Rest in eternal peace, Achebe

HARARE - On Friday last week, the world woke up to the shocking news of the demise of Nigerian veteran writer and indeed the granddad of modern African literature, Chinua Achebe.

There is no doubt Achebe represented the finest in as far as the literary arts are concerned.

He is one man who gave the world so much and he is known to most who studied literature in secondary school or tertiary institutions. It is unusual not to find one of his books as a set text in schools in Africa and elsewhere.

Of course, there is no doubt about Achebe’s class.

The writer of Things Fall Apart, by far one of the most popular and most-read of his books, was indeed the doyen of modern African literature.

He touched on history, myth, human and women’s rights, oppression, religion among a multiplicity of others.

Coming from a country whose politics is hinged on tribal leverages, Achebe used his literary skill to probe some of the contemporary problems faced by one of Africa’s oldest republics.

Nigeria, sadly has had its fair share of challenges that have hollowed the benefits independence was meant to bring.  

Achebe was very critical of politicians who took advantage of the rest of the population.

The coming of whites to Africa, while it remains an important factor in the direction African history has taken, must not make the world blind to some of the fresh problems that have sprouted around us.

Writing in Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe says “There are thirty-six independent African nations managing their own affairs, some times very badly. Shall we continue to harp on the theme of racial discrimination when so many injustices have sprouted all around us.”

Here is a writer who is evidently bitter about the route African leaderships have taken their respective countries.  

Things Fall Apart tackles tradition and modernity during a period of transition.

In the book, the reader reflects on the vulnerability of the African past at a time when the European onslaught was at its sharpest.

So when we look at Okonkwo, we see a man who is so proud of his tradition that he challenges a whole colonial  establishment. Because he cannot stomach being humiliated, he chooses suicide as the best way out.

Arrow of God traces the African past from the end of Things Fall Apart. Colonialism has already taken root and administrative structures are functional.

The Winterbottoms of African colonial administrative systems were not different in different British-ruled colonies.

Besides humiliating the African to show how entrenched the colonial system is, they made sure that there was no room for any traces of African traditional religion, culture including language.

Although there is clear evidence that Achebe is critical of the white settler regime, he is also not too happy about the African leadership that emerges after independence.

Almost all countries have gone through similar experiences from the inherent corruption, economic decay, plunder of national resources, greed among other all-too-familiar ills.

Achebe has indeed left the world with invaluable wealth judging by the popularity of his books.

There is no way one can underestimate the contribution Achebe made to the literary world.

He is one writer who also tackled the concerns of women from as early as Things Fall Apart.

Subsequent works of fiction seem to explore the same theme. No Longer at Ease reflects on a period when people are beginning to question the credibility of the new African leadership.

The countless military coups that take place in Nigeria’s history are seen in A Man of the People. Achebe was arrested after the publication of the book after authorities felt he was part of the group that was planning a coup.

In Anthills of the Savannah, we see female characters playing central roles as opposed to responding to male initiatives. For Achebe, “The women are, of course, the biggest single group of oppressed people in the world and, if we are to believe the Book of Genesis, the very oldest.”

Achebe celebrated diversity, a trait most autocratic governments have grown to dislike.

He writes in Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing; “Diversity is not an abnormality but the very reality of our planet.

The human world manifests the same reality and will not seek our permission to celebrate itself in the magnificence of its endless varieties. Civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of world we have; narrowness of heart and mind is not.” (p248)

The world is indeed poorer without Achebe but the wealth he left behind in the form of  his works of art will forever make him invaluable.

Born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe on November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria, Achebe attended Government College in Umuahia from 1944 to 1947 and University College in Ibadan from 1948 to 1953.

He then received a Bachelor of Arts from London University in 1953. He studied broadcasting at the British Broadcasting Corp. in London in 1956, and was later the director of External Broadcasting for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service.

Achebe has received numerous honours, such as Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He is a recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award, signifying high intellectual achievement that has shaped the culture of Nigeria.

From 1972 to 1976 and from 1897 to 1988 he was Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and also at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

He later taught at Bard College.

A serious car accident left him paralysed from the waist down.

He died on Friday March 22, plunging the literary world into mourning. May his dear soul rest in eternal peace. - Eddie Zvinonzwa, Chief Sub-Editor

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