Tribute to Chinua Achebe. (1930-2013) The Great Symbol of the Igbo Spirit!
Chinualumogu Achebe was born in 1938, in Ogidi, Anambra State of Igboland. He was reared in a Christian family, studied medicine and literature at the University of Ibadan. He worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company (NBC), where he rose to the rank of Director of External Broadcasting. He left the Services of the NBC in 1966, following the massacres of Igbos that led to the Biafra War. His novel, A Man of the People, was falsely believed to have implicated him in the Civil War. Indeed, Chinua was merely prophetic in that novel.
In 1967, Chinua joined the services of the University of Nigeria as Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of African Studies. In 1985, he was made Emeritus Professor of the University of Nigeria. He taught in many Universities, including the University of Massachusetts, the University of Connecticut and his last institution, Bard College, where he held the Chair of Charles Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature.
Achebe’s universally celebrated novel, Things Fall Apart, was published in 1958. With this event, modern African Literature was born. The novel is among other great novels written by Achebe. Indeed, Achebe was acclaimed as one of the most powerful literary minds in history
Things Fall Apart has been translated into over 50 languages and over 10 million copies sold. That made Chinua Achebe the most translated African writer of all time. It is on record that Things Fall Apart is ranked the eight (8th) among the most widely-read books in history, ahead of the Bible. This is no wonder, because while the Bible is read mainly by Christians worldwide, Things Fall Apart is read by Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Communists, and several others all over the world.
Achebe published over 20 books: - novels, short stories, essays and collections of poetry. He received over 30 Honorary Degrees and numerous awards in honour of his great accomplishments as one of the world’s foremost writers.
In 1987, Achebe received Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievements, the Nigerian National Merit Award. During his Sixtieth Anniversary in 1990, his colleagues in Nigeria crowned him The Eagle on Iroko, which stresses his pre-eminence as a great intellectual icon.
Chinua Achebe and the Igbo Spirit.
Chinua Achebe’s epic novel, Things Fall Apart, remains the most outstanding and eloquent testimony of the culture, traditions and the institutional foundations of the Igbo civilization. It has been the mirror in terms of which the world see, appreciate and try to understand the strength and weaknesses of our great civilization.
As youths, we all read Things Fall Apart in our various schools. We enjoyed it, not only as a piece of great literature, but as ‘a teacher of our ancient culture and civilization’. It has been like our cultural bible of a sort.
In it, we were exposed to the outstanding values embedded in our culture. Okonkwo, the main character in Things Fall Apart, symbolizes the dialectics of the values and virtues of determination, courage, undaunted audacity, industry and hard-work.
The opposite being represented by Okonkwo’s lazy, though gentle father, Unoka who, in addition, lacked knowledge of the science of traditional agriculture and so produced very little.
We also read about Okoye, the titled-man, a great repository of the culture, language and wisdom of our people, always expressed in his immense oratorical command of sophisticated proverbs and idioms.
We read about the virtues and cultural authority represented by Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the elder; about Chika and Chinelo, the priestesses, mediating between men, on one hand, and the gods and ancestors on the other.
As youths, we were taught that success in life depends not only on courage, industry and hard-work, but also on our moral and spiritual virtues.
What about Ikemefula, the poor lad, victim of limited scientific knowledge of the forces of nature inherent in our traditional culture?
Young Nwoye, the agent of what is virtuous and tragic in modernity, is an interesting figure in Achebe’s literary tracings of the outline of the cultural conquest of our traditional society by Christianity.
Yes, Onye Nkuzi Chinua Achebe mere ka anyi muta ihe ozuzu ukwu ndia di na Omenala anyi!
In his life-style, activities and achievements, Chinua epitomized what is noble and best in the Igbo spirit. In the tradition of the Igbo sage, Chinua was philosophical, eloquent, courageous, outspoken and fearless. That reminds us of the immortal Akanu Ibiam, the Great Zik of Africa and Dr Michael Okpara, popularly known as ‘ M. I. Power!’.
Achebe was an articulate master of traditional Igbo world-view, indeed the embodiment and repository of the wisdom of the Igbo Civilization in particular, and Africa, in general. It was his deep knowledge of this civilization that enabled him to portray most eloquently the rich values in the complex culture of the Igbo nation.
Chinua was not enamored with titles and material richness. He never wished to exchange the values of justice and good governance for any personal honours. His name and honour are already written in gold. What else could he want, what else could any good man desire?
During the civil war, Achebe was with his people, not out sheer narrow Igbo nationalism, but because he felt hurt by the travails of his people, just as he never failed to demonstrate his rejection of the travails of the entire people of Nigeria under any bad government. His rejection of Nigeria’s national honour, the second time it was offered him, was in protest against autocracy and bad government in Nigeria.
Thus, Chinua was a great symbol of the Spirit of the Igbo nation, in his writings, achievements and values. Yes, indeed, Chinua symbolized the world view of the Igbo nation in his family life. He was a great family man with great belief in the quintessential institution of family-hood which is the foundation of all civilizations that ensures the survival of mankind.
From 1990 till his death in 2013, Chinua was on Wheel Chair. His fortitude under such personal physical tragedy astounded the entire world.
What ADF is doing by this Tribute is in keeping with the policy and tradition of the Igbo nation. Ndigbo believe in honoring and paying tribute to their great sons and icons like Chinua Achebe; Olaudah Equiano; Horton James Africanus Beale; King Jaja of Opobo (Jubo Jubona); Daa Ikonna, the leader of the Aba Women Resistance against Colonialism; Zik of Africa; Chief Z. C. Obi; the world-renowned mathematician, Chike Obi; the educationists Dr Kenneth Dike and Alvan Ikoku; our venerable Akanu Ibiam; Dr Michael Okpara; Sam Iheonunaka Mbakwe; the Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and several others.
In honoring Chinua, our late brother today and always, we wish to hoist him, for the attention and emulation of contemporary Igbo youth, as an iconic role-model after whom they should pattern their life-style, values and aspirations. One sure way of achieving meaningful moral and spiritual rectitude of our sick society, is for us to continue to do that for all other heroes.
Prof. T. Uzodinma Nwala
Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF)