Chinua Achebe

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One of my favourite writers and source of much inspiration, Nigerian, Chinua Achebe, author of the 1958 novel “Things Fall Apart,” has died at the age of eighty two. He was teaching at Brown University in Rhode Island, as professor of Africana Studies, and Bard College in New York. He wrote a couple of dozen books in his time and received honours and awards in his country as well as the rest of the world. “Things Fall Apart” has sold millions of copies world wide, and interests me not only because it is a fantastic story, but also because it is set in pre-colonial times. The lost culture and history of Africa are very important, and have to be searched for and revived to help with the healing of the people of this continent.

The depiction of Africa as the “Third World” has always bothered me, and authors and activists like Chinua Achebe will always inspire me. Africa was the “First World” to begin with, and the cradle of civilization. The amazing ruins and history slowly surfacing, show that Africa’s people were culturally, architecturally, and intellectually much more advanced at the time of their building than many other cultures around the globe. The incredible damage inflicted by the years of colonialism and oppression is not going to be fixed overnight, and it has to be recognised for what it is. Even though this generation isn’t guilty of it, it’s important that they understand it, because Africans can’t be expected to forget it. The results of colonisation = the mess that is Africa today. Africa should not be expected to follow current “First World” rules. They will have to stumble forward and find their own way, according to their own rules and beliefs. People like Chinua Achebe have helped people all over understand this a little better. He coined a lot of proverbs in his books which succinctly point out the some of the problems of post colonial African identity as well as being generally wise or witty.

“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,” he said. “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.” Chinua Achebe

He famously criticized Joseph Conrad (author of Heart of Darkness), referring to him as a “bloody racist”, which if you read some of Conrad’s passages seems fairly plausible. He was outspoken on many issues, including poor governance in Africa and often turned down awards given to him by his own country in protest.

Corey D. B. Walker, an associate professor and chair of the department of Africana Studies at Brown University, said Achebe’s loss was a great one. “He was more than just a colleague, faculty member, and teacher at Brown. He was a gift to the world. At a time like this we could draw many words of wisdom and comfort from the deep wells of various African cultures and traditions to honour him. The most fitting is the simple and elegant phrase – A great tree has fallen.”

Here are some of my favourite Chinua Achebe quotes:

“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”

“I believe in the complexity of the human story and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say, This is it. Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing; the same person telling the story will tell it differently. I think of that masquerade in Igbo festivals that dances in the public arena. The Igbo people say, If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. The masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.”

“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.”

“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”

“That we are surrounded by deep mysteries is known to all but the incurably ignorant.”

“The triumph of the written word is often attained when the writer achieves union and trust with the reader, who then becomes ready to be drawn into unfamiliar territory, walking in borrowed literary shoes so to speak, toward a deeper understanding of self or society, or of foreign peoples, cultures, and situations.”

“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.”

“There is no story that is not true, […] The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.”

Hamba kahle Chinua Achebe.

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http://www.amazon.com/Things-Fall-Apart-Chinua-Achebe/dp/0385474547/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364028649&sr=1-1&keywords=Things+fall+apart+by+chinua+achebe

23 thoughts on “Chinua Achebe

    ajoobacats said:
    March 23, 2013 at 9:21 am

    My Mum used to have a saying about people standing in different places having different perspectives. He sounds like a truly inspirational man.

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      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 23, 2013 at 10:55 am

      He was amazingly inspirational and his books are fantastic. A wise and great man.

      Like

    jennieorbell said:
    March 23, 2013 at 9:26 am

    This makes wonderful reading Jo. I love the way you bring these ‘topics’ to our attention and I love the proverbs – “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down” And how true – if only people realised it!

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      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 23, 2013 at 10:58 am

      Thank you Jennie Orbell! He has loads more brilliant proverbs too, although that is definitely a favourite of mine – totally spot on.

      Like

    […] africolonialstories – Chinua Achebe […]

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    africanperspectivesblog said:
    March 23, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Your post is cited at http://africanperspectivesblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/in-memoriam-across-the-globe-chinua-achebe/ Hope you don’t mind? Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 23, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Definitely don’t mind! Thank you very much for sharing!

      Like

    Chinua Achebe | africolonialstories said:
    March 23, 2013 at 10:53 am

    […] Chinua Achebe. […]

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    Ann Watkins said:
    March 23, 2013 at 11:39 am

    It’s sad to lose someone who wrote to keep the past from being lost, particularly as the lessons we should learn from the past are the ones seem easily forgotten. Knowledge is the key to preserving the future, and making it better. Who better to pass on the knowledge than writers. 🙂

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      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      That is so true Ann. As long as we are scribbling not all these things will be lost. It’s brilliant that old books are being loaded on to Amazon for ever too. The original ones at any rate. 🙂 xxx

      Like

    LucyPireel said:
    March 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Jo, I am so glad to have you as a friend because thanks to our connection I get to know about great writers like Chinua Achebe. Great post and I hope more people like me get triggered by it to read outside of the beaten path.

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      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Thank you Lucy! He was a brilliant story teller apart from all the other bits. His books are cool to read. xxxx

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        LucyPireel said:
        March 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm

        Give me a title to start with, please? I could use a cool book on top of the gazillion others I must read still.
        xoxo

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          jorobinson176 responded:
          March 27, 2013 at 11:23 am

          The link to his first one (my fave) is on this post, but you should check him out on Goodreads too – lots of books to love. xxxx

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            LucyPireel said:
            March 27, 2013 at 3:21 pm

            Will do lovely Jo dearie. Good to read you came back in one piece from Harare.
            xoxo

            Like

    Chinua Achebe | Lucy Pireel said:
    March 23, 2013 at 11:51 am

    […] Chinua Achebe. […]

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    Muyo-san said:
    March 25, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    This is a very nice piece. It’s easy to detect your honesty from your writing. One impression I would like to correct though, Chinua Achebe did not “coin” the proverbs in his book. I want to believe most of them are real Ibo proverbs. Being a Yoruba tribe Nigerian myself, were we have a lot of similar proverbs, I can attest that the Ibos have a lot of good acient proverbs too

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    Muyo-san said:
    March 25, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    This is a very nice piece. It’s easy to detect your honesty from your writing. One impression I would like to correct though, Chinua Achebe did not “coin” the proverbs in his book. I want to believe most of them are real Ibo proverbs. Being a Yoruba tribe Nigerian myself, we have a lot of similar proverbs, I can attest that the Ibos have a lot of good ancient proverbs too

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      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 27, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Hi Muyo-san. Thanks very much! Thanks also for telling me that. I’ll google and see if I can find more – I collect proverbs from all over Africa & love it when people send me ones that I don’t have yet too. Good to meet you.

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        Muyo-san said:
        March 27, 2013 at 2:40 pm

        Good to meet you too. Well I could share a few Yoruba proverbs in English. Maybe you could deduce for yourself what they mean to you:

        “He who wants to eat the honey within a rock must not pity the axe”.

        “A chameleon that threads slowly eventually dies, let alone the toad that hops around with endless energy.”

        Good luck with with finding more

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          jorobinson176 responded:
          April 2, 2013 at 10:58 am

          Thanks! Love these. 🙂

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            Muyo-san said:
            April 2, 2013 at 11:16 am

            You’re welcome 🙂

            Like

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