Chinua Achebe in His Own Words

Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe

Africa just lost a giant… the world just lost a literary genius.  Chinua Achebe was made of the cloth of kings.  He was the emperor of words and just made reality seems so funny.  He wrote in English, but yet made it his own; he made it African.  Please hear the maestro in his own words.

Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered.  As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.”  – Things Fall Apart.

The white man is very clever.  He came quietly and peaceably with his religion.  We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our  brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one.  He has put a knife on the  things that held us together and we have fallen apart,” –  Things fall Apart.

Achebe was a man of character, who could not be corrupted by honors.  He twice turned down the offer of a title Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, once in 2004 from Nigeria’s then President Olusegun Obasanjo and again in 2011 from President Goodluck Jonathan. He explained on the BBC: “What’s the good of being a democracy if people are hungry and despondent and the infrastructure is not there,” … “There is no security of life. Parts of the country are alienated. Religious conflicts spring up now and again. The country is not working.” Declining the honor, he wrote that “for some time now I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay.  I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom.  I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the presidency …  Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence.  I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 honours list.”

'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe
‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe

He wrote: “You see we, the little people of the world, are ever expendable.”

It is sometimes good to be brave and courageous, but sometimes it is better to be a coward.  We often stand in the compound of the fool and point at the ruins where a brave man used to live.  He who has never submitted to anything will one day submit to his burial mat.” – Things fall apart.

While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”  – Anthills of the Savannah.

To me, being an intellectual doesn’t mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them.”

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.”

One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. ”

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.”  – The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays.

'A Man of the People' by Chinua Achebe
‘A Man of the People’ by Chinua Achebe

‘It’s true that a child belongs to its father.  But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut.  A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet.  But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland.  Your mother is there to protect you.  She is buried there.  And that is why we say that mother is supreme.” – Things fall Apart.

Unfortunately, oppression does not automatically produce only meaningful struggle.  It has the ability to call into being a wide range of responses between partial acceptance and violent rebellion.  In between you can have, for instance, a vague, unfocused dissatisfaction; or, worst of all, savage infighting among the oppressed, a fierce love-hate entanglement with one another like crabs inside the fisherman’s bucket, which ensures that no crab gets away.  This is a serious issue for African-American deliberation…. To answer oppression with appropriate resistance requires knowledge of two kinds: in the first place, self-knowledge by the victim, which means awareness that oppression exists, an awareness that the victim has fallen from a great height of glory or promise into the present depths; secondly, the victim must know who the enemy is.  He must know his oppressor’s real name, not an alias, a pseudonym, or a nom de plume!” The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays.

Women and music should not be dated.”  – No Longer at Ease

A man who pays respect to the great, paves the way for his own greatness.

'No Longer at Ease' by Chinua Achebe
‘No Longer at Ease’ by Chinua Achebe

I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.”

Procrastination is a lazy man’s apology.”  – Anthills of the Savannah

About his gift of writing, he said: “There is that great proverb — that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. … Once I realized that, I had to be a writer. I had to be that historian.”… “It’s not one man’s job.  It’s not one person’s job.  But it is something we have to do, so that the story of the hunt will also reflect the agony, the travail — the bravery, even, of the lions.”

Tributes are pouring out from all corners of the world.  Truly to have written a book which has been translated in over 50 languages is a great achievement for an African, and for anybody in this world.  To boast over 20 literary works is amazing.  As the Igbo proverb says: ” it is simply impossible for an iroko tree to fall and the forest to remain quiet.” A giant left us today, but his fingerprints will remain forever.

If the nobel prize was made to celebrate excellence, Chinua Achebe, should have certainly gotten it.  Today his work is celebrated in every corner of the world!

Chinua Achebe, the Maestro is no Longer

Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe

This morning, I woke up to the horrible news of Chinua Achebe’s passing.  Weird, how just yesterday I had ordered his latest book “There was a Country”, a memoir on the Biafran war.  My goodness, how can Achebe be gone?  I have all his books in my home library.  Just yesterday, I was talking about how great his sense of humor was.  My goodness, I was dreaming about reading more books from Achebe.  What kind of thing is this?Chinua Achebe, you have inspired me… you have made me want to be a blogger… You have made me want to be a writer, an activist, and a truth speaker … hopefully, one day I will write books as funny as you did.

A friend’s dad went to school with Chinua Achebe, and he had this moral story to tell about Achebe: ” You can never be who you are not and never force your child to be what they were NOT meant to be.  Achebe’s parents always wanted him to be a medical doctor.  While in school, science was a struggle for him.  But once he got back into himself and did what God had planned for him, the sky became his limit.”

So long to the Father of African literature, the inspiration to generations of writers, the maestro himself.  Today, I truly felt like ‘things were falling apart.’

Here is a peace I wrote about him back at the very beginning of my blog: see… he was the first article I published in my ‘Great Literature’ section. Chinua Achebe: A Writer like No Other.