Chinua Achebe Helped Africa Reassert its Cultural Identity

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Chinua Achebe died in March this year, but the Nigerian was laid to rest in his home town of Ogidi in May after being flown back from the United States. He was a literary legend who changed the face of African literature and indeed of the world forever. His popularity is best reflected in the translation of his novel Things Fall Apart into 50 different languages worldwide. It is believed to be one of the most widely read novels in the literary world because of its unique content and the impact it had at a time when works by African writers were rarely available.

At the time of his death, he was reputed to have published more than 20 works including essays and children’s books. For many, Achebe’s works greatly affected lives and challenged the notions of Africa, especially in the West.

The fact of the matter is that when we think about people who help advance a nation, very few writers come to mind. Chinua Achebe was an exception.

Chinua Achebe’s life was a testimony to the saying that ‘one man can change the world’. He went about doing just that, one book at a time.

Things Fall Apart, his first novel, came at a time when African identities were in tatters, when Africans were fed on a diet of Western literature and their portrayal of Africa was anything but complementary. We see this in books such as Joyce Carey’s Mr Johnson, which portrayed servitude as the nature of the black man, or in the vision of the philosopher Hegel, who believed Africa was the dark mantle of night, yet to unfold into the process of world history. It is safe to say that up till Achebe’s first novel, the identity of Africa was defined by Western literature using Western eyes.

(For the complete story, see the inaugural issue of Global Dialogue Review)

– Jenkeri Zarari Okwori

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