Cyprian Ekwensi: Jagua Nana

Jagua

The latest addition to my website is Cyprian Ekwensi‘s Jagua Nana. This is an early example of the Nigerian urban novel – previous novels had been mainly set in the rural areas – and is set mainly in Lagos, though also, in part in Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Bagana. Jagua Nana – Jagua comes from the Jaguar car, because she is so stylish – is a forty-five year old Igbo woman living in Lagos. Her boyfriend, Freddie, is twenty-five, the same age as her son would have been had he lived. Jagua likes the high life, both the music and the life of the Tropicana night club. She has made her money from selling cloth but is now a high class prostitute. Freddie is infatuated with her but realises that she cannot be considered a long-term partner and he starts a relationship with the much younger Nancy. In order to keep him, Jagua subsidies his studies in England and, with her connections, manages to get the necessary official documentation. However, he goes off to England and, unknown to Jagua, takes Nancy. We follow her varied life afterwards. She goes to visit her parents in a rural area but they are not there, so she goes off to Bagana, Freddie’s home town, where she, single-handedly, resolves a long-standing tribal dispute. She goes back to her parents’ area and works briefly as a merchant princess. That does not work so she is back to Lagos, fencing for a group of thieves, before taking up with a politician and showing herself particularly adept at politics, especially as the opposing candidate is Freddie, now back in Lagos and married to Nancy. Things continue to go wrong but, somehow, Jagua survives, keeps her head up and always finds something else to do. While the urban setting and the plot are important, it is the character of Jagua that make this a worthwhile 1960s Nigerian novel.

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