Rose Ure Mezu.
Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works. London:
Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd, 2006. 274 pp.
Things Fall Apart,
Arrow of God,
No Longer at Ease,
A Man of the People, and
* * * *
Chinua Achebe in Kenya
A Man of the People—Pornographic?
Three novels, including one by revered African
writer Chinua Achebe, at the centre of a heated controversy,
pitting a Catholic lobby group against the Ministry of Education,
are critical to the examination of Kiswahili.
Parents Caucus, a lobby operating under the
wing of the Catholic Church in Kenya, claims that Achebe's
evergreen political satire,
A Man of the People, as well as
S.A. Mohammed's two Kiswahili novels, Kiu and Kitumbua
Kimeingia Mchanga, are sexually explicit and pornographic.
For that, the lobby argues, they should be
struck off the schools reading list -- lest they corrupt the
morals of the youth. The three novels were selected as set
textbooks for the Literature in English and Kiswahili courses for
Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education two years ago, and have
been taught in schools since. Form Four students will be sitting
examinations on the books for the first time next month.
In Nairobi and Kiambu, lobbyists have been
frantically collecting signatures on a protest note entitled Help
Kick Pornography Out of the Classroom. Last Sunday, the lobbying
moved a notch higher when the appeal for signatures was made
during Mass at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi - in the
hearing of President Mwai Kibaki and Education minister George
The import of the appeal was that the Head of
State, and the Education minister should use their influence to
have the contentious books removed from the syllabus. Both Mr
Kibaki and Prof Saitoti are Catholics.
Although those agitating for the books' ban
insist that their themes and content are objectionable, literary
critics have been quick to point out that two of the books have
been taught in secondary school before, and the students were none
the worse for it. Achebe's
A Man of the People was taught
to high school students in the 1970s without protest, as was
Mohammed's Kiu in the mid 1980s.
Fr Emmanuel Ngugi of the Holy Family Basilica
says the church is the conscience of society, and must stand up to
be counted. He objects to the language used in the books, saying
it is obscene and immoral.
"There is nothing morally redeeming in the
female characters in the book who are merely portrayed as sex
objects," he says of
A Man of the People.
Critics argue that the Nigerian's novel, as
well as the two Kiswahili ones by the prolific Zanzibari, only
mirror society and that their themes do not aim to corrupt but to
correct social mores. Evil does not, in the end, triumph over
The story in Achebe's story revolves around
Chief Nanga, a Cabinet minister, and his former student Odili
Samalu, a school teacher. Their meeting at a school event leads to
the minister inviting Odili to his city residence to help him
secure a scholarship to study abroad.
Odili's host seduces his girlfriend, and thus
igniting a bitter feud for the minister's mistress. The rivalry
between the two men spills into the nation's politics and reaches
its climax in a coup d'etat.
Those pushing for a ban on the books pick
A Man of the People, which they say are
clearly explicit and are likely to excite the students'
imagination and stir their sexual desires.
"It is astounding the kind of literature
we are exposing our children to in classrooms," says one
parent. "In fact, it is quite demeaning to women for a man to
think that they can only be recognised or are at their best only
in a sexual relationship."
Educationists, on the other hand, take the
exact opposite view, and are accusing the church of overstepping
Prof Henry Indangasi, a senior lecturer at the
University of Nairobi's Department of Literature, is clearly
angered at what he terms as moral posturing by the church.
"I am passionately convinced that the
critics of [Achebe's] book are wrong. They are deliberately
misinterpreting certain sections in the book to suit their purist
stand," he says.
Achebe, the don argues, is a respected author
in Africa who has not been known as a purveyor of sex and
pornography for its own sake.
A Man of the People, he says,
is a satirical book that merely aims to correct the moral
decadence in society, and nothing else.
"Behind the satire is a set of morals to
make us laugh at ourselves, and the characters who are depicted as
morally deprived. Achebe is not telling his readers to behave like
the characters, but wants them to learn from the book," says
"I would, without hesitation, recommend
the book to my daughter because, in reality, there are men who are
irresponsible and disgusting like Odili, Chief Nanga and "irre"
in our society", says Prof Indangasi.
"People who treat women as sexual objects
and then gloat about it exist in society. It is the failure to
teach girls that such men exist, and that they should be on the
lookout for them, that is the problem," he adds.
Literature mirrors what happens in society, and
sex definitely takes place in society. It is not the work of
literature to moralise, but to reflect society and, therefore,
Removing the books from the syllabus is being
seen as tantamount to taking the country back to the dark days of
censorship. Prof Indangasi, who sits on the English curriculum
panel at the Kenya Institute of Education, says it would be tragic
if the government resorted to the "Kanu way" of
censoring books it is uncomfortable with.
"Kanu banned books by
Ngugi wa Thiong'o. I
want to believe the present government cannot stoop that
low," he says.
Although sex is mentioned in the three books,
it is not explicit as is being claimed by the lobbyists. Students
of literature argue that it is likely the critics of the scenes
have failed to appreciate the larger and more important issues the
texts are commenting on -- like bad governance, immorality,
freedom of the Press, elections, betrayal and hypocrisy.
"The sexual images are a mere statement of
what happens in society. Is the church trying to say that sex does
not take place?" asks a University of Nairobi student.
In academic circles, the campaign to take the
books off the reading list is being viewed as religious
conservatism and perpetuation of a secluded theology that is
removed from reality.
Authors, says the literati, never ask their
readers to emulate the characters in their works, but to instead
learn from them.
A Kiswahili author who sought anonymity said
the church has no business trying to comment on issues best left
to the academia.
If the government accedes to the church's
demands, he says, it will be setting a very bad precedent.
"The view that the books are pornographic,
just because they mention sex, is myopic and totally uninformed.
There are very many passages in
the Bible mentioning and describing sex, yet the church has
never advocated for those sections to be removed, or for the Bible
to be banned," he adds.
Additional reporting by Kwamchetsi Makokha (Story
courtesy of The Nation and All Africa.com)
* * *
There is much that is comical in our new Kenya;
but the nature of comical statements is often something that
invites threats. Years ago, when the late Kariuki Chotara, a
Kenyan politician, wanted “Karo Max” arrested and detained, we
laughed – but this sort of cowboy narrow-mindedness lead to a
purge of writers, free-speakers and thinkers that Kenya is still
Now a new one: that Chinua Achebe is a
pornographer. His book, A Man of the People, which is taught in
schools to 16-18 year olds. This is what a Catholic Church lobby
group is saying; what several parents groups are saying. (See
attached newspaper article below)
My organisation, kwani? wishes to solicit
commentary from writers and writers organisations so we can use
this to prevent any action being taken to remove this, and the
other books under threat. We hope to have edited comments
published in one of our national newspapers: the East African or
The Sunday Standard.
We would need such submissions in by Monday the
15th of September 2003. We will also put up these
comments on our website www.kwani.org
We are also trying to get in touch with Mr.
Achebe urgently so he may give his views on the matter.
Please forward this to any writers or lovers of
free speech that you know.
* * * *
Binyavanga Wainaina, a Kenyan
writer, is the founding editor of
Kenya’s only literary Journal, Kwani?. He lived and worked for ten years in South Africa. He
has been writing from Nakuru, Kenya for the past two years. He
is now based in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been published by various
literary journals around the World. He writes regularly for the Sunday
Times (South Africa) and the East African (Kenya). He
has also written for the Guardian (UK), The Mail and
Guardian (SA), The Cape Times and the Cape Argus
(Cape Town).In July 2002 he won the Caine Prize for African Writing -
Africa's most prestigious literary prize.
The Caine Prize for African Writing is named
in memory of the late Sir Michael Caine, who was Chairman of the
Booker Prize management committee for almost 25 years. The
patrons of the prize are three African winners of the Nobel
Prize for Literature: Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer and Naguib
Mahfouz. The two African Booker Prize winners, J. M. Coetzee and
Ben Okri, have joined the Council of the Caine Prize.
Chinua Achebe wins $300,000 Gish prize—By
Philip Nwosu—Monday, September 27, 2010—The
author of the epic novel,
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe,
has emerged winner of the United States
Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. The Gish
prize, which was established in 1994 by the
Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust and
administered by JPMorgan Chase Bank as
trustee, is given annually to “a man or
woman who has made an outstanding
contribution to the beauty of the world and
to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of
life.” The prize is worth $300,000. . . .
Achebe’s writings examine African politics
and chronicle the ways in which African
culture and civilization have survived in
the post-colonial world. Some of his
acclaimed works include
A Man of the People (1966) and
Anthills of the Savannah (1988).
[The 80-year-old author has founded a number of magazines for
African art, fiction and poetry.] Achebe, who is paralyzed from
the waist down due to a 1990 car accident, is currently
Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in Providence,
Again, Chinua Achebe
Rejects Nigerian Award—“The reasons for rejecting the offer
when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved.
It is inappropriate to offer it again to me. I must therefore
regretfully decline the offer again,” Achebe said in the letter
which he reportedly sent to Nigeria Ambassador to the United
States. Achebe had in 2004 rejected offer of national award from
the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in
protest of the political situation in Nigeria and his native
Anambra State then.
The US based writer had in
the rejection letter he wrote to the then President noted that:
“I write this letter with a very heavy heart. For some time now
I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have
watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where
a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in
high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a
bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness
of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the
“Forty three years ago, at
the first anniversary of Nigeria’s independence I was given the
first Nigerian National Trophy for Literature. In 1979, I
received two further honours—the Nigerian National Order of
Merit and the Order of the Federal Republic—and in 1999 the
first National Creativity Award.
“I accepted all these
honours fully aware that Nigeria was not perfect; but I had a
strong belief that we would outgrow our shortcomings under
leaders committed to uniting our diverse peoples. Nigeria’s
condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for
silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by
declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004
* * *
One Day I Will Write About This Place: A
By Binyavanga Wainaina
Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his
middle-class Kenyan childhood out of
kilter with the world around him. This
world came to him as a chaos of loud and
colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his
mother’s beauty parlor, black mamba
bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the
music of Michael Jackson—all punctuated
by the infectious laughter of his
brother and sister, Jimmy and Ciru. He
could fall in with their patterns, but
it would take him a while to carve out
In this vivid and compelling debut
memoir, Wainaina takes us through his
school days, his mother’s religious
period, his failed attempt to study in
South Africa as a computer programmer, a
moving family reunion in Uganda, and his
travels around Kenya. The landscape in
front of him always claims his main
attention, but he also evokes the
shifting political scene that unsettles
his views on family, tribe, and
Throughout, reading is his refuge and
his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing
prize comes through, the door is opened
for him to pursue the career that
perhaps had been beckoning all along. A
series of fascinating international
reporting assignments follow. Finally he
circles back to a Kenya in the throes of
postelection violence and finds he is
not the only one questioning the old
* * *
* * * * *
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
By Charles C. Mann
a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous
New Revelations of the Americas Before
Columbus, in which he
provides a sweeping and provocative
examination of North and South America
prior to the arrival of Christopher
Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched
but so wonderfully written that it’s
anything but exhausting to read. With
1493, Mann has taken it to a
new, truly global level. Building on the
groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby
The Columbian Exchange and, I’m
proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer),
Mann has written nothing less than the
story of our world: how a planet of what
were once several autonomous continents
is quickly becoming a single,
Mann not only talked to countless
scientists and researchers; he visited
the places he writes about, and as a
consequence, the book has a marvelously
wide-ranging yet personal feel as we
follow Mann from one far-flung corner of
the world to the next. And always, the
prose is masterful. In telling the
improbable story of how Spanish and
Chinese cultures collided in the
Philippines in the sixteenth century, he
takes us to the island of Mindoro whose
“southern coast consists of a number of
small bays, one next to another like
tooth marks in an apple.”
We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato,
tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and
convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are
finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated
Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this
remarkable change will survive the process they helped to
initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests
in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
* * * * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammy’s
behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’
domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her
own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
update 29 march