The Concubine, 1966
The Great Ponds, 1969
The Slave, 1978
Isiburu, pr. 1969
“Peppersoup” and “The Road to Ibadan,” pb. 1977
Dancer of Johannesburg, pb. 1979
Sunset in Biafra: A Civil War Diary, 1973
Ethics in Nigerian Culture, 1982
Born a member of the Ikwerre tribe in Aluu, Nigeria, Elechi Emmanuel Amadi (ah-MAH-dee) appears to have been inspired by the spirit that prompted Chinua Achebe to write Things Fall Apart (1958): the desire to show that Africa was not one long night of savagery before the coming of the Europeans. Amadi’s novels, particularly The Concubine, the tale of one woman’s effect on a village, and The Great Ponds, the recounting of a feud between two villages over fishing rights, are replete with anthropological detail. Readers can learn as much about the Ikwerre from Amadi as they can about the Ibo from Achebe. Yet whereas Achebe in his first novel concerns himself with the results of European contact on a tribal society, Amadi sets his first two novels in rural communities that have little or no contact with the outside world. The conflicts are internal and have to do with the villagers themselves. Thus, unlike other Nigerian novelists of his generation, Amadi is best known for his psychological delineation of characters and for his analysis of their psychological disposition and the forces–social, psychological, natural, and supernatural–that influence and condition them.
Amadi can be considered to represent the second generation of African authors. Educated in Nigeria when it was still a colonized nation, Amadi graduated from University College of Ibadan in 1959 and became a surveyor for the colonial administration, a job he held until Nigeria’s independence in 1960. After independence, he became a science teacher and eventually headmaster of a school in Enugu, Nigeria.
In 1963, Amadi joined the Nigerian army, where he rose to the rank of captain before leaving in 1966. He rejoined in 1968 and served with the Marine Commandos during the Biafran war. From this experience comes his diary, Sunset in Biafra, in which he describes his imprisonment in Port Harcourt and his subsequent involvement in bringing order back to the war-torn country. At the end of the war, he was made government divisional officer and senior assistant secretary.
Because Amadi had lived most of his adult life in independent Nigeria, it is understandable that his first two novels did not deal with colonization. In any case, the British colonizing methods had rarely been as culturally imperialistic as the French, particularly in Nigeria, and there remained remnants of traditional cultures. A greater threat to the indigenous cultures came from the overwhelming impact of the West, with its money economy and material goods. Amadi preserved what he knew of his own culture–that of the Ikwerre–in The Concubine and The Great Ponds.
Between 1969 amd 1973, Amadi served as an administrative officer and produced several plays. A devout Protestant, he also wrote prayer books in Ikwerre and worked on translating the entire Protestant prayer book into his native language. In 1978, Amadi published The Slave, his third novel, which, like his previous two, delineates the potency and reality of supernatural forces in traditional, pre-colonial Eastern Nigerian society. The sociophilosophical work Ethics in Nigerian Culture was published in 1982, followed in 1986 by Estrangement; another novel set in the African past, it is a portrait of the aftermath of the Biafran war seen through the eyes of four characters. In this novel, Amadi explores in depth and with sensitivity the results of a bitter civil war, particularly its effects on the humanity of his characters. There is little of the anthropological detail of his earlier novels; here the concern with the universal, although it was never absent from the earlier works, is more apparent. The exoticism is kept to a minimum so as not to distract the reader from the very real drama and suffering of the people involved.