NWANA Pita

First Igbo Literature Writer by(Gbenga Fasiku). One age-long controversy in Igbo land is the question ofan acceptable orthography. It was a problem for the early missionaries as well as Igbo writers and readers; and today, it is still unresolved. The problem created an unequalled ambivalence among the Igbo. which hampered the enthusiasm of an average Igbo person to create literature in his own vernacular. Despite this, the first novel to be published in Igbo vernacular. Omenuko enjoyed general acceptance and wide readership, irrespective of the fact that it was published in a controversial orthography. The publication, how ever, rendered the controversy about acceptable or thography a non-issue. The novel,a fictionalized biography of a living Igbo hero(Chief Igwegbe Odum of Ndizuogu), who lived from about I860 to 1940, pierced through all the Iiterary barriers of the early 19th century to establish a true sense of Igbo literary identity. Thus,with Omenuko the Igbo, generation after generation, began reading in their language. Children who do not have the opportunity of Western education can read Omenuko at home or at adult education centres and still understand. Omenuko's sayings became part of the Igbo speech pattern which the young adult is expected to acquire. It was an Igbo novel, conceived by an Igbo, for the Igbo and about the Igbo. Published by Longman, London after it had wonn all-African literary contest in indigenous African languages organised by a body known as the International Institute of African Languages and Culture, Omenuko is, to say the least, good augury for the revival of vernacular literature among the Igbo. It immediately awakened in the Igbo a spontaneous love for reading. It is a book many love to read for its wit, its volatile humour, its insistent moral overtones, and generous and effective use of Iiterary jargon. Ironically, little is known about the author of this eye-opening work of art. Many people remember the novel without remembering its author. To such readers it is like a book of wisdom sent from heaven, and to search for its author would be like searching for the author of the Bible. The author is, no doubt, thepioneer ofIgboliterature. His first and only work. Omenuko, constitutes the foundation on which con temporary Igbo writers' works are built. Despite the success of this work, the writer. Pita Nwana, wrote no other book. With the publication oft his award-winning novel in 1933,Pita Nwana became the Igbo literary torch bearer that paved the way for Igbo writers. The strong influence of Omenuko on the Igbo people stirred up the urge to creatively present and project the Igbo identity by publishing novels, plays,poems, prose and other forms of literary works in Igbo language. The contemporary Igbo novel, poetry, drama, even literature are extensions of Igbo oral literature. This embodies the literary aspect of Igbo oral performances such as folk songs, folktales, riddles,proverbs, prayers, incantations, histories, myths, oratory, etc. From these evolved Igbo life, its culture and its world-view.With the exception of the Igbo oral performances. Pita Nwana was the first Igbo writer to write about the Igbo world-view in fiction.Thus, Nwana developed Igbo literature as an art, showcasing its culture and its world-view through his literary work. This vision, shown by Nwana's style, was later employed by great traditional Igbo writers like Leopold Bell-Gam(the author of Ije Odumodu Jere published in Igbo in 1963), D.N Achara (who wrote Ala Bingo published also in Igbo in 1963), and others in their various literary works. Beyond this, Nwana - with his creative use of literary jargon and his description of communal and emerging civil society oftheearly20thcentury in his novel, Omenuko -inspired contemporary Igbo writers who had embraced English language as an official means of communication to look inward in defining the ideals that characterized Igbo society. Hence,writers like Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi. Flora Nwapa, Cyprian Ekwensi, among others, learned a lot from the indigenous prose fiction rooted inOmenuko. For example, Nwana's Omenuko covers part of the period in Igbo history which featured in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. There are two epochs in the history of Igbo that Nwana tried to show in his book. The first is covered by the first few chapters of the novel. It was an era of Igbo communal life when the affairs of the Igbo were decided by a general assembly.The in digenes were deeply rooted in their culture, religion, tradition and world-view. The change in the Igbo political, social and cultural system came in the first decade of the 19thcentury when the British colonial administration took complete control of Igbo land. This is the era covered in the latter part of the book where references were made to warrant chiefs, paramount chiefs, white men,etc.- agents of the new British Administration. The novel, therefore, largely illustrates the pe riod of transition from one era to the other. This is also evident in Achebe's Things Fall Apart. There was tension within the society about the changes that were taking place; the changes from communal life to the civil society with all the paraphernalia of British Administration. Never the less the forces in the conflict refused to clash, and cross-cultural conflicts were kept to the barest minimum. For instance, the white man in Nwana's book appears to have answers to all questions and his words are law. Nwana, how ever, showed that there are still some people who would sometimes be so disgusted with the white man and his ways that they would repudiate him to his face. In spite of this, Nwana manages to prevent conflict between the Igbo and the British. That Achebe allows this confrontation isa graduation from Nwana's peaceful or rather submissive disposition. What is fundamental is that Nwana laid the foundation upon which other Igbo writers built. He, through his novel, identified the forces that were at play in the colonial emancipation and imperialism of the Igbo land. Pita Nwana, writing at a time when little was known about indigenous literature and all its devices, invoked all literary devices and styles in his book. He is a writer of many attributes. His literary prowess as exhibited in the only book he wrote, is manifested in his unprecedented use of figures of speech like similes, flamboyant metaphors, personification, hyperbole, pathetic fallacy, etc. Also, Nwana's imaginative use of language, wit, volatile humour, incisive irony, well -constructed and skilfully handled plot of a concise and pugnative theme rooted ina primordial Igbo set ting, depicts him as literary icon, to whom Igbo writers the world over are indebted. Again, Pita Nwana's distinction as an author of repute lies mainly inhis unique ability to characterize. Nwana, writing fiction about a living hero as at the time the book was published, developed the hero of the book into an irresistible and memorable character such as a reader can expect to encounter in fiction. Nwana also left an indelible mark in the area of plot building in Igbo prose-writing. In Omenuko, Nwana carefully constructed the plot with a neat resolution of all the conflicts that had earlier been builtup inthe novel, hence the novel's circular structure. This later became a common characteristic of many Igbo novels (English or Igbo). For example, this circular structure clearly shows in Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Agunwa's More Than Once, Ekwens'fs Jagua Nana and many others. Thus, Nwana, either consciously or unconsciously, set the pace for modern Igbo writers Asizeable number of other works in Igbo exist, but few have any serious literary significance or Omenuko's wide readership and popularity. Nwana's novel rose above the orthography controversy that enveloped the Igbo literary scene in the early part of the I9th century. He helped in gingering the literary consciousness of an average Igbo person beyond the lingering search for an acceptable orthography. With Nwana's book published in all the orthography avail able in Igbo language, he became the most widely read author in the whole Eastern region of Nigeria. Nwana's book also helped the Igbo to be conscious of the etymology of their words. For every Igbo,young and old, reading Nwana's Omenuko, the need to inquire more about how the contemporary Igbo words are coined and how they are to be used becomes very imperative. Again, Pita Nwana's book became a point ofreference in the teaching of grammatical structures, parts and uses of Igbo words. With his stylish use of expressions: both in literary and figurative senses, Nwana took his readers to the deep past ofthe Igbo. Though didactically inclined, he celebrates the Igbo identity ina superlative way. Nwana's novel accentuates major Igbo cultural, religious social, political and traditional ways of life. Indeed, Nwana's landmark Igbo literature coupled with the charged enthusiasm among the Igbo to read things about their identity, their past, their language and themselves, encouraged young Igbo writers to go into the history. Also, this book brought to the fore the need for an average Igbo person to learn about his language, culture, art custom and history. Hence, after the publication of Nwana's novel, the publication of Igbo folklore, folktales, plays or prose, poems etc., in Igbo language increased proportionately. With the realization that English is the official language of Nigeria as well as the language of Igbo literature, several attempts have been made to trans late the works of notable Igbo writers to English. Nwana's feat has, however, mystified the Igbo language so much that such attempts made little or no impact.Rather,further attempts are being made, even in the contemporary time, to re-launch and revive general interest in the learning and emancipation of Igbo language and culture. A group is involved in this endeavour-Society for the Promotion of Igbo Language and Culture. The group, formed by Chidozie Ogbalu, has as its,mandate the encouragement of the use of Igbo in communication, instruction,official and non-official Igbo businesses. Thus, Pita Nwana (whose biography is hardly known)has affected the life-view of Igbo people,creating and sustaining their interest in their language and culture.Nwana's legacy is a glittering lanmark in the development of Igbo literature at home and abroad
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