Thursday, 28 March 2013 22:29

The Great Igbo Story Teller, Chinua Achebe Has Joined Our Igbo Ancestors

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Last week, an Ogidi friend text messaged to me the news that the great Igbo story teller, Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) had joined our Igbo ancestors.  The news struck me like lightning bolt and I could not help but become sad.

I was sad because Achebe, among other accomplishments, was among the first of our people to tell the world about our Igbo traditions. His book, Things Fall Apart, written in 1958, when he was twenty eight years old, told the world about Igbo society at the cusp of encountering the Western world (in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century).  It talked about how pristine Igbos responded to the encroachment into their world by the men of Europe. Essentially, the book told us that the people, as represented by the hero of the book, Okonkwo (presumably Achebe’s grandfather) resented white men coming to their world and forcing them to embrace their ways and jettison their own ancient African ways.

Things fall apart is a book of culture clash. Okonkwo was a total Igbo and fought his imperialist conquerors and when it became clear to him that the men from overseas had the technology and military power to overwhelm his simple African society he chose not to live in the new political and social dispensation, a world organized according to the white man’s ideas of what reality is (in absolute terms we do not know what reality is; Karl Mannheim told us that reality is always a social construct, our idea of what we think it is and those who are more powerful than others superimpose their idea of what is real on those who are at present weak and when the weak become strong they replace their hitherto rulers idea of reality with their own social constructs of reality).

Okonkwo preferred to kill his self rather than accept the rule of the white man. He died a pure African. The man died and in so doing escaped the suzerainty of the white foreigner; Okonkwo was the last Igbo African.

(Read what I just said; I just called us African; what is the origin of the term African? Latin, aferi for black? Its origin is probably European not from the land of black persons itself; my choice word for so-called Africa is Alamanu, the land of human beings; we have a lot of work to do in reorganizing our identity structure; so far others, Arabs and Europeans have defined us and this is unacceptable to me; we are Manu from Alamanu.)

Okonkwo’s son lived. That son, apparently, was Achebe’s father. Achebe senior was trained by the Church Missionary Society, CMS (Anglican Church) who had set up shop in his neck of the woods. He was trained in the new social order and its accompanying alien philosophy (Charles Darwin’s man is an animal who is always competing and the strong, the fittest surviving at the expense of the weak and accompanying vulture capitalism; this amoral and alien worldview replaced our moral Igbo co-operative attitude to living, our peaceful weltanschauung).

The new religion that Achebe senior embraced presumed itself civilized and African religions heathen and to be done away with. Frederick Lugard, the commander of the political and military wing of the new worldview said that he came to civilize those that he called “the savages of the lower Niger”.

Achebe senior became a teacher and a catechist for his new white masters.  Achebe senior trained his son, Chinua in the new social order that he had embraced.

Chinua Achebe attended elementary school in Ogidi and Nnekede and went to secondary school at Government Secondary School, Umuahia.  Upon completing his secondary education he took the entrance examination to attend the newly established University College at Ibadan (established in 1948).  He was admitted to study medicine but in midstream recognized where his talents was, in storytelling and writing and thus switched to English as his major.

He graduated in 1953 and secured a job with the emergent broadcasting industry in Nigeria and in 1958 published his semi-autobiographical novel, Things Fall Apart (the title was taken from the poet Yeats...things fall apart and the center is no longer at ease and cannot hold its parts together and anarchy is unleashed on the world).

Subsequent to that international blockbuster, he wrote other novels, including No longer at Ease (a book that continued the theme of culture clash;  it is the story of a young Igbo man, read, Chinua Achebe, trained in Western ways trying to decide whether to live by his Igbo culture and its ways or go whole hug with the West’s idea of marriage, such as marry a woman of his love, a woman who happened to be an Osu, those Igbos dedicated to be the servants of their high priests or leave her because of her class status; the struggle is symbolic of Africans struggles to retain their African ways or embrace what the white man calls civilized behavior),  Arrow of God (a story that gave us simplistic insight into Igbo religious practices; again, an aspect of African culture struggling to survive in the wake of Western cultural imperialism), A Man of the People (a story of an Igbo politician in the new Africa, a man who found himself suddenly among the political decision makers of nascent Africa hence deciding how money is appropriated and allocated in society and became exposed to the corruption that characterize contemporary African politics; he tried to rationalize his corruption by convincing  his self that he was only recently in the rain and have to store money, regardless of how it was got, for future rainy days; the man simply took what belonged to the public to serve his personal needs; it is the story of nepotism and corruption in extant African societies), Anthill of the Savanna (this is probably Achebe’s first attempt at a novel that appeals to adult readership, for it actually tried to develop the characters  of the dramatic personae of the book and showed them as they navigated their way in the new Nigeria ruled by politicians and civil servants, their conspicuous consumptions life styles in the Government Reserved Areas; read, the quarters where their European masters used to live at and moving into which made them feel like they have arrived and are now as civilized as white men were supposed to be; GRAs are the domain of African compradors serving their European neocolonial masters, helping them to cart the periphery, Africa’s wealth to the metropolis, the West and in the process impoverishing their fellow Africans), The Education of a British Colonial Child (this is part one of Achebe’s autobiography, detailing his childhood and education), There was a country (this is part two of Achebe’ autobiography; it dealt largely with the Nigerian civil war and his role in it) and The Trouble with Nigeria (this is a political track, a pamphlet on Nigeria’s culture of corruption and Achebe’s idealistic nostrums on what to do to correct it; in it Achebe exhibited his tendency to be angry at identified problems without concomitant resolve to fight them in a manly manner, I mean engage in militant praxis, not just talk, which is easy; action is what differentiates real men from children; Achebe tends to run from problems rather than stay and fight for their solution hence he ran to live in America instead of stay in Nigeria and vigorously work to improve that hell on earth, that bedlam, that land of certified lunatics; he probably did not receive the Nobel Prize in literature because he was a mere talker and not doer; writers who tend to receive that honor, such as Wole Soyinka tend to match their words with action, fight and get jailed for their beliefs; Achebe did not match his temper tantrums with decisive action; he was always playing it safe; what a pity; courage and willingness to die for one’s belief is now what is needed in Nigeria, not just those vomiting clever words from their cowardly mouths; the fallen house called Nigeria has to be rebuilt by men of iron fists and unshakeable resolves; where is Nigeria’s Otto Von Bismarck?).

Achebe wrote other novelettes and poems but none of his other books attained the significance and fame of his first novel; indeed, his subsequent novels can be seen as continuation and elaboration of the themes he broached in his first novel?  The man seems one of those writers who write one good book of fiction and their creativity dries up?

Achebe’s greatness, such as it was, is that he helped introduce the reading public to his Igbo culture.  He helped the world understand that ancient culture and its people (Victor Uchendu, in his book, The Igbos of South Eastern Nigeria, helped give a more formal introduction to Igbo culture; Elizabeth Isichie’s historicity continues that much appreciated effort).

Achebe was not an intellectual, psychologist or philosopher in the sense that his books gave the reader great insight into human nature, psychology, theology etc.  His books are simple narratives of uncomplicated persons doing simple things. Achebe was a storyteller of the first order but hardly can be considered a sophisticated thinker.

Nevertheless, his books did manage to give a simple picture of an African society when it encountered Western civilization; they showed the death throes of that society as it battled a civilization aimed at killing it off and replacing it with its cultural parameters.

In Achebe’s books, Igbo group frame of reference was at war with Western framework of reality. Who won this battle? Does there need to be a winner and loser? How about the two epistemological approaches to reality diffusing into each other, reshaping each other? Life is not always a zero-sum game, you know! By the time the war is over the West would no longer be the West and Africa would no longer be Africa; a new world would emerge; a world that serves all human beings interests, not just some at the expense of others.

In Hegelian and Marxian dialectics, there is thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. History supposedly progresses through the struggle of ideas and their oppositions (See Hegel’s Phenomenology of spirit and Karl Marx Das Capital). When two types of ideas come into contact, thesis and antithesis they struggle and the superior one temporarily overwhelms the inferior one.

African society (thesis) and European idea of social organization (antithesis) encountered each other and struggled and a new synthesis of both ideas of social organization would emerge from that titanic struggle, one that takes what is good in Africa and combines it with what is borrowed from the West to formulate a new society (Ali Mazrui made this point in his hugely popular book, Africans).

In the meantime, old Africa seems finished, dead, kaput, gone; a new society has not really emerged in Africa hence the incredible chaos and anarchy that currently characterize contemporary Africa.

We,  extant Africans, as it were, are mongrels; we are no longer pure Africans, though we pretend to be so (in whose language am I writing, my native Igbo or English; language, as Norm Chomsky observed, carries a peoples culture and to the extent that I try to articulate my thoughts in English I have been Anglicized) or pure Westerners (few Africans have understood the spirit of the West by studying Western philosophy...may I recommend Will Durant’s summary of that philosophy, Bertrand Russell’s summary would also do, or the East...many  Africans are not even aware of the East, for they have not taken the time to study Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto...a spirit that will probably dominate the twenty first century world as Easterners take over the rein of the world economy and consequent political and military leadership of the world, for those who control economics control power, and the West is finally relegated to its much deserved place in the garbage heap of has been civilizations, such as Sumer, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome...now add England, France, Germany and the USA, the plagues destroying the current world).

One civilization is about to die and another born; before our very eyes we see the West doing what dead civilizations did before they declined and fell, such as approve homosexuality, and soon they will approve pedophilia, bestiality and criminality (after all some people claim to be born with predisposition to those, as some claim to be born with predisposition to the absurdity called homosexuality, so why socially proscribe them!) as the Greeks and Romans did and were subsequently weakened and were laid to rest and more vigorous folks took over the reins of civilization.

The West is moribund; the East resurrecting from its long comatose (and, hopefully, Africa’s turn to shine in the Sun will also come before the earth is fried to death by a dying sun?).

In the long run, Africans will synthesize a new philosophy that carries human civilization to a higher level of evolution?

Brother Chinua Achebe’s genius reposed in his extraordinary ability to tell simple stories; he was a yarns maker. He was an African Griot.  He contributed to our understanding of our past African cultures. For this we all owe him a depth of gratitude.

The man found a task that needed to be performed and did it with total dedication and vigor. He fought his war with his colonial masters in his own way.  He was a great warrior and has deservedly joined our warrior ancestors, such as his grandfather, Okonkwo (and my heroic ancestor, Njoku who organized his people to fight and try preventing Lugard from taking over Umuohiagu and died fighting for our people’s freedom in 1902).

This Igbo patriot takes off his hat for another Igbo patriot, Chinua Achebe; I hope that our Igbo ancestors welcome him to Alamuo; he did his duty well and deserves great welcome.

Goodbye brother Chinua; we all shall reunify with you in our great ancestors land when we, following your excellent example, have performed our assigned tasks and functions and returned to our real home in spirit land (we are all aliens in the material universe; our true self is spirit; we are spirit having physical experience).

Rest in perfect peace and joy, bliss, in Elegwe, Brother Chinua Achebe.

 

Emela, nwannam,

 

Ozodi Osuji

March28, 2013

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  • Dr. Osuji was a fierce critic of Achebe’s writings; he felt that the man ought to have addressed universal human emotions and understanding of psychology and philosophy instead of appear to have stopped reading books (hence stopped growing) at the end of secondary school; nevertheless, he appreciates Achebe’s unique contribution to African literature.

 

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176