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Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works

By Rose Ure Mezu

 Reviewed by Emmanuel Obiechina, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 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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Reading Rose Ure Mezu's Chinua Achebe

Reviews & Commentaries

 

 

Preface (excerpt) to Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works

The several novels of Chinua Achebe can stand alone and can be read, appreciated and studied in isolation. They also can form an integrated corpus some progressing either spatially, historically, and genealogically from one to the other. The chapters that form Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works  by Rose Ure Mezu can be viewed and read in much the same way as Achebe's novels. Each chapter while forming part of a whole can stand in isolation and on its own. —Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu

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A Brief Review Comment

So much ground has been covered in the field of Achebe scholarship that any new offering in it has to be outstanding to capture the serious attention of literary critics. One such new work is Rose Ure Mezu’s Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works, a work of mature scholarship, a big work, hugely conceived and meticulously executed. The advantages of a lifetime of fruitful literary training and experience have gone into the making of this impressive book. It is, in my view, one of the most important books to date on Chinua Achebe’s novels.

Within its ten chapters, Achebe’s definitive novels – Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease, A Man of the People, and Anthills of the Savannah – are comprehensively explored and some of the most incisive insights drawn from them, establishing Achebe’s place as a great, iconic novelist of our time and one of the outstanding pedigree of Afro-genetic authors. At a time when some literature critics are busily declaring or implying the “death” of the text, Mezu’s work is refreshingly text-bound. She demonstrates a deep and sensitive exploration of the texts of Achebe’s novels and derives her many relevant insights by drawing upon those texts. Her book is, therefore, pertinent to the major concerns of Achebe’s work on life and experience, viewed across the over-arching trajectory of African history, religion, and politics.

In this work also, Mezu proves her mettle as an adroit and sensitive literary scholar, well grounded in the theory and practice of literary criticism with particularized skills in feminist and cultural criticism. She closely interrogates Achebe’s novels from the perspective of those specific theories, wringing from them some of their most intimate details and revealing at the same time the fine quality of her researches and breadth of her discursive ability.

Dr. Mezu’s work has particular virtues which deserve to be highlighted. I find those chapters in which she compares the classic works of other writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Olaudah Equiano with Achebe’s works and major characters most compelling and most informative. The texts illuminate one another and yield numerous new insights and clarifications about the authors compared and their worlds.

Similarly, Mezu’s two interviews with Achebe yield more important details about Achebe’s life and work than scores of other interviewers. By asking the proper questions Mezu is able to elicit the responses that throw light on important aspects of Achebe’s life and ideas. Dr Mezu’s book is also rich in biographic references and would do more for the scholarly study of Achebe’s novels than any other work of recent times.

Emmanuel Obiechina, Ph.D.

Fellow of Nigeria Academy of Letters, &

W.E.B.Du Bois Non-Resident Fellow

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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A ReviewIntroduction to the Commentary

By Rudolph Lewis

 

Rose Ure Mezu's Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works is an excellent introduction to and consideration of the issues therein of Chinua Achebe's major novels. For one who has not read Achebe, at least in 40 years, after reading her essays I feel almost as if I have read the novels. In addition, there are other chapters that deal with Equiano's 1789 two-volume The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself and the women in Achebe's novels. Also, there are two interviews of Chinua Achebe and, in one, of his wife. The book is packed with little known information and references. It is an excellent text for high school and college students. For general readers who want to know about the Igbo people of Nigeria, Mezu considers numerous aspects of this African society beyond what is contained in Achebe's Things Far Apart and Arrow of God.

As Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu points out, the essays of Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works can be read in any order. Except for the interviews, however, the book probably should be read from beginning to end. The reason that the essays can be read in any order, I suspect, is that the book is a collection of essays written at different times and, I feel, with a different mind with each essay, though there are similar issues and points of view that run throughout all the essays. But overall the essays do not have a thematic and theoretical approach to reading Achebe's novels.

Lacking this approach is problematic for it creates inconsistencies and contradictions in the arguments of the writer. For instance, Mezu asserts that Igbo society was/is democratic and egalitarian while at the same time she argues that women are oppressed. Moreover, she points out a group of people (the osu) who are considered outcasts and another groups of people who are considered "worthless" and still another group of people who are considered "titled." She seems to come to the democratic-egalitarian conclusion because the Igbo did not have kings or develop an empire, a chief of chiefs societal organization. From my ignorance, it seems the Igbo had reached a semi-feudal level of development when colonialism overtook and undermined their native institutions and probably given time they would have developed a full-blown feudal state.

Sometimes in efforts to correct distortions caused by centuries of racial, gender, and colonial oppression, members of the oppressed group in their zeal and pride go a bit beyond an objective disinterested analysis and description of their offended group. The minor typographical errors with quoted material, quote marks, etc. are a small matter. A good editor and publisher, however, would have caught most of these and the other larger flaws of Mezu's essays. It is all quite understandable. Small publishing houses do not have the money to provide the necessary editorial staff to attend to serious academic and scholarly works. Despite these minor flawsChinua Achebe: The Man and His Works  is a well-written book worthy of being among your collection of books on Africa.

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Daily Readings &Comments

The daily commentaries below were written before the above review. They were written almost after a reading of each chapter of Chinua Achebe: The Man & His  Works. In a way they were written in the blind and ignorance of the total text. Thus they have an immediacy not possessed by the review, which reflects a greater wholeness in the understanding of the writer and her intent. The writing below then is less measured and often highly subjective and impulsive. There were times in which I was quite disturbed  by some of the assertions made by Mezu. In these cases, it was not so much what said about Igbo society but what was suggested about the American Negro situation by her seeming alliance with black feminism and some of their radical announcements and analyses of Negro folk life and Negro society. But these are somewhat understandable in that Mezu is an outsider and attempts to reach out to her American Negro cousins. On the whole I am not offended by the remarks and on the whole Mezu's perspective was provocatively enlightening. I hope that in some way Dr. Mezu will benefit from my challenge to and appreciation of her essays and knowledge of African societies, especially her own people, Nigeria's Igbo.

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Learning Traditional Africa  (14 June 2004)

 

"A man is never more defeated than when he is running away from himself."

"The firewood which a people have is adequate for the kind of cooking they do."

                                                                                                                                              Chinua Achebe

I am into the second month of my retreat to my home in the village of Jerusalem, in south-central Virginia. Having spent most of my life in some urban center, mostly in Baltimore, my urban friends believe that this return is only temporary, though I have stated that I have returned to the countryside of my childhood to make it my permanent residence.

In any event, my return has been rather productive. I have read a memoir and an autobiographyLivin' The Blues and The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones. More valuable was my second reading of Caroline Maun's The Sleeping: Poems.

I now turned to Rose Ure Mezu's Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works. Dr. Mezu is a professor of English at Morgan State University (MSU). I've known her primarily through literary societies based at MSU; that is, I have primarily been in her presence at literary conference.

She is a very productive academic and many of her literary works I have promoted on ChickenBones, but also did a photo exhibit of the Nigerian marriage of her daughter (Igbo Marriage). I have not read her critical works fully on African literature. I have indeed read her poetry book, Songs of the Hearth. Some of her religious poetry I like very much. She is Catholic. I've also set in on a couple of her conferences presentations.

In short, weMezu and Ihave had a longstanding professional relationship (at least three years) in furthering an awareness of relations between Nigerians and African Americans.

Now she has this book on Chinua Achebe.  I do not know African literature. I have read sparsely. And I have not read Achebe, Things Fall Apart, since I was at Morgan State College in the mid-60s. So in a sense this reading will be a discovery. I think that at this stage of my life that it is probably a necessity. Maybe, deep down, I feel it important to my understanding of the importance of traditionalism in the African American context.

One's tie to and view of traditional Negro life in America is exceedingly important to identity and the vitality of the culture of a people. For me that traditional culture resides not in the cities of the North, Midwest, and West, but in the rural regions of Virginia and the Carolinas, of Georgia and Alabama, of Louisiana and Texas. Too many blacks are isolated in urban centers from this traditional life, to their own detriment.

Of Things Fall Apart, Mezu points out: "From this work can be gleaned several aspects of African traditional life. . . . it recreates an organized African community that possesses both social hierarchy, traditions, mores and taboos, none of which can be infringed with impunity. Umuofia [the village or town setting of the novel] becomes a prototype of traditional Africa before the advent of the Europeans."

It is Achebe's extolling of African traditional life that comes up for question for many literary and social critics: the use of English as a medium of "black cultural nationalism," the role of women, and the role of art and the artist.

Achebe, according to Mezu, inaugurated "the tradition of novels of cultural nationalism which promotes consciousness of what is great in African culture, imaginatively recreated, spiced with local proverbs, myths and legends while celebrating festivals, rituals, folklore."

In effect, Achebe "placed the Igbo culture on the world map" and "fathered a progeny of 'sons and daughters of Achebe': Elechi Amadi (The Concubine, 1966), Nugugi wa 'Thiong'o (Weep Not Child, 1964), Onuora Nzekwu (Highlife for Lizards, 1965), Flora Nwapa (Efura, 1966)."

How women are represented in Things Fall Apart creates problems for feminists. To which Achebe responds: "You see, many people do not read fiction the way it should be readas representing what is. they think it should show what 'ought to be'. . . . All along, my vision of a woman's role has been developing, growing in intensity as the role of the Igbo woman has been growing in the Igbo society."

It seems, too, that Mezu possesses a different perspective towards men than Western women (black or white; professional or non-professional). There is no expectation that Igbo men will become white men overnight; nor does she desire that they approach entirely the Western ideal in our post-modern world. So I'm looking forward to how she accommodates her "womanist" views to African traditional views and attitudes toward the role of African women in society.

The other issue in this first chapter "Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart" is Achebe's view of the role of art and the responsibility of the artist in changing society and as a leader of the masses. Achebe is decidedly against the notion of "art for art's sake," which Mezu points out has its origin in Emmanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement (1790). For the African, Achebe argues, art has always had utilitarian, functional or practical values as well as aesthetic (pleasure) values. For Achebe there should be a ban on the word "universalism" "until the west extends its 'horizon to include the world'."

In addition for Achebe there are two kinds of artists: the "conscious" and the "natural." He views himself as a conscious artist, who provides his people with a "weapon for coping" with "threats to integrity," "whether they are found within our problematic and incoherent selves or in the world around us." Achebe does not expect change to emanate from the masses but from artistic leadership. To which Mezu points out that in this Achebe mirrors the view of W.E.B. DuBois' Talented Tenth.

At this point these notions are still rough hewn in Mezu's Chinua Achebe. I am looking forward to how these ideas are further replicated if at all in other works by Achebe and how he views our social situation almost a half century later. Clearly, Mezu too defends the importance of a respect for the dignity and integrity of traditionalism, as it once existed and appeared in the forests and fields of Africa.

Most urbanized blacks are alienated from the forests and fields of the South. They only know it through art and there is still a negative retention toward the traditional life of the American Negro. Many older blacks, however, are leaving the urban centers and returning to the remaining vestiges of the rural traditional life, believing that it still has values important to sustaining a Negro culture that has absorbed too much of the negative values of urbanized  life. Of course, foreigners see and know little of this world. What they usually see on TV or in the streets are the results of the horrors created by black urban living.

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Achebe's Arrow of God(15 June 2006)

I've just completed chapter 2 "Achebe's Arrow of God: Ezeulu and the Limits of Power" in Rose Ure Mezu's Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works.  She makes use of such tools as Machiavelli’s The Prince and Aristotle's view of Tragedy with a few comments thrown in about particular Greek tragedies like Oedipus Rex. And then there is her explication and application of  Deleuze and Guaarri's "Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia," which I think is not sufficiently used in getting at the problematic of Ezeulu's tragic behavior.

It works well as an academic explication of a novel—for one's colleagues or one's students. For Mezu also provides a good sense of the plot (subplots) and characters of the novels for one who has not read Arrow of God.

I have not read the Arrow of God. What value then is the essay for one who has not read Achebe and his novel or novels? For one who is not a student at a college and does not have to make a grade to pass a course? The essay might indeed encourage one to read Achebe. The questions I am forced to ask, however: Should it do more? Could it have done more? That is, for one who is not an academic or have academic limitations, could it have been more relevant for the average reader of the New York Times or the Baltimore Sun.

What relevance does the essay and the novel itself Arrow of God have todayfor the Nigeria of today, dominated by neo-colonial global economic policies and poor governance involving theft of the national treasury and the limitations on personal freedoms. (Read, for instance, Ugochukwu Einkeonye's A Mother Like Stella Obasanjo.) Mezu, in this essay, does not make those connections, sadly. Why? I don't know. Was she just seeking an academic audience, academic approval and validation?

What relevance does the essay and the novel Arrow of God  have for African Americans of today. A testimony of Achebe's literary genius and his knowledge of Igbo life? Is that what is in the forefront of the minds of African American readers? Don't they have already enough of hero-worshipping going on? 

Achebe indeed has themes that are pertinent for today's black American world. The misuse and abuse of power by black politicians. The financial collaboration of black elites with powers external to the community to the detriment of the community. The erosion of traditional values, again, to the detriment of true power. The lack of restraint that the masses possess in curbing the excesses of their leaders.

Why the silence in making these connections? Is it because of ignorance of the American scene? I think not. She knows the black American fairly well and has written on his nationalistic and gender politics and she has lived in America long enough to know what's going down. Is it because of political restraint and conservatism? Maybe.

Again, as I said, I have not read Achebe since I was a teenager. And I have not read Arrow of God, at all. But I was indeed somewhat troubled by some of her remarks in her response to the leading character, Ezeulu, the would-be "priest-king." Her emphasis overwhelmingly is on Ezeulu's "inflexibility." That is his tragic flaw, she concludes. Her indictment, indeed, might be harsher than Achebe intended. I don't know. I speak from ignorance, here, to a large degree. You will have to decide for yourselves.

For instance, Mezu writes these troubling statements:

1) "And so, mistaking the Government's intention for paternalism, Ezeulu misses the opportunity to solidify his hold over his people and bring them into a period of prosperity and Western enlightenment, and continues to chase 'rodents'."

Ezeulu is a backwoods fellow who does not know how to play the big game, that is, too much tied to tradition and the traditional role of the independent priest who holds fast to the cultural integrity of his people. He does not know how to adapt to the "gospel of success" and thus insults the British administrator by his rejection of "indirect rule."

For which he is imprisoned and receives no help from the masses who have abandoned him for his clan enemy Nwaka, whose oratorical skills and use of race demagoguery alters the allegiance of the people to their priest. Mezu has little sympathy for Ezeulu's courage in standing up against the British administration. Her favorable emphasis is on Okperi (another village town), which was "developed because quite early it welcomed missionaries and colonial administration with its court system." Ezeulu stands as a barrier that must be removed as leader of Umuaro, for it has not benefited from the prosperity of "the white man's administration."

2) Ezeulu, Mezu concludes, "ends up becoming too uncompromising, arrogant, rashly unwise . . . to know when and how to truly bend his principles to accommodate the wishes of his people living in an age of changing mores." 

The tragedy here, for Mezu, is an abstract one: "In his determination to defeat his enemies, he confuses his identity with that of his god." The question is how does Mezu know that as a fact. Is she closer to the mind of Ulu than his priest? But she places her weight on the desires of the masses. That is what all demagogues do. She forgets what she had written in her first chapter: "any meaningful and progressive social change must emanate, not from the masses, but from the leadership." Of course, Achebe is directing his assertion at artists and poets. But is not this priest Ezeulu an artist, a poet, the voice of the gods?

3) Ezeulu, Mezu further concludes in a tone of condemnation, "unwisely rejects the offer of collaboration with the Winterbottom administration that would have simultaneously ensured the total defeat of his enemy [his clan enemy, Nwaka; rather than the British] and secured for him the status of Priest-King. In the end, the story of Ezeulu becomes a cautionary tale of the necessity of putting in place a well-thought-out system of politico / religious, and administrative machinery in which the well-being of the people is paramount.”

Indeed one must ask, Are the people better off by the people's hunger for Christianity and Western jobs and goods, and indirect rule? Obviously for Mezu, they are.

So one wonders then is Arrow of God  a true tragedy or is it indeed a trite "cautionary tale" about a stubborn old man who never learned how to best sucker up to one's oppressor. Maybe it is indeed the latter as Mezu suggests. I don't know. 

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No Longer at Ease (17 June 2006)

I've completed Rose Ure Mezu's chapter 3 "Conflicts and Notions of Culture and Civilization in No Longer at Ease in her book of essays Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works. Here, Mezu's reading is more subtle and complex. Her convictions about the necessity of the Igbo being willing to collaborate and absorb Western ideals and ways of doing things fade.

Like her readings of the other two novels, Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, Mezu provides an excellent introduction of the issues represented and the characters Achebe develops to represent the progressive changes taking place as the Igbo people move or are forced to move away from traditional life, as they try to find a wholeness under Western rule and its idea of modernity.

The dilemmas of British influence and Christianity and giving up one's Igbo identity only hinted at in Arrow of God is explored in greater depth in the person of Obi Okonkwo, who represents in the minds of the people of Umuofia (his village town) their aspirations of prosperity and finding a worthy place in the white man's world. Obi's father Isaac represents the first generation of Umuofia to become Christian. And though schooled in the traditional life by his mother clandestinely, Obi is more fully alienated from the old traditional life and its taboos and proscriptions.

But we discover that neither his mother and his father (both of whom remain in Umuofia), nor others though Christian, have broken fully their emotional and patriotic ties to the proscriptions and demands of traditional Igbo life. In Lagos, the Umuofia way of life is represented by a "local branch of the Umuofia Progressive Union" (UPU), which provided the funds (a loan) for Obi’s education in the UK. In Obi we have the arrogance of youth, romantic idealism and belief that he can do governance better than the previous generation, which in the concrete means avoiding the bribe system.

In Obi, we have also the more Western educated and acculturated Igbo who discovers his African identity in Europe. He leans more towards the individual ethos of the West than the familial and communal demands of Igbo society. His romance is more true while he's in Europe, for that perspective creates various kinds of tensions when he returns to Igbo society in Nigeria. When his romance of African society confronts Igbo reality, there are tragic conflicts, not of the cosmic magnitude as was found in his grandfather or that found with the priest Ezeulu. In comparison, these conflicts are rather mundanely human.

Detribalized, we African Americans are quite at a lost in understanding what goes through the mind and heart of Africans still tied to the demands of clan and tribe. Our nationalism weighs in heavily on skin color or an ideological blackness. Maybe there are some skin color and other class prejudices that approximate some of the proscriptions represented here in Achebe's No Longer at Ease.

But I do not think there is as much of a cosmic tie to identity as we find in Mezu's description of the "Osu factor." I do not fully understand it, though Mezu makes a gallant effort to explain it, though there may be a little romance in her assessment. On the one hand, she claims the Umuofians are “egalitarian in structure” yet they have a class of “titled lords of the clan.”

Moreover, there are a group called the Osu within the community that are “not free” for they are “dedicated to a god.” In short, they are “outcasts,” who “can neither marry with, nor attend communal assembly with the free born.” And then there are the efulefu, the free born (people of no worth), and even these as Christians discriminate against the Osu, who have become Christians.

Well, all of that is quite a mouthful, if not a burden, to reconcile with Christian “equalization” before God, or Mezu's notion of a democratic and egalitarian Igbo society. And it makes one think that the traditional community of Umuofians are not altogether as communal (democratic or egalitarian) as we use the word, “egalitarian.” Of course, we need farther clarification whether we indeed have a semi-feudal situation of “titled lords” rather than a village commune of equals. Maybe the British interrupted the development of a  full-blown feudal system.

This becomes relevant in that Obi has a relationship with a Western educated colleague, Clara, whom he gets pregnant, who is Osu. If they marry Obi’s Christian mother threatens suicide; his Christian father Isaac speaks of the shame that it would bring on the family and the Umuofians. Clara aborts. An abortion even if desired by both parties have its emotional and practical penalties.

Contrary to expectations, Obi does not study law or some profession more suited to community or his people’s pressing needs, but rather English literature; that is, in sensibility his is closer to that of the writer, the poet, the artist. All of which may indeed be the source of his romantic sensibilities his fantasizing about Africa and African culture, e.g., food tastes better when eaten with the fingers.

As a civil servant he believes he will have sufficient money to take care of his needs and thus he pays off his debt to the UPU in full, against their wishes. There are not only the costs of the lifestyle of an educated civil servant (rent, clothes, utility bills, car, insurance, entertainment, etc.) but also familial and community responsibilities (his brother’s school fees, his mother’s medical treatment, etc.). The costs increase and his principles become more malleable, flexible and he accepts a bribe and is caught and arrested. But it is the UPU that acquires a lawyer on his behalf. Though Obi fails to rise above the system of graft and bribery and is condemned by his European peers, his people find fault only in his lack of realism and experience in the process.

Mezu concludes that Achebe himself “found no adequate solutions of the multiplicity of problems enunciated in the narrative.” That indeed maybe true. Clearly, Achebe is here critical of certain aspects of traditional life, especially its class hierarchy, its “Osu factor.” But he also suggests that there is a problem too in the expectations and the burdens placed on the individual to attend to the needs and demands for prosperity of the clan.

There is something ugly in the people’s continuing romance of traditionalism, and this ugliness emanates from others beside Obi Okonkwo, that is, from the masses as well. Maybe there is nothing wrong with Obi’s romantic aspirations, only in his inability to succeed in carrying them out because of the kinds of pressures exerted against him as individual.

Of course, political corruption is not peculiar to traditional society, nor to colonial situations, we too have too many instances of corruption occurring in our modern and postmodern societies here in America. Only recently, a black Congressman had difficulties explaining $80k found in his freezer. So maybe Achebe’s critique is more a social criticism, a two-edged sword, than merely an individual critique of Obi Okonkwo, who indeed is a good person with the best of intentions.

Of course, Congressman Jefferson is no Huey Long, who seems to have had a more populous view of corruption than the more individualist aspects that seem to be prevalent in most of today’s cases of political corruption. The people are mere pawns or a means for individual wealth and power. We do hear more and more in black America accusations against the alienation of millionaire athletes and entertainers with regard to their community responsibility, of giving back and providing resources for the betterment of the masses of black folk.

It seems however much they give back it is never sufficient. Maybe we need a more radical assessment of the responsibilities of our leaders (elites) in bringing about a system of governance that works for all that does not weigh too heavily on the personal resources of the single individual. Maybe we need a radical change in the system itself and its philosophical foundations. Maybe, ultimately, that is what Achebe is trying to get at.

Well, Achebe has other novels. I look forward to Mezu’s next critique.

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A Man of the People (18 June 2006)

I have finished chapter 4 "A Man of the People: The Moral Approach" in Rose Ure Mezu's Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works. Again, Mezu succeeds in laying out the basic particulars of Achebe's 1966 novel. There are a few vagaries here and there but on the whole she provides sufficient meat that a reader can chaw down on what is at stake in a post-colonial Nigeria as far as the problems of governance.

Achebe wrote about a pre-1966 African government, though he seems to avoid being explicit that it is Nigeria, which won its independence in 1960. Of course, in my ignorance, I know very little about the pre-2006 Nigerian governments or its present leadership under President Obasanjo, though there is still much criticism from the Nigerian press in this regard. One of the fiercest present day critics of government operations and excesses is Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye. Read his Nigeria's Gen. Obasanjo An Extortioner?   and his excellent satire Baroness Lynda Chalker. It seems indeed that the present day press is much freer and bolder than the one that is described in Achebe's A Man of the People.

Mezu makes only the slightest reference to the present-day situation. Mostly, she sticks to the historical text of the novel. But it seems that many of the ethical problems with government in 1965 before the 1966 military coup remain, maybe not in the crass forms and operations as found in A Man of the People. Possibly in the intervening years (1966-2006), almost a half century, Nigerian politicians and its populace have become more sophisticated.

From Mezu's exposition we discern two main characters the anti-hero hero Odili Samalu, son of "a retired District Interpreter" (Hezekiah Samalu). Odili, university educated with aspirations of a novelist, begins his career as a village school teacher, but later becomes a civil servant and later is an aspirant for political office. In between his youthful idealism and his struggle for power, Odili is the protégé of "Chief the Honorable M.A. Nanga, MP," the villain of the novel. Chief Nanga, according to Mezu, "is the archetypal embodiment of the falsest values that can bedevil any nationa fraudulent, amoral arriviste, a demagogic universal charmer." 

Moreover, Mezu emphasizes that Nanga is an uneducated man. For it is the uneducated men rather than the intellectuals (those with foreign education and Ph.D.s) who take over the government and they run the government for personal profit. Nanga seems to have done it rather successfully and with a great deal of panache: he has luxurious houses, expensive imported cars, and women at his beck and call. And one might say he is generous to a fault to those willing to do his bidding and willing to sustain him in his power.

For those who defy him, he bribes, intimidates, beats up or kills. Odili comes under his sway impressed by his house with "seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms":

I was simply hypnotized by the luxury of the great suite assigned to me. When I lay down in the double bed that seemed to ride on a cushion of air, and switched on the reading lamp and saw all the beautiful furniture anew from the lying down position and looked beyond the door to the gleaming bathroom and the towels as large as a lappa I had to confess that if I were at that moment made a minister, I would be most anxious to remain one for ever.

Chief Nanga is an affable villain, maybe the most realized of the characters possessing the greatest wholeness of being.

He is not divided about what he wants and what he wants to do with it—mainly power, wealth, and pleasure, and as much as can be acquired—unlike the poet narrator Odili, who wants to dip and dab in the less ethical, who wants to twist and turn his ethical behavior here and there in a few immoral pathways. All of which contrasts with Chief Nanga who goes the whole hog. Thus in some ways Nanga is much more admirable than the hypocritical Odili, who breaks with Nanga because Nanga sleeps with his eagerly willing  American girlfriend whom Odili had assured Nanga meant little to him.

In A Man of the People, we basically have a den of thieves, those who are in government and those in some way who live off the proceeds of government by their relationship and closeness to those in government, including thugs and murderers. So it makes one wonder whether Mezu's "moral approach" is indeed the appropriate one that should be used in this kind of environment, in 2006. Maybe indeed it was one that is suited for the historical period pre-1966.

And bringing in the writings of Pope Paul when he was a bishop seems altogether out of place, especially when none of the characters is declaring that the source of his behavior relates to his Catholicism or his relationship to the Catholic Church. If Mezu thinks that a Catholic government is needed for Nigeria then she should say that outright. But picking around the edges about the sexual morality of Odili and Nanga seems to add nothing by way of a solution to the societal morass of political corruption.

One wonders whether a Marxist analysis is possible in this situation. The problem is not so much individual morality but rather a structural problem. There's a governmental structure and its philosophical foundations that have been inherited from former colonial masters that go unexamined and unquestioned by Mezu.

She knows that there is an absolute alienation of the Nigerian people from the past/present governmental structure and philosophy. For she points out that the masses speak of the government as “they.” The “we” has not bought into the “they.” Maybe we can understand that reluctance of Achebe in 1966. But Mezu is in 2006 with 40 years of additional experience and insight. We have to go beyond blaming the populace for their ignorance and their following their leaders in the matters of political corruption.

The problem ultimately, it seems, is that the educated intellectuals have not come up with viable alternatives. And do not have the courage and panache to bring them into being. They just want to fumble around at the edges with this reform and that reform, or play around with religious proscriptions. Seemingly, they just want to steal a little bit in a more sophisticated, educated kind of way.

We have both Cuba and Venezuela and other countries as referents as post-colonial countries that made different and essential choices in the interest of the broader number of people. One wonders whether the traditional arguments are not in these days and times red herrings that obfuscate the real issue of governance. So too the Catholic arguments that Mezu tosses into the fray. But, as stated before, Mezu hints at this problematic. For she points out that the people do not feel that the Nigerian government is their creation: it is the white man's government with black faces, operating according to the white man's rules. That is, their concern is what can I individually get out of the white man's government.

Mezu calls it crass materialism that extends down to every individual within Nigerian society, each in some way hiding behind some traditional mask. In short, the situation is so dire that it seems to call for an overhaul in Nigerian society, a revolution in ethics and institutions. As I said I can understand Achebe's restrain in 1966. But is his restraint that which is necessary and appropriate in 2006?

Maybe Mezu's Catholicism and that of the Igbos make a discussion of a Marxist analysis and socialism off the chart as an answer to the endemic corruption of Nigeria's institutional and societal ethics. I don't know. Maybe it requires someone more expert than I to offer solutions to the country's perennial corruption from one regime to the next.

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Anthills of the Savannah  (20 June 2006)

 

I read the commentary on Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah (chapter 5). My conclusion is that the personal is important. That time is important. The intellectual elites are important. That romancing the illiterate masses is credible and needed. But fiddling around the edges of a corrupt system, as a solution, call it what you may right-wing reformism, reform orthodoxy is traitorous to suffering humanity. Much more vigor, much more insight is required in a needed redistribution of God's blessings, which includes the oil, the gold, the diamonds that fall into the hands and vaults of the few, while billions live on a dollar a day. The security of the petty bourgeoisie can withstand the ravages of the thievery and oppression. But that is not true for most of us who live on the outskirts of prosperity.

 

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Yams & White Potatoes (21 June 2006)

 

In chapter 6 of  Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works,  Rose Ure Mezu compares Achebe's Okonkwo and Hurston's Jody Starks, though these fictional characters are separated by centuries, by culture and tradition, by radical different societies. The only thing that these two fictional men have in common is that they are men who have relationship with women, and seemingly unsuccessful ones. We learn nothing about Jody Starks by looking at Okonkwo; nothing about Okonkwo by looking at Jody Starks.

The exposition may indeed be informative. The direction of it is rather foggy and ambiguous. Our impression is that Mezu in these expositions is more conservative and absolute in her analysis than Achebe, who seems to have rolled down hill after Arrow of God. Mezu's swipe at Richard Wright, suggesting that he was a modern-day Okonkwo, adds little clarity to either Wright's character or the intent of Hurston or an understanding of Jody Starks.  I need more evidence, more analysis to be comfortable with the comparison of Wright with Okonkwo.

I am farther troubled by Mezu's statement: "In any culture impotence will always reduce a man to a cipher. . . . Ultimately, impotence entails a kind of role reversal, making man not woman the object of derision and dictating death as a final way-out." Man is nothing without a stiff penis? That's an interesting point of view.

First, I do not know whether that is anthropologically true. Second, I do not know whether it is true on any other grounds, unless vigorous male sexuality determines what is meant by manhood. Maybe that it is indeed true for the fictional Jody Starks. Is that true for Mezu?  Maybe she is unfamiliar with Chinese Eunuch Admiral Zheng He.

Starks like Okonkwo is a literary exaggeration. Such men never existed. But I am indeed pleased that Mezu has brought attention to Hurston and to Janie’s relationship to Jody Starks and two crucial passages. Mezu writes: “Hurston shows Jody Starks through Janie’s mercilessly critical gaze:

No longer young with something dead about him . . . He squatted over his ankles when he walked . . . His prosperous-looking belly that used to thrust out so pugnaciously to intimidate folks, sagged like a load suspended from him. . . . [Their Eyes 73] . . . Then Janie strikes him where it hurts most, his pride of manhood, with her mortal putdown—“when you pull down yo’britches, you look lak de change uh life.” Henceforth good-for-nothings will look with envy at the things he owns but will laugh at the man when he parades his possessions: she had cast down his empty armor before men [Their Eyes 76].

It is good too that Mezu acknowledges that the “voice” can be used by both men and women for violent aggression. Contrary to the Oprah-like vision that many have of Hurston’s Janie, she is a killer: first of the black male  spirit, and later of  black male flesh. Now for some this is good female fantasy. I for one in a democratic society would not deny women this fantasy, as long as we call a spade a spade, a vicious attack against black manhood sexism.

Should Mezu have raised the question whether Their Eyes Were Watching God was a sexist novel? I think so.  But this fault can be excused for Mezu is not that familiar with American Negro culture.  On the whole this critical essay has interesting insights seemingly unintended.

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Living with the Dead (23 June 2006)

I am reading the 7th chapter "Achebe's Writings as Authentication of the Igbo Culture of Equiano's 1789 Narrative in Rose Ure Mezu's Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works.

It is the longest chapter in this book of essays, about 40 pages. It is indeed a worthwhile literary introduction into the cultural world of the Igbo of Nigeria. The author reviews a number of aspects of this African culture, including the communal aspects, gender relations, differences in the slave systems, architecture, religious thought (which I found most interesting), the concept of "Chi" (spirit), inculturation, reincarnation, significance of names (which was also informative); "priests, naming, and Igbo linguistics," and more.

One of the more interesting statements in the "chi" section is as follows:

The Igbo view of life is holistic -- a community of the living, the dead, and the unborn and which has a sensibility to the delicate balance between human society and natural forces in the universe -- sometimes visible, sometimes, invisible. In other words, they believed in a spirit world where the dead recreate a life analogous to the terrestrial, a world parallel and contiguous, with an endless coming and going between the two through birth, death, and rebirth -- or re-incarnation (190).

In the inculturation section Mezu also brings attention Pope John Paul's "African Synod":

Pope John Paul II, therefore apologized on behalf of the Christian Church for abuses, violations, and ignorant misperceptions by Western missionaries of Africa's artifacts, shrines, peoples, and Africans' cultural/religious beliefs. He continues, 'the adherents of African traditional religions should be treated with great respect and esteem and all inaccurate and disrespectful language should be avoided' (191).

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Grief accepted is grief overcome.Ama Ata Aidoo (24 June 2006)

Rose Ure Mezu's chapter 7 (over 40 pages) in her Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works is as much a hymn to Igbo (or Biafran) people as a successful attempt to sustain the accuracy of the  memory of a former slave from West Africa, who was captured as a boy.

She writes:

What Achebe's writings have accomplished for African and Diasporan Blacks owe their impetus to Equiano's 1789 two-volume The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, which is an early, global model for the celebration of African history, culture, and autobiography. Both their legacies testify to the enduring hardiness, creative talent and the indomitable, democratic spirit of survival of the creative talent and the indomitable spirit of survival of the Igbo, and by extension, of peoples of African descent despite travails and generations of dehumanization.

I thought that I had read most of the major slave narratives, including Equiano's. But I probably have forgotten most of what I have read. Surely, I had not recalled Equiano's argument of the kinship of the Igbos to the ancient Hebrews. If I did read it, I quickly dismissed the assertion as rather typical of the claims and counterclaims in that age of racial nationalism. In any event, Mezu considers Equiano's claims rather seriously:

Much has been made about the Igbo affinity with the Jews. Interestingly enough, by 1789, Equiano believed this issue to be an important discussion topic. Drawing attention to the relatively 'light' complexion (compared to other Sub-Saharan African groups) of the Igbo, he lauds the 'comeliness' of his own people, citing as examples the 'Eboe' in London noted for their 'complexion'ideas of beauty being wholly relative. I remember while in Africa to have seen three negro children, who were tawny, and another quite white, who were universally regarded by myself, and the natives in general, as far as related to their complexions' (Narrative , 198)

On the complexion question I have been indeed curious. A couple years ago I asked an Igbo seminarian about the Mezu's daughters and their complexion. I showed him the photos of the daughters in the exposition Igbo Marriage. They looked more like African Americans (a racially-mixed people) rather than African women. I wondered whether there had been some colonial dalliance. He assured me that was not the case but that the light complexion was rather typical among the Igbo. I was rather skeptical. But it seems he was telling the truth.

Mezu and Igbo writers seem to view Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) as a literary ancestor, one who has inaugurated a tradition and considerable work has been done on his Narrative. Mezu writes:

Equiano's multifaceted character, in its wiliness, pragmatic adaptability, business acumen, and intelligence, typifies the character of the modern Igbo. Through his travels, Equiano provides a model for the modern Igbo entrepreneur/creative intellectual who like the industrious Jews are to be seen in far-flung corners of the globe. The Igbo (especially the Orlu people of which 'Esseke' or Isseke is a part) are renowned for their entrepreneurial skills. Equiano engaged in petty trading, earning and saving money. He had numerous maritime adventures, from Africa to Barbados to Virginia and then to England, Holland and North America. . . . the intellectual, highly resilient Equiano in 1766, was able to raise the sum of forty pounds (the sum used o purchase him) to buy back his physical freedom -manumission' - from his then owner, Philadelphia Quaker Robert King" (204).

Below are a few of the sources used in Mezu's "Achbe's Writings as Authentication of the Igbo Culture of Equiano's 1789 Narrative ":

Chinua Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day. London: Heinemann, 1975.

Catherine Acholonu, The Igbo Roots of Olaudah Equiano. Owerri, Nigeria: Afa Publications, 1989.

Carey Brycchan, "Olaudah Equiano: A Critical biography" (200-2003)

Paul Edwards, ed., Equiano's Travels. London: Heinemann, 1967.

L. Ure Mezu, "The Odyssey and Legend of Olaudah Equiano." In Leadership, Culture, and Racism. Eds. Rose Ure Mezu and Burney J. Hollis. Baltimore: Black Academy Press, 1998.

Rose Ure Mezu, ed., Africa and Diaspora: The Black Scholar and Society. Baltimore: Black Academy Press, 2000.

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Tears of the Devil's Wife (24 June 2006)

I'm reading Rose Ure Mezu's final essay (Chapter 9) "Women in Achebe's World : A Womanist Critique" in her Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works. In Igbo mythology, it seems earth represents the female principle and the sky the male principle. I'm unclear what it has to do with male-female relationships in matters of gender equality and other political and economic inequities. But I am still reading and thinking on the issue.

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Mamas baby Daddy's maybe—Old Negro saying  (25 June 2006)

Again, in her essay "Women in Achebe's World: A Womanist Critique" the final chapter of her Chinua Achebe: The Man & His Works, Rose Ure Mezu references both Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker in her critique of patriarchy and male dominance in Igbo society. It suggests that it's possible to compare Igbo society (1850-1900) as represented in Achebe's two novels Things Fall Apart and TArrow of God with that of American Negro society.

With my little knowledge of the historical and socio-cultural forces at work in the Negro world of America from the mid-19thc to the present, patriarchy and matriarchy are irrelevant terms, having little to do with the actual reality of the relationships between Negro men and Negro women of this working class people. It is true indeed that there have been and probably still exist patriarchal urges among African American elites. But that world that exists in Achebe's fictional world and what exists in Africa today has never had in reality among the American Negroes.

Achebe, as he has explained, represented in his first two novels "what is" not "what ought to be." And throughout her exposition on Achebe, Mezu has argued that Achebe has indeed on the whole provided a factual socio-cultural representation of Igbo patriarchy in all its cruelty, harsh dominance of women. On the other hand, neither Hurston's Our Eyes Were Watching God nor Alice Walker's The Color Purple is representational of American Negro society, whose members men and women mostly have been wage earners and there has been in the whole an equality of the sexes, within the Negro community itself, that existed from the period of slavery onward. Each of the above novels was a literary hoax.

Neither Jody Starks nor Mister is typical of what occurs in the average Negro household, surely that is not what occurred during slavery. Too may critics have been led by these black feminists. In her book Ain’t I A Woman: black women and feminism, bell hooks asserts that, “As far back as slavery, white people established a social hierarchy based on race and sex, that ranked white men first, white women second, though sometimes equal to black men who ranked third, and black women last."

Well, the last part of hooks statement is just not true, on the whole. It was/is neither true economically nor politically. Often the white elites found it easier to deal with the black woman in preference to the black man and often the black female was able to find work and wages when neither her man nor her husband could. And on the whole neither had political power, until recently.

So for bell hooks to say that black men ranked on the same level with white women is an outrageous lie and distortion of the historical and socio-cultural reality of American Negro society and for her to suggest that Negro men had patriarchal power akin to white male elites is pure black feminist fantasy.

Both Our Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple are female fantasy novels and both assert a gender chauvinism that is filled with hostility toward black men and on the whole attempt to degrade black men, portraying them as abusers of black women and agents in their political and economic oppression and the primary force that prevents black women from their self-actualization and realization of their social and intellectual potential. That attitude and urge indeed maybe true of the socio-cultural system of the Igbo but surely it is not true of the socio-cultural system of American Negro society.

There indeed maybe Negro middle-class organizations, including the Negro Church, that have patriarchal urges. But these organizations have limited powers within the whole of Negro society in the actual world in which working class Negro men and women live. At his worst (or best, depending how you favor the issue), Jody Starks (or the pretentious Negro patriarch) is probably closer to Achebe's character Ikem in Anthills of the Savannah, whose "attitude towards women has been too respectful, too idealistic," desiring to "reverently put every woman on a pedestal."

We indeed assert that there are black men who have hostile attitudes towards women, but there are indeed black women with hostile and degrading attitudes towards black men. But black men in America have never possessed the patriarchal power of traditional Igbo society or that of Igbo society today. So I am uncertain why Mezu has identified herself with the radical sexist, hostile and anti-black male attitudes of Hurston and Walker, as represented in their novels.

American Negro society has always been far more democratic and egalitarian, in the true spirit of the word, than Igbo society of yesterday and today: We have no forced marriages, no dowry system, no preference of male children over female children with respect to education or other social amenities; no outcasts; in short, none of the anti-female aspects of patriarchal societies.

Still Mezu identifies herself with Alice Walker and thus she writes, "Because African women do not wish to alienate men, because African women do not wish to alienate the bulk of their uneducated, tradition-based sisters, because many traditional African customs and mores are worth preserving, most African feminists espouse the alternative ideology of Womanism, which Alice Walker defines as a philosophy that celebrates black roots, the ideals of black life, while giving a balanced presentation of black womanhood. . . . its aim is the dynamism of wholeness and self-healing."

Womanism is indeed a radical ideology, which is not accepted by the "bulk" of black women and on the whole most black men indeed find it an ideology whose impetus is indeed one that alienates and is hostile in practice. So her adoption of the appellation of Womanist is baffling.

In reality, on the whole, American Negro men and women have been partners from slavery onward, rather than oppressors of the other. Of course, when one or the other is more wealthy or prosperous than the other, relationship problems with regard to power influence are frequent.

From a personal perspective, my extended family from the middle of the 19th century to today is best described as matrilineal. And more often than not, the women are the dominant partner handling the finances of the household, and they have tended to be greater landholders than their men or husbands.

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Responses

Dear Rudy,

The discourse in which you are currently involved certainly demonstrates a lot of patience and good will on your part.   Novels such as those of Hurston, Walker, and Morrison represent the authors' personal reflections based on subjective and personal perceptions of life.   I do not attribute anything else to any literary work other than ability of a serious person to construct and to share with others a carefully constructed view of the meaning of life. 

The problem arises when other persons (including critics) attempt to extract more general principles of abstract social theory from them.  Artistic and anecdotal expressions are intellectually and aesthetically valid for their own sake, although they are no substitute for the systematic accumulation of statistical data.  I certainly think that by entering the world of a black female author, and by viewing things from another point of view, I can add a dimension to my humanity.   For me, that is the value of reading a novel.  It allows me to get outside myself and see through the eyes of another. Wilson

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Interesting analysis, thanks.Kam

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Rudy:

The African American gender relationships have been in shreds the a result of slavery and its continual emasculation of the African American male.  This has given rise to the matrilineal African American society that you have experiences just as I did and as most African Americans.  This emasculation didn’t happen in African societies since, by and large, most Africans were spared the enduring encounters with the racist and Western societies.   This emasculation was a natural extinction of martial defense which rested mainly in the hands of males. 

Therefore to control the slave societies meant that their defenses had to be destroyed or neutralized, ergo, emasculation.  Emasculation has had long and lasting effects on African American males which start at the age of 5 for most males when they enter school.  Again the defense of a community means that you must have smart males in that society for an effective defense.  The continuous put-downs, the Attention Deficit disorders and a lot of other pseudo psychological games that are played on most males that force them out of school and in their teen age years into prison. 

Even the high incarceration rates of Black young men is the ultimate form of emasculation which limits the gene pool of the stronger, more assertive, and physical males which limits community strength and leads to continual white domination.  Four hundred years of captivity and pseudo captivity has separated the African American male from his African brothers in his ability to defend his own people from the racist onslaught of the majority society.  John Hershey in his book on the Algiers Motel Incident remarks how the only Black survivors in American schools are those young men who have been emasculated by the majority society. 

So, those of us who have navigated through the system have been emasculated in order for us to cope with our movement within this racist majority society; the side effect of this emasculation is to have a matrilineal society or males who are dysfunctional and are abusive to women since they can’t compete in this society against the women; so they resort to physical abuse to demonstrate their superiority.  They have already admitted their own inferiority to white males and if they have not already succumbed to this inferiority complex then they are still in jail.  Those of us who can play the western game and still appreciate our women are rare and in some cases underdeveloped when it comes to expressing true manhood. 

The implications, of this lack of true manhood expression, on our children is turning out to be racially destructive as more and more of our children are being raised by women who are better employed than their male companions, who are better educated, and will live longer years as the crime, western education and jails take their tolls on men.  This self destructive process will continue until we as Black people take over our own educational system and rely less and less upon those Western things that we emulate and in many cases revere. 

As Carter G. Woodson so eloquently put back in 1933 we have been mis-educated to the point where we can no longer take care of or protect our own.  As has been said many times, “It takes a village to raise a child”.  Women cannot do it by themselves.  For their respect we cannot allow this continuous emasculation and must move in the positive direction of taking direct control of our own lives, our communities because this Fourth World with its emasculated by-products ain’t hacking it.  (Note:  I thought I would get in at least one dig while I was on a roll). Take care and keep the faith! Waldron

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Waldron,

I do not know whether "emasculation" is the phenomenon that explains the results you note. On the whole, I have no problem with the socio-cultural customs and mores of America's Negro people. As I said before, Negro American society on the whole has been democratic and egalitarian from slavery to present. In that we are to be envied, not scorned that we lack a patriarchal tradition. 

From one point, one might say it was a happy day that those patriarchal customs and mores that were part of our African heritage withered away under the fires of the slave trade and slavery. I do not want to go back to those. Though it has been an urge among black nationalist groups and other such black organizations to reassert masculine dominance, a phenomenon pointed out by Amiri Baraka in his The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones, I do not think that that is the direction we should assert our energies. The basic drive should be toward developing a more widespread equal partnership among the mates of black men and black women. We want to get rid of "rankism."

The problems you point out do not have their origins in the socio-cultural deficiencies of Negro society but rather in how the economy of this country is organized. It is true that since the integration of schools we have not been able to sustain a curriculum to speak specifically to the needs of black children as they confront rapidly shifting economic and technological changes. We indeed have to find methods and resources to supplement the deficiencies you have noted. And we need to do it as quickly and as energetically as possible. That is, we need school after school, while we fight to modify the public system to be more flexible and more relevant in the education of poor and working class black children.

I carry no embarrassment or shame with regard to my extended family being matrilineal. There indeed may be extraordinary advantages, e.g., avoidance of the excesses of patriarchy and shining a unique light on its harshness and cruelties toward women, children, and outcasts.

The male brutality you note, I suspect, results from black males believing that patriarchy and male dominance is preferable to partnership, as Rose Ure Mezu pointed out in her analysis of Jody Starks. He wanted to be a "big voice," that is, he wanted to mirror that which the white elites possess, namely, the lord and lady of the manor model. He was dealing with a woman hostile and unsympathetic to such a casting. Most black men, I think, have opted against that kind of male and female relationship, and that was a long time ago. They know from experience that it is false and superficial. It is true that lack of money creates discontent and quarrels, accusations and recriminations, and as you suggest undermine "manhood." But manhood will never rest comfortably on wealth and political power.

Moreover, I do not have any problem with the fictions of Hurston, Walker, and Morrison as fiction. They are great literary talents. But I too enjoyed reading William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner. It was awfully convincing. But I did not take it for the truth of things. When little is known on a topic, such as Negro society or Negro men, and persons are too lazy and bored to search out the truth, he who speaks most convincingly carries the day, like one who organizes a lynching. Rudy

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Greetings Rudy,

When people collectively allowed the government or society, not family or community, to decide what is in their best interest, chaos ensues. Had we not gotten sick and  tired of  being sick and  tired,  Jim Crow would still be extant. Look at the majority of Black Households in North America being headed by a female..., something not seen in any other race or ethnic group. All because often our young Black Males are not young Black Men. Rites of passage and initiations to fraternal orders still exist, but to the majority of Black People they are an unknown act, fact and action. I have encountered over 90% who know nothing of Jack and Jill, the Links, The Girlfriends, The Guardsmen or the Boule'. And this is our talented Tenth..., charged with lifting the 90% up( the 90% that doesn't know of their existence). Something is being missed in our social matriculation. You ask about manhood and Emasculation? First let us erase the ignorance because ignorance is when you don't know that you don't know... CHA

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Charles,

You probably know better than I. But I still maintain the problems with black communities are not socio-cultural problems but rather economic and political problems. 

And definitely I do not think the lack of patriarchy is the source of the problem. I have no problem with female-headed households. Nor with a matrilineal structured Negro society. I see that phenomenon as a strength rather than a malady. It shows a flexibility and resilience within Negro society. And thus this situation  does not require us to shed tears but rather applaud Negro women for their courage and stoutness.

Black men and boys should be proud that they have such women and mothers. Not mourn and cry because they are not like white boys and white men. They (nor their sisters) have no cause to direct hatred and venom toward their brothers and their fathers because of  an economic and political system geared to exclude them from the benefits of the larger society. What they need to do is to find ways either to adapt to these conditions or change them. Or, at least, make an effort of understanding what is happening in the external world.

We carry with us too many nonsensical ideologies from the past that hold us back from clear thinking. Our boys and young men need to overcome the notion, now bantered about by their misguided middle-class leaders and pundits, the source of their failure is within, internal rather than external. This kind of cowardly leadership advice must be labeled for what it is and banished into the "evil forest." Rudy

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Peace Rahim,

I have been reading the comments on emasculation. And, of course, I have no problems with Black women raising black boys. The fact is that at this time Black women raising black boys is simply a fact of life that can not be denied. But, we must be realistic in the way we view this problem. There is no substitute for a family with both a father and a mother. Social understanding of one's masculine role within a society best evolves when the child is exposed to both female and male models. Masculinity is a social role that entails recognizing what is demanded to be male and how to interact with females (as well as transgender, gays and lesbians) as well. We are men in opposition and in cooperation with women.

In a complex modern society, I am not sure what rites of passage really provide for black boys in our (Fourth World) society. Rites of passage evolved as an organic part of African society according to the need of men and boys. We are in a totally different type of culture where masculinity-as you point out-is defined in new socioeconomic terms. Power makes men more than any rite of passage. And, power is defined best by economic hegemony. So, masculinity is based in economics and the historical context from which it evolves.

As for me, I find that there is too much talk about the emasculation of the black male. When we define the equation of masculinity in negative terms, we make little progress in finding a solution. What we need to do is simply interact with young men in a respectful, caring and guiding manner. This is the best way to proceed. Each one has his own rite of passage to make-no artificial rite can substitute for one's own triumph and failures. Sometime, I wonder if we really believe in our young men at all. amin sharif

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Sharif,

I think you have spoken wisely. Just one matter, however. You say, "There is no substitute for a family with both a father and a mother." That is indeed true when that is the greater societal norm and especially when you are belittle when you don't have the same as everyone else. But have both parents in the home is no guarantee of the psychological and emotional health of the children, male or female.

I am reading now Nina Simone's I Put a Spell on You. A father at one point was the leading breadwinner of the family. This reversed during the Depression and the mother, an itinerant Methodist minister, along with the children, provided much more than the father who lost all his businesses and became ill and unable to rise to former economic status. The mother because of her work, her ideals, and her religious blindness did not provide the girl children the affection they needed and desired.

Nina, in her piano teacher, found the motherly affection she needed and in some sense her appraisal and love and respect of her father declined in that he gave into the power and influence of the mother. One of the sons also became estranged from his father, I suspect, also because his father did not meet the manly standards of the larger society.

The results of this two parent situation are exposed in Nina's autobiography. Her first best friend was a stylish prostitute as a result of the mother-daughter conflict. In her response to her father, she made a hasty marriage to a white beatnik, which didn't work long because he did not possess the work ethic in which she was instilled and that she ended up taking care of him. Then she marries a cop, who before she marries him, beating the living daylights out of her and put a gun to her head. He claims before they married he did not remember the incident.

After her marriages he takes over managing career. She signs no contracts and allows him to deal with setting up the businesses and handling her money. She says she did not know how much money she had: "Ask Andy." As the story is being told there is a suggestion that this will end tragically with many recriminations.

Again, in short, a two parent household guarantees nothing. Moreover, for some to describe female headed households as a sign of emasculation is so much nonsense. The father of the child or children does not have to live in the household where children raised to be a loving and responsible parent.—Rudy

posted 28 June 2006 

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Morgan State University: The Program in African Studies Presents

 Dr. Rose Ure Mezu

accomplished author and professor, reads from and signs her latest published book:

Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 / 4:30 p.m. / Schaeffer Engineering Auditorium

For more information please contact us at 443-885-2091 or ispmsu@jewel.morgan.ed

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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

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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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Enjoy!

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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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ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)

 

 

update 9 March 2012

 

 

 

 Home Rose Ure Mezu Table

 

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