“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.”
“Chinua Achebe, the internationally celebrated Nigerian author, statesman and dissident who gave literary birth to modern Africa with Things Fall Apart, has died. He was 82. Achebe died following a brief illness, said his agent, Andrew Wylie.
“He was also a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him,” Wylie said. For decades, Achebe penned novels, stories and essays to rewrite and reclaim the history of his native country.” (Source: CBC Website, accessed March 22, 2013, 10:33 am)
Remembering my Achebe: The year was 1989, I had just turned 15, the place; nside the SS1 A class of FGGC, Onitsha, Nigeria and the star of the show was the erudite and passionate Mrs Ononye Jnr, my unforgettable English Literature teacher. She had just introduced Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, “Arrow of God” to the class.
We were required to do an in-depth character study of the protagonist. Like most of the other students, I was miffed at the thought of that much reading and writing time while we had stacks of Mills and Boon to devour, (popularly called M&B, back in the day).
They were usually read with a torchlight, surreptitiously hidden by a pillow, after the official dormitory lights went out! Yes, teenagers can be that resourceful. I wanted to read my Penny Jordan, Carole Mortimer and Jessica Steele. They had exciting characters; those blue-eyed, tall, dark, handsome and charismatic billionaires with their sexy accents!
And then I opened the first page of Achebe’s “Arrow of God” and fell in love with EZEULU! It was the most wonderful introduction to sounds, sights, tastes and colours of my vibrant culture. It was a place with a familiar air, with people I could relate to because they existed in my everyday world.
I was awed that someone could capture that world so clearly, with such vivid imagery and realism. His words were like magic. It was my education on the difference between ‘writers’ and gifted wordsmith, genius craftsman who used words as his primary tool. I knew Ezeulu’s world, I felt his pain as everything he held sacred collapsed around him.
I fell in love with Chinua Achebe and it never stopped. He was not just a genius writer, he was also a great visionary, a moral compass who lived by example and shunned the culture of excesses in a nation in dire need of servant-leaders. He was also a consistent and passionate advocate for a corrupt-free Nigeria, and in general, a free and vibrant Africa.
He deployed his mastery of the pen and stood up for justice and always fought for the oppressed in society! He was a simple man. He was also an ordinary man. He did the seemingly difficult and extra-ordinary things by being authentically himself! Through his works, you could glimpse a soul who lived with a keen sense of curiosity, awareness and consciousness.
“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised….When we are comfortable and inattentive, we run the risk of committing grave injustices absentmindedly.” ~Chinua Achebe, The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays~
I am aware that he is well-known for his masterpiece, the 1958 novel, “Things Fall Apart,” however, in my heart, “Arrow of God’ still holds a special spot. His most recent book: “There was a Country” is both educational and enlightening. It is quintessential Achebe, stripped, wise, retrospective and yet hopeful for a better country. It is simply a book that inspires transformation.
As I write this blog entry, I am sitting across my book shelf and staring at the first bookcase which houses a priceless complete collection of his works, from “A Man of the people” to “The trouble with Nigeria”. On the next bookcases, I also see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s “Half of a Yellow Sun“, and the numerous works of Sefi Ata, Chika Unigwe, Ben Okri, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Yejide Kilanko ………and there is an indescribable bittersweet joy settling within me .
Yes, today, we mourn Chinua Achebe yet it is also beautiful to see that he inspired and cultivated a new generation of gifted and talented writers, not just in Africa but across the world! He paved the way for people, especially Africans around the world, to both own and tell their unique stories.
This new generation of writers whom he influenced, all share his love and respect for the written word. And often enough, they invite us into their world, to share in the eloquence and dance of moving words, to forget ourselves in the magic of stories, to reconnect with our humanity through our diverse, yet similar cultures and to revisit our intertwined, sometimes painful but empowering history. This is so that we may begin to re-frame our past, fully embrace and co-create the present from a place of power and purposefully and beautifully reshape our collective future. Rest In Perfect Peace, Albert Chinualumogu Achebe.
May the Lord, our God of mercy and comfort, abide with his family as they mourn his painful death and celebrate his rich life. A shinning star just left our orbit! We’ve lost a great mind, a beautiful soul and brave heart…a true ‘Man of the People!’ In the words of Chika Unigwe, ‘He came. He wrote. He Lives.’ Indeed, Chinua Achebe fulfilled his destiny in this realm.
P.S: In that English Literature class, another friend and classmate was also present. She’s the talented and wonderful, Yejide Kilanko, Author of the beautifully nuanced, coming of age narrative: “Daughters who walk this path.” I am taking a sure bet that Monsieur Achebe lives on in many life forms around…
Do not mourn for too long, honour his memory by picking up one of his books, (I’m sure he would want you to just pick up any book, as long as you’re reading something!) And get lost in the magic of words and places you know and many you don’t! Introduce your children to great works of literature. It is a gift like no other. Mr. Achebe would have surely endorsed that with a chuckle!
We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.”
― Chinua Achebe, The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays
The preceding is a guest post from Juliet Ume, MBA –Wealth Management Consultant & Life-Coach at Whole Woman Network. Juliet is an avid Life Connoisseur and a passionate advocate of WomEntrepreneurship, Investment & Financial Literacy for women. Her mission is simply to engage women to return to ‘wholeness’ and live Healthier, Sexier, Wealthier Lives using Faith-Based, Scientific and Common-Sense principles! Follow her on Twitter: @wholewomaninc, @julietumeinc
- Review: Chinua Achebe on Biafra, finally (dailymaverick.co.za)
- Profile: Chinua Achebe – one of the world’s most original literary artist (newstimeafrica.com)