Goodbye Chinua Achebe: Leaving a Legacy of Greatness by Arit Okpo

I do not remember the date of my grandfather’s death, but I remember walking into my parents’ room and stopping in shock at the sight of my mum and aunt crumpled to the floor in grief, hands lifted up in both question and despair. I thought I had forgotten, but I remembered that picture today.

My Papa lived a long life and he passed on in peace, ready to go.

We went to the village to prepare and I was arrested by the debates on what colours to wear to accompany the white that we would be wearing for his burial. When I asked my mum why we were wearing white instead of black, she told me that black was worn to mourn the passing of someone felt to die too soon, but when someone died at a ripe old age, white was worn – to celebrate their lives and to honour their passing.

They finally decided on fuchsia.

Our home in the village was full of trees and flowers. I can see my Papa now, walking round the house, pointing out the different things he had planted for the grandchildren who would come to visit. He would point out the mangoes he’d planted with boughs that drooped so low that you could lie on the ground and pluck a ripe mango and eat it lazily while you listened to the chatter of birds overhead and the conversation of people crossing our property on the way to their farms, or to the stream.

We’d stroll past the orange trees with their tiny, sharp tasting fruit, he’d point out the path that led to the village near our house, past the queen of the night trees that one year had suffered from an infestation of caterpillars, past the guava tree with its “enjoyment branch”, a thick branch that we would bounce on for as many hours as we could before someone came to shoo us into the house to eat.

We’d finally stop at his pride and joy – the blushing hibiscus, a beautiful flower that started the day pure white. As the day advanced, the flowers would slowly start to develop a rosy glow. By evening, they would be pink…kissed by the sun in the course of the day till they had a permanent blush. The blushing hibiscus was one of nature’s most beautiful miracles.

So they picked fuchsia, in honour of my grandpa and the blooms that he loved; and they buried him in the home that he made, not just for himself, but for his children and their children.

Professor Chinua Achebe’s passing, for some reason, has brought all these memories flooding back. These were men who lived for a legacy beyond them. It was not about fame and fortune. It was about doing the right thing for those that came behind.

More than I mourn Professor Achebe’s passing, I celebrate his life; a life full of milestones…of moments worth remembering. His principles were clear for everyone to see. He lived his purpose and in doing so, he left us with a legacy of words that we will one day read and speak to our children. How remarkable, that in living and breathing, in doing what he was meant to do and doing it the best that he could, in walking his talk, in living his principles, that this man became a legend…a voice.

My grandfather did not care how many friends I had or how popular I was. He didn’t want to know who was famous and what person A said or did to person B. Those days on the veranda, when he sat in his easy chair and we watched life go by, he would talk to me about being honest, about studying hard, about reading hard and achieving milestones. He would talk to me about my PhD and remind me not just of how much he believed in me, but how high his expectations were for me, a 13 year old girl.

There is a generation of heroes, like my grandfather, like Professor Achebe, whose life went beyond the ordinary. They understood that immortality is not in things acquired but in a life lived well. And so they did.

I believe that it is the children of these great ones that will make a difference. That we, acorns from great trees, will grow to become a network that will turn Nigeria around. I believe that it is from these ones that the writers, politicians, teachers, doctors…that the true nationalists will come, that the midwives of the new Nigeria will come.

There is a generation of greatness that used to walk this earth, and they left their mark; in the books they wrote, in the values they taught, in the lives they lived. Many of them we will never know, they were not all famous, but they brought up children with fire and passion, with zeal for nothing but to be the best that they could be. They lived not for themselves, but for the ones who would come after, for us who are here now.

And as we honour the passing of one of the ones from this generation of greatness, I find myself thinking again of my grandfather, and the things he taught me: lessons in honesty, in doing right and caring for my fellow man, lessons about family and values and making a road for those who are coming after me, lessons about making my life count, about leaving an unforgettable mark after I am gone.

I find myself thinking about my grandfather and his generation.

Their work has ended, ours has just begun.

35 Comments on Goodbye Chinua Achebe: Leaving a Legacy of Greatness by Arit Okpo
  • J.O.A March 25, 2013 at 8:35 am

    thinking! we should have more of this on our blogs and social media than unproductive and tribalistic discussions. Nice write up sir. Our generation needs to do more! will be disappointed if this thread attracts much comments.

    • ada March 25, 2013 at 9:16 am

      She is a woman but you’re right, what a wonderfully written article.

  • Chelle March 25, 2013 at 8:56 am

    WOW. its shocking that i had same conversation with my sisters yesterday. my grandfather was also a man who died and left behind such great shoes no man can fill. if i were to write a list of men whose lives has affected though achebes name will come before my granddad, cos books speak more to me. i always have a pulling that i owe this men to be a better person. thesame emptiness i felt when my “papa” died is the same i fill today for achebes passing.

    • Ego Achebe March 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      This generation- including grand/great grand children of the great names that lived- have embraced corruption and lust for money simply because our parents have made it fashionable. The value system has been eroded abeg. Even chinua achebe wrote about how survival in Nigeria keeps defeating and compromising young principled minds in his book- No longer at Ease (thats my favorite of his great collections). It “haf tey” since this country has been rotten without any sustainable solution to the numerous problems that have overwhelmed our leaders.
      Arit, pls just scchop your own if/when you are opportuned to and give your children quality education in ivy colleges after which they can return to come and schoop there own. The manna from delta is inexhaustible (at least for now). Naija CANNOT be better off in our time. Maybe a century after. #vexed and frustrated#

  • Kachi March 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

    True, well done Arit.

  • Great article very thought provoking.

  • hugkisshi5 March 25, 2013 at 9:16 am

    True words! These should be our reasons for living. We the people of this generation must not forget our morals and values. We must also set these standards for our children.

  • Jo! March 25, 2013 at 9:19 am

    errm, I think I read something about “…me, a 13 year old girl” there though, @JOA, did you read that part? I don’t think she’s a “sir”. and seriously, such a great post, and you spoil it with your depressive and pessimistic tone as a first cement *tsk tsk*

    I think you’re blessed, you met your grandfather, I never knew mine, all I had to know him by were the books he left behind, he had an enormous library, on various subjects. Even in his death, he helped establish a sincere love for books in me from childhood, a love I have recently began to be even more grateful for, it just makes me wish desperately, that I had known him.

    To JUO, Arit’s grandpa,and Chinua Achebe, great men, whose legacies live far beyond them, sleep well, you have earned it.

  • Jo! March 25, 2013 at 9:19 am

    *comment

  • alex March 25, 2013 at 9:19 am

    nice one, may his soul rest in peace. and my prayers for young Nigerians is for them to learn from people like this.

  • "there was a country" March 25, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Still stare shock from his death!

  • Ekalor March 25, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Arit, your article brought tears to my eyes.
    I think of my father too..
    Such great men.
    I wonder if I have some level of greatness in me too

  • chino March 25, 2013 at 9:56 am

    wat a lovely article..reminds me of my grandad who sadly passed away last yr…miss him soo much..rip grandpa and professor chinua achebe

  • Hahaha March 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

    This was such a fantastic article
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    alaianlife.org

  • Peachy_mo March 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I don’t want to sound like a pessimist or sadist but the truth is where are the children of these great men in our society? what role are they presently playing? I honestly don’t know but I will like someone to educate me on this. Not trying to be tribalistic, I only know of Hafsat Abiola walking in the part of her great father Moshood Abiola. Even Wole Soyinka, what role are his children playing? Is Chimamanda’s Adichie’s grandfather a great man? I don’t know the answer to that; yet she’s walking in the part of greatness. Yes, some great people will stem from “great” grandfathers but don’t forget those that will grow to be a greater person by not wanting to be like their ‘not so great’ grandfather or father i.e Okonkwo (smile).

    My two cents to a well constructed write up: Those who look up to these ‘great’ grandfather of many wisdom and the like of Chinua Achebe and emulate them will make great men of our generation. I respect men and women of wisdom, and strive to walk their path. I encourage young people to read the works of great men (God, help me so I can finish reading Wole Soyinka’s memoir; We Must Set Forth at Dawn) I pray all tribes will read There Was a Country with insightful knowledge and greater perspective, move beyond the pessimism, cultural clash and understand the true birth of democracy in Nigeria (from a 1st person point of view) and work towards making the country a great nation because we all already have good people…These legacies of greatness will see us through….Amen

    • Hear March 25, 2013 at 11:20 am

      And what are you doing? Questioning what other people’s children are doing?

      Thought provoking article Arit…. Your words have left me inspired to do even more. God bless

    • Minnie March 27, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      I think she meant ‘children’ in the figurative sense, as in those that grew up reading his books….

  • x factor March 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Fantastic Write up!

  • Amiphat March 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

    May the souls of the departed rest in peace. I feel the death of Prof as if he were a family member – remembering how I spent my childhood reading his books while the spider of my imagination wove webs around his stories.

    Indeed the Iroko has fallen.

    Dalu.

  • ukay March 25, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Toast to great men and women, may we be like them and may we raise them to make a better Nigeria. Very nicely done maam.

  • anniesexy Mbz March 25, 2013 at 11:37 am

    like i hav commented abt him in other blogs, A legend is gone!, a rear role model, for him good name is better than gold or wealth, a man whose prestige can not b exchanged for fortune> i will miss ur work prof Chinualumogu Albert Achebe. Africa nd the world at large is proud that you were once part of their history, Adieu.

  • Tess March 25, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    “They understood that immortality is not in things acquired but in a life lived well.”Very true words, sadly many of us run after things that society tells us we must have before we become ‘great’. In the process we lose our family, our health and our peace because we want to belong. All it takes is a flood, a fire, anything and all is gone! Friends lets invest our time & efforts into that which will stand the test of time, not what others think.

    RIP Achebe, your legacy lives, not in your children alone, but in your words and what you stood for.

  • doyin March 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    deep, passionate and true! A necessary reminder of what must be done. thank you for sharing.

  • Cee March 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    The depth of a man’s thoughts are most times captured by words, but sometimes words seem inadequate. Beautifully written and thought provoking piece. Oh, if only a good percentage of us still here will work towards making a positive and lasting impact, … still believing. Salut’

  • lazioman March 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    “There is a generation of greatness that used to walk this earth, and they left their mark; in the books they wrote, in the values they taught, in the lives they lived. Many of them we will never know, they were not all famous, but they brought up children with fire and passion, with zeal for nothing but to be the best that they could be. They lived not for themselves, but for the ones who would come after, for us who are here now.”

    Powerful beyond words…RIP Chinua Achebe

    lazioman.blogspot.com

  • koko March 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Kudos to the writer!!! You truly have a gift. Looking forward to your future:)

  • NNENNE March 26, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Yes. Ours have indeed began!

  • Woman March 26, 2013 at 7:37 am

    A great man and inspiration, Chinua Achebe. It is in the midst of corruption great people work, to encourage and prove to others that a corrupt society should not be an excuse to not also strive for greatness. Your life will always be celebrated through your books.

  • mike March 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    The great man who was full of wisdom words, you gave us knowledge and you made us to be what we are today good bye

  • Kecy. www.edithsmiles.blogspot.com March 26, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    The man who gave meaning to the world of African Literature. This is how i chose to remember him: edithsmiles.blogspot.com/2013/03/open-road-goodbye-papa-goodbye-chinua.html

  • Funke March 27, 2013 at 1:11 am

    Beautifully written!

  • Miss Mo March 27, 2013 at 3:00 am

    Great article. Very insightful. RIP Sir Chinua Achebe. The world has lost a real father of wisdom and knowledge.

  • spicy March 27, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    thought provoking article, RIP Prof!

  • mariam March 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    what more can i say, RiP man of greatness and kudos for this write up maam

  • Dee March 28, 2013 at 5:22 am

    Amazing use of words! May his soul rest in peace…Amen

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