Tribute to our Great Legend Chinua Achebe

African Update – 06/04/13

CHINUA ACHEBE (1930 – 2013)

“There was a writer named Chinua Achebe, in whose company the prison walls came down.”

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s statement aptly captures what quality a writer Chinua Achebe was. We can only add that

When he lived

Strong and kicking

Chinua wrote well

Achebe knew how

His story to tell

But now

Chinua Achebe is no more

A number of quotes from his writings are included in this tribute without following any particular pattern, or respecting need for cohesion with the rest of the text.

Chinua Achebe died on March 21, 2013 aged 82. Not a bad age to link up with ones ancestor, but his passing on is still a blow for Africa and the world that was genuinely interested in the soul of African thought and its metamorphosis, especially in light of colonial occupation and its aftermaths.

When an adult is in the house, the she-goat is not left to suffer the pains of parturition on its tether.

Chinua Achebe’s interest in writing goes back to his early days in high school. Once he discovered how much he could do with a pen and paper, he put it to use and went on to become one of Africa’s greatest literary icons, both as a writer and critic, as well as an oral story teller.

The arrogant fool who sits astride the story as though it were a bowl of foo foo set before him by his wife understands little about the world. The story will roll him into a ball, deep him in the soup and swallow him first.

He did not run after the illusions of the modern novel, or the verbosity characteristic of a number of literary expositions, but made sure that his writings were focused and furthermore reflected the ideology and philosophy of African cultures and tradition, as passed down the generations through stories and proverbs.

If the lizard of the homestead should neglect to do the things for which its kind is known, it will be mistaken for the lizard of the farmland.

Achebe believed that true independence in Africa, for Africa, was Africa’s inherent right, whether others chose to see Africa as backward or not, and was a strong proponent for the bringing to an end the years of shame and humiliation suffered by Africans in the hands of Europeans. Even though he did not steer away from controversies, Achebe was never a fanatic. For him it was only fair that Africans be in charge of their own fate, and faced with external interference, it was only proper that Africans should fight for their causes, for they were right and just causes.

Why should a man with a penis between his legs be carried away from his house and village?

A man who deserts his town and shrine house, who turns his face resolutely from a mat shelter in the wilderness where his mother lies and cannot rise again, or his wife or child, must carry death in his eyes.

Chinua Achebe chose to use literature as his weapon in the fight, for he believed that should be about right and just causes. He chose, as his many works bear testimony, to tell the story of Africans in the face of colonial encounter from an African point of view. His afro-centricity notwithstanding, and in spite of his passionate fight against racism and imperial arrogance, he was patient with those who were overtly ignorant and prejudicial towards African way of life. Nor did he shy away from exalting the heroism and folly of the characters in his story that represent the African society. “Let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch,” he would say at once recognizing the inherent uniqueness of each individual, a uniqueness possible to uphold and nurture only in an environment of true justice and righteousness.

If the tongue and the mouth quarrel, they invariably make it up because they have to stay in the same head.

Achebe saw in the African nations, not some entity cobbled up and forced to exist as a unit – in reality a pseudostate devoid of enduring fabrics to hold it together, but a multiplicity weaving continuities between the past and present; against the backdrop of colonial occupation the African, the African and European culture.

A man must not swallow his cough because he fears to disturb others.

In a great man’s household, there must be people who follow all kinds of strange ways. Whatever music you beat on your drum, there is someone who can dance to it

He contended that coming to terms with the reality of such multiplicity begets the literature, an expression of that realization that does not enslave, neither the African nor the European, but liberates with a truth so much unlike brutal force meted on the Africa continent to suppress it or the irrationality of superstition or prejudice.

A man emboldened by tradition and regular travel does not wonder around to the same extent like a hen looking for a place to drop her egg.

In his adult life, he served in various capacities in his home country, Nigeria (Nigeria Broadcasting Service, Nigeria Broadcasting Commission, University of Nigeria, to name a few) as well as abroad (University of Massachusetts, Bard College in New York, Harvard, Brown University among other places).

If your brother wants to journey across the great river to find what sustains his stomach, do not ask him to sit at home with lay-abouts scratching their bottom and smelling the finger.

He was also the founding editor of the famous African Writers series that produced one of the best collections of African literature written by Africans for worldwide readership.

Until a man wrestles with one of those who make a path across his homestead the others will not stop.

But he will be remembered more for his novels (Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, Man of the People, Anthills of the Savanna), collection of poems (Beware Soul Brother) and volume of short stories (Girls at War and Other Stories) and numerous essays.

Perhaps faced with a presentiment that his time was drawing nigh, Chinua Achebe published his last major work last year (There was a Country: A personal History of Biafra) in which he retells and reaffirms the very ideals he held as a young man.

The torrent of an old man’s water may no longer smash into the bole of the roadside tree a full stride away as it once did , but fall around his feet like a woman’s; but in return the eye of his mind is given wing to fly away beyond the familiar sights of the homestead.

There was Chinua Achebe. But now he is no more.


Swegenyi  Shivairo

For Humanitas Afrika.

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