PORT HARCOURT IN THE EYES OF ELECHI AMADI

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Yesterday, the earthly cloak of Elechi Amadi was buried in his family compound in Aluu, Rivers State. Two years ago, while Port Harcourt was preparing for its tenure as the UNESCO World Book Capital, Rainbow Book Club founder and World Book Capital Project Director, Mrs Koko Kalango, interviewed the late iconic author for a commemorative coffee table book titled Port Harcourt by the Book. Below are excerpts from the interview:

Koko Kalango: What inspires you to write? How much has your work been inspired by this city?
Elechi Amadi: A powerful continual inner urge which is inexplicable. My fourth novel Estrangement is based mainly in Port Harcourt with occasional inroads into the village. My plays Pepper Soup and Dancer of Johannesburg are both based in Port Harcourt and partly in Calabar. In my war diary Sunset in Biafra, Port Harcourt was the scene of many of the memorable incidents. So there is no doubt I am a “Port Harcourt Boy” with very solid roots in the city.

KK: As we celebrate the centenary of Port Harcourt, what are your fondest memories of this city?
EA: There was the yearly “Accra Dance”. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of youths in very colourful dresses with lots of frills, wearing masks of fine wire gauze and cracking koboko whips danced wildly to the beat of drums.

This dance is fully described on page 75 of Estrangement. Then the night outs with my young uncle Peter (alias Chandu), then a budding magician! Having talked my aunt out of a shilling or two, we would first savour some groundnuts; popcorn, suya and guinea fowl eggs and then finally head for the cinema. The two popular cinemas were Rio and Rivoli. I cannot forget the thrill of watching Gentleman Jim, the exploits of a young middleweight boxer and the swashbuckling Sword of Zorro, packed with thrilling sword fights. Earlier in the day, I would have ridden children’s bicycles round the fields in Bende Street at three pence per hour.

To cap all this was the prospect of fresh fish and periwinkle soup with garri which my aunt, a fresh fish trader prepared in the evening.
KK: Port Harcourt is UNESCO World Book Capital 2014. What possibilities do you see for the city as a result of this nomination?

EA: Our nomination will certainly elicit the curiosity of book lovers all over the word. They will want to find out why we got the nomination. This curiosity will spill over to our writers, who will certainly benefit from the exposure. It will also bring honour and respect to Port Harcourt and Nigeria and hopefully galvanise the government to begin to sponsor literature seriously.

KK: What would you want a first-time visitor to know about Port Harcourt?
EA: That Port Harcourt was established primarily as a trading outpost for the British colonisers. As a seaport and railway terminal, it was ideally placed to evacuate coal [from Enugu] and palm oil from the hinterland. Port Harcourt was named after Mr. Lewis Harcourt, the then Secretary of State for the colonies.

KK: At 80 years, what do you know for sure?
EA: First that Shakespeare was right when he said: ‘‘All the world is a stage and all the men and women, merely players.’’ Secondly, that the most satisfactory life is one spent largely in the service of one’s society. Thirdly, on the accumulation of wealth and material possession, I can declare with certainty in agreement with the preacher that: ‘‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’’
-Mrs Kalango, the interviewer, is based in Port Harcourt