Cyprian Ekwensi, Jagua Nana. (New York: Fawcett Premier Book, 1961), 207 Pages.
A Book Review By Ozodi Osuji
Yesterday, July 26, 2012, around 6PM, I went to a used book store to see if there are books that I could buy and read. I went to the section on Afro-Americans and browsed. Guess what I saw? I saw Cyprian Ekwensi's book, Jaguar Nana. I bought it (as well as other books). I quickly rushed home and started reading it. I did not go to sleep until I was done with it.
I decided to write a review of the book not because it is a new book and, as such, my review could influence its sales but because I was very impressed by it. Honestly, I did not know much about Cyprian Ekwensi. I did not know that he was such an impressive writer. Because he is such a fine writer I have to write this review and encourage folks to go out and buy his books and read them. I certainly plan to lay my hands on all his books that I can get.
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK
The book, although a novel, for all intents and purposes, is a sociological documentation of life in the Lagos and Nigeria of the time that Mr. Ekwensi wrote it (early 1960s).
On the surface, the book is about the life of a woman, Jagwa (also spelled Jagua) Nana. She was born at Ogabu (Ogide?), a village only a few miles from Onitsha, Eastern Nigeria. Her father was a pastor of a church. She was the only daughter of the family (she had three brothers). Her father doted on her.
Like most Igbo men, her father wanted his daughter to marry off and produce grandchildren for him. But Jagua was something of a Tomboy and was not really interested in marriage; she wanted to live her own life, independently. Nevertheless, she allowed her father to persuade her to marry; thus, she married a local boy living at the coal city (Enugu?).
She and her husband lived at Enugu. He was a business man; he owned petrol stations. For three years they tried getting a child but could not succeed. As is the case in Igbo land, men marry for children, not for love. Thus, the Husband began making plans for another wife. She got wind of what was going on.
In the meantime, she felt stifled by the need to pretend to like her life as a housewife. She had a restless spirit that sought adventure. Her restless spirit began to yarn for life elsewhere, life on the fast lane. She learned that Lagos is where it is at, and went to the train station and boarded a train headed to Lagos. Three days later she was at Lagos and had no place to live!
She walked around until she attracted the attention of a local musician, Hot Lips, who took her in. She lived with him but was not satisfied with his meager income; he did not have what she wanted, money and what money provides, an exciting life. Thus, she began to look around for something better.
While walking about Tinunbu Square, Lagos looking at stores with expensive merchandise that she would like to buy, she noticed that some folks were following her. She turned around and asked them why they were following her. They told her that they were looking for a woman to take to their white master at Ikoyi. Apparently, they were house servants for a white man at Ikoyi and their master who had left his wife and two children in England was searching for a local mistress. She agreed to the deal and they took her to the man's house.
She was surprised at how well white folks at Ikoyi lived. The white man had sex with her and liked her and decided to keep her as his always ready sex toy. He rented a place for her, and fronted her money for her daily living expenses; she became a white man's concubine.
Eventually, the man left for England and she did not hear from him again. Apparently, she had saved some money and used that money to travel to Accra, Ghana and liked the city. She decided to trade between Accra and Lagos. Thus, she would go to Accra and buy clothes and bring them to Lagos and sell them.
She lived in an upstairs room in a rooming house at Lagos. Downstairs was a young teacher, Freddie Namme. Freddie taught at a secondary school while taking correspondence courses to qualify as attorney. The man was twenty five years old. At this time Jagwa was forty five years old hence could be his mother. Nevertheless, she fell in love with him. She used her female wiles to entice him into a relationship he did not seek out (men are supposed to chase women, not women men, remember). At first he resisted because of the twenty year difference in their age. But sex is a powerful drug and if it is robbed into a man's face he is likely to give in. Thus, they became paramours.
She gave up on her trading business and began frequenting a local night club called the Tropicana. She practically went there every evening and stayed until it closed at 2AM. She would pick up rich folks, especially white folks and have sex with them and that way make money.
Thus, she was able to make ends meet by being a high end prostitute; those generally pick up one customer per night, a loaded customer able to give them the kind of money their luxurious lifestyle demanded.
Initially, Freddie did not know about this seamy side of Jagwa's life; he was pretty much preoccupied with his studies. He sat and passed preliminary examinations towards the law degree and needed to go to one of the Inns of courts in London for a year to be called to the bar. He applied to the federal government of Nigeria for scholarship and was waiting for the result of his application when he learned about Jagwa's whorism.
He confronted her and she mollified him by promising to send him to London. She actually fronted the money, paid for his stay in London and wangled a passport for him and all was set for him to go to London. He made arrangements to board a ship soon leaving Lagos for England.
One of the habitué of Tropicana was called Mama Nancy. She, too, was a middle aged sex merchant on the prowl for rich white men who want to buy the ware between her legs. She had a regular customer, a Syrian businessmen who came in most evenings, picked her up and took her out for sex and paid her handsomely.
One evening Ma Nancy was not at the Tropicana and the rich Syrian picked up Jagua and did what he wanted and paid her. Mama Nancy later learned about what Jagua did, and the two women got into a brawl. The scene of the two women having a cat fight in the night club is hilarious; imagine two middle aged whores going at each other, tearing each other's clothes, making each other naked, thus showing their ugly aging bodies.
As an aside, one may ask: why do fighting women like to disrobe each other; is it to expose their holy of hollies, show their genitals for all the world to see; do they want the world to see that which they think makes them valuable in men's eyes? (The scene made me laugh so loudly until my throat hurt)! The short of the story is that the two old harlots became enemies.
In the meantime, Mama Nancy heard that Jagua was planning to send her young boy friend, Freddie, to London. She maneuvered to have her nineteen year old daughter, Nancy, to ambush Freddie. Being young and closer to his age, Freddie fell for her. Mama Nancy also managed to get one of her rich white customers to pay for Nancy to travel to London and take secretarial courses. Her intention was for Nancy to meet up with Freddie in London and marry him over there.
Jagua heard what was afoot; one evening, suspecting that some hanky-panky was going on in Freddie's room, on the impulse (women's intuition?) she bagged into Freddie's room and saw Nancy with him (they had just had sex).
The two women got into a fight. The younger woman held her own (you must admire the younger woman's guts; she defended herself rather well!).
Enraged, Jagwa went through Freddie's packed suitcases, fished out his passport and shredded it to pieces. She dissolved her support for his plans to study in England.
Freddie tried to get his passport reissued but as is the case with such things in Nigeria was given the run around. Apparently, nobody told him to bribe the passport folks for that were how folks obtained passports in Nigeria. He gave up and resigned himself to not going to London.
As luck would have it, however, his father, David Namme, of Bagana (near Port Harcourt) decided to pay for his study in London. He made arrangements and the next time he met up with Jaguar, he was at the airport.
Jagwa, through the grapevines, had heard that Freddie was flying off to London and with her latest flame, a local politician called Uncle Taiwo, went to the airport to say her goodbyes. She saw him as he was about to board his plane and tried to talk to him. He relented and talked to her. They seem to have buried their hatchets and he flew off to London.
During the first three months of his stay in London, Freddie wrote Jagwa but eventually the writing stopped. In the meantime, operating under the illusion that he still loved her, Jaguar decided to visit Freddie's village at Bagana.
Lo and behold who she saw there? Mama Nancy and Nancy were there visiting the village to acquaint themselves with Freddie's family. The two women had a verbal fight (good scene).
The high-water mark of the visit was that one morning Nancy was out swimming when Jagua met up with her and both of them got into a fight. Jaguar chased Nancy in the waters. Nancy swam towards another village, Krinameh, a village in deadly quarrels with Bagana.