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Author Name: Igbinedion Obaretin
Number of articles: 2
Chinua Achebe - born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in the Igbo village of Ogidi in south-eastern Nigeria... (1) Comment


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A Tribute to Chinua Achebe (1930 to 2013): The legacy of true commitment and literary Ingenuity:
Author: Igbinedion Obaretin | July 22, 2013



Chinua Achebe - born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in the Igbo village of Ogidi in south-eastern Nigeria on November 16, 1930 - was a renowned African novelist, poet, critic and professor. Though Achebe authored several intriguing literary works, he was best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1958) â the most widely read book in modern African literature. He died on March 21, 2013, at age 82, in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Until his death, he was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Unarguably, a review of the early life, education, philosophy, activism, and of course, some of the creative works of this erudite scholar will very certainly reveal his literary ingenuity and amazingly staunch commitment to truth and social justice which made him one of the most vital literary and moral voices of our age. Achebe was raised by his parents, Isaiah Okafor Achebe and Janet Achebe, who were both converts to the Protestant Church Mission Society (CMS) in Nigeria. Achebeâs unabbreviated name, Chinualumogu which means "May God fight on my behalf" was understandably a prayer for divine protection. In the tradition of the Igbos, Achebe's people, names are often short wishes or payers aptly descriptive or indicative of the circumstances surrounding the birth of their bearers and the state of their parents at the time, whether it is of apprehension, joy or melancholy. Apparently, while Chinualumogu was a prayer to the Christian God, the name was given in accordance to the cultural practice of the Igbo people. This perhaps explains Achebe's upbringing and the cultures that impact on his life and works. Achebe was raised as a Christian in the village of Ogidi amidst adherents of the Igbo tradition and culture. Achebe thus stood at the crossroads of traditional culture and Christian influence. Despite his Christian upbringing, Achebe had a profound respect for the tradition and culture of his people. He enthusiastically anticipated traditional village invents, especially the masquerade ceremonies which he powerfully recreated later in his novels and stories. Significantly, Achebe was remarkably intelligent. He excelled at school and received double promotion twice, first at St Phillip's Central School which he attended at age 6. At the age of 12, he moved away from his family to Nekede, about four kilometres from Owerri, the capital of Imo State and registered at the Central School there. For his secondary school education, he attended Government College in Umuahia where he also gained double promotion. Achebe also won a scholarship for undergraduate studies at Nigerian first University College (now University of Ibadan) which was an associate college of the University of London. He was a pioneer student of the University College in 1948. He was first admitted to study medicine, but after a year of gruelling work, he switched to English, history, and theology. This cost him his scholarship and he had to pay tuition fees. He received a government bursary which was supplemented by donations from his family. Achebeâs decision â that is, his change of academic programme or course at the University College of Ibadan â was evidently inspired by his desire to be a literary writer and critic in a continent that was largely misrepresented by imperial perception reinforced by stories about African savages. Achebe was committed to the truth, and unlike negritude writers like Leopold Sedar Senghor, he saw the need for objectivity in the portrayal of Africa and Africans. In consonant with the African perception of art, he believed that the function of art is to communicate truth and not just "art for art's sake". To him, truth is a commitment, a voluntary detachment from prejudice often resulting from an in-depth understanding and direct psychophysical involvement; and consequently, Achebe was of the opinion that the truth about Africa can only be seen through the eyes of its committed people. While studying at Ibadan, Achebe started to become very critical of European literature about Africa. He began his literary career during his undergraduate studies. He wrote several stories debunking imperialistic stereotype, beginning with âIn a Village Churchâ â an intriguing story which explores life in rural Nigeria with Christian institutions. This and other stories he wrote while at the University College â including "The Old Order in Conflict with the New and Dead Men's Path" depict the conflict between tradition and modernity. Achebe took his final degree examinations in 1953 and was awarded a second class degree. It was a difficult time for him as he was quite uncertain how to proceed with his career with a second class degree at a time postgraduate admission and funding were stiffly competitive. He returned to his hometown of Ogidi to refresh his mind and examine his possible career path. Having sort through his options, Achebe took up an English teaching position at Merchant of Light School at Oba. The school was by all considerations a dilapidated institution with crumbly infrastructure built in a piece of land locally described as âbad bushâ â a land believed to be infected with unfriendly spirits. Achebe recreated this experience later in Things Fall Apart in his description of an area labelled as âevil forestâ which the villagers apportioned to the Christian missionaries to build their church. Having taught in the school for four months, Achebe had the opportunity to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service. He left the school and moved to Lagos. While in Lagos, he met Christie Okoli, a lady he got married to in 1961. The couple had four children. Lagos undoubtedly had a profound impression on him; the city, teemed with migrant workers from all over Nigeria, was bursting with immense social, economic and political activities. Achebe evidently drew upon this experience in his description of the city in No Longer at Ease (1960), his second novel. Achebe, having published Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, he wrote and published three other novels â Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Though many critics considered Achebeâs first novel, Things Fall Apart, as his magnum opus, his other novels were equally influential and perhaps of greater literary refinement and significance. However, Things Fall Apart remains the most widely read modern African literature. The book sold over 12 million copies and has been translated to over 50 languages. Achebe also authored so many short stories including Marriage is a Private Affair (1952), Dead Menâs Path (1953), The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories (1953), Civil Peace (1971), Girls at War and Other Stories, Vengeful Creditor (1973), Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975), African Short Stories, editor with C. L. Innes (1985), Heinemann Book of Contemporaries African Stories, editor with C. L. Innes (1992), and The Voter. Achebe also wrote and published several critical essays, non-fiction and political commentaries, more than 6 collections of poetry, and childrenâs books such as Chike and the River (1966), How the Leopard Got his Claws with John Iroaganachi (1972), The Flute (1975), and The Drum (1978). Achebe wrote and published all his works in English. Despite his firm criticism of colonialism, his affection for the colonial language, specifically English, was quite profound. He contributed immensely in extending the frontiers of English language to accommodate African thoughts. He also defended the use of English language in modern African literature. Achebe, like many other postcolonial African writers and critics, was actively involved in the heated debate about the language of expression in African literature. The debate was a part of the decolonization process in the 1950s. African writers and critics like Ngugi wa Thiongâo of Kenya maintained that African literature must be written in African indigenous languages. Achebe had a divergent view; he argued that âthere is a certain advantage in writing in a world languageâ. Achebe dispassionately appreciated the socio-linguistic reality of postcolonial Africa and the social inevitability of colonial languages such as English and French in national literature. He also recognised the obvious fact that African literature needed a universal audience and that this could only be realized if provinciality based on anticolonial sentiments were ignored. Achebe also played a significant role during the Nigerian Civil War (May 1967 â January 1970). He joined the Government of the Republic of Biafra in south-eastern region of Nigeria and served as a Cultural Ambassador. In October 1969, Achebe, accompanied by writers Cyprian Ekwensi and Gabriel Okara, toured the United States to raise awareness about the precarious condition of the Biafran people. Achebe, on his return to Nigeria from the United States, became a research fellow and later professor of English at the University of Nigeria. His most recent book, "There was a Country", (released 27 September 2012 in the United Kingdom), is his memoir on the Biafra War and its savage impact on the Biafran people. The book was probably the most criticised of his works, especially by Nigerians, with many expressing the view that Achebe wrote more as a Biafrian than as a Nigerian. Achebe was remarkably a very consistent critic of the various military dictators that ruled Nigeria. He was assuredly a loud voice in decrying the failure of governance in Nigeria. He rejected two offers of the Nigerian government to grant him national award, citing the appalling political situation in the country. Achebe was also a hard and often controversial literary critic. In his Chancellor's Lecture at Amherst on 18 February 1975 captioned, An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, he described Joseph Conrad as "a bloody racist". He affirmed that Conrad's famous novel dehumanizes Africans, presenting Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognisable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. The lecture provoked intense controversy; however, Achebe's criticism of Conrad is today a mainstream perspective on Conrad's work and a seminal postcolonial African Work. Interestingly, later in 1975, he was presented with an honorary doctorate from University of Stirling and the Lotus Prize for Afro-Asian Writers. In the 1990s, Achebe was in a car accident in Nigeria that left him paralysed from waist down and confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Shortly after the tragic experience, he moved to the United States to continue his lecturing career as a university professor. He taught at Bard College for 15 years and in 2009, he joined the faculty of Brown University, serving as Professor of African Studies as well as the David and Marianna Fisher University professor. He also delivered papers in several renowned universities. His talks at Harvard in 1998 were published under the title "Home and Exile". Achebe, in the course of his writing career, received several awards including Man Booker International Prize (2007) and Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2010). He was also the recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees from universities around the world. Achebe received a flood of passionate tributes from all corners of the globe following his demise in March 2013; most notable and touching of all was that of Nelson Mandela. "There was a writer named Chinua Achebe in whose company the prison walls fell down", Mandela once wrote. Brown University also described his global significance in the following words: âAchebeâs global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on questions of the role of culture in Africa and the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa. What actually is Achebe's legacy? While it may be difficult to sum it all in a simple, unambiguous and unequivocal sentence, it is certainly not within the confines of linguistic exuberance or hyperbolical submission to assert that Achebe left behind a legacy of literary ingenuity and of unwavering commitment to whatever he perceived as truth and social justice.

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Felix Osawe    London, United Kingdom    July 23, 2013
This is very certainly the most comprehensive and intriguing description of any writer I have ever read. Weldone, Mr. Obaretin.
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