By Saheed Alawode
The struggle for the liberation of the African man started when young men and women met regularly to determine how to face the imperial white masters. While some chose radical activism, some chose the media, industrialists fought them through trade, others like students staged protests, boycott meetings and defied orders. These men and women who stood when standing was hard and fought when fighting was intolerable were nothing short of heroes. It was they who really suffered so that we may be born and live free.
But while others were chanting slogans at embassies, women protesting at village squares and markets, students staging protests at government buildings and monuments, a young man was channeling all his energy into writing. He was fighting his battle through satires and relaying his visions through literature. He contributed his quota towards the liberation of the African race; and did not also stop being a vanguard against colonialism and maladministration of Nigerian political elite even after independence. His name resonates far and wide across the globe and it is none but Chinua Achebe. He is our hero this week on this column ‘Our Heroes Past’.
Early and Educational Life of Achebe
Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, present day Anambra State, Nigeria. Achebe was a very bright student in the sciences at inception, which earned him a scholarship to study medicine. But he changed his studies and opted for English Literature at the prestigious University College, Ibadan, now the University of Ibadan (UI).
As a student, the young Achebe was intrigued and fascinated by world religions, African traditional culture and the mysteries of the world. Thus, he began writing stories as a university student. After graduating from the College, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service and swiftly moved to Lagos, from where his passion blossomed into reality.
Although a master of the ‘’Queens’’ language, Chinua Achebe regarded English language as a ‘language of colonisers’ in African literature. He eventually gained global attention with his magnum opus ‘Things Fall Apart’ in the late 50s, which has been translated into more than 50 languages. His later works include ‘No Longer at Ease’, ‘Arrow of God’, ‘A Man of the People’; and ‘Anthills of the Savannah’. A combination of these titles has at times been used to coin a philosophical truism; that ‘when the arrow of God strikes; things fall apart and things will no longer be at ease’.
Fearless Fighter whose Literary Pen pierces more than Swords
Achebe was not scared to talk about racism, imperialism, apartheid, injustice and the oppression of the minority group by the majority. Although a nationalist in his approach, his novels focus on the traditions of the Igbo society; the effect of foreign religions on African cultures and the clash of Western and African values during and after the colonial encounters.
Meanwhile, despite his acrid stand for justice and against oppression, Achebe is not regarded only legendary in world literature, but a foremost stakeholder in redefining the concept of literature itself. Some scholars regard him as the ‘Father of Modern African Writing’; while others call him ‘Africa’s Greatest Storyteller.’ Through satires and other literary genres, he critiqued socio-political ills and disparaged bad leaders who use public resources for personal aggrandizement.
Global Honours and Awards
Achebe’s work has been reviewed by thousands of scholars all around the world. In 1992, he became the first living writer to be represented in the Everyman’s Library collection published by Alfred A Knopf. Before then in 1982, he had been awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kent. Aside that, Achebe was recipient of over 30 honorary degrees from Universities in England, South Africa, United States, Nigeria, Canada, Scotland and many other countries.
He was also a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) in 1999; and was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, an honorary fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. He also held the Nigerian National Order of Merit (the highest honour for academic work in Nigeria); the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade; the Man Booker International Prize in 2007; and also was a recipient of the Dorothy and Lilian Gish Prize in 2010.
Achebe’s works cut across rivers, boundaries and territories. The former South African President and father of the nation’s independence, Nelson Mandela, once described Achebe as a writer ‘in whose company the prison walls fell down’.
Achebe lived in the United State for several years in the 1970s and returned in the 1990. He taught in the US for 18 years at the Bard College as the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature. He died in Boston Massachusetts in 2013 at the age of 82.