It’s probably more than twenty years since I read The Concubine but the memorable characters (Ihuoma, Ekwueme, Emenike, Wodu Wakiri, Agwoturumbe etc.) Elechi Amadi created in his first novel remain vivid in my memory. I also remember the last sentence in the novel which read something along the lines of: “Evil Spirits are known to take away humans shortly after the moonlight games–that was when Ekwueme died.”
That I remember his characters and lines two decades after reading his work is proof that Amadi was a master of the art. That the Concubine has 4.02 rating on Goodreads –an impressive rating to have on the site considering that its members are mostly authors and sophisticated readers–is proof that Amadi was respected by his peers.
Amadi wrote most of his works before the internet became popular, so little is known of him. Apart from an occasion when I watched one of his interviews on TV, prior to his death, I don’t remember seeing news about him in the media. I do remember that in the past, I’d looked him up on Wikipedia to see what life experiences formed the man I’d come to respect.
With Elechi Amadi’s death yesterday, I thought it fit to share with you lessons from his life.
1. Amadi Was a Man of Many Parts; You Too Can Be
When I was much younger, I used to believe that one could be good at only one thing; that if one attempted to do more than one thing at a time, they would be Jack, mastering none of the trades. I used to believe that if one was intelligent, they wouldn’t be physically attractive, and vice versa. But as I got older, I learned that people who do so many things actually tend to be better at each of them than those who do only one thing.
Elechi Amadi died at 82. In his career that spanned about half of a century, Amadi was at one time or another a teacher, a captain in the military, a Land Surveyor, a Commissioner for Lands and Housing, a Commissioner for Education, a Commissioner for Information, and a Permanent Secretary, all while writing more than twelve books, including his autobiographical book Sunset in Biafra which chronicled his experience during the Nigerian Civil War. He used one of his enterprise as an inspiration for another.
2. You Don’t Have to Join the Bandwagon.
In Nigeria, we establish political affiliations based on tribal sentiments. For example, every Igbo seems to believe that Buhari is not delivering the change he promised while every Northerner is convinced that Buhari is not performing because of the burden he has of rectifying wrongs done by Jonathan’s administration. So if you are Igbo, you are expected to love Nnamdi Kalu and his Pro-Biafra movement; if you are from the Niger-Delta, you must share posts from the Avengers on your Facebook. All these without questioning the particular ideology you are expected to support.
But in his time, Elechi Amadi, being an intellectual that he was, thought for himself, never allowing what his people thought to affect his own beliefs, his conscience. During the civil way of 1967-1970, though he was from Ikwerre in Rivers State, a region that was on the Biafra side, Elechi joined the Federal side where he helped re-establish Federal authority in the Niger Delta. He didn’t mind that his people considered him a traitor.
From Elechi’s life, we can learn to stand up to support what we believe in and follow our conscience regardless of people’s opinion.
3. You Can Achieve Anything You Put Your Mind to.
Amadi studied Physics and Mathematics in the University but subsequently went on to write one of the best novels ever written by a Nigerian. With a background in science, one can assume that like most scientists, Amadi preferred Math to English–those two subjects that seem to be opposites to each other. One can infer that Amadi went out of his comfort zone when he ventured into writing. In the TV interview I mentioned earlier, I remember him saying that he first started writing the Concubine as a short story but it took a life of its own and developed into a novel.
Amadi wrote The Concubine without having a degree in English, History,Law, Literary Studies or even Communication, nor an MFA in Creative Writing–majors that would have equipped him with the skills necessary to become a writer. Yet he turned out to be one of the greatest novelists Nigeria ever produced. So if there’s any venture you have been considering undertaking but are discouraged to take on because of your perceived lack of adequate skills, give it a try as it may become your concubine.
4. Fame Can Come From the Unlikeliest Source
Similar to the above, while it is intuitive to follow a career path that is similar to our educational background, it doesn’t hurt to work on other interests that are unrelated to our course of study. Though Amadi did pursue careers that aligned with his majors in Physics and Mathematics (as a land surveyor and Commissioner of Lands sand Survey), what ultimately brought him fame was his passion for writing.
So you mustn’t practice Law merely because you have a Law degree. Even if you choose to practice law, find Something you love doing and do it as a side hustle. Besides the fulfillment it will bring you, it may also turn out to be a major source of income for you.
5. Success Comes With Rewards and Challenges
In his lifetime, Elechi Amadi was internationally recognized for his works. He also won numerous awards including one in 2003 as a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic. Because of his fame,however, he was also kidnapped in 2009 from his home in Rivers State. In an interview he gave after his release Amadi said, “Although I came close to death several times during the war, when I was kidnapped I found myself in a position where I was completely helpless. They made me to lie on a wet ground. The dangers were many at the time. A snake bite could have finished me off. I am slightly asthmatic and lying on a wet ground on a cold floor can easily trigger an attack I had no drug there and that could have been it.”
When one aspires to success, one also has to prepare for its downsides. In Amadi’s case, whatever travails his fame brought him were not in vain because by getting out of his comfort zone, he blessed many lives with his work as evidenced by these comments on Bellanaija when the blog announced his death.
Elechi used his literary skills to enrich the lives of many. What will your legacy be?
P.S: I finished reading Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood today. Since this year, I have also read Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck, Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen and Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen. I didn’t pay a dime for any of these books. I borrowed them from the local library here in Los Angeles.
One of my dreams is to see a Nigeria where every community has a free public library. I don’t have the resources to do it. Please if you are thinking of what charitable projects to undertake, please consider providing your community in Nigeria a public library. If you are from Anambra State, don’t worry about the building to use. A colleague who is currently a State legislator in Anambra State told me that the government is willing to provide the infrastructure to support anyone willing to undertake such project.
Updated October 2019: If you will like to purchase any of Amadi’s books, head over to Amazon for titles like The Concubine and Sunset in Biafra, among others. The colleague mentioned above no longer serves in Anambra legislature, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to verify the offer is still open if you intend to act on it.