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I work toward the liberation of women, but I’m not feminist, says Buchi Emecheta

By Eniola Daniel
29 January 2017   |   2:05 am
Foremost Nigerian novelist and author, Florence Onyebuch ‘Buchi’ Emecheta, passed away on Wednesday in her London home at the age of 72.


Foremost Nigerian novelist and author, Florence Onyebuch ‘Buchi’ Emecheta, passed away on Wednesday in her London home at the age of 72.

Emecheta, born in Lagos on July 21, 1944, published more than 20 books throughout her career. Her notable literary works include Second Class Citizen, Joys of Motherhood and The Bride Price.

Emecheta’s books were on the national curricula of several African countries. She was known for championing women and girls’ rights in her writing, although she famously rejected her being described as a feminist.

“I work toward the liberation of women but I’m not feminist. I’m just a woman,” she once stated.

The topics she covered in her writing included child marriage, life as a single mother, abuse of women and racism in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

“Black women all over the world should re-unite and re-examine the way history has portrayed us,” she also once said… A man is never ugly… A hungry man is an angry one.

“Being a woman writer, I would be deceiving myself if I said I write completely through the eye of a man. There’s nothing bad in it, but that does not make me a feminist writer. I hate that name. The tag is from the Western world – like we are called the Third World.

“I work toward the liberation of women, but I’m not feminist. I’m just a woman.

“In Ibuza, sons help their father more than they help their mother. A mother’s joy is only in the name. She worries over them, looks after them when they are small; but in the actual
help on the farm, the upholding of the family name, all belong to the father.”

“In all my novels, I deal with the many problems and prejudices which exist for Black people in Britain today.

“I like to be called a Nigerian rather than somebody from the Third World or the developing or whatever.

“I believe it is important to speak to your readers in person… to enable people to have a whole picture of me; I have to both write and speak. I view my role as writer and also as oral communicator.”

While reacting to her death, president of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Malam Denja Abdullahi, said, “We have lost a rare gem in this field. She championed the female cause and made unforgettable contributions to African Literature. Mrs. Emechata was one of the earliest generations of women who took writing in order to project the voice of the female gender.

“I know she delivered her message so well in those books she wrote in a way 10 times the injustice in the society against the female; that did not make her a feminist. She didn’t come out to preach feminism in a western sense of it, but she was able to point out those problems affecting the female in Africa through her literary texts.

“She inspired a lot of female writers like Chimanmada Ngozi, Ifoma Okoye and many others. So in a way, she has replaced herself with them and other people that draw inspiration from a work. Her works would forever live to speak for her”.

On his part, Femi Osofisan said, “She was one of the best, though she’s been in London almost all her life, which is why many young Nigerian may not know who she was but she remained one of the best and her work will continue to speak about her”.

University of Lagos don, Dr. Lola Akande, mourned the death of Emecheta, saying it is a big loss to African and Nigerian literature, especially women’s writing because as a pioneer, she blazed the trail that others were to follow.

According to her, “It’s a big loss. Emecheta was a very honest writer; there was honesty in her writing. Part of her work is autobiographical. If you read Joys of Womanhood, you’d know that she is sharing an experience that is painful, sharing with the world so that others can draw strength. You’d see that in her work is genuine concern for women. Although she has respect for the place of women in the home, she doesn’t contest it, she is in support of it; she wants women to assert their individuality and to be treated like an individuals with integrity with her brains and respect, and of course, an individual with a contribution to make to society and who should be appreciated for her contribution.

“Although critics have unfairly labeled her a radical feminist with the usual negative connotations that come with radical feminism, they fail to see the point she was making, which is calling attention to the challenges women face to build a home and contribute economically to the home – one who looks after everybody and still contributes – modern man unfortunately is unable to shoulder all the financial and economic responsibilities required to build a home.”

For Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, “Everything she fought for was never for her sake but for the sake of others. She wrote about the African woman in a realistic and authentic manner. Men wrote but they did not explore women’s experiences graphically, but it was Emechata who wrote about women experiences and suffering in the traditional society, both in colonial and post-independent eras.”

Ezeigbo, who described the Delta State, Ibusa-born literary Icon as one of the best female writers to have emerged from Africa, added, “Her works tell the true story of the African woman: their pains, uniqueness and contributions. She’s an articulate woman, a woman of letters who set a pace that many women followed.”

Emecheta had moved to the U.K. in 1960, working as a librarian and becoming a student at London University, where she read sociology. She later worked as a community worker in London for several years.

Emecheta received many literary awards. The book, In the Ditch, was eventually published in 1972. That and Second-Class Citizen, which followed in 1974, were fictionalised portraits of a young Nigerian woman struggling to bring up children in London. Later, she wrote about civil conflict in Nigeria and the experience of motherhood in a changing Igbo society.

An assessment of her writing, published by the British Council, says: “The female protagonists of Emecheta’s fiction challenge the masculinist assumption that they should be defined as domestic properties whose value resides in their ability to bear children and in their willingness to remain confined at home. Initiative and determination become the distinguishing marks of Emecheta’s women. They are resourceful and turn adverse conditions into their triumph.”

Also, Omofolabo Soyinka-Ajayi noted that “The literary world has lost a gem. Buchi Emecheta, who defied the odds, and wrote herself into the powerful world of words, died in her sleep aged 72. May her words live on and continue to inspire.”

For Dr. Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, “We lost Buchi Emecheta!!! There goes the writer with the full ‘Joys of Motherhood.’ We mourn with joy for a fulfilled life spent doing what she knew best… writing for the emancipation of women.”

Chuma Nwokolo, too, noted, “Buchi Emecheta travels, as large in absence as she was in presence. Akika Oma…”

Also for screenwriter, Samantha Iwowo, “There was an exceptional way in which Buchi Emecheta would deploy her intellectual background in sociology, her writing skills and her realities to reach the core of persons beyond her Nigerian audiences. In her writing, she got the African woman to firmly confront her troubles and consciously master ways to conquer them. In my view, beyond feminism, Emecheta was a humanist. Her works are not limited to issues of the female gender but include those of migrant experiences; some of these still exist in the West, today. One of the widest-read African novelists, she will be missed. Surely, her hometwon, Ibusa, has lost an icon.”

In 2005, Emecheta was awarded the order of the British Empire (OBE). He wrote plays and autobiography, as well as for children. She was the author of more than 20 books. Her themes of child slavery, motherhood, female independence and freedom through education won her considerable critical acclaim and honours. Emecheta once described her stories as “stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical.”

She has been characterised as “the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948. Emecheta was born to Igbo parents, Alice (Okwuekwuhe) Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabudinke, both parents from Ibusa, Delta State. Her father was a railway worker in the 1940s. Due to the gender bias of the time, the young Buchi Emecheta was initially kept at home while her younger brother was sent to school; but after persuading her parents to consider the benefits of her education, she spent her early childhood at an all-girl’s missionary school.

Her father died when she was nine years old. A year later, Emecheta received a full scholarship to the Methodist Girls School, where she remained until the age of 16 when, in 1960, she married Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since she was 11 years old.