On the Trail of Achebe’s Roots

17 Apr 2013

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Charles Onyekamuo on the trail of the late Chinua Achebe’s roots visited Ogidi, his hometown to speak with his kinsmen. He writes about his encounter with Achebe’s clansmen and preparations for his burial by by the community

Going by eulogies and reviews of his works by both local and international reviewers and comments of personal experiences of individuals who had the opportunity to encounter him while alive or those inspired by his writings showed he influenced many people across cultures.
Achebe, even in death remains an enigma because he lived to the admiration of the people. The professor emeritus, who until his death held the community chieftaincy title, “Ugo Belu na Orji (the eagle that perched on the iroko tree) and was a member of the “Ndichie Ime Obi” (an advisory council) in the king’s cabinet in Ogidi, his ancestral home, was one man who lived his life according to the dictates of his conscience.

Clearly, Achebe left behind a legacy that continues to inspire many in this generation and would invariably inspire those yet unborn for many years to come.

Yes, it is said that the man who dies leaving memorable legacies behind doesn’t really die because like all good things will resonate in a fitting epitaph in his memory. But what kind of person was Chinua Achebe? Was he that “prophet” without honour and recognition among his kinsmen?  Will Achebe be buried in the traditional and Christian ways since he was a chief in Ogidiland and a Christian of repute?

The former Managing Director of Ajaokuta Metallurgical Company Limited who is also the National Vice President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Philip Atanmuo said from his understanding of the late Achebe, he was more of an introvert who isolated himself from the crowd while at Akpakogwe Primary School, Ogidi, where he got his elementary education.

“Notwithstanding, his classmates said when it came to tests or examinations, you knew where he belonged. I understand he didn’t finish primary six too. He left at primary five to go to the Government College, Umuahia in the 1940s. He was born in 1930 and his father was a catechist and unlike his peers, he went to school quite early as an intelligent pupil,” he said.

He continued: “At Umuahia, Achebe distinguished himself and it has been like that all through his lifetime. He was very meticulous. If you had read his Things Fall Apart with understanding, you could see how meticulous he was. That was typical of him. He looked at what went on within the environment he grew up and used that as the background to his writings.”

Atanmuo pointed out that one thing about Achebe was that what he wrote turned out to have a universal appeal because they dwelt on social problems, which were not different from what is found in other parts of the world.

“That appeal was down-to-earth, and that’s why his books continue to receive applause everywhere, because anybody can pick up any of his books and match it with his background and found that it fitted. Achebe’s books dwell principally on recognisable human social problems, injustice, and the ills of the society such as corruption and that revealed a lot about the man,” he explained.

Atanmuo insisted that Achebe’s idea was to point out these deficiencies or ills so that those in authority would find a way of addressing them. “In doing that Achebe’s belief was that the world would be made a better place for the rich and the poor and indeed the less privileged to live in. His ideas were in line with those of the great philosophers and writers of yesteryears like Socrates, Aristotle and Shakespeare. All these great people based their works on the downtrodden where the majority of the people belong,” he volunteered. 

He explained why Achebe rejected Nigeria’s national awards twice, explaining that it was inappropriate for him to have received the honours when the government had not addressed the social ills he talked about. “He was not prepared to receive awards when his people were being marginalised and suppressed,” he said.

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