BY Erharuyi Idemudia, 12:00am March 23, 2013,

Albert Chínụ̀álụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé: A Life Fulfilled

Albert Chínụ̀álụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé: A Life Fulfilled

I came to understand and fully appreciate the greatness of author, Chinua Achebe, when I was seventeen years old. At that time, I arrived in the United States of America and was enrolled as a first year student at the University of Texas at El Paso. I attended a school sponsored orientation event, joined by other first year students with diverse backgrounds: African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics and international students from outside the United States. Having introduced myself as a Nigerian, I got two consistent questions from my new classmates: “Hey! Do you know Chinua Achebe?” and “Have you read ‘Things Fall Apart?’” This was the legend of the man.

My answer at that time was a quick “yes, I know who Chinua Achebe is.” However, over the years, I have come to not only know who Chinua Achebe was, but also, what he stood for. The most important thing in the life of an African is to positively influence your community through whatever line of work you specialize. As a writer, Chinua Achebe was the embodiment of Pan-Africanism.  He understood that his talent as a fantastic writer was best served towards the progressive growth of the African mind and our continent. As a result, a consistent theme in Achebe’s novels was a thin-veiled juxtaposition of African traditional values and European imperialist modernity.

In 1956, Achebe wrote the novel: Things Fall Apart. In that novel, Achebe questioned colonialism and revealed from an African viewpoint, the difficulties and contradictions that arise when European missionaries visit Africa and impose a new religion, a new language and new customs on a group of people who had lived for centuries, dignified in their own set tradition. He challenged colonialism as a method of stripping Africans of our identity, and he was right. The magazine Black Orpheus described Things Fall Apart as a book that “creates for the reader such a vivid picture of Ibo life that the plot and characters are little more than symbols representing a way of life lost irrevocably within living memory.”

After writing Things Fall Apart, Achebe continued to write on issues affecting the continent of Africa. In 1966, he published the book, Chike and the River, which was inspired by an interracial culture of post-colonial Nigeria. Achebe was worried about the books available to Nigerian school children detailing prejudiced sentiments and also, the negative views of African life expressed by the predominantly European teachers in Nigerian schools.

As well as writing his own novels, Achebe also contributed to the promotion of African literature. He became General Editor of the African Writers Series, a series instrumental in Albert Chínụ̀álụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé: A Life Fulfilledpublishing postcolonial literature from Africa and distributing them to the rest of the world.

His love and passion for Africa led Achebe to publicly denounce anyone that denigrated the African way of life or Africa. On multiple occasions, with his reputation at stake, Achebe lashed out at these critics. Once he said about critics of African literature: "no man can understand another whose language he does not speak (and 'language' here does not mean simply words, but a man's entire world view).”

In 1975, Achebe angrily chastised highly celebrated Polish writer Joseph Conrad who had written a novella titled: “Heart of Darkness,” disparaging the continent of Africa. Achebe wrote an essay in response to Conrad’s novella titled: An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'. In his response-essay, Achebe called Conrad a "thoroughgoing racist". Achebe rebuked Conrad for depicting Africans as savages and representing the continent as "a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril." Almost thirty-five years later, in October 2009, while speaking on National Public Radio with Robert Siegel, Achebe defended his position on Conrad’s novella. He stated: "Conrad was a seductive writer. He could pull his reader into the fray. And if it were not for what he said about me and my people, I would probably be thinking only of that seduction.”

In 2011, Achebe, again defended Africa’s literary work. This time, American hip-hop artist, Curtis Jackson (also known as “50 Cent”) had written a movie script. The movie was to be released with the title "Things Fall Apart". Immediately, Achebe reminded Curtis Jackson and producers of the movie that Achebe owned the rights to the name: Things Fall Apart. As a result, the movie was renamed: All Things Fall Apart. Achebe’s position is important to upholding the dignity of Africans because many African writers, authors and artists have lost valuable intellectual property without just compensation. It is important to understand that Africans have as much right to their intellectual property as another has to theirs. And their property cannot be transferred without their permission.

Chinua Achebe was a legendary writer whose book, Things Fall Apart, has sold more than eight million copies around the world and has been translated into 50 languages, making him the most translated African writer of all time. However, what I find most intriguing about Chinua Achebe is his passion and love for Africa, Africans and Africa’s infinite and diverse traditions. In 1988, when asked by a reporter for Quality Weekly how he felt about never winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, Achebe replied: "My position is that the Nobel Prize is important. But it is a European prize. It's not an African prize.” Indeed, he was an embodiment of Pan-Africanism.

Last Edited by: Updated: June 19, 2018


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