work is very important in the panoply of African women authors, poets, playwrights and publishers. Without her there is probably no Buchi Emecheta, no Chimamanda Adichie, no Nnedi Okoroafor or Taiye Selasi. Getting her on the 100-Naira note is an ambitious but worthy mission.
Coincidentally enough, the United States, our host country at the Conference, was having its own debate about putting a woman on one of its Dollar bills. As we rode to the airport to head back to Nigeria, the news came over the radio that Harriet Tubman, of Underground Railroad fame, would be the new portrait on the 20-dollar bill!