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African Literature is that literature that contains African thought system and African life,

period. Whether it is by a Mungoro or a Russian or a Jew, itís relevant, because for

the Jew to be able to write African literature, he must have lived in Africa before he can do it.


I.N.C.  Aniebo



Interview with I.N.C. Aniebo

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye   

ďThere is African Literature . . . I believe in it,Ē says I.N.C. Aniebo, novelist, and scholar


Immediately Chinua Achebeís third novel,  Arrow Of God,  appeared  in London in the early 1960s, a critical voice rang out from Lagos, in the journal, Nigeria Magazine, with the poser: ďAchebe: Now A Sociologist or Novelist?Ē That question awakened a lot of interests and opened new vistas in the criticism of the works of Achebe who by then had become acknowledged as the best writer to come out of Africa. ANIEBO, the owner of that voice, and internationally known Nigerian writer, has been described as ďthe master-craftsman of the Nigerian Short Story.Ē

Although he has published three collections of short stories, his novels, Anonymity of Sacrifice (AWS 148) and The Journey Within (AWS 206), both published by Heinemann, London,  in 1974 and  1978 respectively, have  attracted critical acclaim and established him as a significant African  writer. His first collection of short stories, Of Wives, Talismans and the Dead (AWS 253) has been reprinted a number of times. The other two collections, Man of the Market and the award-winning Rearguard Action, has helped to consolidate his reputation as a skilled writer.

Since 1979, Aniebo has taught Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Port Harcourt. A former officer in the Nigerian Army, he was trained at cadet schools in England and Ghana, and at the Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, Kansas. He equally served in the UN Peace-keeping Force in the Congo (now DRC) as an officer.  During the Biafra-Nigeria War, he fought on the Biafran side and was discharged in 1971. He later went to the University of California in Los Angeles(UCLA) where he took  degrees in English and History. Anieboís several reviews and short stories are scattered in many magazines and journals around the world.

As a prelude to a critical appraisal of Anieboís works to be soon published, UGOCHUKWU EJINKEONYE who was  Anieboís  student at the University of Port Harcourt  shares an encounter with Aniebo in July 1995 in the donís office. Aniebo was then Head, Department of English, University of Port Harcourt. 

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Ugochukwu: At a recent forum in Owerri, your work as a significant writer was acclaimed. Also, critics have continued to applaud  what they view as your exceptional talent. Charles Nnolim, for instance, insists that in your first novel, The Anonymity of Sacrifice,  all the usual  flaws that normally attend first novels are ďrefreshinglyĒ absent; can we deduce from these developments  that there has equally been a tremendous financial success? 

Aniebo: No, no ... there has been very little financial reward, because . . . letís see . . .  The Anonymity of Sacrifice was published abroad and I was in the USA at the time it was published. Since I was a new writer, the sales didnít begin to pick up; it was very, very gradual. Then, four years later, I published my The Journey Within which I thought would really make it better, but, somehow or the other, not too many people discovered The Journey Within, even though the critics loved it. When I came back here  in 1979 and started teaching, I saw some reviews of that my book in French, which I had one of my colleagues translate into English. I couldnít believe that this was being said about the novel I wrote. They praised it so much . . . but up till now, I canít say Iíve gotten a lot of money out of it. So, even though people acknowledge that . . . yes . . . one critic did say something. He said that if this novel had been published in the early sixties, it would have been as famous as Chinua Achebeís Things Fall Apart. So, probably, I wrote mine too late. 

Ugochukwu: Despite the significant progress made in the definition and consolidation of what is today known as African Literature, doubts still linger in some quarters about its existence; do you think African Literature really exists? If yes, what is your definition of it? 

Aniebo: Yes, of course, [African Literature exists]. There has been a lot of controversy about it. But you see, itís like somebody looking at the sun and asking, ďDo you believe in the sun?Ē But the sun is there. You are an African, Iím an African, okay. There is an African thought system. So, naturally there must be an African literature. Itís automatic. I mean, arguing whether itís there or not is, to me, one of those stupid things the white people use . . . itís like the white people saying that we donít have African history.

But we know we have history. After all, how did we get from there to here? That is history; not some stupid thing which they would rather make us believe in Nigeria that, until Mungo Park saw the River Niger, the Niger never existed, which is stupidity. We know that River Niger was there long before the great ancestors of Mungo Park ever thought of coming to Africa. So, how can you say that Mungo Park discovered the River Niger? That is a very stupid thing to say; he gave it a name and the stupid black people ó I donít know what is wrong with them ó accepted that thing.

Why should we call it River Niger? Iím sure that if you talked to the people who live on the banks of that river, that is, if you asked them, ďWhatís the name of this river?Ē, they will certainly give you about 1500 different names it has borne or still bears. So why donít we pick one of these names or even take one letter from each one and form a word. No, we will accept the name River Niger, just as we have accepted Nigeria. 

Why should we be even called Nigeria? People keep mistaking us for Niger or Liberia. I mean, look at all the confusion, when you know that there are about two hundred and fifty different (groups of) people in this place. And they wish to bring the same confusion in African Literature. But there is African Literature. I believe in it, and to me, African Literature is that literature that contains African thought system and African life, period. Whether it is by a Mungoro or a Russian or a Jew, itís relevant, because for the Jew to be able to write African literature, he must have lived in Africa before he can do it.

Otherwise, he would be writing Jewish literature about Africa. Take Mister Johnson by Joyce Cary for instance, that is not African literature. We know it because, as Chinua Achebe said, Mr. Johnson might have appeared stupid to the white man, but when he gets to his home, he is a big boss and he tells them what to do. And yet Joyce Cary was never able to capture that other life of Mr. Johnson; the only one he could capture was the one he saw from his white manís point of view. He didnít know that the black man was playing games with him; you know that when he is with the white man, he behaves in a particular way, but when he goes home, he behaves like the real person he is. Just like a chameleon, if you are near, it takes your colour, as soon as you move away, it changes its colour to (match) its normal surroundings. Thatís the way we are. Yeah, we have African Literature. 

Ugochukwu: Thank you. Now, letís look again at this very old debate that has become stale even before it has been successfully resolved. Iíll  just use one example to illustrate what I mean. In 1964, John Knappert writing in the journal, Transition declared, ďI do not think there can be any other African Literature but literature in African LanguageĒ; do you agree with him? 

Aniebo: No, I donít agree with that. Again, thatís another area we have argued and argued about. The problem as I see it is that very few, as of now, very few African writers can write in African language, because they never studied the African language. The language you use in literature is the language you know very well. I used to ask some of my Igbo friends, ďwhen you think, do you think in Igbo or in English?Ē And sometimes, they canít even tell me . . .  they say, ďwell, well, you know, sometimes I think in Igbo.Ē For me, most of the time, I think in English. I have to consciously change it to think in Igbo.

So, English, because I have practiced it, studied it virtually all my life except maybe from the first five years before I started going to school,  I think I know that language as well as I can know any other language. Some to tell me that unless I write in Igbo, Iím not writing African literature is bullshit; unless you are now saying that I am not an African; then thatís a totally different matter. If they say Iím not an African, fine; then your definition is right, but I feel that with time, many more African languages will be used in creative writing, and when that happens, I also think that those Africans ó this is in the future ó will look for the works that were written in either English or French or Portuguese and translate them into the required language.

After all, think of the British; when did they start talking English? ó in the 12th century; what were they doing for twelve hundred years? Didnít they have a literature? They did. But at that time, they were either using French, because, the French had conquered  them and stayed there. William the Conqueror in the 10th century, 1066 AD to be exact, conquered them and French was the official language in the palace of English Kings. Yes, for two centuries! Thatís why when Chaucer started his English revolution, everybody hailed him. Thatís why they call him the beginning of English Literature.

So, the same thing is apparently happening to us. Some idiot came over here and forced us to now use English. We will continue to use it until we find something else to take its place. But that does not mean that all the things that were written or that were regarded as literature before Chaucer started are still not regarded as literature. They are. Beowulf, for instance, antedates Chaucer. But it is regarded as one of the top English things. So can you imagine what language it must have been written in?

Where did the English people come from anyway? You have the Welsh, the Scotch, the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons; where is this English we keep talking about? Letís not bother ourselves; create whatever you can in whatever language as long as you will invest it with your sensibilities and your African feelings; because there is a way we look at the world which nobody else does and I can tell you why: the fact that every morning you wake up and you look up and see the sun shinning makes your life go in a particular way from the person who will wake up and for six months he will not see the sun.

Both of you will never think alike. Because that kind of person, if you bring him out where the sun shines everyday, he will go mad out of joy. You know, he might remove all his clothes and say heís sunning himself. You see them lying on the beaches and so on. Have you seen a black man who has stayed in the sun all these years, going out there to strip himself and lie under the sun and saying, ďIím sunning myself?Ē When you are even running away from the sun? So, your life-style is different.

Thatís what we call ĎAfricaní. Take somebody, say from New York, then put him in a jungle, he will go mad. He will tell you all those insects will harm him. But take a small baby, an African child, put him in the forest, he wonít make any noise. He will even be going round looking for things to play with. Whatever, he sees, be it a little worm, he will ask, ďwhat is this?Ē He might even pick it up. Whereas a white man will run off and exclaim, ďNo! There are too many things crawling in this place!Ē So, itís all a matter of life-style. 

Ugochukwu: How can you assess our African critics of African Literature? Do you think that most of the things that are being churned out in journals, magazines and newspapers today can recommend themselves when juxtaposed with the criticisms emanating from other areas of the globe? 

Aniebo: Well, as I told you at the beginning, Iím biased against critics, so you are really asking their enemy to kill them. But let me try and be fair, because I also tried to be a critic myself. The problem, I think, with our critics at the moment is that they are all afraid. They are afraid of putting their foot in the wrong place; which is understandable. According to the University regulation, you must publish to be promoted. Therefore, you cannot say things that will not be accepted by the editors of the journals. You have to try and say things that you think the editors will accept.

So, because of that now, you will write about Chinua Achebe . . . you  go to the library . . . and after you have produced so many footnotes, even up to fifty, and  put them together, you come out . . .  and in the end, you say nothing. Then you pick up Soyinka and you do the same. Nobody, for instance, will come out and say Chinua Achebe is the worst writer in Nigeria (assuming that is applicable).  No African critic can do it. And the most unfortunate thing is that even when they get to the stage where they can say these things, they have already lost the urge to say it . . . that is, when they become professors.

In Nigeria, when you are a professor, it means, bye-bye to work, go to bed, sleep, cover your head, enjoy your house, your car; Ďno more work no more playí, as they say. Whereas, abroad, when you get to professorship, you will continue working. In fact, work starts when you have become a professor, because they have a different system; you will see a young man of thirty, and on the basis of a book, just one book that he has written, he is made a professor.

It is the promise in that book that made him a professor, and not in the cumulative work he has done. They expect that now he is a professor, he can now sit down . . . thereís no more rush to publish. So he can sit down and really bring out his innermost thought so that when anybody sees it, the person will say, that is from Professor So and So, and will open it and read. In our own area, itís different. By the time you get to the stage where you can write, you are already dry and have forgotten what is to be written.

So my thinking is that; unfortunately, our critics of African Literature have not reached that position that the critics of other world literatures have reached, particularly American, British, French, and German. And I say this with unhappiness because the critic is supposed to be the midwife to the writer. The writer is pregnant. It is this midwife that will help the writer deliver. Without the midwife there might be either obstructions or the baby might die or it could be still-born, or even suffer from other kinds of complications. 

Critics help writers to produce better materials in other places. And this is what the Nigerian or African critics should do for creative writers. But no, they will rather tear them apart . . . tell you this, and tell you that: itís a useless book; or they may even over praise you. Can you believe that there is no writer in Nigeria or Africa that has been brought up and praised by an African critic? None! Think about it. We wait until Europeans say, ďHey, this is a fantastic one, and everybody will dive in. Why canít  any of our Ďestablishedí professor- critics just pick one writer here and really write and write about him that everybody comes to accept that this is a fantastic writer. I mean, sit down and pick any African writer and make the writer his own. To me, thatís what criticism is all about. So, thatís the distinctive mark of the African. Instead of because the oyibo men say, Chinua (Achebe) is the best, so he is the best. Thereís no other better writer that can come up again. 

Ugochukwu: But Professor Eldred Jones helped promote and spotlight Wole Soyinka? 

Aniebo: Did he? Soyinka was fantastic already. He did quite well, yes, the problem there is that Soyinka, because of the way he wrote, also appealed to Europeans much more than to us. So the work of Eldred Jones there is not so obvious. What Iím thinking of is some writer Europeans dislike. Let an African critic popularize that writer. Okay, Ben Okri is now being popularized over there in Europe; you will see how he will take over this place soon. And all our little critics will now dive in to promote him, quoting this man of England who said this and that about him or this man of Massachusetts who said another thing about him, or this man of Russia or Greece.

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(Interview conducted July 1995)

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye is on the Editorial Board of  Independent Newspapers ( ), Lagos. He writes a weekly column (SCRUPLES) for the paper on the back page (every Wednesday). Email:

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Rearguard Action by I.N.C. Aniebo: These eight short stories concentrate on terrible experiences during the Nigerian civil war. The author vividly illustrates, in action- packed tales, how people are the victims of war. He shows pain, hunger, confusion, and the breakdown of morality. As a successful writer, and previously a Nigerian army officer, the author brings the reality home.

posted 3 September 2006

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

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 Mammyís behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folksí domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familyís 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.     

Professor Perry 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 Caucasian babies.

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 indiscriminately.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literaryóSchool Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Boisí Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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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 Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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