“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 woke up on Friday morning to the sad news that Chinua Achebe, the father of African literature, had passed away at the age of 82. It was less than 6 months ago that I was raving about his autobiography, There Was a Country: a Personal History of Biafra. Looking back in hindsight, it feels like that book was a farewell to his fans.
I will always accredit Achebe for introducing me to African literature, a genre I never really knew existed. I don’t think I’m being over the top when I describe Achebe as being a hero. To me, he definitely is one. It can’t have been easy being an African writer in the 1950s, especially with Western writers ridiculing the notion of African literature. Thankfully for African literature lovers, that that didn’t stop Achebe from writing. As he said when he sent Things Fall Apart to the publishers:
There were several…instant rejections. Some did not even bother to read it, jaundiced by their impression that a book with an African backdrop had no “marketability.” Some of the responders found the concepts of an African novel amusing.”
Despite the fact that Achebe, as a Nigerian, wrote stories set in Nigeria, the entire African continent loved, and could relate to, his books. For me, one of the most unforgettable protagonists was Okonkwo, in the book Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo was such a tragic character who saw his tradition being threatened by culturally-insensitive colonialists. This is a story that resonated with Africa, many of whom saw their culture and traditions eroded by colonialism.
Achebe’s death is a huge loss. There will never be anyone else like him. May he rest in peace.