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Goodbye Chinua Achebe: What Uncle Chinua Taught Me by Osisiye Tafa

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There was a professor who stayed beside our house in Benin City, Edo State. He wore shorts and his glasses hung from his neck by a string. Everyone called him ‘Prof’. My mum was a Literature teacher in Golden Touch College, one of the nearby secondary schools. After finishing her collection of literature texts, I desired a new source. That was when I stumbled on Prof’s library. It was made up of a single bookshelf. This shelf was taller than me, and took up the expanse of an entire wall. This discovery set off weekly trips that saw me dashing in and out of his house to get a novel.

Since I returned all the books in good condition, prostrated whenever I came into his compound and returned a book before picking another, Prof let me be. Out of curiosity, he called me one day. I approached him timidly, holding loosely the copy of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ which I had just finished reading.

So you have read that book, eh?’ ‘Yes sah’ ‘Did you understand it?’ ‘Yes sah

And I proceeded to tell him the story of the village that was doing just fine till the coming of the white men. I must have gotten incensed when I described Okonkwo’s whipping by the white man. I must have gotten emotional when I described Ikemefuna’s death (murder). From then on, he always stopped by on the road to ask what book I was reading, responded excitedly to my greetings and smiled whenever I came to ‘raid’ his library’. When the time came for us to leave Benin City, his library was one of the things I felt bad at leaving.

This was my first introduction to the literary works of Chinua Achebe. My reaction was one of awe and a desire to experience what the characters lived. I became fond of fufu, and tried to swallow large handfuls like the characters in ‘Things Fall Apart’. I requested a mosquito coil for my room, as I tried to create a rustic setting. I made inquiries about the possibility of getting a hurricane lamp-the type made of palm kernel husks. I swallowed air before speaking to mimic a baritone like the strong, manly Okonkwo. I must commend my mum for indulging these fantasies.

As I grew, I re-read his books. It was like returning to an old friend. This time, I understood them from a higher plane. I understood better the themes of cultural appreciation, history and negritude.

My favourite work by Chinua Achebe remains ‘Morning Yet on Creation Day’. In it, I discovered essays as an art form. It taught me to speak my mind, be principled and tell my story. I saw that in the instance when an expatriate housewife tried to tell him how he should have written one of his books. He calmly told her that the tasks of a housewife and art critic do not go hand in hand.

He taught me the importance of confronting history. In that anthology, he published a rejoinder he (earlier) wrote to Tai Solarin when the latter accused him and other Nigerian writers of writing in the English Language, and thus not helping the development of their mother languages. It was a long settled issue, but he published it for the sake of history.

This theme is one I would see in Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ where he published stories on long settled issues like the French Invasion, to show the imprint of life at a certain time. I learnt that history prevents us from sinking into past issues; it helps us understand our present.

In the twilight of his life, he was sad about not a few things. He watched Nigeria sink deeper into a mire of corruption and marginalization of the Igbo. He showed his dissatisfaction by rejecting National Honours twice (in 2004 and 2011). He was incensed by the pervasive unintellectual pop culture. He rejected the million dollar offer by American gangster rapper, Curtis Jackson a.k.a. 50 Cent to use his intellectual property in a film. He showed the power of Rejection-how it can be used for good.

His most recent book and long-awaited memoir of the Nigerian-Biafra war, ‘There Was A Country’, is both sad and angry-a book by a writer looking back and mourning Nigeria’s failures. It is an awakening and a clarion call. For us- who learnt from him-to take on the mantle.

In two months, I will publish my first book (A Distant Memory). I would never have found my voice and the confidence to tell my story without a childhood steeped in his works.

Rest in Peace Uncle Chinua. May you find sweet life in the life beyond. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ Osisiye Tafa is a Content Specialist by day and writer by night. He has been published on The Guardian, Businessday, Thisday, Ovation, Y-Naija among others. He writes faction-fictionalized telling of actual events-which he shares on his blog, http://chipsonmarble.wordpress.com/. When he’s not cooking, he is taking his side-kick, Simba on a walk. His debut book, A Distant Memory will be out in stores, June 2013.

15 Comments

  1. Forever Blessed

    March 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Great write up. Chinua’s books were great. Looking forward to reading yours.

  2. Whalezy

    March 26, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Chinua Achebe! A Great Man indeed. I love him for his writings and most of all for rejecting the so-called ‘National Honours’.

  3. Peachy_mo

    March 26, 2013 at 10:22 am

    As always, I will not only patriotically but delightfully purchase your book! Arms cross as I gingerly await another protegee of chinua Achebe.

    I wish NTA will show Things Fall Apart again 🙁

    • nene

      March 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      you can watch it on youtube

  4. Abiola

    March 26, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Tafa…sup nah……”Mariere Tinz” i sight u mucho plus Great write up *wink*

  5. Abiola

    March 26, 2013 at 10:56 am

    waiting patiently for your book

  6. Youneece

    March 26, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Life doesn’t always give us what we want…out actions dont always have the desired results. .but Uncle Chinua taught me that if we truly believed in what we wanted, then we could convince others to believe in same.
    More ink to ur “whatever means ur book will be made available to us”…. we anticipate ur grand entry.

  7. Abdul Musa A

    March 26, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I wish I could get everyone I know to read what you’ve written. Keep up the good work! All the best Tapharrel

  8. chino

    March 26, 2013 at 11:16 am

    wat a wonderful piece of writting..hs indeed a legend.:)

  9. Rhecks

    March 26, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Nice article Osis! Nigerians indeed will miss the literary giant that was Chinua Achebe. Can’t wait to read your book. Keep it up!

  10. akin dada

    March 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    mehn, hav always known you had it within……tafa of life………………..be sure with gabrinchi we goin places.

  11. Amaka

    March 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Chinua Achebe, very distinguished man!

  12. 'Mide

    March 27, 2013 at 12:37 am

    His spirit lives on.I hope those that read him and benefitted from his legacy take his art a notch higher. I suspect that is what he would have wanted.May we have more of him and less of ethnic bickering and suspicion.Amen!

  13. Tosin

    September 4, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Your book will be smart and funny!

  14. Chizzy

    July 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Anthills of the SAvannah remains my best.. but the love of my life is Things fall Apart

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