The Son of the Elephant Hunter

The Son of the Elephant Hunter

This was written on the background of a backlash going on social network “Twitter”, at the parody account of Cote De Ivorian player Emmanuel Eboue lashed out at the Super Eagles and Nigeria at large. Well first of all, I’d like to say congratulations to the Super Eagles on their victory over Cote D Ivoire but then I really was not expecting them to win that match. Let’s just say for now, I have given up on expecting anything from Super Eagles because my fragile heart has been broken so many times that I just fall back to my first love, books. I mean, Yobo, Mikel Obi and even Enyema might disappoint me but my favourite Nigerian writers do not.

Over the next couple of months I am going to be doing a review on some of our favourite Nigerian authors. Each month, I will choose one author and review some of their books (or all). It is going to be a celebration of Nigerian’s best; one author a month.

The author for this month is Cyprian Ekwensi.


Cyprian Ekwensi was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, radio and television scripts, and children’s books. Till today, his books form a part of reading literature in schools. His book “People of the City” was the first book written by a Nigerian that gained international attention as it was the first novel to be published by a Nigerian.Ekwensi probably got his gift of writing from his father  David Anadumaka who was a story-teller and elephant hunter (I think this is so cool). “Cyprian Ekwensi (born 1921) was a Nigerian writer who stressed description of the locale and whose episodic style was particularly well suited to the short story.”[1] 

As proof of Ekwensi’s reputation as a pioneer and prodigious writer [2], he was awarded the Dag Hammarskjold International Prize for Literary Merit in 1969. In 2001, he was also awarded Member Federal Republic MFR and inducted into the Nigerian Academy of Arts in 2005. In 2007, the year he died, The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) presented him with an award which was converted to a posthumous award, because he had died days before.

I have chosen four of Ekwensi’s books which are a true depiction of the kind of things he wrote about; showing us (Nigerians), ourselves in our natural habitats and how they were shaping our sociology in post-colonial Nigeria. [3]

The Passport of Mallam Illia

This book was written in 1948 and published in 1960. It tells the story of revenge and was set in colonial Northern Nigeria. A young man was on his way to see his mother and find his father and on the train; he met an old man (Mallam Illia) who went on to tell him the most intriguing tale. He was involved in a game of Shanchi in exchange for a beautiful girl. (The game of Shanchi is the game of FIGHT TO DEATH) in which he won but his final opponent(Mallam Usuman) was a powerful, jealous man who did all he could to kill the Princess of Tuaregs, who was given to Mallam Illia in marriage due to his victory in the Shanchi. Out of blind revenge, Mallam Illia became crippled; he was overpowered and imprisoned in Mecca by Mallam Usuman.

He was rescued by a young, kind and accommodating woman Dije who he married and left with a talisman when she was pregnant and it was revealed that the young man who was writing the story of Mallam Illia was the result of Dije’s pregnancy. Mallam Usuman died and so did Mallam Illia as he had poisoned himself and was badly injured.

The book is a classic; the story was well told.

2.   The Drummer Boy

The Drummer Boy is the story of a blind drummer and singer, Akin who moves from place to place entertaining people with his performance. Set in Lagos, Akin’s instrument of entertainment was the ‘samba’ and as the book described, his “samba” was really a tambourine with which he would belt out rhythms that got people around him marveled. There was always this unhappiness (dissatisfaction, perhaps) with Akin and unfortunately, he got mixed with the wrong crowd.

I will not tell the whole story of The Drummer Boy because I wouldn’t be doing justice to the story but what I can say is that akin did not end up with the wrong crowd. This is a book everyone should read at least once a year.

3.   Jagua Nana

I always want to scream whenever I see this book or come across the title. “They called her Jagua because of her good looks and stunning fashions. They said she was Jag-wa, after the famous British prestige car.” The book tells the story of Jagua, an impressive prostitute with a heart of gold (really, she was a prostitute). It had so many endearing characters like Freddie Namme, Rosa, Mama Nancy, Dennis Odoma, Secretary of OP 2 Sabina and Taiwo, but Jagua Nana is the most compelling. I mean this woman helped her ambitious boyfriend get education in England, housed a homeless girl at the club and gives away most of the money she gets.

The book gives a graphic picture of Lagos in the 60s and woven into the life of Jagua Nana the illiterate, contradictory and charming prostitute who was determined to marry the educated elite. Jagua Nana was so adorable that she had her “justifiable moral code and sense of self”. The story is hilarious and touching as well and the ending was quite moving. This book is unanimously Ekwensi’s most successful novel and its one everybody should actually own.

4.   An African Night’s Entertainment

This was a beautiful Ekwensi re-tale of a folk tale that starts with the desire of a wealthy man called Shehu for a child of his own who then gets married to a beautiful woman who was bethrothed to Abu Bakir. The story continues with the obsessive search by Abu Bakir for revenge on Shehu for luring away the woman he was to marry. Shehu by this time has a handsome son with good manners and Abu Bakir travels a long way through the forest to a voodoo priest who gives him a potion to and from that day, the kid became a stealing menace.

The story ends with the murder of Shehu by his own son.

There you have it, four classics by Cyprian Ekwensi and please feel free to include your other favourites by this phenomenal writer.

12 thoughts on “The Son of the Elephant Hunter” by Salliness (@Salliness)

  1. Hmmm…u made me want to read those again…..

    1. @topazo that is the point!

  2. Didn’t read Jagua Nana, never even heard of it. Guess I’ll have to go look for it now. Of the other 3, The Passport of Mallam Ilia is my Favourite.
    Have some other books whose title i remember but not the authors. I hope they get a mention subsequently.

    1. Never heard of it too.

  3. Abeg. A Cyprain Ekwensi collection without Burning Grass is like an Unsalted dish.

    1. @Hymar I haven’t read it.

  4. Cyprian!…..

    I read an incomplete copy of African Night’s Entertainment in primary school. Twenty years later, I was still looking for it to read.

    Finally got it about 2 years ago.

    Cyprian is a genius of their time, accept it or not.

    Well done Sally for this. I hope to look for his other books with this.

  5. Burning Grass is my favorite too. But these ones are great too. CE sure could weave stories.

    1. Its official! I want a copy of “Burning Grass” for Val’s day.

  6. A beautiful walk down literal walk memory lane. Cyprian Ekwensi is one of my special favorites. My dad had all his books which I voraciously devoured at a young age. I have always maintained that “The Passport of Mallam Illia” is a story that should be made into a movie. Unfortunately, I don’t trust Nollywood to do justice to it. Such a great book!

  7. Brought back fond memories.

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