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  • 1. Women in the War Zone – a comparative study of Achebe Girls at War (1972) & Ofoegbu Blow the Fire (1985) Francoise Ugochukwu The Open University (UK)
  • 2. Literature on the Nigerian civil War
    • “The Nigerian Civil War is widely regarded as a watershed in Nigerian literary as well as political history.
    • Numerous important works of poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction were directly inspired by the events of the war, though this inspiration is often so direct that the line between fiction & non-fiction is extremely unclear.”
    • K.Booker 2003:174
  • 3. The writers’ imbalance
    • Most writers Igbo & insiders
    • Sympathetic to the Biafran cause
    • Mostly male writers
    • No non-Igbo female writers
    • Two of the female writers expatriate women married to Igbo men:
    • Leslie Ofoegbu and Rosita Umelo
  • 4. Achebe & Ofoegbu
    • Two writers
    • One man, one woman
    • One Nigerian born, one expatriate married to an Igbo
    • One internationally acclaimed, one less well-known
    • With very different writing styles
    • But two witnesses & insiders during the war
  • 5. Chinua Achebe Girls at War and other stories London, Heinemann 1972, 123p.
  • 6. Leslie Ofoegbu Blow the Fire Enugu, Tana Press 1985, 167p.
  • 7. Chinua Achebe’s Girls at war and other stories
    • Twelve short stories, three of them directly inspired by the war:
    • Civil peace (82-89)
    • Sugar baby (90-102)
    • Girls at war (103-123)
    • Each covering one aspect of the war
    • As seen/experienced by ordinary people away from the front
  • 8. Leslie Ofoegbu’s Blow the fire
    • An expatriate / “Nigerwife”’s account
    • of life inside Biafra 1967-1970
    • As a wife, a mother, a worker
    • (nurse, teacher & relief worker),
    • a Biafran & a citizen
    • A unique insight into the plight of the displaced and suffering population
  • 9. Stories of displacement
    • A continuous exodus
    • From the North, South and Midwest to the East
    • On the roads, at check-points
    • Travelling in badly maintained cars, on public transport & on foot
    • From the towns to the villages
    • Locked in “a tight, blockaded and desperate world” (Achebe : 106)
  • 10. Daily life on the move
    • Lagos, Onitsha, Enugu, Awka, Aba, Umuahia, Ugiri, Ogbor
    • Facing transport difficulties
    • Financial situation now critical
    • Taking cover, air raid victims
    • Troops appearing on the streets
    • Living on basics
    • Cooking for the children
    • With no salt, sugar or clean water
  • 11. A highly organised society
    • Men often absent – working, making ends meet or warring
    • Women kept busy by child care & home front
    • Expatriate missionaries running hospitals & orphanages
    • Foreign pilots bringing in relief & ammunitions
  • 12. Women’s stories
    • Gladys, a “school girl” reduced to “number six” & turned into “a prostitute” – “a head of stockfish, that’s all, or one American dollar, and they are ready to tumble into bed” (p.116). True?
    • Leslie, a Scottish-born girl who falls in love and will come out of the war with “a treasure of memories happy and sad. A real education!” (p.167)
  • 13. A family focus A/ Achebe
    • Civil Peace – a small Christian family unit presenting a united front, focused on success and making it through the war in spite of all odds
    • Sugar Baby – a couple destroyed by the man’s addiction to sugar
    • Girls at War , a war-made couple struggling to retrieve pre-war traditional values
    • All three focus on gender relationships and the war-threatened family unit
  • 14. Gladys, the country’s image
    • “ Gladys’ he thought, was just a mirror reflecting a society that had gone completely rotten and maggoty at the centre. The mirror itself was intact.” (Achebe: 119)
    • a victim of circumstances and men’s behaviour
    • A revealer of the country’s true situation and moral danger
    • Still holding the key to societal improvement
  • 15. A family focus B/ Ofoegbu
    • A wife recollecting her youth, marriage & settling in Nigeria
    • The story of a couple’s choice to stay together in the war zone
    • Raising three children
    • Fostering orphans
    • “ We were heading, as a family, from one era to another.” (p.163)
  • 16. For better, for worse
    • “Why did I stay, I have often been asked. (…) I stayed because I had a firm conviction that marriage is meant for better or worse, not so that in bad times you can opt out of your responsibilities. Len felt that he could never face his people if he took the easy way out by leaving the country on his wife’s back. Our children too were very young.” (p.2)
  • 17. Marriage & its breakdown
    • People still married and staying married
    • Families threatened/destroyed by
    • Difficulties
    • Separation
    • Unfaithfulness
    • Rape
    • Widowhood
  • 18. Children in the war
    • Nnenna – “ begging a meal here, a place to sleep there and moving on as soon as she felt stronger. A grim picture of life for a child who looked no more than three or four years old.” (Ofoegbu: 66)
    • “ painfully thin women with sick children on the road, and (…) a mob of healthy looking ‘ returned’ children (from Gabon)” (Ofoegbu:117)
  • 19. 1968-1969
    • Currency change
    • No one to borrow from
    • Food price rising
    • Starving, sick, recovering
    • Unable to buy medicines
    • Petrol rationing
    • Feeding Centres
    • “ There was an atmosphere I will never forget: a mixture of fear and faith.” (Ofoegbu :55)
  • 20. 1969-1970
    • Air raids victims, usual blackout
    • wounded soldiers, kwashiorkor
    • “ a pitched battle for the health of over two hundred children” (p.109)
    • ‘ Flu’, TB and hepatitis epidemics
    • Starting a small refinery
    • Christmas Eve with heavy shelling
    • “ the whole population seemed to be on the move.” (Ofoegbu: 137)
  • 21. And in the end…
    • Achebe
    • “ He moved in with his overjoyed family carrying five heads on their shoulders.” ( Civil Peace p.84)
    • Ofoegbu
    • “ I met a Yoruba soldier (…) who said he had not removed his boots for two months. His toes were deeply cut. (…)
    • I gave him penicillin.” (p.151)
  • 22. Ten years after… Ofoegbu’s testimony
    • “ The political and military sides of the war have been written about quite extensively so I intend to deal only with the events which had a direct effect on our lives as a family.” (p.4)
    • “ We felt that this was part of (the children’s) heritage
    • “ Many of our friends were eager to know ” (p.1)
  • 23. Achebe as a key to other war stories
    • Achebe’s Girls at War can be seen as the key to understand other texts, as its three short stories epitomise the war-torn Biafra and its struggles against poverty and annihilation, addiction and moral disintegration. Ofoegbu’s text paints a fresco that provides an illustration of those struggles, with individuals now embedded in the crowd.
  • 24. Since then, “some of the most powerful aspects of Igbo culture and demography are reinforced through the production and circulation of collective memories of Biafra.” D.Jordan Smith, “Legacies of Biafra: marriage, ‘home people’ and reproduction among the Igbo of Nigeria” Africa 75(1) 2005: 30