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In Memory Of Chinau Achebe: “Things Fall apart.”

Chinua Achebe’s “Things fall apart” is a milestone of African literature:

Starting in the 1950s, Achebe was central to a new Nigerian literary movement that drew on the oral traditions of Nigeria’s indigenous tribes. Although Achebe writes in English, he attempts to incorporate Igbo vocabulary and narratives. Other novels include: No Longer At Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), and A Man of the People (1966).

It’s almost impossible to overstate the effect of the book, which as become, in the more than 50 years since publication, the archetype for African fiction and a fountainhead for postcolonial literature. African scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah has said, “It would be impossible to say how Things Fall Apart influenced African writing. It would be like asking how Shakespeare influenced English writers or Pushkin influenced Russians.”

From the outside the Nigerian State and republic doesn’t shine like the young Achebe in the picture, but the black tar of Oil in the rivers and Delta,  South wet of Nigeria give you another impression. The Shell Oil Dutch Company is struggling to pay the damage of the Nigerian Delta. I had the luxury to sail to the Southern ports of Nigeria carrying tons of Frozen Fish. The irony that I have been confronted during those 3 years of work in the Delta area was to see Frozen fish of Mackerel and Spanish Mackerels been imported to feed the already 80 million Nigerians from foreign trawlers in front of their territorial waters, in the Gulf of Guinea, just a couple of miles from the area I mentioned  above.

Nigerians are very emotional people but due to their diversity you always notice differences in the mind setup. Some are proud of their nation but some do have resentment against the government of the day. For example if you travel from Lagos eastwards top Port Harcourt you observe a tremendous differences between the people of the two great  ports in west Africa. Workers in port Harcourt are very efficient and while in Lagos tend to be not care less. Port of Warri is another example of a character.

It is at the inland part of the River Sappele, where your sailing starts from near the offshore oil Platforms inland and pass the villages of Sappele and other villages and take a stop or two to be greeted by the River Pilots (Locals who know the river beds as though they live on them) who take ships of small size through the meanders of the river sometimes against the ebb and high tide up river. They chew their tobaccos or at times their good staff (hash) as they call it.

Back to the Laureate and the best known African writer. His books were widely read and some of them as listed below are really interesting:

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe redefined the way readers understood Africa in his first novel, Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, that book “The white man is very clever…He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart is a prime example of African literature that demonstrates the clash between cultures and peoples that occurred across the African continent as a consequence of European colonialism

Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness'”

The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there — there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly and the men were …. No they were not inhuman. Well, you know that was the worst of it — this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped and spun and made horrid faces, but what thrilled you, was just the thought of their humanity — like yours — the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough, but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you — you so remote from the night of first ages — could comprehend.

Herein lies the meaning of Heart of Darkness and the fascination it holds over the Western mind: “What thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity — like yours …. Ugly.” Having shown us Africa in the mass, Conrad then zeros in, half a page later, on a specific example, giving us one of his rare descriptions of an African who is not just limbs or rolling eyes:

What is the implication or the experience of Mr. Achebe give to the Contemporary African student of literature?

  • Chinua Achebe’s Portrayal of      Pre-Colonial Africa:      During a religious gathering, a convert unmasks one of the clan spirits.      The offense is grave, and in response the clan decides that the church      will no longer be allowed in Umuofia. They tear the building down. Soon      afterward, the District Commissioner asks the leaders of the clan, Okonkwo      among them, to come see him for a peaceful meeting. The leaders arrive,      and are quickly seized. In prison, they are humiliated and beaten, and      they are held until the clan pays a heavy fine.
  • The Destructive Clash of Cultures : In their respective works Things Fall Apart and The Joys of Motherhood, both Chinua Achebe and Buchi Emecheta depict the effects of colonialism on Igbo society. While Achebe demonstrates the gradual process of colonial imposition, Buchi Emecheta examines its aftermath. Nonetheless, Nnu Ego and Okonkwo endure a parallel struggle with the conflicting…
  • The Comparison of One Hundred Years of Solitude with Things Fall Apart: The Comparison of One Hundred Years of Solitude with Things Fall Apart Things – and societies – fall apart. Societies are born; they grow, thrive, decline, and finally perish. Their procession through these phases, though, can be very different. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel…
  • The Role of Women : Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart explores the struggle between      old traditions within the Igbo community as well as Christianity and      “the second coming” it brings forth. While on the surface, it      appears the novel narrows its focus to a single character, Okonkwo and his      inner battles, one can read deeper into the text and find an array of      assorted…
  • The Release of African Culture      on the World : In      the novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe uses Okonkwo’s story to      elaborate a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the cultural      values of African tribes. Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart as a rebuttal to      Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Thus, Achebe uses the book to contrast      European perception of African culture with reality. The novel…

My experience of travel and work in Nigerian ports have done an impact on love to West Africa not for its climate and natural resources in the economic term but it diversity of ethnic and tribal societies. It doesn’t mean though there is always symbiotic co-existence but on the contrary a lot of racial tensions and even wars between the tribes. The contradictions at times gets irreconcilable to the extent of social upheaval and blood shed.

We all remember the Biafra secessionist war in the 60ties. The Nigerian-Biafran War began on 6 July 1967 and lasted until 15 January 1970. The Igbo tried to breakaway from Nigeria to become the Republic of Biafra,

In novel called Half of a yellow Sun: The novel takes place in Nigeria during the Nigerian-Biafran War in 1967-1970. The effect of the war is shown through the dynamic relationships of four people’s lives ranging from high-ranking political figures, a professor, a British citizen, and a houseboy. After the British left Nigeria, the lives of the main characters drastically changed and were torn apart by the ensuing civil war and decisions in their personal life.

Jumping four years ahead, trouble is brewing between the Hausa and the Igbo people and hundreds of people die in the massacres, including Olanna’s beloved auntie and uncle. A new republic, called Biafra, is created by the Igbo. As a result of the conflict, Olanna, Odenigbo, their daughter Baby and Ugwu are forced to flee Nsukka, which is the university town and the major intellectual hub of the new nation. They finally end up in the refugee town of Umuahia, where they suffer as a result of food shortages and the constant air raids and paranoid atmosphere. There are also allusions to a conflict between Olanna and Kainene, Richard and Kainene and Olanna and Odenigbo.

God save his Soul,  the Great African son
_______________

Notes:

1..Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness'” Massachusetts Review. 18. 1977. Rpt. in Heart of Darkness, An Authoritative Text, background and Sources Criticism. 1961. 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough, London: W. W Norton and Co., 1988, pp.251-261

2..Other novels include: No Longer At Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), and A Man of the People (1966).

About Tesfai Yitbarek

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  • AI Gime

    Papillion comments:
    “Rating or judging a literature or a historical novel for that matter could as well be subjective where it depends on the reader’s taste.”

    I am afraid the commentator might be missing a vital point here. It is a standard that certain formal criteria govern the production of literature. Novels, for example, are objectively appraised on the basis of how they meet set requirements. In other words, a novel must integrate into a coherent whole the elements of literary study/criticism; characters, plot, literary theory, narration, prose. Critical acclaim follows from the extent to which all these aspects mutually reinforce, as epitome of the work under consideration. So, I guess ascertaining the value of a piece of literature can not be a matter of individual temperament… rather, it belongs to the realm of scholarly objectivity.

    Thank You

    • Papillon

      Dear Al Gime,

      I absolutely agree. There are certain standards where literary works are “measured” against. However, when the said standards are meant to inform the interested public or give the public a sort of an overview about the work at hand, on an individual level, any person would have his own or her own judgment whether the particular literary work is in one’s taste or not. In a sharp contrast, objective realities have universal appeal where verification through falsification (read: Karl Popper) is the main stay. For instance, Force=mass*acceleration is the same everywhere in the universe as long as it is with in a closed system where tastes, feelings and aesthetics lose any meaning.

      • AI Gime

        Thanks Papillion for adding an extra dimension, what you said in fact makes sense… it reflects on the fact that readers as individual human beings are not free of bias or subjectivity – relating to class, race, gender, age…

        The purpose (as well as spirit) informing my earlier comment derives simply from a broader interest to bring to the fore those critical features that I mention, and which I assume has hitherto been missing from what otherwise is an informative commentary.

        Take care

  • Papillon

    Dearest Ghezae,

    With in the parlance of the literary world, the term often utilized to define a reflection of a generational experience is Neo-Realism. Sure enough, as much as the spectre of slavery shaped up the political landscape of a leftist America, it has as well influenced the otherwise great writers you just mentioned where often times it is difficult to see them only as mere people-of-letters for they are thinkers, philosophers (James Baldwin) and educators as well. I would say, Richard Wright (Native Son) belongs to a different pantheon if you will where he was pretty much influenced by proponents of Existentialist movement such as Camus and Sartre.

    Neo-Realism with in the Eritrean reality is being expressed in cinematic genre and in the literary streak as well. If I have to state the obvious, most of the themes of plays or films produced in Eritrea one way or another reflect on the thirty year struggle for independence. Moreover, the sprouting writers (Saleh Gadi and Semere T. Habtemariam) to mention but a few as well are neo-realists where the kernel of their respective works revolve around the long struggle for independence and its consequences narrated with invented characters.

    My earliest introduction to Tigrigna literature was a couple of books I read by Araya Belay. I have a rather vague recollection about the nature of the books where he seems to have faded away as the last years of his life was mired with conspiracy and of course died tragically. I have heard about Beyene Haile and I have been meaning to get hold of his works but what seems to be a hung up on my part is if the contemporary writers are with in the reins of the political establishment of the regime in Eritrea as they will be prisoners of their own otherwise uncreative mind. I wonder and hope that is not the case.

    Haft’kha.

  • rezen

    Re: In Memory of Chinau Achebe: “Things Fall apart”, by Tesfai Yitbarek, 26 March 2013

    Commentary

    To: Mr Tesfai Yitbarek,

    Dear sir,
    It is commendable of you to write a piece about fellow African. It is not a daily occurence for Eritreans to come out of their shells and participate in Continental brotherhood and Global affairs.

    Your action is quite refreshing. Thank you.

  • Papillon

    The following excerpt was taken from Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Noble Lecture titled: “My Father’s Suitcase.” I sure encourage the reader to read the entire lecture for it takes you into the unique and an otherwise melancholic world of a great writer. Again, the following is just an excerpt.

    “A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words. This man – or this woman – may use a typewriter, profit from the ease of a computer, or write with a pen on paper, as I have done for 30 years. As he writes, he can drink tea or coffee, or smoke cigarettes. From time to time he may rise from his table to look out through the window at the children playing in the street, and, if he is lucky, at trees and a view, or he can gaze out at a black wall. He can write poems, plays, or novels, as I do. All these differences come after the crucial task of sitting down at the table and patiently turning inwards.”

    “To write is to turn this inward gaze into words, to study the world into which that person passes when he retires into himself, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy. As I sit at my table, for days, months, years, slowly adding new words to the empty page, I feel as if I am creating a new world, as if I am bringing into being that other person inside me, in the same way someone might build a bridge or a dome, stone by stone. The stones we writers use are words. As we hold them in our hands, sensing the ways in which each of them is connected to the others, looking at them sometimes from afar, sometimes almost caressing them with our fingers and the tips of our pens, weighing them, moving them around, year in and year out, patiently and hopefully, we create new worlds.”

    • Ghezae Hagos

      Thank you dear for the excerpts. I read the lecture when he got the Nobel Prize. These are creme dela creme of the literature world. Another one that I liked a lot was that of the author of Beloved, Toni Morrison, the 1993 winner.

      http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1993/morrison-lecture.html

      “…How lovely it is, this thing we have done – together.”

      A difficult lecture I read is that J.M. Coetzee ( I invite you to read ‘shame’, the only book I read of him) who has written his lecture (2003) on Robinson Crusoe story after his adventures.

      http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2003/coetzee-lecture-e.html

      • Papillon

        Dearest Ghezae,

        I just finished reading Morrison’s Nobel Lecture. And Wittgenstein’s line comes to mind when he said, “The things we can not talk about, we must pass them in a complete silence.” There are certain things where we debase or desecrate when we use ordinary language to throw our comments or judge them for their merit. The Lecture is too sublime for me to say anything about it with my otherwise “debased” language to even express my overwhelmed feelings about it. It is way beyond speech or language, I rather pass it in a complete silence. I am glad to find a kindred-spirit in you for the warm company one looks for the love and passion for literature is scarce to say the least. Thank you again hawey natey.

    • Ghezae Hagos

      Hi Papillon,

      Toni Morrison is certainly very, very gifted writer. ‘Beloved’ is haunting experience worthy of its subject matter. Slavery and post-slavery experience of African Americans till civil rights movements had produced notable works of literature. In 2008, when Obama was elected president, the event procured discussion on the long struggle of African Americans, to get there. The towering historical figure frequently credit was Martin Luther King Jr. , putting aside the leftist and populist streak he weilded towards the end of his untimely death.

      During that time, the first person that came evocatively to my mind was James Baldwin. Involuntarily, I was taken back to the pages of ‘nobody knows my name.’ His essays on Faulkner, and his erstwhile friend, Richard Wright were outstanding. Alex Haley somewhere mentioned the only two people who really annoyed and messed with the ‘white people’ are Mohammed Ali (Clay) and Jimmy (he prefered to be called Jimmy) Baldwin.

      On literature of homeland:- There was this very talented Beyene Haile from the older generation who passed away last June; very gifited but call him Wagner for PFDJ or older version of Yohannes Tikuabo. Fondly treated by PFDJ literati, like Elias Amare. You got to read his ‘Tebreh’s boutique’ to know what I mean. Great knowledge and use of Tigrigna, for sure. I wish he used his talents to lament for the real Eritrea, the Eritrea that is descending into depths of hell.

      http://www.beyanhaile.com/

  • Alash

    Who the hell is Chinawi Abebe? What does he know about Eritrea?

    • Papillon

      Show-casing your run-away stupidity is not flying well with the audience. You might as well find your own league. How about Dehai.org or Wedogeba.net? Just a thought.

  • Hayat Adem

    Papillon,
    His works, such us the one you mentioned, are generational contributions which means they are not to be evaluated against one-time read personal tastes. TFA is recognized and taught in many African universities as high-level original work of depth in literature. It is OK if it didn’t measure up to your taste but it wouldn’t be correct of you to say it was overrated. Not at all. African writers’ works are usually under-rated mainly because they are mostly not well promoted in the world readership market. But when few of them succeeded like, Achebe’s, it must have meant that they are too good to be buried down unnoticed even by the standards of the double-standard setting we have in our world.

    • Papillon

      Dear Hayat,

      Incidentally most of the books of my taste hardly make it or made it to the hyped up “New York Times Best-Seller” list but interestingly enough either won or nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature. Case in point is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have read all his books. His style sure enough is surrealism particularly “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” But of course he won a recognition and became marketable pretty much after he won the Nobel Prize for it. The same goes for Jose Saramago where “Blindness” comes to mind among others. When I say this however, I am not by all means alluding to having a “wealth” of experience in books and with a considerable authority to judge a book whether it is over-rated or under-rated. Rather the short-comings of “Things Fall Apart” could as well be its limitation to the reality of Colonialism and its dire effects as opposed to Marquez’s or Saramago’s works which have an appeal or an aura of the human condition such as pain, love, angst, fantasy with a touch of reality and (un)reality flanked by surreal.

      Haft’khi.

  • jonah

    Papillon, of course if that is your view and if you found over-rated and boring that is your experience.. but the novel also had significance in terms of modern african literature..

    “The achievement of Things Fall Apart set the foreground for numerous African novelists. Because of Things Fall Apart, novelists after Achebe have been able to find an eloquent and effective mode for the expression of the particular social, historical, and cultural situation of modern Africa.[4] Before Things Fall Apart was published, Europeans had written most novels about Africa, and they largely portrayed Africans as savages who needed to be enlightened by Europeans. Achebe broke apart this view by portraying Igbo society in a sympathetic light, which allows the reader to examine the effects of European colonialism from a different perspective.[4] He commented, “The popularity of Things Fall Apart in my own society can be explained simply… this was the first time we were seeing ourselves, as autonomous individuals, rather than half-people, or as Conrad would say, ‘rudimentary souls’.”[5]”

  • Papillon

    I remember reading the book (Things Fall Apart) years ago and I found it not only over-rated but painfully boring as well. I am just being honest.

    • Dear Papillon,

      Over rated! compared to what? Can you give us references to any African literature written by the sons of Africa so to speak, to weigh in whether it is over-rated?

      Thanks

      • Papillon

        Dearest Amanuel,

        That sure is a valid question and I don’t have an index to “measure” it against so to speak. But I would say, the so much hype it garnered over the years sort of pick’s one’s curiosity to delve into it where I for one found it over-rated* as my curiosity dwindled as I turned the pages.

        *Rating or judging a literature or a historical novel for that matter could as well be subjective where it depends on the reader’s taste.

        Haft’kha.

      • Papi,

        -You said Chinua Achebe’s novel (things fall apart) raised your curiosity because of the “so much hype it garnered over the years..”. How is it that you found the novel boring while many others found it to be amusing, and a must read book. Do we have to say the book is overrated just because it was “painfully boring” for you?

        Novels are written in many different ways and to many different audiences. Such types of novels include romantic, allegorical, historical, and autobiographical to mention but a few. This novel of Chinua Apache, which I have not read, may have been written using one of the above styles or a combination thereof. Many women , for example, read romantic novels with so many suspense in it…

        Adieus