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Actually, contrary to my reflective views, I like others find the figure Okonkwo masterfully

appealing in his intrepidness, commitment to goals and passion for hard living, 

yet sadly, he lacks the good judgment necessary for survival

 

 

  Other Books by Rose Ure Mezu

 

Women in Chains: Abandonment in Love Relationships in the Fiction of Selected West African Writers (1994) / Songs of the Hearth (1993) /

Homage to My People (2004) / A History of Africana Women's Literature (2004)

 Black Nationalists: Reconsidering Du Bois, Garvey, Booker T. & Nkrumah (1999) Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works (2006)

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Books by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart Arrow of God / No Longer at Ease  / A Man of the People / Anthills of the Savannah

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Okonkwo's Curse

 Relevance of Achebe's Things Fall Apart

A Discussion by Dr. Rose Ure Mezu & Rudolph Lewis

 

We want the real deal and death is better than persecution.Marvin X, Dirty South

Yesterday's march, however, was not about division. It was a generational moment – the kind of watershed event that could signal a turning point in our movements.—Jordan Flaherty

Beyond death there are no ideals and no humbug, only reality. The impatient idealist says: "Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth." But such a place does not exist. We have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace.—No Longer at Ease

Recently, I read two Achebe novels: Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease. The first is about the warrior Okonkwo, living in a holistic yam economy and the second is about his grandson Obi, living in a fragmented money economy. Okonkwo's is a pre-black, pre-African world, before Christianity, before white government rule with its superior guns, its books and literacy, its values and justice. Obi's world occurs during British colonialism maybe four or five years before an independent Nigeria (1960). Obi, a 2nd generation Christian, educated in England with a B.A. in English, returns home for a job in government service, a senior “European post.”

Things Fall Apart ends with the death of the warrior Okonkwo. The last words of the novel are those of the title of the white Commissioner's proposed book: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. Okonkwo hanged himself in despair. His clan made a decision not to go to war with the white man, his government and religion, and his justice. Okonkwo was not the perfect man, but he was the ideal man for his clan and his society in Umuofia, one of the nine villages that made up the clan's sovereignty in a section that became Eastern Nigeria. They were the most war-like of the villages and Okonkwo was one of its chief warriors and one of the judicious elders, probably in his mid-40s, and possibly the youngest of the group.

Okonkwo preferred "the real deal" and believed "death is better than persecution." His fellow clansman would not stand with him after he had struck the first blow for their liberation. They cowered like women. And for maybe good reasons: after one village killed one white man on a bicycle the British whites annihilated an entire village—men, women, and children. The downward course for Okonkwo began when his own son (Obi's father, who took the name “Isaac”) in parental rebellion defied his father and became a Christian with an inordinate love for the white man's book and literacy. And his father cursed him.

That is, Okonkwo’s Isaac preferred the white man’s rule to that of his father’s. He learned to read and write and became a catechist for the Anglican church. When he got old they gave him a pension that he could barely live off and thus he and his wife (both Christians), promoters of the white man’s rule and values, became dependent in their old age on the salary of their only son. Obi was only able to go to college on a loan by an Umuofia self-help group in Lagos. Isaac instilled in his son a love and idealism of the white man’s world. But Obi’s parents were not fully a part of that white world—a debilitating conflict of identity that eventfully leads to Obi’s downfall.

That inordinate love for the white Other, leads to family life falling apart. Isaac’s daughters are away from their village home, scattered, seeking money in an economy very unlike that of their grandfather, Okonkwo. No Longer at Ease is thus a continuation of that family/clan drama, in which Okonkwo's descendants are now a part of the white man's world, but not fully. The British will not allow them to become fully "white." They have at best become only half white, for the white man (the British) constantly remind them of their differences. They have a different mores than the "white" man, namely, the African takes bribes, and they discriminate ritually among themselves. Of course, this British reasoning is rather superficial and at heart is a racialist self-justification for their rule over Africans.

Okonkwo’s people have not become fully "white"; in some sense, they are nominal Christians.  Moreover, they are not "white" Christians. Okonkwo’s people are thus no longer a holistic society. They gather things: a salary, status, housing in white areas. But they are not at ease with themselves, with their families, with their clans, with life in the white man’s world. They can only approximate the lives of their betters, and that is done at great cost, more than their salaries can tolerate, thus the temptations for bribes.

They fall continually back on their "heathen" culture for spiritual sustenance. There's the continual reciting of clan proverbs throughout No Longer at Ease. They’re cultural retentions from which they are unable to escape, because there was not yet a thorough whitewashing of their lives. Stories and proverbs are told but they are all out of the original context. These cultural retentions provide no more spiritual comfort and surety than Okonkwo's machete and strong arm. At best clan members live a marginal life. They are trapped in a no man's land, and however they try to prove their "whiteness"—with education, life in England, intimacy and love of individual whites—they remain the black Other even on their own soil—Nigeria, Africa.

It all reminded me so much of "black" reality here in America. For we long ago—ten or 20 generations ago—were lifted out of Okonkwo's world. We New World slaves were able to sustain sufficient African cultural retentions to create a distinctive subculture in our exclusion—stories, songs, proverbs, etc. In our social and political restriction we were under a white government and a white Christianity and a white mores that did not fully accept our brand of “whiteness.” And they set themselves apart from us, drew a line in the sand, while they spoke of the Rights of Man. They could not, desired not to get beyond our Black Masks. They found this separateness useful and rewarding politically and economically—personally satisfying and elevating.

Whatever the reform—the end of slavery, the end of Jim Crow, the end of colonialism—we always find ourselves, seemingly at the bottom of things, less than "white," and only worthy of a justice and treatment for those less than "white"—a people set aside for a separate non-white justice. Obi found this to be true; the black male teenagers of Jena found this to be true—both the hard way, in the practical realities of life, where idealism dies a sorry death. In both cases, in their oppression, they are trapped by their particular history and culture, which they retain because the road forward has been blocked.

For instance, with Obi there is his insistence to marry Clara, a descendant of the Osu Caste Technically, clan members are all purportedly Christians and thus there is neither slave (nor caste) nor free in the religion—supposedly a holistic community. But marriage with Clara raises difficulties of clan loyalty from prominent members. In some sense the traditional clan is technically dead (died with the death of Okonkwo), and especially once the people became Christians. But these traditional retentions still have their power on consciousness; for the people have one foot in the dead world of their ancestors and one foot (maybe a toe) in the white man's world. Obi’s mother threatens suicide; his father says no to the marriage. Obi does not have courage to ignore the proscriptions of family and the newly reconstituted clan. And Obi's British principles begin to crumble. To an extent, Obi mirrors his father’s rebellion.

And so he enters into criminal activity to absolve himself. Clara is pregnant and Obi, fearing for his mother's life, submits to an abortion, which costs money. He is debt-ridden trying to live the new white life of one with a "European post," being a good son (sending money home), and paying for an abortion. His high English principles on the rejection of bribes fall by the wayside and he ends up in the dock, headed to prison.

The Jena 6 naively believed in the civil rights bills of the 60s and that those laws had made them fully “white,” and that everything was everything and that they were as good and equal as their “white” peers. But obviously they overlooked laws made subsequently that singled them out for persecution; in effect, there had been a subsequent undoing of all those1960s laws forced through by Lyndon Baines Johnson.. But there is sufficient evidence in Jena that they were not "equal" and that justice for those who were not fully "white" did not exist, even before the nooses were hung in the “white” tree. The six black boys defied that acceptance and understanding and challenged the status quo. They also found themselves in prison.

Now there is another call for another reform movement to accomplish what the last reform movement did not, namely, a liberation of the black masses into full "whiteness." But clearly we are in a Sisyphean dilemma. The ball is pushed up and it rolls down. And we are constantly pushing it up for it to roll down again. How then do we free ourselves from this dilemma? Of course, this pushing up and falling down does not affect all of the half "white" members to the same measure.

For some the situation is more urgent, with others it is more livable, as they say, they are getting paid and they have kept their noses clean. They know better than others how to play or think they know how to play the "white" game in order to make their marginal life tolerable (Orlando Patterson, NYTimes.com). For, as Eugene Robinson, African-American columnist for the Washington Post, has pointed out “black America is increasingly complicated and diverse, riven by fault lines. . . . There are black families that have had multigenerational middle-class success, and black families trapped in multigenerational poverty and dysfunction” (Washington Post). In short, “success” for the few is a “real deal” substitute for the liberation of the “black” masses.

Maybe we are indeed cursed and there is no exit and a marginal existence is the most that can be hoped for by the broad “black” masses in a white world. If Okonkwo indeed exists in an “ancestor” world and is able to spy on our present tragedies, he’s probably having a big belly laugh at our comic cowardly behavior, our womanish ways, willing to accept a half life rather than die and be done with it all. And when we do, if ever, gain some manly backbone to defy this repression we should expect the iron reality of retaliation.

Nevertheless, we need a new kind of rhetoric, less idealistic, in which to teach our kids the realties of our failures and the realities of their oppression—we live in a money economy which we do not control, which operates by rules over which our welfare is less than considered. Parents in Jena know these realities. Theirs have always been an impoverished segregated world, struggling against the odds for a mere semblance of “white” life on the black side of the tracks. Of course, children are taught a disheartening idealism in the schools, that is, that they are just as good as their “white” peers. 

In reality both teachers and their students are at the mercy of others as long as a job is needed to survive in this “white” man's world. Surely children will not get a more realistic education for liberation in those classrooms. Worst, the job world is becoming more and more fierce and fractured, as corporations needlessly look for higher and higher profits at the costs of longer hours and decreasing pay. The masses suffer. And race plays no small part in this senseless exploitation.

It is not just Jena; Jena is a global condition. Our children must adjust to the new racial guidelines or be willing to make war against institutions that place “white” property above “black” dignity. Another civil rights movement is another illusion.—Rudy

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Okonkwo's Failings

Okonkwo represents the Igbo people, and his failings explains why the Christians were successful.—Wilson

In a way this is true, but only in a tertiary sense. Okonkwo is his people and his people were not uniform. No people ever are. There are always soft spots (or flaws) in the human armor on which opportunists (conquerors) can breach. Except for a few items and the lack of technology, the social make-up of Okonkwo's people was not that different from most peoples, including those in the West. There were the ritual matters of murder of children, the disposal of twins, and isolation of the Osu Caste.

But these flaws only affected a very few in the society. And these few became the first Christian recruits (converts) and with their new set of myth the new converts created a new social hierarchy with its separate set of persecuting values. Though the divide and conquer approach had its impact, the devastation of Abame was the most persuasive act committed by the British.  Then there was the British retaliation for the masked ancestors burning down of the Christian church, after one of the Christian converts unmasked one of the ancestors. 

Okonkwo and other elders were arrested by the British, thrown into prison, their heads shaved and bumped together, and whipped by the womanish sycophants of power (newly converted Christians). Their reality and authority, their lives auctioned off, their dignity became as shadowy as that of a slave. British power reduced them to a cipher. In these circumstances, Okonkwo realizes he cannot begin again. One has one go-around: though his people believed in reincarnation, that was for him no substitute for his life of the warrior.—Rudy

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Okonkwo's Curse is Humanity's Curse?

With regard to Things Fall Apart, I tried so hard not to get embroiled in the discussion going on around Okonkwo and the Igbos, etc. My book Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works  contains an in-depth treatment of all these issues.  Fortunately, you appear to have profited from the many scholarly reviews of the book, from your own really serious and profound review of many issues arising from the reading: see Reading Roseure Mezu's Achebe, and from your subsequent readings/rereading of Achebe's works.

Okonkwo has his own personal demons arising from his formation and familial issues—his father's indolent, pleasure-loving, artistic (in Okonkwo's view—effeminate) nature. Yet, Okonkwo was consistently ethical and principled, as you rightly pointed out.

But does Okonkwo represent the Igbos? Not entirely. In his commitment to success and distinction, love of family, acceptance of the cultural dictates, even where penalties apply, yes. For Achebe is careful to distance communal ethos from Okonkwo's personal failings. For instance,

1) the arrogance which prompts the lordly Okonkwo to call the unsuccessful Osugo agbala— “this meeting is for men” (Things Fall Apart  26).  An elder is quick to rebuke such intolerance: “those whose palm kernels are cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble” (27);  

2) Okonkwo’s inability to get along with his son Nwoye whose nature akin to that of his grandfather Okonkwo fails to appreciate.  Achebe sets up a foil to Okonkwo in the person of his friend Obierika who has a harmonious relationship with his own son, and who besides is reflective and not impulsive like Okonkwo; 

3) with regard to Okonkwo’s abusive treatment of his wives, Achebe again points as contrast to a much older clansman and a more exalted title-holder Ogbuefi Ezeudu who believes his manliness is enhanced by treating his own wife as a partner, and also to Nwakibie with his numerous wives who yet conducts his familial affairs with dignity and no rancor;

4) Okonkwo's  arbitrary highhandedness so directly opposed to the consultative nature of the community who debate issues and place the welfare of their community over excessive individuality. When Okoknwo cuts off with his machete the head of the court messenger, he was symbolically arrogating to himself command over the entire community. 

"They cowered like women" is merely his own thinking and a personal opinion.  They had earlier debated the issue and Okonkwo lost out to a more persuasive speaker.  Whether rightly or wrongly, they are a people with definite mores and laws governing decisions of conflict, of war or peace. 

Rudy, your various analogies to the state of Black America and the Sisyphean nature of advancement in a dominant white society remains the problematic of not just blacks in America or Africa but of other cultural groupings quagmired in similar white-controlled economic and political environments.  Whether a group can achieve sufficient cultural cohesion to navigate their way with dignity into a meaningful existence depends on the innate make-up of the people and on the quality of their representative leadership class.  Again, discussion on this particular issue features in the Fourth World essay: Fourth World Multiculturalism as Antidote to Global Violence.

And so, Okonkwo's curse is actually all humanity's curse. A more urgent and pertinent point at issue, I think, is where leadership should emanate—from the people, or from the educated class?  People like Du Bois ("The Talented Tenth") and Achebe would say— the educated class (see Anthills of the Savannah, 1987). Others quote the age-old "a people get the kind of leadership they deserve!).  But is this really valid?  Except for armed insurrection against a governing authority (and we know how often this has been historically successful and with what bloody consequences), when have specific groups or even the downtrodden masses possessed the means to lift themselves out of their misery? 

 

Personally, marginalized people should take their leaders to task for their failings.

.Dr. Rose Ure Mezu

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Cross-Cultural Comparisons

Things Fall Apart does provide many representative figures (minor characters). Obierika, a praiseworthy character and Okwonko's friend, probably indeed represents the clan's potential adaptability. He's generous and honest, as well, in handling  the "estate" of Okonkwo while he was in his seven-year exile. He probably indeed should not be overlooked, even though Okonkwo dominates the stage masterfully. Your point then is well taken, a people may indeed have many ideal types, as we see with Greek heroes Achilles and Odysseus, which may in some sense be compared to Okonkwo and Obierika, respectively.

The most stunning part of your analysis is the section that contains this statement: "When Okoknwo cuts off with his machete the head of the court messenger, he was symbolically arrogating to himself command over the entire community." I wouldn't go that far in my reading. He knows that he does not have that power and cannot obtain that power by his act. For he has concluded even before this decisive blow that the leaders will not act as a group in declaring war and calling a public meeting without a decision being made was a mere charade. This kind of public decision-making was a novel act, occurring nowhere else in Things Falling Apart.

Okonkwo’s symbolizes the clan’s true code of honor. Your criticism in your book about Okonkwo's "inflexibility" now makes more sense to me. His symbolic attack on the British is a type of inflexibility, not altogether in the negative sense of the word. We must ask again, What indeed is "falling apart"? It is a certain static though dynamic reality of the world. Okonkwo's whole life has been put into sustaining—a certain ethical standard or way of life, and he's intolerant to anything that's smacks of cowardice or fear or laziness. Indeed his father may have been a spur to go in the opposite direction than his father. But that standard already existed. His father made it more difficult for him to fulfill the standards because of his own "flaws."

In this situation one must keep in mind that the leaders, Okonkwo among them, have been humiliated—heads shaved, heads knocked together, whipped like slaves—by the "womanish" agents of an alien power. Not only their authority arrogated by the British and their clan traitors (Christian sycophants out for revenge on clan leadership), but also their very manhood has been attacked. His killing of the agent is unavoidable.  I do not recall whether Obierika was among those imprisoned.  But a certain revered aspect of clan character died with Okonkwo.

Obierika is the last voice of the clan to be heard. It’s indeed suggestive that his character is recommended. Maybe like Falstaff, Achebe believes “Caution is preferable to rash bravery.” (King Henry the Fourth, Part One, William Shakespeare). Or, maybe, the British idiom, “Discretion is the better part of valor” would be more suitable.

As I recall there were nine judges. So in some sense there were nine faces (or ideal types) for the clan. And Okonkwo was only one among them. It is true that he thought his voice should carry the day in this matter of the better response to British aggression. And under normal circumstances it would have been if one were dealing with normal circumstances. For with the example of Abame in which the entire village—men, women, children—were deliberately slaughtered in retaliation for the death of one white man, that reality, that British message cannot be ignored altogether.

Most of the elders and the people as well probably understood that they were dealing with a genocidal enemy in which the rules of war were dishonorably unlike any that they understood and or ever encountered. But Okonkwo, like Achilles, preferred death to dishonor. One cannot but admire such an ethical stance, like a Japanese warrior falling on his sword. He removed himself from the scene to cause no farther harm or damage to that community, those people he loved.

Okonkwo indeed could go too far with those whom he felt did not cut the muster. But he could as well admit his fault. His anger could flame hot with his wives or children but he could as well be gentle and caring as when his wife went off in the forest alone following the priestess who took their daughter. We also see his gentleness in his curing his female child of an illness. So he comes off as a full-rounded character in the context of the world Achebe sets him. For me the negative connotations of the term "lordly" seem not to apply to Okomkwo in relation to the larger community. That might have been applicable if during his exile he had misbehaved politically. But in a manly and honorable way he took his punishment of a seven-year exile.

I do not know whether Achebe follows up on the Obierika character in other novels. But Achebe does follow up on Okonkwo's male descendants. They do not come out well in their bargain with the British. They lack Okonkwo's clarity, his wholeness, his oneness with his tribal culture. Isaac and Obi are all over the cultural landscape, rather fractured and confused. Isaac who had rebelled against his father because of the ritual murder of his friend, Ikemefuna, and probably other differences, finds himself at odds with his son Obi because of the ritual isolation of Osu. It is a non-Christian prejudice, for which he cannot provide any principled response. In a sense, their Christian confusion and misplaced reverence in regard to clan rituals become their worst enemies.

Thus, Okonkwo’s character—his courage, his clarity, his resoluteness—towers above those of his descendants, who appear in No Longer at Ease. They are the modernized version of the clan. Their approach to life seems rather shadowy, seemingly lacking the vivid honor and dignity evident in the traditional worth of their father and grandfather. Maybe capitulation to a more powerful enemy is only human and unavoidable for the broad masses and some leaders.

But if one had to wait on majority agreement of the broad community, it is likely there would be no progress whatsoever in human history. My American historical view is that exceptional individuals inspire and make the crucial differences. If there had been no Gabriel Prosser of Richmond, no Denmark Vesey of Charleston, no Nathaniel Turner of Southampton County, no John Brown of Harper’s Ferry; or no Toussaint L’Ouverture—there's no end of Western slavery; no DuBois, no Garvey, no MLK, no Malcolm—there's no end of Jim Crow; no Mau Mau, no ANC, no Che/Fidel—there's no end of African colonialism; that is, a world absent of martyrs, our lives would be a thousand times worst than they are today. Men of action may indeed have their faults; but men of idle reflection often only sustain the status quo.

—Rudy

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A Pragmatic Community Survives

Truly, a brilliant commentary, Rudy, on Achebe's Things Fall Apart.  You see why this very deceptively simple, historically fictional cautionary tale is such a classic.  It yields to multiple viewpoints and is still so freshly human, appealing to all ages and for all time.  And I am glad you are finding so many interpretive ways to apply its lessons.  You see, the Igbo people, fictionalized or not, then or now, abhor excesses. That is why youth is allowed as a period suitable for hotheadedness—a kind of madness—whereas age is revered for its wisdom and temperateness, hence the peoples' love for tried-and-true proverbs as paradigms for proper living.  

Actually, contrary to my reflective views, I like others find the figure Okonkwo masterfully appealing in his intrepidness, commitment to goals and passion for hard living, yet sadly, he lacks the good judgment necessary for survival, and by this, I do not mean selling out your people; I mean sound, common sense needed to navigate the choppy and sometimes treacherous waters of life. 

Think Rudy, if all our people in Africa and its Diaspora had been an Okonkwo, a Nat Turner, a John Brown, a Sethe and her mother (Morrison's Beloved), or those who either jumped overboard, or killed themselves rather than endure enslavement, you and I, Ishmael Reed, or others would not be here to continue our cultural activism through writing, doing our ideological best to inspire and encourage youthful idealism necessary to effect change—peacefully.  With survival, one can live long enough to find alternative ways of  achievement. Again, perhaps, these exceptionally intrepid, heedless and brilliant rebels do have their time and place in all communities.  Thus, like the nine masked judges of Umuofia, a community wears many faces, each perhaps quite contextually valid for the particular age.

 In my 2006 essay An Africana Blueprint for Living in the 3rd Millennium Global Community, I make the point that both Okonkwo and Ezeulu (Arrow of God), intolerant, tempestuous and unreflecting indeed perish by the end of the two tales while their more pragmatic communities survive:

Thus, the fictional Nwaka is restating an absence of an absolutist view of reality that allows the Other the freedom to think differently. At the end, while the intolerant and aggressive Okonkwo commits suicide, Umuofia as a pragmatic community survives.  So does Umuaro after Ezeulu’s insanity, proving the truth of the Igbo proverb Ezeulu had said to Obika, “It is praiseworthy to be brave and fearless, my son, but sometimes it is better to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of a coward to point at the ruins where a brave man used to live” (Arrow of God 11). 

Thus, for the traditional Igbos, it was never “My way or the highway,” nor “You are either with me or against me”—an attitude which in the inferiorized group breeds resentment and leads to conflicts.  Rather, the Igbos’ attitude is one that accepts that “where one thing stands, something else can stand beside it”—an attitude that is summed up in the metaphor of the dancing masquerade who goes to all sides of the market square in order to see the entire crowd (Africana Blue Print for Living).

Yes, the character of Obierika in his mature reasonableness, and capacity for quiet reflection approaches the pragmatism of the fictional Igbo community of Umuofia.  True, also, the example of the Abame, the town that was wiped out was always before them as a deterrent against tempestuous acts.  Lacking the sophisticated weaponry of the intruding and better-equipped aliens, the people had to test the waters to gauge their way forward. They are largely survivors without sacrificing their humanity.

Okonkwo and Achilles may be remembered for their heedless courage and inflexibility, but I believe Odysseus and Obierika are better admired for their ability to survive using their wits.  Pragmatism and reasoning intellect are not opposing assets.  You need both to bring any community to a state of cohesive and active agency.

Dr. Rose Ure Mezu

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Chinua Achebe wins $300,000 Gish prizeBy 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, Rhode Island.SunNewsOnline

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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 Presidency.

“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 Honours List.”—PMNewsNigeria

posted 27 September 2007

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#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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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 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.     

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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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination. Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly /  Derrick Bell   Dies at 80

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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 Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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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 Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

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update 3 April 2012

 

 

 

Home   Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye Table   Rose Ure Mezu Index

Related Files: Reading Rose Ure  Mezu   Achebe Preface  Achebe Introduction   Mezu and Achebe: An Inside Knowledge     Achebe Another Birthday in Exile  Banning Chinua Achebe in Kenya 

Women in Achebe's World  Okonkwo's Curse  Achebe's Female Characterisation