Jaguar Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi

Jaguar Nana is a novel by Cyprian Ekwensi


Jaguar Nana is one of the first novels of Nigerian origin, written by a popular Nigerian novelist, Cyprian Ekwensi, and published in 1961. The novel is set in pre-colonial Nigeria, in the 1950s Lagos. It is about a sophisticated, fashionable, and beautiful lady named Jaguar or Jagwa who compares herself to the then-fashionable Jaguar car. 

Like today’s Lagos, some women engaged in bartering their bodies for money or connection in the 1950s. Jaguar was able to get enriched and well-connected by being a sophisticated prostitute, despite being uneducated and mostly speaking Pidgin English.


Jagua Nana


The play tells the story of Nana Jaguar, an uneducated but fashionable and sexually appealing lady in her 40s in 1950s Lagos. Jaguar is vibrant, adoring, and controversial, and even in her 50s, she’s still saleable. Before she dived into the lucrative dark business of prostitution, Jaguar had sold ‘okirika’ clothes (fairly used clothes) for survival. She ventured into the more-paying prostitution business, realizing she couldn’t afford the luxurious lifestyle she yearned for selling Okrika.

She has a younger lover, Freddie, who’s just 25 years old. Despite the age gap between the two, Freddie is still much into her and sometimes feels she’s cast a spell on him, making him think about her endlessly. Freddie is solicitous. He wishes to be a teacher and would like to study in the UK but is experiencing financial constraints; his desire can only come to fruition with the help of an affluential person.

Jaguar feels bored whenever Freddie takes her to any hall except Tropicana. She is obsessed with dancing to HighLife music and clubbing. Going to Tropicana after lectures have become a routine for both; sometimes Freddie does leave her at Tropicana dancing for home.

On one occasion, the police picked her up for fighting with Ma Nancy, another prominent woman in the same line of business as she, over a wealthy man. Freddie has weighed up on bailing her or leaving her in police custody to her fate, but eventually goes to bail and brings her home.

Things began to turn around when Freddie picks a love interest in Nancy, the daughter of Ma Nancy, who had brawled with Jaguar sometime ago. He woos her openly, making Jaguar dread losing her younger lover. To win Freddie’s heart all to herself, she promises to sponsor his education in the UK. Although Freddie is thrilled by her promise, and indeed falls in love with her, his love for Nancy was still there.

Seeing her younger lover, whom she’s desperately wanting to have a family with, Jaguar finds ways to keep him by her side. When she’s tipped about Freddie’s plan to travel to the UK for his law studies, despite having torn the previous passport she got him, Jagwa gets a lift immediately from Taiwo to see him off.

After Freddie’s travel, she thinks about the importance of going home to see her parents, from where she would go to Freddie’s village. In the village, she learned Freddie’s father is chief but has a disagreement with his brothers, who now have left him to settle in the antagonistic neighboring villages.

The villages they settle in are at war with Freddie’s original village. Jaguar unites the warring villages and gets a marriage proposal from one of the chiefs. Because she’s city-orientated, she rejects the proposal and hopes to settle down with her younger lover.

Jaguar goes back to the city in a new body. She tries to establish a legitimate business in the town her brother lives. The okirika business is not lucrative and thriving like selling her body for money. Hence, she leaves again to reclaim her ‘elite’ position at the Tropicana, where she’s an object of a scramble by politicians, thieves, and wealthy men of some sort. This time, she stays with Taiwo, a politician, who is running for a political seat in Lagos.

Freddie, after his education, marries Nancy and now has two children with her. So, when Jaguar learns that Freddie is married to Nancy and contesting a seat against Taiwo, she joins politics fully in support of Taiwo to campaign against Freddie.

Freddie chose to join politics after his studies abroad because of the easiness to make money from it. Although Jaguar is pained by Freddie’s refusal to reciprocate her love, she still loves him.

Jaguar Nana, with the protagonist Jaguar being eponymous of the novel is commended as the greatest novel to come out of Africa, especially in the 20th century. It’s Ekwensi’s most widely read novel, despite it being banned in Nigeria. It’s the first Nigerian novel that unbiasedly explores the city’s life, ranging from brutal Political tussle and clubbing to prostitution. 


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