The history of the African woman is different than the history of the white women in Europe and North America. In fact the history of the former is relatively newer than the rest. When it comes to the development of the African women’s history, these women of the emerging countries started to feel it more legitimate to connect them to a re-imagined past of both the pre-colonial and colonial times. Flora Nwapa’s debut novel Efuru does similar things. Efuru is the first novel by any female Igbo writer writing in English in Nigeria. Nwapa was born in 1931 in Oguta in West African Nigeria. Like the entire continent, it is also a multi-ethnic nation. The seventeen percent Nigerian Igbo are one of the four major ethnic tribes along with the Hausa, Fulani and the Yoruba. And their women consist of half of them as expected in any other community. Flora Nwapa the first female novelist from the Igbos and Nigeria published Efuru, Idu, Never Again and Women are Important to represent the Igbo women. She died in 1993.
Efuru seems to have a very first person point of view narrative with multiple narrators. The protagonist is called Efuru. The narrators share and recount whatever they experience. The experiences of the other characters are also related to the protagonist. However, the thing that may strike the reader is that this novel despite a debut could deal poke multiple underneath meanings. Efuru is no doubt the dominant character in the novel. The multiple voices represent various conflicting attitudes and ideologies. The author tries one narrative voice, yet it becomes impossible to ignore the other characters from Efuru. Years back, in the book Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics Mikhail Bakhtin spoke of such voice or voices in 1929. This turns the novel to a dialogic text. Efuru continues with the polyphonic dialogue with the self and the society, with herself and the dialogues among the others among themselves. The novel becomes compact with Efuru in the center and the other polyphonic voices move in the periphery. They all together weave a social debate for the readers. When seen from such points of view, the novel’s transformational features also start becoming evident. Not just Nwapa but many other theorists and critics describe how women’s issues and represent the black woman’s real experiences. Molara Ogundipe Leslie calls this kind of write-ups as “Transformational Discourses.” She
… spoke, among other things, of the need to identify, articulate and advance “Transformational Discourses” as a theoretical perspective and as an area of linking intellectual and activist work. … Transformational discourses then can be assigned to those discourses which both challenge and re-create, which seek to begin anew on different and more humane grounds, which combine intellectual work with activism and creativity. (1)
That Nwapa could take up the most common themes of marriage, family and motherhood and present it in such a way that the readers are poked to look at many unnoticed Igbo social nature. The male writers have been the first writers in English in Africa and Nigeria. To mark their identity they looked towards their past as inspiration. But they could rarely cover the complete experience of their black females. Rather it can be noted that
…the black woman’s absence is ever central and taken for granted. (2)
But this can never be the case in reality. A recent book by Toyin Falola and Mathew M. Heaton’s A History of Nigeria gives an account of what Nigerian women went through. For example, there was the presence of domestic slavery of women within Nigeria before trans-Atlantic slave trade or before the entry of the British colonizers. Later, women were sold under ‘legitimate’ items along with other products in the Bights of Benin and Biafra as part of the same slave trade. This was most possible in the Southeastern Nigeria. Almost half of those slaves were young African girls and children. The male writers presented only the minimized role of the African women demoted to peripheral identities even in the post-Independence eras . This first novel covers the most critical aspects of the Igbo woman’s family, social and religious life. There are compelling thoughts in the valuable book. This text deals with no chronology of the historical events of the Igbo world. The events make the reader think of how the present make-up of the Igbo society might had come formed. No linear progression about the Igbo woman is seen in the novel. What are provoked are the slow poetical events or changes in the minds and habits of the Igbo men and the women that should had taken place. And the changes are still in the making. The author has erased the line dividing historical and literary materials. When Efuru was written, the British were already present. But that has not stagnated the Igbo religion and social customs. Clifford Geertz calls this kind of blurred distinctions as thick description. This kind of absence of chronology is a very modern attempt. The book shows no sharp event as the famous plays of the William Shakespeare did. Nwapa’s a product of its age is a fine example of a modern text with no closed endings. And so as a result, it is filled with blanks deliberately left by the author to be filled by the readers. Wolfgang Iser calls these blanks as gaps in his book The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett and in the book The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Both the books were written in the 1970s. The readers are drawn into action to continue the texts. What is left for the readers to cipher is the trace. These trace are neither fully present nor wholly absent. Flora Nwapa’s Efuru fits in the same kinds of works. It cannot be underestimated at any cost just because it is a debut novel by a new writer. The novelist completes all the expectations of a contemporary novel.
We as readers can also place Efuru of the sixties under the dim light of the white feminists when,
White feminism still appropriate the role of determining the primal theoretical concept for a generic feminist criticism; even with the benefit of hindsight acknowledging that for millions of women other ideological factors collude simultaneously with gender oppression, Green and Khan, among other white feminist critics, define feminist literary as “one branch of interdisciplinary enquiry which takes gender a fundamental organizing experience”. …Although Green and Khan go on to state that feminist criticism is the committed to revising “concepts previously thought universal but now seen as originating in particular cultures and serving particular purposes”, and to restore “a female perspective by extending knowledge about women’s experience and contribution to culture”, reifying gender as the primal critical factor compromises these assertions. (3)
There has been negligence done by the male writers and the white theorists to the representation of the indigenous African woman. So Efuru fits lesser in between Western feminism and Alice Walker’s Womanism. The latter became a global ideology and mostly covers the Black women of the Diaspora. Walker braided race, gender and class collective experiences of the African woman.
These challenges leave the position womanism in the context of the African female experience in Africa in question. … indigenously African in gender discourse rooted in the peculiar experience of the African female in Africa as suggested via Motherism presented by C. O. Acholonlu and Stiwanism presented by Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie. First, in her book Motherism (1995), Acholonlu posits the concept of Motherism focused on the centrality of motherhood in the African female experience …. ( 4)