I m not one to jump on the bandwagon but I believe today is an exception. I am a fan of Chinua Achebe. He was in my opinion the Grandfather of the Nigerian Literary Renaissance. I say renaissance which connotes a rebirth because I firmly believe he was first and foremost a storyteller of the ilk of men and women of Nigerian and African past who told stories around the fire. You see we had always told stories in Africa despite what the colonialists might have thought. We passed down our stories in a rich oral tradition, it was a tradition I believe Chinua was a child of. He wrote in a style that once could almost imagine that he was hearing his voice tell a story much like the tales by moonlight of our childhoods.
He inspired generations of writers after him. Heck, between you and I the only reason I ever picked up Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda was because I had heard she was the Achebe of our generation or something of the sort. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed. He explored themes of colonialism, the clash of cultures, political instability, oppression, corruption and moral decay of society. His characters were full of life and multidimensional. It was sometimes difficult to pinpoint a “good guy” and “bad guy”.
He would be most remembered for things fall apart, his blockbuster hit if there is any such accolade to accord a literary work. It was a poignant work that does highlight in my opinion the constant clash between our traditions, cultures and values and what can be described as western traditions, cultures and values. It is highlights what perhaps was the beginning of the Jesus-ification and Mohammed-ization of our people and the alacrity and vigor with which our people accepted these religions. Everytime I have read it, I think of how anything “traditional” has come to be viewed with disdain in contemporary Nigerian and perhaps African culture. The “white man” brought a culture of self-hate all in the name of a resurrected God while preaching love. The contradictions of the beliefs of the contemporary African man and woman make for a fascinating study and his book alludes to this clash of cultures.
No longer at ease, Man of the People, Anthills of the Savannah, Arrow of God and of course There was a Country are his other books that I have read. The man was simply brilliant. I read there was a country with an open mind and frankly I believe he wrote it as he saw it, nothing controversial and history seems to back most of the story. Many of the things he talked about in his books, be they corruption be they the replacement of white colonial masters with black ones who steal and lot and deceive their people all in the name of power and wealth are still happening today.
Chinua Achebe was more than just a story teller, he was a true Nigerian, he was a prophet. His books could have easily been written today as they were written decades ago. Nigeria is still suffering, people are hungry, dying while the elite (perhaps I included), feast and make merry. In a country of “as long as doesnt affect someone I know” mentality, Achebe was a true patriot who recognized the realities and differences we have as a people. A true intellectual, a father, a grandfather and a literary giant.
In all the nine village Okonkwo was widely known, In all corners of the world you made us proud. Adieu Chinua. You live on through your works. If there is an afterlife, may we meet under the great palm tree in the sky and sip on the palm wine of the gods while you continue to tell me stories.