Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of 'Things Fall Apart' 3030507963, 9783030507961

This book celebrates Chinua Achebe, one of the most profound and famous African writers of our time, and his widely read

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Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of 'Things Fall Apart'
 3030507963, 9783030507961

Table of contents :
Notes on Contributors
Part I: Friends of Achebe
Chapter 1: Memories of Chinua Achebe at the University of Texas at Austin
Chapter 2: From the Boundaries of Storytelling to the History of a People
Part II: African Languages, Linguistics, and Literatures
Chapter 3: Language Alternation Strategy: An In-depth Appraisal of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Related Works
Igbo Literature in English (and Literature in Igbo)
The Man: Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart and It’s Language Deployment
Code Variation (Loan Words and Lexical Variants)
Translation Equivalents (Transliteration)
Loan Blends
Onomastics Style
Chapter 4: My English, My Literature: Owning Our African Englishes and Literatures
The World Englishes Paradigm
Ownership of English
Whose Language and Whose Culture?
The Author and Her Work
Summary of the Plot
My English, My Literature: African Culture in The River and the Source
The Language and the Culture in The River and the Source
Chapter 5: Anglophone African Author Perspectives on Using English
Part III: Women and the Legacy of Chinua Achebe
Chapter 6: The Role of Women in Things Fall Apart
A Summary of the Novel
Unveiling the Role of Women in the Novel
Chapter 7: The Use and Abuse of Manliness in Things Fall Apart
Chapter 8: Utilizing Cosmic Feminism and Critical Organic Writing to Deconstruct Female Oppression: A Connection with Women in Things Fall Apart
What Is the Role of Education and Literacy?
Metaphors, as They Are Used in Things Fall Apart and Bordelands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
Cosmic Feminism: Women in Things Fall Apart
Ag/ba/la, Spanish Phonemes, Comparable to Abya Yala
Part IV: HBCUs, African Cultures, and the Teaching of World Languages
Chapter 9: Encouraging American Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Teach African Languages and Cultures
African Studies: A Brief Synopsis of a Long History
African Studies in America: More Emphasis on Languages Spoken in Africa
The Choice of Yoruba Language and Dialects
Norfolk State University: A Teaching and Research Institution
Chapter 10: Intercultural Connections: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in Language Classrooms
ACTFL Intercultural/World Readiness Learning Standards
Why Use Non-Target Language Texts?
Project-Based Learning Concept
Using Things Fall Apart in a Foreign Language Classroom
At What Level Can Things Fall Apart Be Used?
Using TFA at the Elementary Level
Using TFA at the Intermediate Level
Using Things Fall Apart at the Advanced Level
Chapter 11: Hunting and Gathering of Texts: Exploring Chinua Achebe’s Textual Footprints in American Institutions
A Brief History of African Literature and the American University
The Context of This Presentation
The State of African Literature: From a Personal Account
His Contribution Ends on a Questioning Note
Do We Still Need to Ponder on Why Study Africa?
Road Map for This Chapter
Literature Review
Classifications in Classrooms
How Achebe Is Positioned in American Schools
Achebe as Part of Introduction to Sociology
Literature and Sociology
Introductory Geography and Achebe
Use of Fiction in the Geography Classroom
Things Fall Apart and Political Geography
Things Fall Apart as a Source of History
African Novels and History
African Novel’s Historical Engagements
The African Novel as History
Use of Historical Methods in Achebe’s Works
Three Concepts of History Applicable to Things Fall Apart
Achebe in Law and Colonial Cultures
Things Fall Apart and Land Law
Things Fall Apart and the Study of Tragedy
Classifications of Tragedy
Part V: Education, History, and Chinua Achebe’s Fiction and Political Texts
Chapter 12: Religious Violent Extremism: Lessons from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
The Igbo Traditional Religion
The Nascence of Christianity
Religious Violent Extremism in Things Fall Apart
​ ​Conclusion
Chapter 13: Turning the Tide for African Literary Criticism: Achebe’s “An Image of Africa” as a Founding Text of Africana Studies
Conclusion: Here I Stand
Chapter 14: Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad: Irreconcilable Differences?
The Charges That Chinua Achebe Brought …
What Does Conrad Have to Do with Today’s Congo or Africa?
Apology for Doing a Close Reading of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Chapter 15: Things Fall Apart and the Modern African Hero

Citation preview


Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ’Things Fall Apart‘ Edited by Désiré Baloubi · Christina R. Pinkston

African Histories and Modernities Series Editors Toyin Falola The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX, USA Matthew M. Heaton Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA, USA

This book series serves as a scholarly forum on African contributions to and negotiations of diverse modernities over time and space, with a particular emphasis on historical developments. Specifically, it aims to refute the hegemonic conception of a singular modernity, Western in origin, spreading out to encompass the globe over the last several decades. Indeed, rather than reinforcing conceptual boundaries or parameters, the series instead looks to receive and respond to changing perspectives on an important but inherently nebulous idea, deliberately creating a space in which multiple modernities can interact, overlap, and conflict. While privileging works that emphasize historical change over time, the series will also feature scholarship that blurs the lines between the historical and the contemporary, recognizing the ways in which our changing understandings of modernity in the present have the capacity to affect the way we think about African and global histories. Editorial Board Akintunde Akinyemi, Literature, University of Florida, Gainesville Malami Buba, African Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Yongin, South Korea Emmanuel Mbah, History, CUNY, College of Staten Island Insa Nolte, History, University of Birmingham Shadrack Wanjala Nasong’o, International Studies, Rhodes College Samuel Oloruntoba, Political Science, TMALI, University of South Africa Bridget Teboh, History, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/14758

Désiré Baloubi  •  Christina R. Pinkston Editors

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’

Editors Désiré Baloubi Norfolk State University Norfolk, VA, USA

Christina R. Pinkston Norfolk State University Norfolk, VA, USA

ISSN 2634-5773        ISSN 2634-5781 (electronic) African Histories and Modernities ISBN 978-3-030-50796-1    ISBN 978-3-030-50797-8 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: © Flavio Coelho, Image ID: 1167024847 This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

To the memory of Chinua Achebe, to his wife, his children, and his extended family, as well as all those who believe in themselves and in others as equally important human beings.


Arguably, one of the most profound African-famed writers of his time and ours is, certainly, Chinua Achebe. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, remains a “must read” literary text for numerous notable reasons, as the authors make astutely clear in their chapters of this book. Their perspectives render thought-provoking, critically insightful, and well-intentioned considerations for scholars of all ages, cultures, and genders. Note, for example, Professor Kasongo Mulenda Kapanga who, in his article, contends that there are “irreconcilable differences” between the viewpoints of Joseph Conrad in his novel Heart of Darkness and Chinua Achebe in his book Things Fall Apart regarding Conrad’s “condescension of Africa.” Dr. Page Laws discusses “turning the tide for African literary criticism” as she examines Achebe’s “image of Africa” in her article. Among her many valid points, Dr. Laws mentions how Achebe—the individual and the writer of African descent—is “invisible to some readers [but] all-too-visible to others.” The emphasis of her chapter concerns the “reception history” of “Achebe’s lecture-essay, issues of fairness towards Conrad … plus ways that Achebe’s important essay informs the teaching of both authors today.” Other contributors to this important book analyze topics such as these. Dr. Désiré Baloubi “purports that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a vital role to play in a collective endeavor to reconnect America to Africa” in his chapter entitled “Encouraging American Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Teach African Languages and Cultures.” Author Martha Michieka discusses the notion of “two Englishes,” that is, she questions “whose language African vii



novelists use and … whose literature they produce” in her chapter “My English, My Literature: Owning Our African Englishes and Literatures.” She “proposes that the English Ogola and other African authors are entirely their own and the cultures they express fully African.” In brief, each writer in this noteworthy book deserves an audience as he or she details reasons why Chinua Achebe and his novel Things Fall Apart must continue to be celebrated beyond sixty years. Mentioned in this foreword are just a few of the many authors in this book who should be heard, read, reviewed, and studied, for they separately make certain Chinua Achebe’s voice remain powerfully poignant, prominent, and prolific, today and for years to come. In closing, what can be learned from all the chapters, especially from those contributed by Professors Bernth Lindfors and Don Burness, is that Chinua Achebe deserves a masquerade. Reading his works “will free us from the darkness of ignorance and from the prison of Plato’s cave.” Norfolk, VA 

Christina R. Pinkston


We, Dr. Désiré Baloubi and Dr. Christina Pinkston, express deep gratitude to Professor Toyin Falola, who graciously introduced us to the publishers of this book. Special thanks go to Dr. Melvin T. Stith—Former Interim President of Norfolk State University (NSU)—and his Presidential Cabinet, Dr. Leroy Hamilton, Jr., and the Office of the Provost, Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander and Professor Chinedu Okala, Dean and Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, respectively. We also thank Dr. Page Laws, Former Dean of the NSU Honors College, who gave generously of her time and provided her private home to accommodate special guests for the celebration of Chinua Achebe. Furthermore, we recognize all the members and leaders of the Southeast African Languages and Literatures Forum (SEALLF) for their invaluable support and contribution. Special thanks go to Professor Toyin Falola for his support. In addition, Dr. Baloubi and Dr. Pinkston thank the members of the local organizing committee of the Ninth SEALLF Annual Conference: Dr. Michele Rozga, Dr. Annie Perkins, Dr. Jocelyn Heath, and Ms. Annette Robinson. Above all, we give full credit to the NSU Department of English and Foreign Languages for taking the initiative to host the sixtieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart. Finally, we express tremendous appreciation to NSU students and faculty campus-wide for attending the conference and assisting in any way possible to make the occasion a grand success. Most sincerely, we thank




everyone who made this dream a reality; the list is too long to name each person. Of course, we are grateful beyond measure to Don Burness and Bernth Lindfors for sharing their fond, precious, and personal memories of Chinua Achebe, which constitute the backbone of this book, truly a product of collective endeavors.


Part I Friends of Achebe   1 1 Memories of Chinua Achebe at the University of Texas at Austin  3 Bernth Lindfors 2 From the Boundaries of Storytelling to the History of a People 11 Don Burness Part II  African Languages, Linguistics, and Literatures  21 3 Language Alternation Strategy: An In-depth Appraisal of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart 23 Adaora Lois Anyachebelu 4 My English, My Literature: Owning Our African Englishes and Literatures 49 Martha Michieka 5 Anglophone African Author Perspectives on Using English 65 Elizabeth Wilber




Part III  Women and the Legacy of Chinua Achebe  77 6 The Role of Women in Things Fall Apart 79 Esther Mukewa Lisanza 7 The Use and Abuse of Manliness in Things Fall Apart 89 Xixia Yu 8 Utilizing Cosmic Feminism and Critical Organic Writing to Deconstruct Female Oppression: A Connection with Women in Things Fall Apart 99 Hilda Sotelo Part IV HBCUs, African Cultures, and the Teaching of World Languages 111 9 Encouraging American Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Teach African Languages and Cultures113 Désiré Baloubi 10 Intercultural Connections: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in Language Classrooms123 Beatrice Mkenda and Anne Jebet 11 Hunting and Gathering of Texts: Exploring Chinua Achebe’s Textual Footprints in American Institutions135 Kole Odutola Part V Education, History, and Chinua Achebe’s Fiction and Political Texts 151 12 Religious Violent Extremism: Lessons from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart153 Mohamed Mwamzandi



13 Turning the Tide for African Literary Criticism: Achebe’s “An Image of Africa” as a Founding Text of Africana Studies169 Page Laws 14 Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad: Irreconcilable Differences?179 Kasongo Mulenda Kapanga 15 Things Fall Apart and the Modern African Hero193 David Tenenbaum Index203

Notes on Contributors

Adaora  Lois  Anyachebelu  teaches in the Department of Linguistics, African and Asian Studies. She has published extensively on Igbo language and culture. One of her articles, “Patterns of Igbo Spousal Names,” was published in 2017 in Ihafa, a journal of African Studies at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is also interested in examining social values and family situations through language use. Désiré  Baloubi Former Head of the Department of Humanities at Shaw  University Former Chair of the Department of English and Foreign  Languages at Norfolk State University. He is a tenured full Professor of English and Linguistics, and his field of expertise and interest is human communication—written and spoken—in English and across languages, with ramifications in descriptive grammar, morphophonemics, language and culture, discourse analysis, and cross-cultural pragmatics. His publications include “Culture Prints in African Languages” in Language and Literature: Vehicles for the Enhancement of Cultural Understanding (2016); Practice for Writing Examinations, 2nd ed.—coauthor; The Africa We Know—editor; African American Perspectives—coeditor; and The Morphophonemics of the Idaacha Dialect of Yoruba (Linguistics ­dissertation)—author. Don Burness  is a founding member of the African Literature Association and has taught African Literature for 32 years at Franklin Pierce University, New Hampshire. He was Visiting Professor of Lusophone African Literature at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He represented USA at the sixth conference of Afro-Asian writers in 1979  in xv



Luanda, Angola. His friend Chinua Achebe gave him an Igbo name, Ojemba Enweilo. Burness is the author of 27 books. His books have been published in USA, Nigeria, Portugal, and Italy. He was an invited speaker in Washington, DC, on the occasion of the death and memorial of Chinua Achebe. Anne Jebet  holds a PhD from the Ohio State University. She teaches at the University of Virginia, Department of African American and African Studies. Her research interests focus on the intersections of language, cultures, and best practices in using African literary works in language classrooms. She has published work on African literatures, Swahili studies, and education. Kasongo  Mulenda  Kapanga  teaches French and Francophone Studies at the University of Richmond, Virginia. He has published several articles on Francophone literature (African and Caribbean) in French and in English in journals such as The French Review, Francofonia, Review of African Studies, and Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde. His book The Writing of the Nation: Expressing Identity Through Congolese Literary Texts and Films (2017) retraces the Congolese intellectual and political landscapes from the arrival of the Portuguese in the estuary of the Congo to the present times. His research focuses on the discursive analysis in Congolese literature on Congolese colonial and postcolonial texts and films. Page Laws  retired in 2019 as Professor of English and founding Dean of the Robert C Nusbaum Honors College at Norfolk State University, Virginia. A comparatist, Laws was awarded two Fulbrights and two NEH summer seminar/institute fellowships abroad. As a public humanities scholar, she served on the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (now VA Humanities), and the Norfolk Commission on the Arts and Humanities. She serves on the boards of the Virginia Stage Company, Arts for Learning/Young Audiences of Virginia, and the Association for Core Texts and Courses. Recent fields of publication include cultural studies, film, dramaturgy, and Africana studies. Laws holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MPhil and a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University. Her recent work from Lexington Books, co-edited with Daniel Stein, Cathy Waegner, and Geoffroy de Laforcade, is entitled Migration, Diaspora, Exile: Narratives of Affiliation and Escape (2020).



Bernth Lindfors  is Professor Emeritus of English and African Literatures at the University of Texas, Austin, and has written and edited a number of books on African literatures in English. Since retiring from teaching in 2003, he has written biographies of two African-American actors— Ira Aldridge and Samuel Morgan Smith—who performed in Europe in the nineteenth century. Esther  Mukewa  Lisanza  is Assistant professor in the Department of African Studies at Howard University. She holds a PhD in Language and Literacy and an MA in African Studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and an MA in Swahili Linguistics and Literature from the University of Nairobi. Her research centers on language and literacy development, politics of language in education, indigenous knowledges in Africa, and women empowerment in Africa. Lisanza’s latest book is The Multivoices of Kenyan Children Learning to Read and Write. Martha Michieka  is a professor at East Tennessee State University. Her research interests include second language teaching, sociolinguistics, and World Englishes. She has a passion for promotion and maintenance of African languages. Her publications have appeared in various journals, including World Englishes, SECOL, TNTESOL, and JOLTE. Beatrice  Mkenda is a lecturer at the University of Iowa, where she teaches Swahili language and culture courses. Mkenda’s research interests are foreign language teaching, foreign language material development, intercultural and cross-cultural understanding in foreign language classroom, language policy, literary texts in foreign language teaching, and technology in foreign language learning. Mkenda enjoys teaching Swahili as a foreign language and research in foreign language pedagogy. Mohamed Mwamzandi  is a teaching assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies (AAAD). Mwamzandi holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Arlington. His main research interests are corpus linguistics and pragmatics, African Islamic societies and cultures, and African literature. He is the coordinator of both the African languages program in the Department of AAAD and the UNC-Chapel Hill African Studies Center STEM Language Projects. He is the Principal Investigator for a major grant awarded by the Archive Program British Library on the digitization project (REF:



EAP1245) entitled “Digitizing Pulaar Islamic Texts: Six archives of the Taal Families in Senegal and Mali.” Kole Odutola  teaches Yoruba language and culture at the University of Florida (UF), Gainesville, where he lives. He calls himself a citizen of virtual Nigeria. He has written several books and articles, and one of his most prominent works is Diaspora and Imagined Nationality: USA-Africa Dialogue and Cyberframing Nigerian Nationhood. While teaching Yoruba at UF, he believes he needs to keep abreast of the growth and change of the language in virtual Nigeria as a better place to do that than in Nigeria itself (where it is one of a half-dozen major African languages). Christina R. Pinkston  (co-editor of this book) is Assistant Professor of English at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia. She holds a PhD in Sacred Literature from Trinity Theological Seminary. She specializes in African-American studies and British literature (Medieval Period, twentieth century). Her research interests include the social-­political-cultural voice of African Americans as well as the improvement of academic teaching initiatives with a strong focus on student retention. Pinkston is the recipient of numerous honors and special recognitions for her work as an outstanding educator. Hilda Sotelo  is a faculty member at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her fields of interest, among other areas of inquiry, are race and ethnicity, race and racism, and racialization. She is famous for her “Fenminismo cósmico” YouTube presentation that had almost 2000 views when posted on November 2018. Sotelo is not only a college professor but also a writer who focuses on decolonizing feminism and eradicating violence in literature. David  Tenenbaum is Adjunct Professor of English at Norfolk State University. He has also taught at Kean University in Toms River, New Jersey, and Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. His interests are in modern and postcolonial literature. His dissertation Rethinking Remorse: Guilt, Shame and Modern Identity was published by the Edwin Mellen Press in 2008. He recently presented his article “Rules of the Game(s) in the Fiction of Iris Murdoch” at the Literature Since 1900 Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. He also dabbles in creative writing including film projects and novels. He has published two Sci-Fi books and his script After School reached the finals of the Cannes Screenwriting Contest.



Elizabeth  Wilber  teaches English in the Reading Department at Palm Beach State College (PBSC; all campuses). She is also passionate about indigenous languages. Her Master’s thesis (2019) is titled Preserving Through Preservation: The Unifying Force of Indigenous Language in the Fiction of Louise Erdrich and Patricia Grace. Xixia Yu  is a professor at the College of Foreign Languages, Hangzhou Dianzi University, China. She holds a PhD from Shanghai Normal University and did her postdoctoral research at Shanghai International Studies University. She was a visiting professor in the English Department at California State University, Chico, for one year from February 2018 to February 2019. She is a director of Branch Society of Comparative Literature and Cross-cultural Studies of Chinese Foreign Literature Society and a member of Branch Society of China-US Comparative Culture Research of Chinese Comparative Literature Society. Her research project has been focusing on the study of postcolonialism, especially on V.S.  Naipaul, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Chinua Achebe. She has been studying V.S.  Naipaul for about 15 years. Her two monographs are A Study of V.S. Naipaul’s Four Works from a Perspective of Close Writing and A Study of V.S. Naipaul’s Marginalized Writing.


Friends of Achebe


Memories of Chinua Achebe at the University of Texas at Austin Bernth Lindfors

I first met Chinua Achebe fifty-seven years ago when I was teaching English and History at a boys’ boarding school in Western Kenya. I did not meet him in person. He was then not really a person but only a name on a book that I had managed to borrow by post from the library of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, which had an enlightened and very generous lending policy available to anyone in East Africa who had some connection, however slight, with the university. I had participated in a six-week orientation program there before going out to my school, so I was eligible for this kind of academic philanthropy, and I took full advantage of it, borrowing at least two books a month from 1961 to 1963. Fortunately, I had picked up a copy of Janheinz Jahn’s Muntu, which had been published just before I left the United States, so I could use his chapter on literature as a shopping guide to the African holdings at Makerere. What I found in those books during that rather leisurely reading period changed my plans for the future. I had been intending to apply for admission to a PhD program in English somewhere in America, but now I

B. Lindfors (*) University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_1




started looking for a program where, after jumping the usual hurdles requiring an adequate knowledge of British and American literatures, I could go on to write a dissertation on some aspect of African literature written in English. I found consent to do so at the University of California at Los Angeles, which at that time was in the midst of building a dynamic Center for African Studies, where I could take courses in a variety of disciplines outside the Department of English. I wrote my dissertation on Nigerian fiction, a study that placed Achebe and his predecessors and contemporaries as pace-setting pioneers in the African literary efflorescence that was to follow. Much to my surprise, I found a job afterward teaching African literature in the English Department as well as the Department of African Languages and Literature (whose acronym incidentally and ironically was DOALL) at the University of Texas at Austin, which up to that point had done nothing at all about offering instruction in any of the many African literatures. Therefore, in a sense I owe my entire career and livelihood to Chinua Achebe and his interesting compeers. Needless to say, I am extremely grateful that Things Fall Apart and all his other books got written, alongside others by talented African authors there and elsewhere. My focus here is going to be on what I learned from my interactions with Achebe over the years when we actually met in the flesh. I intend to quote a number of his memorable statements on those occasions which no doubt will be familiar to those who are speaking at this symposium, but may not be known quite so well by others who have not yet found an opportunity to study his works in some depth. I first shook Achebe’s hand in November 1969, when he came as a spokesperson for Biafra to the University of Texas at Austin. Biafra, the Eastern Region where the Igbo were the dominant ethnic group, had broken away from Nigeria and declared its independence as a separate nation state. I was in my first term of teaching at the university at that time, and he was the first African writer to be invited to speak on campus. Having accepted the responsibility to organize his program for the day, I tried to schedule as many events as possible, with not only university students, faculty, and visitors, but also with the local press, who were eager to question him about Biafra. He had one interview with reporters and another with the host of an Austin television station. In addition, he spoke with students in two African literature classes and gave a formal lecture on “The Writer and the African Revolution.” It was a very busy day indeed,



but he was in top form and approached these interactions with energy and characteristic intelligence and grace. He was particularly effective when talking with students, for he seemed to intuit from the nature of the questions he was asked just how much or how little the questioners knew about Africa, and he would respond with answers that would educate them about African realities. Take, for example, this series of exchanges on the issue of political commitment: Do you believe literature should carry a social or political message? Yes, I believe it is impossible to write anything in Africa without some kind of commitment, some kind of message, some kind of protest. Even those early novels that look like very gentle recreations of the past—what they were saying, in effect, was that we had a past. That was protest, because there were people who thought we did not have a past. What we were doing was to say politely that we did—here it is, so commitment is nothing new. Commitment runs right through our work. In fact, I should say that all our writers, whether they are aware of it or not, are committed writers. The whole pattern of life demanded that you should protest, that you should put in a word for your history, your traditions, your religion, and so on. One big message, of the many that I try to put across, is that Africa was not a vacuum before the coming of Europe, that culture was not unknown in Africa, that culture was not brought to Africa by the white world. You would have thought it was obvious that everybody had a past, but there were people who came to Africa and said, “You have no history, you have no civilization, you have no culture, you have no religion. You are lucky we are here. Now you are hearing about these things from us for the first time.” Well, you know, we didn’t just drop from the sky. We too had our own history, traditions, cultures, civilizations. It is not possible for one culture to come to another and say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; there is nothing else but me.” If you say this, you are guilty of irreverence or arrogance. You are also stupid. And this is really my concern… But you don’t picture the Europeans who came to Iboland as black-hearted villains. No, I don’t think that is necessary. I think they were very ignorant. And that’s very bad, you know, when you are trying to civilize other people. But you don’t really need to be black-hearted to do all kinds of wrong things. Those who have the best intentions sometimes commit the worst crimes. I think it’s not my business to present villains without any redeeming features. This would be untrue. I think what’s more likely to be true is somebody coming with the best of intentions, really believing that there is nothing here, and that he is bringing civilization. He’s wrong, of course.



He’s completely wrong and misguided. But that’s the man that interests me because he has potentialities for doing great harm.1

Achebe returned to this theme later in the afternoon when he gave his formal lecture on “The Writer and the African Revolution,” in which he began by repeating some of the same points, but then moved on to addressing new problems that African writers now faced and urgently needed to address: The culture of a people is their cooperative effort; it is their cooperative will to make a clearing in the jungle and build on it a place of human habitation. If this place is disturbed or destroyed, as long as these people are alive, they will move to another spot, they will make a new clearing, and they will begin to build on it another home. While the African intellectuals were busy displaying the past culture of their people, the past culture of Africa, the peoples of Africa themselves, people caught in new emergencies, in new predicaments, were already creating new revolutionary cultures, which take into account their present condition, because, as long as the people are alive, their culture is alive. As long as the people are changing, their culture will be changing… This has been the problem of the African intellectuals and the African artists: The people who make culture have left them behind, and they must hurry. The must now hurry to catch up with the people, catch up with them in that zone—to borrow the beautiful expression of Fanon—that zone of occult instability where people dwell. It is there, at that zone, that customs die and cultures are born. It is there that the regenerative powers of the people are most potent. These powers are manifest today in the African revolution, a revolution that aims towards true independence, as opposed to phony independence; a revolution that moves toward the creation of modern states in place of the neocolonial enclaves we have today, a revolution that is informed with African ideologies. What is the place of the writer in this movement? I suggest that his place is right in the middle of it, in the thick of it—if possible, at the head of it. Some of my friends say, “No, it isn’t, it is too rough there. A writer has no business being where it is so rough. He should be at the sidelines with his note-paper and pencil, where he can observe with objectivity.” I say that the writer in the African revolution who steps aside on the sidewalk can only write footnotes; he can only write a glossary when the event is over. He will become like the intellectual of today in many other places, the intellectual of futility asking many questions like: “Who am I? What’s the meaning of my existence?” … questions that no one can answer.2



So here he was, in a single day, expounding on the two major themes that had emerged so far in colonial and postcolonial African writing. And in his remarks to the press he was articulating a third theme—civil war— that he had already explored to some extent three years earlier in his fourth novel, A Man of the People, which ends with a military coup and a descent into the kind of social instability and national incoherence that leads to civil strife. This was not an instance of fortuitous clairvoyance on Achebe’s part. It was rather just another example of his uncanny ability to discern with remarkable accuracy how things were now falling further apart on the African continent. Civil war, sometimes with a focus on child soldiers, subsequently became a major theme in African literature during and after the Biafran conflict. In the years that followed, Achebe was invited to the Austin campus on a number of occasions, once in 1974 as a participant in an international poetry festival organized by the Comparative Literature program that featured poets reading in their native language while English translations of their poems were projected on a screen above them. Achebe joined in by producing some of his own poetry in both Igbo and English. But his next lecture occurred a year later when he served as a contributor representing West Africa in a panel on “Literature and Commitment” in a Symposium on Contemporary Black South African Literature, an exciting weekend that culminated in the founding of the African Literature Association. Achebe took his turn after hearing two South African keynoters—Keorapetse William Kgositsile and Dennis Brutus—make their presentations. He started by saying “there is really little to add to what Willy and Dennis have said,” but then he suddenly took exception to a remark by Kgositsile. I don’t agree with Willy that art for art’s sake is fanciful. It’s not fanciful; it’s a very deeply political position. To say that art for art’s sake is fanciful is to misunderstand the nature of the argument. A writer who says that art is for art’s sake is clearly saying, “The political situation is all right as it is. Don’t upset it.” That is what you are saying. And those in power will say, of course, “This is real writing; he knows his job, you see. He’s not disturbing us.” And so it is a deeply political, a highly committed stance to take… Now, having said that, I must now mention what I think is a danger. The danger is to begin to use the word commitment like a cliché. “Committed, I am committed.” I’ll give you an example. Last year at the Writer’s Conference in Kampala we were talking about Ayi Kwei Armah (incidentally, I object to being classified with Armah and Ouologuem on the matter of commitment,



because we are committed to different things, completely.) The argument was on Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and the whole generation of young people at the conference said, “Oh, he is committed, he is a committed writer.” This was going on for some time, so I asked, “What is he committed to?” And then there was a silence, for about two seconds—it completely threw them, as you would say. Then somebody with presence of mind thought very quickly while the others were still confused and said, “He is committed to social change.” And I said, “Ah yes, he is committed to social change. He is committed to social change.” Well, that is a nebulous thing to be committed to. Social change from what to what? I mean, to be committed to social change doesn’t help. You must find out what is going on in the society. Even in anger you must feel a kinship to your society. Nkrumah was one of the few leaders in Africa who understood what was going on in the world and tried to do something about it. Armah’s The Beautyful Ones … is a cold, uncommitted indictment of Nkrumah, of the only serious political experiment that has ever been attempted in Ghana. So what sort of commitment is that?3

Achebe’s intervention was one of the most memorable arguments made at that symposium. As usual, he had made his position crystal clear. On another visit to Austin in 1987, the American edition of his long-­ awaited novel Anthills of the Savannah was actually officially launched at the University Coop, where students stood in long lines to get his autograph in the book. He also read from the novel and answered questions about it at a session of the British Studies Faculty Seminar on campus. In March 1999, when Achebe returned to Austin to deliver a keynote address at the twenty-fourth annual conference of the African Literature Association, he took the opportunity to respond to ten years of mounting criticism about his attack on racist ideas in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. That piece had been widely circulated in an issue of Research in African Literatures.4 The original essay had been called “An Image of Africa.” This time he entitled his riposte “Africa’s Tarnished Name,” putting the issue in a much wider historical context that went well beyond Conrad yet was emblematic of that writer’s distorted views on Africa and Africans. He began by citing the “profound perception of alienness which Africa has come to represent for Europe.” This perception problem is not in its origin the result of ignorance, as we are sometimes inclined to think. At least, it is not ignorance entirely, or even primarily. It was in general a deliberate invention devised to facilitate two



gigantic, historical events: the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Colonization of Africa by Europe, the second event following closely on the heels of the first, and the two together stretching across almost half-a-millennium from about 1500 AD.5

As for Conrad, People are wrong when they tell you that Conrad was on the side of the Africans because his story showed great compassion toward them. Africans are not really interested in his compassion, whatever it means; they ask for one thing alone—to be seen for what they are: human beings. Conrad does not grant them this favor in Heart of Darkness. Apparently, some people can read it without seeing any problem. We simply have to be patient. But a word may be in order for the last-ditch defenders who fall back on the excuse that the racial insensitivity of Conrad was normal in his time. Even if that were so, it would still be a flaw in a serious writer—a flaw which responsible criticism today could not gloss over … This is poisonous writing, in full consonance with the Slave-Trade-inspired tradition of European portrayals of Africa.6

After such an acute critique, one is tempted to mimic a famous line from Heart of Darkness and conclude by observing that “Mistah Conrad, he dead.” So it was always a great treat when Achebe came to town. He was sure to give us something to think about, something that helped to explain very clearly and cogently the history, contemporary circumstances, and possible destiny of Africa and its peoples. He was an extraordinarily gifted teacher.

Notes 1. Quoted from Palaver: Interviews with Five African Writers in Texas, edited by Bernth Lindfors, Ian Munro, Richard Priebe, and Reinhard Sander (Austin: African and Afro-American Research Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, 1972), 7–8. 2. Chinua Achebe, “The Writer and the African Revolution,” quoted in Bernth Lindfors, Early Achebe (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2009), 241–42. 3. Contemporary Black South African Literature: A Symposium, Revised and Augmented, ed. Bernth Lindfors (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1985), 86–87.



4. Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa,” Research in African Literatures, 9, 1 (1978): 1–15. 5. Chinua Achebe, “Africa’s Tarnished Name,” in Multiculturalism and Hybridity in African Literatures, ed. Hal Wylie and Bernth Lindfors (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000), 13. 6. Ibid., 19–20.


From the Boundaries of Storytelling to the History of a People Don Burness

Ten years ago, the world honored and celebrated Things Fall Apart and its creator Chinua Achebe on its 50th anniversary. From Dacca-Bangladesh to Lisbon-Portugal, to venues in Nigeria and South Africa to sites in the United States and Britain, a literary festival flowered. This was not like the lizard of Igbo proverb, who jumped from the iroko tree and landing safely on the ground was shocked, amazed, astounded when no one seemed to appreciate his greatness—no one praised his heroic accomplishment. Therefore, Lizard noted, “If no one will praise me, I’ll praise myself.” In a Trump-like attitude, he sang his own praise song! Once upon a time, when I was living at Choba at the University of Port Harcourt, every morning I noticed Lizard with his orange-red upper body, doing what looked like push-ups. He was doing lizard aerobics, building his muscles. He has a strange relative in the United States, the Geico who seems ubiquitous, wandering the land in his capitalistic obsession and his devotion to serving 15% on car insurance.

D. Burness (*) Franklin Pierce University, Rindge, NH, USA © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_2




Unlike Lizard, Chinua Achebe, the eagle on iroko, never said, “Look at me. I am important.” What he did say was, “Look at literature, literature is important.” The world recognized that Chinua Achebe in his writing made a significant contribution to Igbo culture, to Nigerian culture, to African culture, to world culture. Things Fall Apart belongs in the library of the human imagination. We as a species seem to have an impulse, sculpture of music, of literature; it is one of our few redeeming features. After all, the core painters at Altamira are our ancestors. In 2015, the Hispanic world honored the 400th anniversary of the publication of Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha. Throughout the Spanish-speaking world, readings were held in public places. Anyone going to Spain, to Cuba, to Mexico, to Chile, or to Argentina cannot fail to recognize that Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, caballeros, are present in the cultural consciousness and offer the world a better image of what it is. When Ariel Dorfman, Chilean writer and public intellectual, in 1973, escaped the political terror of Pinochet’s henchmen by reaching this safety of the Argentinian embassy in Santiago, he spent time reading Don Quixote in public sessions. For those in the embassy, Cervantes’ novel came alive teaching enlightenment, tolerance, knightly conduct for knightly conduct’s sake, life as noble energy, the heroic potential of man in a world of cultivated ignorance, and Chinua Achebe and Miguel de Cervantes lived in the same village of literature and despite their differences in language and culture. Despite their separation of more than four centuries, they are ancestors whose voices speak to the living. José Ortega Y Gasset (1883–1955), another Spanish cavalier of enlightenment, has commented that the life of a person is prescribed by the times and events in which he or she lives. This is not always true, especially for literature, of course, for a writer can find a story looking into the past and into the future. It is interesting to note in Italian the word “historia” means both “history” and “story.” Just as Cervantes’ life and work were a direct product of the times in which he lived, Chinua Achebe, master of “historia,” captures Africa’s story from the arrival of the white man to colonialism, and to the disastrous Biafran war and the tyranny of mediocrity and provincialism that followed. We live, we die; hello, goodbye, but words will fly. Things Fall Apart was published in 1958. This was a golden year for literary excellence. Elie Wiesel (American-Romanian writer) understated horrific recounting of experiences of the Holocaust. Night, a memoir of darkness, was published in 1958. Jorge Amado of Bahia in Brazil



published Gabriel, Cinnemon and Clove in 1958. Max Frisch, the Swiss playwright, published the Firebugs, a psychological portrait of cowardice in the face of evil. Tennessee Williams, the poet-dramatist whose language sings on stage, published Suddenly Last Summer in 1958, and Paddington Bear arrived at Victoria Station in London in 1958! In 1958, Chinua Achebe was 28. When he was 60, he fell victim to life’s ironic and indifferent cruelty when he became paralyzed in an automobile accident on the Awka road not far from the sacred home of the oracle. Sixty years ago, I was 17. Books and words were my friends. I was not like Judge Kavanagh whose mantra is “I like beer.” I never hung around groups. I remember, one summer, I read the 40-or-so plays of Eugene O’Neill. I remember reading in French at Prep School Zola, St. Exupéry, Molière, Hugo, and Camus. I remember reading Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and discovering Africa was a real place with real people. I came to know that apartheid, building walls to separate people, was real. I remember I wanted life to be exciting yet having no idea what “exciting” was, or what life was. My wife Mary-Lou would teach me. In 1958, my parents had recently bought the great new technology—a television set. In 1958, I hardly remember seeing an obese person. Divorces were uncommon. The monster of traffic had not invaded the impersonal contemporary corporate cultures in education, medicine, and everything where money, not people, matters. I did not grow up in this world. My culture was the Howdy Doody Show, but it was mostly books by Robert Frost, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Jean-­ Paul Sartre, and James Baldwin. Entering university, fellow students and I talked about books. A fellow student, Jack Lindquist, introduced me to E.  M. Forster and Kazantzakis. Only a few years ago did I follow Kazantzakis to Crete and Naxos. Books take me to places, and places take me to books. In 1958, my world was a planet of innocence, but not far away Emmett Till had been murdered a few years earlier in Mississippi, the state that gave us Richard Wright and Chester Himes. The segregated South was both familiar and alien as television was showing me worlds I did not know. It seemed alien; it seemed there were two Americas. In 1958, in Africa, Ghana had gained independence a year earlier. The year 1958 saw the independence of Guinea-Conakry, and Nigeria would follow in 1960. I was ignorant about the history of colonialism, and Africa was not really on the globe of my knowledge, but I read and I reread—and books would take me all over the world. It was perhaps appropriate that



Camara Laye of Guinea-Conakry, Manuel Lopes of Cape Verde, and Chinua Achebe, who all became friends, would be my ciceroni to Africa, to a continent that became one of my continents. “Afrique, Mon Afrique,” the home of the Senegalese poet David Diop, became mon Afrique. When my wife, Mary-Lou, died in 2015, Africa came to embrace her, to honor her, and to celebrate her beauty, her elegance, her depth, and her remarkable, effortless, generous humanity. A griot from Guinea-Conakry with his balafon composed a song for Mary-Lou. The family of Chinua Achebe came, Poet Niyi Osundare, and artist Obiora Udechukwu came; this was essentially an African event. African friends were saying to Mary-Lou “Yori Yori, you are one of us and thank you for being one of us.” A poem by Chinua Achebe was read. The drumbeat of literature proclaimed that in our African village, books and words danced in the arena, and that friendship knows no borders. Let us build bridges, not walls! The year 1958 was a heady time for Chinua Achebe. His society was undergoing fast and fragmenting change. Paths of thunder could be heard over the horizon. The twentieth century had continued to march through Onitsha, through Ogidi, through Nigeria, and through Africa. The arrival of the white man was not such a distant memory. Chinua Achebe’s father had witnessed the coming of the white man, and Chinua himself would tell this story in Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe was born to a world of traditional stories, a world in which Gecko jumped from the iroko tree, a world where Tortoise and the birds together went to a feast in the sky and Tortoise, in his greediness, ate everything while the unsuspecting and trusting birds got nothing but false promises and lies. Fake News! Awareness of political corruption is present in this oral story rooted in psychological and political insight. Achebe also read books, devoured books from Onitsha Market literature to Dickens, to Joyce Cary, to the Bible. He was fed, nursed on the milk of words. As a student, his nickname was “Dictionary.” He fell in love with words. When he wrote, he made love to words. The Greeks have a word bibliophagos (one who eats books, one who devours books). This was true for Cervantes as well. Don Quixote’s worldview, his sense of the magic of discovery, came directly from his reading books. He was addicted to books, as much as Sancho Panza, and books were his companions. In 1958, the world was changing. Civil Rights struggle in America was at center stage. Dr. King, whom I heard speak at Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan in the early 1960s, was leading a march for freedom and justice, and his dream that initially came from W. E. B. DuBois



offered the country a chance to change and to gear in humanity and get closer to a promised land. “Yes, we can,” said Dr. King. The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 was on television. The next year, Governor Orville Faubus stood on the steps of Little Rock High School declaring there would be no racial integration in Arkansas’s schools. George Wallace in Alabama, Lester Maddox in Georgia, and Ross Barnett in Mississippi stood on steps proclaiming the South would never give up its states’ rights and desegregate. They were still fighting the Civil War. The South of Faulkner, Alex Tate, and James Dickey still exists. The Confederate flag flies in the South today. The Texas flag still flies today in Texas. To me the word “conservative” suggests conserving intolerance, conserving a world of exclusion and guns, of course, justifying it with States’ rights slogans. Writing in 1903, DuBois prophesied race would be the key issue in the twentieth century—it continues to be today in United States. Meanwhile, in Africa in 1958, the struggle against colonialism, imperialism, and apartheid dominated political life. Chinua Achebe grew up in an age of struggle. He became like DuBois, Mandela, James Baldwin, Equiano, Barbados Queen Nzinga, and Senghor, refusing to accept dehumanization of a race, of a people. For Achebe, literature and social responsibility go hand in hand. Niyi Osundare has chosen a similar path. This poet of Waiting Laughters is among the most articulate voices criticizing Nigeria’s political elite who dwell in the village of thievery and incompetence. “Corruption is killing Nigeria,” he recently said. Nigeria has become a place of mediocrity where Gecko and Tortoise somehow have managed to eat everybody’s food. Achebe and his generation helped give birth to Niyi Osundare, ikeogu Oke, and others like him who stand up and say we can do better. No, we shall overcome. Why Things Fall Apart? Why this particular novel? It was not even Achebe’s favorite novel. He considered Arrow of God to be a better book. Other African books and writers stand out. John Munonye’s Oil Man of Obange is gorkiesque in stature. Camara Laye’s L’Enfant Noir is as famous in francophone literature as Things Fall Apart is in the Anglophone world. Camara Laye tells African stories in beautiful, elegant French prose. He is “Le maître de la parole.” Lusophone African writers have become central voices in the literature of the Portuguese-speaking world. In 1927, Oscar Ribas, the Homeric figure of African literature, published his first novel Nuvens Que Passam (clouds that pass). Today in Luanda, Angola, one of Africa’s most beautiful cities, there is Oscar Ribas University, and I was fortunate enough to meet Oscar Ribas in my life. All countries have good



writers, and throughout Africa, there are wonderful literary men and women. Again, why Things Fall Apart? First, the novel appeared in English and in this age, English is the a-b-c of languages. Its publication in England and United States offered a wide audience. Second, the novel is vast and deep; its themes are historical, including the coming together or confrontation of cultures, one being more dominant than the other is. A classroom of South Korean readers wrote Achebe declaring this is our story; the Japanese have taken over our country and our history in the past. Third, the novel is deceivingly simple, yet very complex. Fourth, Achebe offers bitter leaf soup and fufu for anyone hungry for African flavor. Primarily, Things Fall Apart recognizes and presents Africa not as “a shithole” but as a continent of human beings with rich cultures, rich histories, and a continent like others where ignorance and enlightenment are always struggling. He does not romanticize Africa; he captures in the body of his work a people caught in a historical tsunami and seeks to understand and teach. Moreover, he writes like an angel. Things Fall Apart is an Igbo novel written in English. Achebe writes English like no other man or woman who never lived. He captures the essence, the flavor, the texture, the flow of the tides, the richness, and the rhythm of Igbo, and yet he is writing in English. Two languages come together and dance in the arena. Through proverbs, stories, and a way of thinking, Chinua Achebe creates an African world that is readily identifiable as African to any African reader. I once met a Caribbean young woman who commented that Things Fall Apart taught her who she is! So why Things Fall Apart? One might ask why Don Quixote de la Mancha? Why Molière? Why Dostoevsky? Why Mozart? And the list goes on. Let us look at the portrait of Unoka, Okonkwo’s father. A careless literal reading fails to appreciate that Chinua Achebe has created a character using irony and understatement. He has accomplished this in only several paragraphs. Unoka may have failed in some aspects, but Unoka is not a failure. He is an incomplete man with decided strengths. Okonkwo cannot see these strengths, but a careful reader can. Unoka loves music; he loves the sound of the flute, and he is a generous host. Unoka loves birds; he is in fact a bird watcher, and Achebe, too, appreciates birds as his references in his novels to nza attest. Unoka is not in love with work; he does not define himself by work. He is an independent Igbo man whose chi was not kind, but he is good at living. Unoka has a poet’s soul, an artist’s soul. There is more of Chinua Achebe in Unoka than in Okonkwo.



Unoka’s name in Igbo means “Homestead.” It is a far more individual name than Okonkwo, which means “one born as Nkwo” (one of the four market days in the Igbo week). Of course, the Igbo believe in balance. This includes masculine strength and masculine sensitivity and gentleness. It also includes feminine strength as feminine softness. I personally always thought work, as a raison d’être, is vastly overrated. I used to say I loved teaching, but what I loved far more was not teaching. I like the flute, and I am a bird watcher. So, perhaps, I see in Unoka a kindred spirit. What is true is that Okonkwo has no idea who his father is. This is common in families. Dysfunctional families contribute one of the principal themes of literatures from Oedipus to Hamlet. Among many things, Things Fall Apart is a novel of fathers and sons, and a novel of family life where people do not know one another. We are told this in just a few lines. Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoi, Dostoevski, and Cervantes can do this. Only a gifted writer can do this. Achebe handles words with the dexterity and intensity of Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello or Yuju Wang playing the piano. French writer Pierre Assouline in Vies de Job (2015) comments that in every good book there is “le souffle et le timbre de la personne” (the breath and the essence of the writer). I think this is true for Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart, apart from being a good story, offers an imprint of the excellent man who wrote the book. Chinua Achebe was by nature an observer. Whenever I was with him, I noticed that he was somewhat selective in speech. He listened and then when he spoke, words glistened. There was dignity, elegance, intelligence, and probity. The dignity and elegance of his prose are a metaphor for personal qualities. Sometimes when he spoke, I would try to remember his words and afterwards seek out pen and paper and write them down. A few other people regularly awakened such an impulse. Chinua Achebe was also a historian by instinct like his son. His novels can be seen as a coming-together of history and literature. He was a storyteller who narrated a people’s history. He was a walking encyclopedia of Igbo history. He would tell stories to teach me, and I listened and learned. I learned of the conflict between the oracles of Awka and Arochukwu. I learned the former was against slavery while the latter to the East endorsed slavery. I learned of Reverend Basden, who in 1890 came to Nigeria. He was a friend of Achebe’s father and attended his parents’ wedding. Basden’s books on Igbo culture are well respected among the Igbo. Basden was awarded titles by both Onitsha and Ogidi, Chinua’s hometown. Among Chinua’s friends was Kenneth Onwuka Dike (1917–1983), a distinguished Igbo historian. I remember as if it were



yesterday when Chinua told me Dike had died. We live, we die; hello, goodbye, but words fly. Chinua Achebe, ambassador of excellence, also introduced me to Igbo traditions including the ceremony of breaking a kola nut. This happened in the home of his brother in Ogidi in January 1983. His brother spoke Igbo; he did not speak English. It was more than flattering that like Basden, I was welcome in Ogidi and was welcome into a traditional Igbo world. Reading Things Fall Apart takes us on a journey into Igbo life. At home, Chinua Achebe spoke Igbo. He wrote in Igbo and English. His children speak Igbo as well as English. I know only a few Igbo words, a proverb or two, and several grammatical elements. I assume Achebe spoke Igbo as precisely as beautifully as he spoke English, his second language. The debate about whether an African writer should write in a colonial language or an indigenous language seemed rather silly for him. What mattered was writing well in whatever language one chooses to write. One of the themes of this conference is the consciousness of teaching writing and reading in African languages, a subject that mattered to Chinua Achebe. Chinua Achebe died a few years ago, but Unoka lives, Okonkwo lives, Obierika lives, and his wisdom lives, just as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are adventuring in La Mancha trying to create a better world. In the novel, Niebla by Spaniard Miguel de Unamuno, a philosopher, a rector at the University of Salamanca, the narrator tells his protagonist that he will kill him off in the next chapter. Augusto tells Unamuno that he will live on as a fictional character long after the author has died. God has created Unamuno, but the author creates eternal characters, and a dog plays a principal part in Niebla! If Calderón de la Barca (1663) in the seventeenth century wrote a play, La Vida es un Sueño (Life is a dream), Unamuno’s novel suggests the mist of existence lies between dream, illusion, and a few minutes on life’s stage. We live, we die, and art and words tell our story. The story, like love, endures as long as humankind will endure. “The story of people who fail is much more interesting than the story of people who succeed.” Chinua Achebe knew this well. Chinua Achebe has a tragic vision, the sense that life is essentially struggle, and life does not turn out, as we want it. This is evident in Things Fall Apart. It is evident in his memoir of the Biafran war, There Was a Country, which he completed a few years before his death. There Was a Country is a personal lament, a lament for so many people killed in this war. His dear friend,



poet Christopher Okigbo, was killed in September 1967. Chinua was a great admirer of poet Wilfred Owen, who died in the battlefield in World War I, the poet who articulated his tragic vision of futility: “Was it for this the clay grew tall?” Chinua cited this line in his Commencement Address at Franklin Pierce University of New Hampshire in 1985. Not just Okigbo is dead; millions of people are dead, and a dream is dead. Nigeria has never recovered from this disaster, and the Igbo people still have scars. Things Fall Apart tells many truths; it shows us life’s masquerade from different angles. The greatest wrestler, who defeated the unbeatable Amalinze, the Cat, will be thrown in the end. In the end, we all lose, and our hopes are often dashed. Yet Achebe is surely not a negative man. He knows the music of the flute, and he sings magnificently. He knows that there is wonder in birds, in friendship, in books, and in words. He knows that human excellence, as manifested by Okonkwo and Okigbo in various areas, is to be acknowledged and applauded. The story of Okonkwo and Unoka lives. Stories live and, like the flute, join generations. This is what I have learned in my life. The Anambra River, the Niger River, and the Benue River still flow, carrying stories of what has passed, what is passing, and what will be. The story of Equiano flows. The call of the river is heard in a poet’s memory, in a people’s memory. Tortoise is still being tortoise, and Chinua Achebe, ancestor, speaks, and his words are beautiful like the river. It has been sixty years since Things Fall Apart was published, and the world is always changing. “Todo cambia,” sings Mercedes Sosa of Argentina. Today there is a blind devotion to a new god-technology. People walk, looking at their smartphone and are oblivious to the whydah birds and to other people. Farley Mowat (1921–2014), a Canadian writer, warned that progress is a bitch goddess. Ultimately, however, man is man and life is life. The world repeats itself; we are not so essentially different from the cave painters at Altamira; we are linked to the ancestors. For all our so-called progress, we too often fail to recognize our common humanity. We are the blind being led by the blind. Books, stories, and poems can free us from the darkness of ignorance, from the prison of Plato’s cave. Thucydides, Cervantes, Yeats, and Achebe know that things fall apart, but they offer a path to a better and enlightened world. They teach us, they delight us, and they excite our imagination. Each generation must learn this: we live, we die; hello, goodbye, but words will fly. Let me close with a quote from Oyim, my friend Ikejimba, my friend Chinua Achebe—the light of god—a man who had a



way with words: “The world is like a mask dancing. While we do our good works, let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.” We have a long, long way to go.

References Assouline, Pierre. 2011 [2015]. Vies de Job. France: Gallimard. Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1663. Life Is a Dream. Trans. Edward Huberman and Elizabeth Huberman. In The Golden Age, selected and introduced by Norris Houghton: Dell, pp. 86–89.


African Languages, Linguistics, and Literatures


Language Alternation Strategy: An In-depth Appraisal of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart Adaora Lois Anyachebelu

Introduction Language is one of the veritable channels of preserving and exporting societal values and cultural heritage. Different scholars have defined language variously. This study adopts the following definition in the New Encyclopedia Britannica (2007: 121): A system of vocal communication that comprises a circumscribed set of noises resulting from movements of these, man is able to impart information, express his feelings and emotions, to influence the activities of others and to comport himself with varying degrees of friendliness or hostility towards persons who make use of substantially the same set of noises.

Hence, language enables humans to engage in self-expressions. Language expresses, exchanges, and transmits values from one location to the other. Ekei (n.d.: 20) explains, “[A]s people acquire some values from other cultural groups, they also expose their own unique values for

A. L. Anyachebelu (*) University of Lagos, Lagos, Nigeria © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_3




possible inter-cultural borrowing from other localities, thanks to the medium of languages.” It is in this regard that this article evaluates the literary effectiveness of the language alternation strategy employed by Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart in an attempt to export and transmit the rich Igbo cultural values and cultural traditions to the generality of the world, especially to his non-Igbo speaking readers. Additionally, this article provides detailed instances that illustrate the effectiveness of the language alternation strategy that Achebe used in his representation of the rural African society through the eye of the Igbo rural community. The analysis reveals that without the language alternation strategy employed by Achebe in Things Fall Apart, Achebe would not have succeeded in recreating a true image of African cultural life, specifically the Igbo, had he utilized English wholly in the novel and not applied his outstanding deployment of obvious manipulative language skills. This is because “conventional English cannot effectively represent the mystery and depth of some Igbo cultural life. Consequently, the impact of the novel and its effectiveness would have been lost” (Ezenwanebe 2008: 58). Furthermore, without Achebe’s effective and tactful manipulation of both the Igbo and the English languages, the novel may have become incomprehensible to non-Igbo readers of the work.

Related Works So many people, including literary and non-literary scholars, have written extensively on Achebe’s works, particularly his novel Things Fall Apart. Iwundu (1993) takes a look at Achebe’s use of names: heroic, epigrammatic, connotative, and Christian names in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. The study identifies that Achebe uses heroic names in the novels as a projection of personality and authority; epigrammatic names to emphasize conflict; connotative names to point out tragedy; and Christian names to focus on total cultural collapse. This article concludes that the names remain in the novels as touchstones for the characters and the culture they interpret, especially when they distill key traits of characters into their sociocultural essence. Igboanusi (2001) studies the Igbo tradition in some of Achebe’s works, Things Fall Apart inclusive, through the use of language. Igboanusi identifies that through the linguistic processes of transfer and translation, these seven linguistic categories (loan words, coinages, loan-blends, translation equivalents, semantic extensions, collocational extension, and



colloquialisms) are identified as the sources of Igbo literary tradition. Larsson (2007) examines how Chinua Achebe deploys the use of both semantic and syntactic code switching in his novels that include Things Fall Apart. Semantic analysis shows that the use of Igbo vocabulary is common but that most of the words and phrases are understandable to a reasonable degree. The study also reveals that proverbs are very common in every day speech and that proverbs could be translated in multiple ways, which can result in a slightly different semantic meaning. Ogunyemi (2010) takes a look at the wisdom and age in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart by examining the novel textually. According to him, Achebe pinpoints some elements of wisdom that Okonkwo demonstrates. The study, through narratological and methodological theories, conceptualizes the relation of age to several aspects of wisdom in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Moreover, it concludes that wisdom and age in the novel subscribe to both narratological stance and methodological theoretical framework. Daramola’s (2012a) work is on Achebe’s stylistic use of metaphors in Things Fall Apart. The analysis discloses that instead of proverbs, common sayings are more prevalent in Things Fall Apart. This buttresses the fact that Achebe drew sustenance from both traditional oral literature and modern fiction as well. Additionally, the “metaphors of Things Fall Apart invoke Ibo culture, thereby forcing us to accept Achebe’s linguistic forms and terms in the portrayal of the rhythms of traditional life” (Daramola 2012b: 186). Onyemelukwe (2014) does a critical discourse analysis of selected novels of Chinua Achebe of which Things Fall Apart is one. This analysis takes a look at Achebe’s storyline in Things Fall Apart, A Man of the People, and Anthills of the Savannah. It also examines the linguistic forms and ideologies in the aforementioned three novels as well as the underlying meanings and intertextuality in the three novels. The study then concludes, “[B]y means of critical discourse analysis of the three novels, the work shows that Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Anthills of The Savannah, and A Man of the People contain profound, implicit and largely socio-political and ideological meanings which Nigeria as a nation could appropriate to make her democracy truly participatory and unbridled in line with the dictates of modern nation-building.” In addition, the critical discourse analysis facilitates the derivation of underlying and ideological meanings from literary texts.



Igbo Literature in English (and Literature in Igbo) No mutual agreement has been arrived at on what should really be regarded as Igbo literature. There has been an on-going debate in that regards; hence Igbo scholars divided into factions in this subject matter. One of the factions is represented by Acholonụ (1979, 1980) and Emenyonu (1981); Ebeogu (1980) and Inyama (n.d.) also fall into this group. This faction is of the view that language should not be the most important criterion for definition of literature in general and Igbo literature in particular. Though they still believe that language (in this case Igbo language) still remains a necessary tool for the presentation of written literature (Igbo literature). To the members of this group, once the writer of any literary work is of Igbo nationality and the themes, ideas, and views expressed in the works generally reflect and express the African consciousness and, in this instance, the Igbo worldview, such work should be regarded as an Igbo literature and an African literature by extension. The author of such work invariably becomes an Igbo literary author. To buttress his argument, Emenyonu (1978: xiv) says, “the present day Igbo writers have generally come to see and accept English not only as the official language, but also as the language of Igbo literature.” Toeing the same line of argument, Acholonụ (1983) recognizes three major factors that should be looked out for in a work and that should serve as a barometer for categorizing Igbo literature. The three factors are as follows: (i) the ethnicity of the author; (ii) ethnicity in setting, characters and themes; and (iii) the medium of expression (language). Out of the three factors, Acholonu sees language as less important. In her words: The most important of these three groups of factors are (i) and (ii) and not (iii). This is because most literate Nigerians (and here, I mean, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Efik, etc.) have been born into English in addition to their native tongues. Nigerians are bilingual; therefore their literature should be bilingual. Every literature reflects the realities of life of that group or tribe to which it belongs. (Acholonu’s 1983: 9–10)



On the contrary, the opposition group consists of such Igbo scholars as Obumselu (1966), Ugonna (1979), Maduka (1980), Emenanjo (1981), and Onyekaonwu (1986). These people are of the view that language is very vital in determining what should consist in Igbo literature. They also opine that the nationality of the author is another criterion to be considered in determining the ethnicity of any literature. In the view of the second group, literary works written in English by the Igbo nationals have failed to qualify fully as Igbo literature. Following Nwadike (2008: 121), language is “the touchstone for any meaningful delineation of any ethnic literature.” If this contention is anything to consider, it then implies that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, though written by an Igbo author, fails to be an Igbo novel. The purpose of this article is not to discuss Igbo literature. The intent, however, is to explain that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is an integral part of Igbo literature in English. Things Fall Apart illustrates the “cultural traditions” of the indigenous Igbo in the precolonial Igbo society. Though the goal in this study is not to join in the debate of which literature should be categorized as Igbo literature, it is appropriate to expatiate what is meant by Igbo literature in the context of this work. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart should be applauded because it has tactfully and aesthetically exported most of the Igbo cultural values and heritage as well as the Igbo language to the entire world. If Chinua Achebe had written Things Fall Apart in Igbo language, the novel perhaps would not have gained as much celebration as it has gained in the contemporary world. Things Fall Apart is, in essence, a literary piece of work that mirrors both the Igbo cultural heritage and the Igbo language.

The Man: Chinua Achebe Chinua Achebe was born on the 16th day of November 1930, in Ogidi, the headquarters of Idemili, North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria. His full name at birth is Albert Chinualumogu Achebe. He received his primary education at St. Philip’s Central School, Ogidi. Then he attended Government College, Umuahia, in the present Abia State. He studied English, history, and religious studies. Upon graduating, Chinua Achebe worked for various organizations until the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War broke out. Later, he moved to London, where he wrote his first novel, Things Fall Apart. He had been a professor from 1970 to 1979, and he returned to his country, Nigeria, to be a professor at the University of



Nigeria, Nsukka. A car accident in 1990 left Achebe paralyzed, but he moved to the United States, where he spent many years at Bard College and, later, Brown University. Achebe was a social change agent, for he was “concerned with universal human communication across racial and cultural boundaries as a means of fostering respect for all people” (Ravenscroft 1986: 6). He passionately wrote to emphasize the fact that Africans have had their own great culture and philosophy prior to the coming of the Europeans. Achebe’s literary works, among other themes, discuss the notion of leadership and the effect of social change. According to Alam (2014), Chinua Achebe was the father of modern African literature. Since the publication of Things Fall Apart in 1958, he has been credited with being the key progenitor of an African literary tradition. Gikandi (1996: xvii b) notes that though Things Fall Apart was not the first African novel, “it was probably the first work in which the author set out to represent the African experience in a narrative that sought, self-­ consciously, to be different from the colonial novel.” Many scholars wrote and continue to write extensively on Chinua Achebe as an individual and on his works to the extent that one may wonder if there are things yet to be written about him and his literary accomplishments. Writing about Chinua Achebe and his works could be viewed from the angle of blind people who try to give a description of an elephant they cannot see physically; instead, they have the ability to feel different parts of the animal to gain a description of it. While some feel the head or the back, others feel the stomach or the legs; nevertheless, each of the blind can give his or her description based on the part of the elephant that is touched. Chinua Achebe, who died at the age of eighty-two, was more than a novelist. He was a man of letters with novels, poetry, children’s books, and public essays to his credit. His novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964a), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). His poetry books include Beware Soul Brothers (1971). Things Fall Apart opened a new vista in the Nigerian literary world. It was one of the most important novels written in English by an African author. It was arguably the first internationally successful book by an African, because it set the stage for an examination of the history of European colonialism and gave literary legitimacy in the West to authors from Africa.



King (1972) indicated that Things Fall Apart marked the beginning of the main tradition of Nigerian literature in English. According to her, it begins a tradition not only because its influence can be detected on subsequent Nigerian novelists, such as T. M. Aluko, but also because it was the first Nigerian writer to successfully transmute the conventions of the novel, a European art form, into African literature. His craftsmanship can be seen in the way he creates a totally Nigerian texture for his fiction: Ibo idioms translated into English are used freely; European economy of form is replaced by an aesthetic appropriate to the rhythms of traditional tribal life. Achebe’s themes reflect the cultural traits of the Ibos, the impact of European civilization upon traditional African society, and the role of tribal values in modern urban life.

Igboanusi (2001) toes the same line of thought as King by saying that “Igbo literature in English has flourished since the publication of Achebe’s first novel and has contributed immensely to the development of Nigerian and African literature.” Scholars such as Alam (2014) are of the view that Things Fall Apart is born out of Achebe’s indignation at European representations of Africans in fiction. Achebe himself declares that he wrote Things Fall Apart “in order to reassert African identity and as part of the growth of Nigerian nationalism” (O’Reilly 2001: 61). Things Fall Apart is an African story told by an African from the perspective of Africa. The novel tells the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo man who kills a white man then eventually hangs himself to avoid facing a murder trial. In fact, Achebe, in Things Fall Apart, created a new “brand” of English, as it were. Indeed, Things Fall Apart is a combination of history and literature. The novel has three parts. Part I is on pages 3–100 (Chaps. 1–13). This first part focuses on the early life of Okonkwo, his relationship with his children and wives, his wrestling career, and his various attempts to break loose to disassociate himself from laziness and poverty. Achebe was one of the first African and Igbo authors to write in English. Discussing the role of the writer in a new nation, Achebe notes, For an African writing in English is without its serious setbacks. He often finds himself describing situations or modes of thought, which have no direct equivalent in the English way of life. Caught in that situation he can do one of two things. He can try and contain what he wants to say within the limits of conventional English or try to push back those limits to accommodate his ideas. (Achebe 1973: 12)



Most assuredly, Achebe makes significant contributions to the literary world with his thought-provoking and insightful novel, Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall Apart and It’s Language Deployment Things Fall Apart narrates the story of Okonkwo, a conservative cultural man who hails from Umuofia. He is a self-made man: “Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men usually had. He did not inherit a barn from his father” (Achebe 1958: 13). This is because Unoka, his father, is very lazy and improvident in his days. Okonkwo works very hard and becomes a wealthy yam farmer Diji and also takes second to the highest title in Umuofia. He becomes a famous wrestler by throwing Amalinze, the cat, in a wrestling contest. Okonkwo’s great achievements notwithstanding, his life is ruled by fear, fear of being called a coward. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. (Achebe 1958: 11)

This fear drives him into killing Ikemefuna against Ezeudu’s warning: “That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death” (Achebe 1958: 45). As the novel progresses, he commits the female ọchụ by accidentally killing Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son during the burial ceremony of his father, Ezeudu; this is a crime against the earth goddess. Hence, he goes into exile with his family to his maternal place at Mbanta. While in exile, missionaries arrive at Ụmụọfịa and Mbanta; with their arrival, things begin to fall apart. At the end of his exile, Okonkwo returns to Umuofia with his family. By this time, the new religion that is brought by the white missionaries is already spreading like wild fire. One thing leads to the other until Okonkwo kills one of the messengers that is sent by the white missionaries, then he hangs himself.



Obierika, who had been gazing steadily at his friend’s dangling body, turned suddenly to the District Commissioner and said ferociously: ‘that man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog.’ (Achebe 1958: 165)

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is perhaps the most widely circulated novel from Africa that is read not only throughout Africa but also across the length and breadth of the world, it has been translated into more than sixty-five languages. It is a book that depicts the sociocultural, religious, political, and other aspects of the colonial experience in, first of all, the Ibo communal and rural life and, secondly, the African continent (Daramola 2012a: 163). Discussing the language used in Things Fall Apart, Alam (2014) states that Achebe deploys the use of English language—a foreign and colonial language—to project his native values, since the English language is able to bear the burden of Achebe’s cultural experiences. This is comparable to Achebe’s idea in his essay, “The African Writer and the English Language” (1964b). Achebe opines that the English language will be able to carry the weight of his African experience: “But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings” (Achebe 1964b: 84). The thrust of this article is to look at Achebe’s language strategy in Things Fall Apart through which he is able to introduce his readers to the rich African culture and the Igbo culture, in particular. The language of writing the novel is English. Beyond his use of the English language, Achebe employs the type of English different authors variously refer to as “Nigerian English,” “Igbonized English,” and “Europeanized Igbo dialect” for Igbo expressions. Achebe’s usage of language in Things Fall Apart is categorized in these ways: loan words (code variations), loan blends, coinages, and translation equivalent/transliteration. There is no clear or exact distinction among the different groups as there could be instances of overlap among the various categories.

Code Variation (Loan Words and Lexical Variants) Code variation entails the use of two or more languages in a discourse; it includes code mixing and code switching. According to Opara (1999), code switching is the movement from one language to the other within the same discourse while code-mixing is the usage of two languages within



a sentence. Instances of code variation abound in Things Fall Apart, as illustrated below. 1. Sometimes another village would ask Unoka’s band and their dancing Egwugwu to come and stay with them (Achebe 1958: 4). In the aforementioned example, Achebe brings in an Igbo word Egwugwu instead of continuing with the English “masquerade.” This, however, does not hamper the flow of understanding of the novel. 2. He could hear in his mind’s ear the blood-stirring and intricate rhythms of the ekwe, the udu, and the ogene. He could hear his own flute-­ weaving in and out of them, decorating them with a colorful and plaintive tune (Achebe 1958: 5). Achebe tactfully introduces his readers to some Igbo traditional musical instruments, although non-Igbo readers might have difficulty identifying these musical instruments. They will, at least, understand that those items are instruments for music-making through the arrangement of the sentence. 3. They painted their bodies with red cam wood and drew beautiful patterns on them with uli (Achebe 1958: 77). Uli is an Igbo traditional cosmetic. Achebe does not give a direct translation of the word in English; rather through his description, the meaning of uli is made explicit to his readers. 4. It is “ịba said Okonkwo … that went into making the medicine for ịba” (Achebe 1958: 60). Achebe switches from English to Igbo language here without giving the meaning of iba, which simply means fever. Yet with the expression “making the medicine for,” a reader intuitively will grasp that ịba is a kind of sickness.

Translation/Explanation The meanings of most of the Igbo expressions used in Things Fall Apart Achebe either translates or explains. Some of the explanations appear before the Igbo words and expressions, while others come after the Igbo words or expressions. This aids in eliminating any confusion in understanding the complete meanings of various sentences containing such loans. For instance: 1. agbala = “and even now he is still remembering how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how



Okonkwo first came to know agbala was not only another name for a woman, but also it could mean a man who had taken no title” (p. 11). Achebe quickly explains the meaning of agbala so as not to leave his readers in doubt of the meaning and for continued flow of meaning. In order to eliminate confusion, Achebe clarifies another meaning of Agbala; (starting with a capital letter “A”) thus: “she was the priestess of Agbala, the oracle of the Hills and the Caves” (p. 39). Achebe introduces his readers to the world of Igbo religion by explaining to the readers that the Agbala beginning with the capital letter “A” is the name of an oracle. Therefore, he separates it from the agbala beginning with the small letter “a,” which depicts either a female or an inferior male figure who has been consequential enough to take a title. Other examples of such translation are illustrated in the following excerpts: 2. Jigida = “on her arms were red and yellow bangles, and on her waist four or five rows of jigida, or waist-beads” (p. 56). Achebe gives the meaning of jigida in order not to leave his readers in the dark. 3. Ọ gbanje = “This man told him that the child was an ogbanje, one of those wicked children who, when they died, entered their mother’s wombs to be born again” (p. 62). Ọ + gba + Nje = ọgbanje. He/she + run + severally = a child who dies and comes back to life successively or in quick successions. Here, also, Achebe brings in one of the African belief systems that certain children die and come back to life severally to the hurt of their parents. Such children are called Ọ gbanje in Igbo language and Abiku in Yoruba language. The Hausa do not believe in Ọ gbanje; hence, they do not have a word for it in their language. Again, Achebe wastes no time in explaining the word ọgbanje to his readers. 4. Iyi-ụwa = “And this faith had been strengthened when a year or so ago a medicine-man had dug up Ezinwa’s iyi-ụwa. Everyone knew then that she would live because her bond with the world of Ọ gbanje had been broken” (p. 64). Iyi + uwa = iyi-uwa; Oath + earth = A bonding element There is no direct translation or explanation of the loan word iyi-ụwa, yet Achebe wastes no time in giving a clue as to the meaning of the Igbo expression. The reader can easily infer that iyi-ụwa is a bonding agent between an ọgbanje and the spirit world that empowers him or her to go



and come back at the whim or caprice of the controlling ̣ogbanje spirit force. In the real sense of the word, iyi-uwa is a bonding element predestined at the point of incarnation. This bond, among the Igbo, is strongly believed to sojourn on earth at each birth. 5. Chi = “He had a bad chi or personal god” (p. 4). Among Igbo, it is strongly believed that every individual has a personal chi which could be translated as a “guardian angel” or a controlling force. This “chi” could be good as chi oma “good chi” or bad as ajo chi “bad” or “evil” chi. It is a person’s chi that is responsible for events in one’s life. A person’s chi equally takes the “praise” or “blame” for either fortune or misfortunes in a person’s life on earth. 6. Ani ̣ = “I sacrifice a cock to Ani, the owner of all land” (p. 14). 7. Chukwu = “the first voice gets to Chukwu, or God’s house” (p. 48). 8. Eneke-ntị-ọba = “stories of the tortoise and his wily ways, and of the bird eneke-nti ̣-ọba who challenged the whole world to a wrestling contest and was finally thrown by the cat” (p. 43). 9. Ogbu-agali ̣-ọdụ = “she remembered the night, long ago, when she had seen Ogbu-agali ̣-ọdụ, one of those evil essences loosed upon the world by the potent ‘medicines’ which the tribe had made in the distant past against its enemies but had now forgotten how to control” (p. 83). 10. Ụmụada = “The daughters of the family were all there, some of them having come a long way from their homes in distant villages. The daughters of Uchendu’s brothers were also there. It was a full gathering of Ụmụada, in the same way as they would meet if a death occurred in the family” (p. 105). 11. efulefu = “They were mostly the kind of people that were called efulefu, worthless, empty men” (p. 115). 12. Osu = “These outcasts, or osu … seeing that the new religion welcomed twins and such abominations.” And he told him what an osu was. He was a person dedicated to a god, a thing set apart—-a taboo forever—and his children after him. He could neither marry nor be married by the free-born. He was in fact an outcast, living in a special area of the village, close to the Great Shrine. Wherever he went he carried with him the mark of his forbidden caste—long, tangled, and dirty hair. A razor was taboo to him. An osu could not attend an assembly of the free-born, and they, in turn, could not shelter under



his roof. He could not take any of the four titles of the clan, and when he died he was buried by his kind in the Evil Forest (p. 125). 13. Ọ gwụ = “There were men whose arms were strong in ogwu, or medicine” (p. 149). 4. Ụmụnna = “All the ụmụnna were invited to the feast, all the descen1 dants of Okolo, who had lived about two hundred years before” (p. 132). Ụmụnna means one’s kinsmen.

Translation Equivalents (Transliteration) Translation equivalent is the transference of the equivalent of the form of language (source language) into another language (target language). Translation equivalent results from certain linguistic processes operating in the Igbo society. Such linguistic processes include: (i) the interference of Igbo patterns on English; (ii) the translation of Igbo speech habits into English; (iii) the method and context of the teaching and learning of English; and (iv) the faulty language habits acquired in the primary school or what Bamiro (1994, 54) in Igboanusi (2001) calls ‘the inadequate exposure of many Nigerians to the English language.’ (Igboanusi 2001)

It is possible that Achebe deploys transliteration in Things Fall Apart due to his level of education at that time; after all, Things Fall Apart is his debut novel. Transliteration, which one may call Igboism (direct translation of Igbo words/expressions into English), is usage that reflects traditional Igbo life and cultural habits. These expressions are easily understood in Igbo but are either lacking in English contexts or are used in ways different from English forms. Some of such transliterations are these. 1. “Okonkwo was well received by his mother’s kinsmen in Mbanta” (p. 103). Achebe would have used “maternal home.” “Mother’s kinsmen” is a translation equivalent of Ndị ikwunne ya in Igbo. (a) Things Fall Apart—mother’s kinsmen (b) Igbo translation—Ndị ikwunne ya (c) English—maternal home



2. “Uchendu still remembered him crying the traditional farewell: ‘Mother, mother, mother is going’” (p. 103). Achebe uses this expression “traditional farewell” in place of a “dirge.” (a) Things Fall Apart—traditional farewell (b) Igbo translation—Akwa ọnwụ (c) English—dirge 3. “You, Ụnọka, are known in all the clan for the weakness of your machete and your hoe” (p. 14). Both the machete and hoe are implements used by farmers in Igbo society to clear the forest and till the land because the Igbo are predominantly farmers. Achebe uses the translation equivalent of the Igbo expression onye ume ngwu “a lazy person” to explain Unoka’s character. (a) Things Fall Apart—weakness of your machete and your hoe (b) Igbo translation—ume ngwu (c) English—laziness 4. “Go home and work like a man” (p. 14). This is a translation equivalent of laa rụọ ọrụ ka nwoke in Igbo; Achebe could have just said, “Go home and be more industrious.” (a) Things Fall Apart—work like a man (b) Igbo translation—irụ ọrụ ka nwoke (c) English—industrious 5. “He died of the swelling which was an abomination to the earth goddess… when a man is afflicted with swelling in the stomach” (p. 14). Achebe alludes to the type of sickness seen as an abomination in the society referred to as itoafo. He creatively uses this translation equivalent to introduce his readers to one of the conditions that is viewed as abomination in the society. (a) Things Fall Apart—swelling in the stomach (b) Igbo translation—itoafo (c) English—swollen stomach 6. “He grew rapidly like a yam tendril in the rainy season, and was full of sap of life” (p. 42). “Tendril” is translated from the Igbo expression omeji. The author, again, borrows from one of the vocations in Igbo society—farming.



(a) Things Fall Apart—a yam tendril (b) Igbo translation—omeji (c) English—rapid growth 7. “Who will drink the dregs? He asked. Whoever has a job in hand” (p. 15) “whoever has a job in hand” is a translation equivalent of onye ji ọrụ n’aka. In Igbo society, it is after marriage that couples are expected to procreate. Hence, couples engage themselves in the job of bringing new life into the world after their marriage; that is what Achebe alludes to in this respect. “Whoever has a job in hand”, in this context implies the peson that just got married. (a) Things Fall Apart—Whoever has a job in hand (b) Igbo translation—onye ji ọrụ n’aka/onye ji ihe n’aka. (c) English—busy hand (“being at work” or “being on duty”) 8. “Tomorrow he will tell them that our fathers never fought a ‘war of blame’” (pp. 10, 160). The expression “war of blame” comes from the Igbo expression ọgụ ịma uta/ọgụ ịta ụta and appears severally in the novel. In African cosmology, there are ways of maintaining peace. Igbo people, as part of the African society, believe in justice. Achebe employs symbolism in the deity agadi nwayi that will never engage in a “fight of blame.” The people will not embark in any war until due consultations are made through the diviners on whether such wars are justifiable. (a) Things Fall Apart—war of blame (b) Igbo translation—ọgụ ikpe omuma/i ̣ma ụta/ọg̣u i ̣ta ụta (c) English—unjustifiable war 9. “He who brings kola brings life” (p. 5). Achebe brings in one of the expressions that is used in the breaking of kola nut. In African tradition, kola nut is offered to visitors as a show of receptivity. In Igbo society, one of the expressions in the process of offering, blessing, and breaking of kola nut is onye wetara ọji ̣ wetara ndụ; this Achebe translates into English as a means of letting his readers into the culture of kola nut in the society. (a) Things Fall Apart—He who brings kola brings life (b) Igbo translation—onye wetara ọji ̣ wetara ndụ (c) English—welcome or acceptance (a phrase for the wellbeing of all, both the presenter and the partakers.)



10. “When I say no to them, they think I am hard-hearted” (p. 17). (a) Things Fall Apart—hard-hearted (b) Igbo translation—obi ike/ajọ mmadụ/ajọ obi (c) English—wicked/stingy 11. “And every man whose arm was strong…” (p. 30). (a) Things Fall Apart—every man whose arm was strong (b) Igbo translation—onye obula aka siri ike/onye nwere aku/onye zuru ka eme. (c) English—wealthy, rich 12. “They will not begin until sun goes down …. The wrestling waits until the sun begins to sink” (p. 34). The phrase “until the sun begins to sink” refers to evening time, which is equivalent to oge anwụ na-­ ada. This is one of the ways Igbo people read time: (a) Things Fall Apart—until sun goes down (b) Igbo translation—oge anwụ na-ada (c) English—evening (sun set) 13. “They laughed and agreed, and sent for the missionaries, whom they had asked to leave them for a while so that they might ‘whisper together’” (p. 119). The expression “whisper together” is the Igbo equivalent of i ̣gba izu. (a) Things Fall Apart—whisper together (b) Igbo translation—ịgba izu (c) English—commune (consultation) 14. “We had meant to set out from my house before cock-crow,” said Obierika (p.  113). Achebe borrows the expression “before cock-­ crow” from one of the ways Igbo talk about time. (a) Things Fall Apart—before cock-crow (b) Igbo translation—tupu oke ọkụkọ akwaa/Ezigbo ọnụ ụtụtụ. (c) English—before dawn/early in the morning



Proverbs Achebe makes preponderant use of Igbo proverbs, which he craftily translates into English so that the expressions will follow the pattern and style of Igbo thought as rendered in English. Most of the proverbs retain their Igbo flavor and structure but through the medium of English language. In some instances, however, Achebe could have included the English equivalent of those proverbs. Nevertheless, Achebe chooses to use the “Igbonized” forms so as to reflect the “Igboness” in them. Following Emenyonu (1978: 157), proverbs enable the speaker to display his work with wisdom and exemplify his distinctive ability to manipulate the language. Note these illustrative examples: 1. “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing” (p. 16).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Awo anaghị agba ọsọ ehihie n’efu. (b) English equivalent—No smoke without a fire.

2. “… you can tell a ripe corn by its look” (p. 17).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Ana-eji anya amata ọka chara acha. (b) English equivalent—The taste of the pudding is in the eating.

3. “Those whose palm kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble” (p. 21).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Ndị ọ gaziri egbula ibe ha. (b) English equivalent—pride goes before a fall.

4. “A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches” (p. 52).

(a) Igbo equivalent—a na-esite n’eju amata ọkụkọ ga-abụ oke (b) English equivalent—A rose is known by its smell.

5. “When mother cow is chewing grass, its young ones watch her mouth” (p. 56).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Nne ewu na-ata ahịhịa ụmụ ya a na-ele ya anya n’ọnụ. (b) English equivalent—Through imitation one learns.

6. “Let the kite perch and let the egret perch, too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break” (p. 15).



(a) Igbo equivalent—Egbe bere ugo bere nke si ̣rị ibe ya ebela, nku kwaa ya. (b) English equivalent—Live and let live.

7. “Men have learnt to shoot without missing their mark and I have learnt to fly without perching on a twig” (p. 162).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Kemgbe dinta mụtara atụghị atụ agba, nwa nnụnụ amuta ife efe ebeghi ebe. (b) English equivalent—Delay is dangerous.

8. “As our elders said, ‘if a child washed his hands, he could eat with kings.’”

(a) Igbo equivalent—Nwata kwọchaa aka ya o soro ọgaranya rie ihe. (b) English equivalent—As one makes his bed, so shall he lie; business before pleasure.

9. “An animal rubs its itching flank against a tree; a man asks his kinsman to scratch him (p. 132).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Ọ kọ kọba mmadụ, o jekwuru mmadụ ibe ya ka ọ kọọ ya; mana ọ kọba anụmanụ o je chie ahụ ya n’ukwu osisi. (b) English equivalent—Mutual aid

10. “We must bale this water now that it is only ankle-deep” (p. 166).

(a) Igbo equivalent—anyị ga-akwọ mmiri a oge oka di ̣ n’ọgbụgba ọla. (b) English equivalent—make hay while it is sunshine.

11. “Looking at a king’s mouth; said an old man one would think he never sucked at his mother’s breast” (p. 21).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Ana-ele eze anya n’onu, ọ dị ka ọ jighi ya ǹụo ara nne ya. (b) English equivalent—you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

12. “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing” (p. 16).

(a) Igbo equivalent—A wọ anaghị agbaọsọ ehihie n’efu. (b) English equivalent—There is no smoke without a fire.

13. “You can tell a ripe corn by its look” (p. 17).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Anya ka e ji amata ọka chara acha.



(b) English equivalent—The taste of the pudding is in the eating.

14. “When mother cow is chewing grass, its young ones watch her mouth” (p. 56).

(a) Igbo equivalent—Nne ewu na-ata ahihi ̣a, nwa ya a na-ele ya anya n’ọnụ. (b) English equivalent—Through imitation we learn.

These proverbs, although in English, retain the imagery and culture of the Igbo. The inclusion of these proverbs and the characters that say them illustrate similar proverbs in Igbo society. Achebe (1958: 6) attests to this by stating: “Among the Igbo, the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.” In fact, using the above instances, one should see that most of the proverbs are direct translations from their Igbo mode of rendition to English. “Things Fall Apart consists therefore, of Igbo words, phrases, sayings, and proverbs. In the process, Achebe transforms the English language into a distinctly African style by the way he constructs and reconstructs syntax, usage and, most importantly, various kinds of meanings in Things Fall Apart” (Daramola 2012a: 165). The question, then, is why Achebe chose to do a kind of direct translation of the proverbs from Igbo into English when he could have shared some in their English equivalent since his language of writing is English. One may be quick to say that it could be because of his level of knowledge of the English language when he writes Things Fall Apart. It is possible that he is not yet grounded in English grammar. Perhaps one could also argue that Achebe’s desire to showcase his African (Igbo) culture to the wider world is of paramount to him.

Loan Blends There are occasions of loan blending in Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, for Achebe combines items from English and Igbo to form new meanings. One example is the expression “sometimes another village would ask Unoka’s band and their dancing egwugwu to come” (p. 4). Achebe blends dancing with egwugwu for ease of comprehension and for clarity of purpose. He could have used either “dancing” or “egwugwu” in isolation. Another example is this: “And now, she was going to take the Idemili title” (p.  6). Achebe juxtaposes Idemili and title to enable readers to



understand the meaning of the loan word Idemili. On page 47, he places “ọzọ” and “dance” side by side so as to grasp the kind of dance being described, that is, it is not just any type of dance but the ọzọ type. “‘It is an ọzọ dance,’ the men said among themselves” (p. 47).

Coinages Another language style Achebe incorporates in his novel, Things Fall Apart, is the use of coinages. There are a few instances in which Achebe coins: “There were little holes from one side to the other in the upper levels of the wall, and through these Okonkwo passed the rope, or tie tie, to the boys” (Achebe 1958: 44). Here, Achebe coins tie tie, from the function of a rope, which is for tying things. He also attempts an explanation of the expression directly before it. Another case of coinage is the word Kotma, which is a corruption of the English words “court-man” or “court messenger” (Achebe 1958: 139). Achebe refers to the European court messengers as ashy-Buttocks because of their ash-colored shorts (p. 139). Achebe’s purpose for the name kotma is to give an impression of the prisoner’s feelings of animosity toward the messengers and their white masters, both of whom made mockery via this song:                kotma of the ash buttocks                He is fit to be a slave.                The white man has no sense,                He is fit to be a slave. (p. 140)

Other coinages are evident on pages 104 and 110, respectively. “When the rain finally came, it was in large, solid drops of frozen water which the people called ‘nuts of the water of heaven’” [instead of referring to them as ice] (Achebe 1958: 104), also “And he was riding an iron horse” in place of a bicycle (Achebe 1958: 110).

Onomastics Style Alternating from English language to Igbo language and vice versa is also evident in Achebe’s naming of his characters. One notices a paradigm shift from Igbo names given to the characters in the novel prior to the advent of western religion to English names after the intrusion of the western religion. Prior to the intrusion of western religion, Achebe includes such



names as Uzowulu, Mgbafo, Ikemefuna, Okonkwo, Obierika, Iweka, Ezinma, Nwoye, Nwakibie, Odukwe, Ndulue, and Ojiugo (Personal names); egwugwu, Ajọfi ̣a (Names of masquerades); Mbanta, Amikwu, Obodo, Abame (Place names); Eke, Orie, Afo, and Nkwo (Market names); and Idemili, Ogwugwu, Agbala, Amadiora, and Ani (Deities). In chapter 17, with the arrival of the white man, there is a shift in the naming of the characters from those aforementioned to western names such as Jesus Christ, Jesu Kristi, Brown, James, Smith, Enoch, Kiaga, and Sunday. There are also changes in titles from Maazi, Ogbuefi (prior to the advent of the colonialists) to titles such as Mr. and Reverend stemming from the introduction of western education. One also notices a sharp migration from the use of traditional patterns of listing the days of the week: Eke, Orie, Afọ, Nkwo, seven market weeks, twenty-eight days (p.  121), and “Three moons ago” to Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, and so on, after the arrival of western religion. Also noteworthy is that some of the names are very symbolic; others are reflections of the characters bearing the names. “Nwakibie,” for example, symbolizes wealth (p. 15). Nwakibie = Nwa + ka + ibe + ya Child + greater + peers + his or her

Nwakibie means “a child that is greater, stronger, more successful than others.” It is this Nwakibie to whom Okonkwo goes to ask for yams, “I have cleared a farm but have no yams to sow. I know what it is to ask a man to trust another with his yams, especially these days when young men are afraid of hard work” (p.  17). Achebe, in describing Nwakibie’s status, declares: “there was a wealthy man in Okonkwo’s village who had three huge barns, nine wives and thirty children. His name was Nwakibie and he had the highest but one title which a man could take in the clan” (p. 15). The name Ajofia means “evil forest” but stands for justice. Ajofia is the leading egwugwu of Umuofia; he was the spokesman of the nine ancestors who administered justice in the clan. We find the Egwugwu (masquerade) led by an outstanding figure with the name, Ajọfịa = Ajo + Ọ fia; “Evil + Forest.” What a forceful impression this name gives of the dreaded figure out of whose head smoke poured. He is the most dreaded of all other masquerade; therefore, none dares to disrespect his verdict (Achebe 1958: 151), and it is he who settles a number of the people’s domestic disputes, as Iwundu did (1993: 27). In order for Ajofia to exert such authority on



the people, Achebe leans on names as a source of authority. This is illustrated in the following dialogue: (Evil Forest addressing Uzowulu) Evil Forest: Uzowulu’s body, do you know me? Uzowulu: How can I know you, father? Evil Forest: I am Evil Forest. I kill a man on the day his life is sweetest to him. (Evil Forest addressing Odukwe) Evil Forest: Odukwe’s body, do you know me? Odukwe: No man can know you. Evil Forest: I am evil forest; I am Dry-Meat-that-fills-the-mouth. I am fire that burns-without-faggots. (p. 71)

There are also instances of the ironic use of names for some characters, for example, Ogbuefi Ndulue and his wife, Ozoemena: • Ndulue = Ndu + lue; life + long; Ndulue literarily means long life. • Ozoemena = Ozo + Eme + na; Another + happen + not Achebe uses the name Ozoemena, which means “may it not happen again,” to represent the wife of Ogbuefi Ndulue. Ironically, she dies the day after Ndulue’s death, which is contrary to her name; to be clear, her name is a prayer that such evil should not happen again. Fatefully, she becomes the person on whom the prayer could not hold any sway. Although Achebe tries as much as he can to give his readers insight to the loan words and expressions he incorporates in the novel, only a few of the loan expressions are not provided with any explanation or clue that will aid in understanding their meanings. For example, during the discussion on the tapping of palm trees, Obierika says to Okonkwo, “It is like the Dimaragana, who would not lend his knife for cutting up dog-meat because the dog was taboo to him, but offered to use his teeth” (Achebe 1958: 55). Achebe does not offer any translation or explanation for that Igbo expression, but the meaning can still be inferred by placing side-by-­ side Obierika’s earlier utterance, “Here we say he cannot climb the tall tree but he can tap the short ones standing on the ground” (p. 55). This makes reference to the Ọ zọ titled holders in Okonkwo’s village. The comparison is on tapping, whether tall or short palm trees, and on cutting a dog’s meat either with knife or with teeth. The implication is that if an Ọ zọ



holder could tap a palm tree at all, that becomes irrelevant. The same way, one’s teeth can touch the meat; however, what is there, then, to be afraid of regarding the knife? On pages 80, 84, and several other pages, the expressions, “Agbala do-­ o-­o-ooo!” “Agbala please-o-o-ooo!” “Agbala ekeneooooo” and “Agbala greetsooooo” are used without any translation or transliteration. Achebe shows that these are a kind of salutation: “Agbala do-o-o-ooo! Umuachi! Agbala ekene unuo-o-o! It is as Ekwefi thought. The priestess is now saluting the village of Umuachi” (p. 84). There is no clue to the meaning of these expressions as well: “Okonkwo! Agbala ekene gio-o-o-o! Okonkwo, Agbala greets youo-o-oo-! Agbala cholu ifu ada ya Ezinmao-o-o-o!’ Agbala wants to see her daughter Ezinmao-o-o-o!” (p. 80). Achebe leaves the interpretation to his readers. “Okonkwo! Agbala ekene gio-o-o-o! Okonkwo Agbala greets youo-o-oo!” Achebe tries as much he could to provide the meanings of the loan expressions he used in his novel or at least gives some clue to their understanding. This is to aid the non speakers of the Igbo language have better understanding of the novel. Achebe also integrates his dialect; instead of saying, “Agbala choro ihu ada ya,” which is the standardized form of the phrase, he uses a dialectal form, “Agbala cholu ifu ada ya.” Here, “l” is used in cholu instead of “r,” thereby bringing about the change from “o” to “u.” Other illustrations of dialectal forms are ubosi instead of ụbọchị (day). Note the use of “s” in place of “ch” (p. 86). Additionally, consider Eze elina elina! instead of Eze eri na erina! wherein “l” is used instead of “r”; the same holds true for Eze ili kwa ya instead of Eze iri kwa ya with the use of “l” instead of “r” (p. 48). All of these dialectal differences are reflections of the Idemili dialect of Igbo, which is Achebe’s Local Government Area.

Conclusion In summary, this article identifies Achebe’s alternation strategy as basically switching between Igbo language and his own peculiar English style, which embodies Nigerian English and “Igbonised” English via means of code variation, translation and transliteration, as well as proverbs and coinages. The data reveals a rich chunk of Igbo vocabulary that Achebe employs, yet without the loans hampering or distorting the assimilation of the message in the novel for non-Igbo readers. Purposefully, Achebe utilizes a high level of creativity and unique literary style in Things Fall Apart.



Fortunately, most of the loan expressions are tactfully, directly, or indirectly explained and translated. In all, Achebe, through his choice of words and language, makes clear the rich African culture: its naming pattern, market days, belief system, various ceremonies, greetings, folksongs, and folktales without leaving his readers in utter confusion. Achebe, the African creative writer, alters the English language to suit African surroundings; this English that emerges seems to be “new” in the sense that it can “carry the weight of the African writer’s experience, which is exactly what Chinua Achebe exhibits in Things Fall Apart.

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My English, My Literature: Owning Our African Englishes and Literatures Martha Michieka

The World Englishes Paradigm The English language has continued to spread as a lingua franca around the world. This language that started off as the language of some invading Germanic tribes in a little isle in Europe has surprised itself by spreading all over the world. The language, however, is in the process of spreading, and over time, has interacted with several other languages; in so doing, it has not remained what it was at its inception on the British Isles. While it retains the distant name English or the language of the Anglos and the Saxons, it does not retain enough for the original owners to claim it as their own anymore. The language has been transformed into a tool that various people own and use for their own purposes. As David Crystal (1997) observes, It may be the case that the English languages has already grown to be independent of any form of social control … it proves impossible for any single

M. Michieka (*) East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_4




group or alliance to stop its growth, or even influence its future … it may be that English in some shape or form will find itself in the service of the world community forever. (pp. 139–40)

If the users of the older varieties of English, such as Alfred, King of Wessex or writer Geoffrey Chaucer from the fourteenth century were to interact with a present-day English language user, they would have difficulty believing that this is the language they spoke and claimed as their own several years ago. Even Shakespeare or King James would have difficulties recognizing the modern-day translations of their famous books or even understand the struggle present-day English users have understanding the King James version of the Bible or a rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” that has not been revised. Question: To whom does the English we use today belong? The changes the English language experiences as it continues over time and around the world are so diverse that the final products, as used in various parts of the world, has no single owner. Colonization and the spread of the British Empire leads to the transplanting of English from its home in the British Isles to other parts of the world. The progression of English language to places such as Africa and Asia result in the language being exposed to other languages and being used by speakers who already have other languages. This contact has not only enriched the English language, but it also continues to shape and influence English in various ways. Braj Kachru (1986) introduced the idea of concentric circles in his discussion of the spread and use of English around the world. He divided the language spread into three concentric circles: the inner circle, the outer circle, and the expanding circle. Although these concentric circles have been challenged, they are still significant in describing the advancement of English throughout the world and in discussing how the English language has come to be viewed. The speakers and writers of English, in what Kachru terms as “the inner circle,” have always been considered the native speakers of English. These include speakers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The rest of the speakers who have continued to grow and who now form a much larger percentage of English users have traditionally been considered non-native users of English. But who are non-native users, and what is non-native English? Bamgbose (2003) states that



a non-native English situation is basically an innovative situation involving well known processes of nativisation … the main question that arises with innovation is the need to decide when an observed feature of language use is indeed an innovation or when it is simply an error. An innovation is seen as an acceptable variant while an error is simply a mistake or an uneducated usage. (pp. 2–3)

Kachru’s “outer circle” language speakers and writers are generally considered non-native speakers; these mainly include speakers from contexts where English has grown through colonization. Examples of such contexts are Anglophone African countries, for example, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, as well as other former British colonies: India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in South Asia. At independence, most of these countries keep English as an official language. That English language, however, has undergone great change. English in India, for instance, has been “Indianized,” and the final product is clearly Indian English. Most listeners would recognize speakers of Indian English in conversation because this variety is clearly distinctive. In like manner, many of the other varieties of English in post-colonial contents have become distinct and recognizable. Many African nations have varieties of English that are identifiable as national varieties. The language that was originally spread to Africa by the British has not remained British; instead, a new variety has taken its own course and has its own life, depending on where it is transplanted. This article focuses on these “outer circle” contexts addressing the question of what has become of the English language in those contexts. How has the language evolved? What is the current situation? Who owns the language used in the former British colonies like Kenya? Whose language does the African artist employ, and whose culture is transmitted through that art? Is the African author using a foreign language when he or she writes in English or French? If it is English, whose English is it, because, doubtfully, it is not British, American, or any of the “inner circle” Englishes?

Ownership of English Those who speak English in various parts of the post-colonial contexts have not only indigenized the language for casual conversation but also have turned it into a language they use for creativity.



Zabus Chantal (2007), in discussing indigenization, makes this argument. If one posts that language in its tropological and epistemic structure (as a langue and language) is an expression of culture to make the foreign language one’s own entails using the European language as the conveyor of African culture, the West African writer of English or French expression has superposed two apparently irreconcilable sets of elements-foreign and indigenous which in vivo have remained separate; he has indigenized the foreign language, thereby redefining and subverting its foreignness. (p. 4)

Zabus sees a situation where the language that was originally foreign and owned by the British is no longer the same. It has become a modified language. He agrees with what Okparanta (2016) says in his word of caution concerning the use of English by African writers and others, “ Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard-of things with it” (p.  81). What are the “unheard of things” Okparanta is threatening to do with the language? As Zabus (2007) mentions above, when an artist starts the process of nativization or indigenization of the English language, the final product is a unique possession of which no one can take away or claim ownership. Some may argue that it is still British English, but such an argument would have to explain why American or Australian English are not British English. The national varieties of Englishes used in the African nations are just as legitimate as the varieties used in the so-called native contexts. Widdowson (1994) uses very similar language to that of Okparanta when he shares, “You are proficient in a language to the extent that you possess it, make it your own, bend it to your will, assert yourself through it rather than simply submit to the dictates of its form” (p. 384). Just like Okapranta, Widdowson views language as being flexible; it can be bent to suit the needs of the user. After all, language is only as useful as it is able to provide services for the users. I argue that African novelists and other artists who choose to use English have taken claim of the English language and no longer regard it as someone else’s language wherein they must “handle with care.” Rather, as a tool, they own and exercise it as they choose.



Whose Language and Whose Culture? Although the “raw materials” used in the creation of these new varieties of English is British English, the final product has a new owner. Achebe (1997), while talking about the English language, makes the following acknowledgment: Let us give the devil his due: colonialism in Africa disrupted many things but at the same time it created nations that were not there initially. It did bring together many peoples that had hitherto gone their several ways. And it gave them a language with which to talk to one another. If it failed to give them a song, it at least gave them a tongue for sighing. (p. 344)

The tongue to which Achebe refers here is not one that can be returned to the British. It is a tongue that communicates the local culture and tells the story of a people whose history is almost disrupted and forgotten. The users of this new tongue learn that even if this tongue was originally the enemy’s tongue, it shall no longer evoke that fear of an enemy’s language. The English they own is not a corrupted form of the colonizer’s language but a form of English that has taken a life of its own. There is no need to cry over what might become of the English language in these contexts. What the English language experiences in Africa, for example, is not any different from what English has experienced elsewhere. As Jeanette Gilsdorf (2002) observes, “Many users ‘own’ English. English is alive and healthy and morphing in many ways, and what we call Standard English is a moving part. Language change carries with it some discomfort” (p. 368). The British (the original owners of English) might be uncomfortable with what has become of English but, like human offspring who grow up to become their own individuals yet still resemble their parents to a large degree, the English varieties around the world have grown to be distinct national varieties, also. At the core, they resemble the mother language: British English. Some people might argue that a language whose inception was a result of colonialism cannot be a native language, but we realize that British English itself begins in a similar manner. It is the language of invading barbaric Germanic tribes. The English language in “the outer circle” continues to expand in its purposes. Higgins (2003) contends, “We should recognize that speakers of these Englishes are now following their own



native (i.e., locally relevant) norms” (p.  618). Higgins proposes this as well. If one is to take a more critical perspective on the use of these terms, then there ought to be consideration of the possibility that some speakers in the outer circle are NSs [native speakers] in their own right (i.e., NSs of Singaporean English, Fijian English, Kenyan English, and so on). This view adopts a pluri-centric understanding of English norms that is not based only on the inner-circle varieties. (p. 619)

I agree with the argument Higgins makes, that is, we need to acknowledge the fact that nativeness has become a fuzzy term and that native speakers of English are no longer limited to “the inner circle.” Several native speakers of the new varieties of English exist throughout the world; these are native speakers of Indian, Kenyan, Nigerian, and Zambian English, to mention just a few. These speakers have a right of ownership to their native variety and should not be made to feel that they own an imitation or a nonstandard form of a language. The ownership of the English language has certainly gone beyond the borders of the British Isles. Its owners belong to various races and live everywhere in the globe. As Crystal (1997) observes, “When even the largest English-speaking nation, the USA, turns out to have only 20% of the world’s English speakers … it is plain that no one can now claim sole ownership” (pp. 140–141). So where does the other 80% reside? It is within this World Englishes paradigm that this next section proceeds to argue that the works of African novelists are in their “own English” and carry their own unique African culture. Consider Margaret Ogola in her work, The River and the Source, and the way she embodies the idea of owning the English language and using it to transmit one’s culture.

The Author and Her Work The River and Source is Margaret Ogola’s first novel, and it is Nairobi, Kenya, where it is first published in 1995. Dr. Margaret A. Ogola is born in 1958 at Asembo Bay. She attends Alliance High School and The University of Nairobi. She grows up in the Kenyan education system, where the main language of her education is English but not the “Queen’s English.” As a Kenyan learner, she does not have much, if any, encounters



with native speakers of British English. The English taught in her school system is Kenyan and whose teachers employ a variety of English that is recognizable as Kenyan. In the preface to her book, Ogola acknowledges that The inspiration for this book came from my mother who handed down to me the wisdom and lives of her own mother and grandmother. This strength and support that is found in the African family is the most important part of our culture, and should be preserved and nurtured at all costs. (p. 8)

Summary of the Plot In The River and the Source, Ogola tells a story about a lineage that spans over 100 years. It is a story of five generations that begin with the birth of the main protagonist, Akoko Obanda. The girl child, Akoko, is the first and long-awaited daughter of Chief Odero Gogni of Yimbo. She is born in 1870 “about thirty seasons before the snaking metal road of Jorochere. The white people reached the battering market of Kisuma” (Ogola 1994, p.  9). The rest of the protagonists are all in Akoko’s lineage, and they include her daughter, Nyabera, her granddaughter, Awiti, and her great granddaughter, Vera. Ogola, using these female protagonists, tells the story of her people, her culture, her Luo community, as well as her country, Kenya. The novel is divided into four parts: the girl child, the art of giving, love life, and variable winds. Each of these parts marks the beginning or birth of a new generation and of a child that will bear Akoko’s name. The girl-­ child section, for instance, marks the birth of the main character, Akoko, who is described as a strong-willed child who seeks to get “her own” (p. 12) right from an early age. In this section, the reader is introduced to the main character around whom the rest of the story revolves. It is here where Akoko is established as “the source” from whence the rest of the river flows. This girl grows to become the source of an endless generation. From the very beginning, she is portrayed as one out of the ordinary. She is known all over her village and “Everybody remarked that she would be a very determined person one day” (p.  12). She becomes a pioneer for women’s rights in her community. She makes an epic journey to Kisuma to seek help from the new colonial government when her brother-in-law threatens to disinherit her grandson and take over the chiefdom. She also



models motherhood to her daughter, Nyabera, by showing her what it means to be resilient amidst life’s struggles. The second part of the story entails the art of giving; it begins with the birth of Awiti, Akoko’s granddaughter. By this point, the reader is introduced already to more than one generation in Akoko’s lineage. Awiti is Nyabera’s only surviving child. Her mother and grandmother rear her and, like these two women, she, too, becomes a pioneer. She is enrolled in school and proves to be a very intelligent student who outperforms her classmates and goes on to get her teacher’s certificate, despite the taunts from the society for becoming a non-conformist. She marries Mark Sigu and they have seven children. Part III—love life, continues Akoko’s legacy and acquaints the reader with the birth of Vera and Becky, Awiti and Mark’s twins, in addition to Awiti’s other children. The twins are the eldest in the family. They choose different paths in life regardless of the shared family background. Vera loves her family and is always close to them. She also loves school and is very intelligent and determined. Becky, on the other hand, is extremely beautiful, selfish, and bitter. Vera gives up marriage to become a non-­ marrying member of the Opus Dei, “an organization consisting of lay Catholics who simply wish to serve God by doing ordinary things as well as possible” (Opus Dei n.d.). Becky, by contrast, dates and marries John Courtney, a Mzungu (white person) from Canada. The final part of the story (variable winds) continues the legacy and adds to the lineage by presenting Awiti’s grandchildren. This section begins with Aoro, Awiti’s son, who gets accepted into medical school. The reader also meets Wandia who, although not a blood relative of Akoko, has very similar traits as those of Akoko and becomes an Akoko legacy as well. Akoko has several grandchildren, all of whom remain faithful to the matriarch and carry on her legacy by holding onto the values that Akoko passes down to them. Akoko’s family tree continues to grow; it spans cultures and historical periods. The story that starts in the nineteenth century moves into the twentieth century and beyond as Akoko’ s lineage continues to increase. Many of her children and grandchildren thrive in becoming pioneers themselves, just like Akoko.



My English, My Literature: African Culture in The River and the Source Here, I argue that the English and the culture in the novel, The River and the Source, are definitely African—Kenyan, in particular. Ogola encompasses a language she owns to transmit her culture vividly. Some might maintain that English is a foreign language that does not have the ability to transmit the African culture and experience. It is true that American or British English is foreign to African or Kenyan speakers. However, Kenyan English is no longer foreign to Kenyans; neither is Zambian English to Zambians or Indian English to Indians. Unquestionably, English was brought to Africa by British colonizers. Further, it is undeniable that the English language suppresses the indigenous language, to a certain degree. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the past cannot be undone, and what results out of colonialism has to be adapted to suit the needs of the Africans. This part of our history cannot be erased from our past. Just as we have decided not to undo the political boundaries that resulted in the creation of new states in Africa and, instead, adopted the boundaries that were created by the European administrators, the new languages, too, are here to stay; we have learned to live with them and to give them a new identity—our identity. Achebe (1997) makes this claim. Those Africans who have chosen to write in English or French are not unpatriotic or smart alecks with an eye on the main chance outside their countries. They are by products of the same processes that made the new nation states of Africa. (p. 344)

Hence, the physical territorial demarcation during the colonial period separates language groups that are meant to be together in different countries. The Luos, as an example, are arbitrarily spread all over East Africa with some Luos living in western Kenya, others in northern Uganda, and some in the Mara Region in northern Tanzania. Similarly, the Kuria and Maasai occupy both Kenya and Tanzania. An ideal situation would have these groups staying close together under one nation. However, with the interruption of the status quo, the East African countries are what they are today. In like manner, the languages are interrupted and the ideal would have been for each ethnic group to use its own language. Since that did not happen, many have grown to claim the English language as one of



their own. While it is not one of the indigenous languages, the English variety used in Kenya (and in Africa, in general) is clearly not British English either; it is not a broken variety of English that strives to prescribe to the British norms. Instead, it is a new creation that the African writer receives and uses to accomplish his or her goals. Achebe (1997) correctly declares, “But for me there is no other choice. I have been given this language and I intend to use it” (p. 348). Achebe further states, “…I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home, but altered to suit its new African surroundings” (p. 349). Margaret Ogola, in her novel, demonstrates this process Achebe articulates and explores English as the available choice, yet alters the language to suit her needs as a Kenyan author. Her novel is unmistakably Kenyan, and the culture communicated is clearly that of her people. She, nonetheless, does not write as one who is borrowing a language whose mastery is one of which she has no control, but she writes with complete control of the language and with sufficient ability to bend and curve the language as she likes. She falls under the second category of African novelists of whom Achebe describes in his article, “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation,” which is included in the collection African Writers on African Writing. Killam (1973) asserts this. For an African, writing in English is not without its serious setbacks. He often finds himself describing situations or modes of thought, which have no direct equivalent in the English way of life. Caught in that situation he can do one of two things. He can try and contain what he wants to say within the limits of conventional English or try to push back those limits to accommodate his ideas. The first method produces competent, uninspired and rather flat work. The second method can produce something new and valuable to the English language as well as to the new material he is trying to put over. But it can also get out of hand. It can lead to bad English being accepted and defended as African or Nigerian. I submit that those who can do the work of extending the frontiers of English so as to accommodate African thought-patterns must do it through their mastery of English and not out of innocence. (p. 12)

Ogola opts for the second type of writer. As a proficient writer of Kenyan English, Ogola “pushes the limits of conventional English” to communicate her ideas. She bends and twists the language with great skill and mastery to produce a valuable work. As Odhiambo (2006) observes,



Ogola uses the oral history, cultural, social, economic, political and religious heritage of the Luo community to provide a context and a background to the narrative. This is done in the form of infusing selected elements of orality such as legends, myths or creation, proverbs, metaphors and songs among others in the written text, but also in a very subversive style which constantly relies on the voice of a woman story teller. (p. 237)

The Language and the Culture in The River and the Source In the first part of the novel, Ogola introduces the protagonist as the girl child born to the great Chief Odero Gogni. That, in itself, places the work within a cultural context that is strictly African, for clearly this great chief cannot be referring to some British administrator. Ogola describes, in great detail, the cultural practices involved in the naming of this girl. The child would therefore have been called Adoyo and indeed she was, but as was the custom some ancestor or other would send a dream to stake out his interest in the baby and therefore like so many others, the little girl ended up with more than one name. (Ogola 1994, p. 9)

The Luo-naming ceremony is invoked in this chapter and, although the novel is in English, the reader cannot help but experience the intricacies of the practices of the Luo people. The chapter informs the reader that because the child is born during the season when farmers are busy weeding their sorghum crop, the child has to be named after that season; the default name was Adoyo. The chapter not only describes in detail the naming ceremony, but also it introduces several Luo customs and beliefs. For instance, the child receives a second name, Obanda, because, according to the Luo beliefs, ancestral spirits are believed to be sent dreams with instructions concerning the child; in this case, Obanda, a recently deceased uncle of the child, sends instructions through dreams to the child’s grandparents. As the girl child continues to cry in discomfort, more Luo beliefs are introduced. The community believes that if anything goes wrong, it must be a punishment from the gods; therefore, the grandmother appeals to their god.



Grandmother Nyar Alego came in and started talking in conversational tone. “Great Were, god of the eye of the rising sun, creator of Ramogi, we revere you and prostrate ourselves before you. Is it not you who brings the rain in season to shower our crops and support new life? … Show us OWere and ye departed spirits of our ancestors where we have gone wrong.” (Ogola 1994, pp. 10–11)

The British English speakers cannot claim any of these practices. While the British may have transplanted the English language to Kenya, the variety that Ogola is using and the culture it communicates is not British or American. This Kenyan author, just like other African authors, owns both the language and the culture. In another instance, the traditional Luo practices and beliefs are conveyed in the writing. The baby’s grandmother, who wonders why the newborn cannot stop crying, expresses: or is it you my dear sister long dead who is doing this to me? Did I not take you as my younger sister and bring you from our country and from my father’s house to come and help me to live in my husband’s house as my co-wife? (Ogola 1994, p. 11)

In this expression, the author not only uses Kenyan English but also clearly expresses traditional Kenyan/Luo beliefs and customs. What, perhaps, does she mean by “help me live in my husband’s house as co-wife”? How does a British or American native speaker of English understand or interpret this information? While this sentence—“help me live in my husband’s house as co-wife”—does not break any of the British English syntactic rules, it introduces concepts and lexicon that are uniquely Kenyan. The idea of a woman inviting her sister to become another wife to her husband is unique to the Luos of Kenya. Ogola writes very unapologetically about polygamy, a practice generally accepted among her people. Charles Amone (2017) explores the intercultural encounters between the British and the Ugandan Luos (the Acholi people) especially on the topic of polygamy. To the British, polygamy is a detestable and abnormal practice, but “to the Acholi people it was a virtue” (p. 307). Throughout her work, Ogola—a powerful advocate of women rights—does not condemn polygamy but writes with an understanding that while it lasts, polygamy has its place in the community. She reveals that women can play a role in bringing an end to a traditional practice that they find oppressive and do so amicably. When Akoko has a dispute with her mother-in-law and leaves the matrimonial



home, her husband, Owuor Kembo, goes to her; during his meeting with the elders, Owuor Kembo reminds the clan elders that he knows what Akoko’s role is as a mikai or the first wife. Fathers you are the wise men of this clan … is it that you have forgotten the ways of chik … do you not know that a man’s mikai is the greatest jewel that adorns his compound? That her position is maintained and protected by taboos imposed by the ways of Chik? That is if I die, Were forbid, my body can only lie in state in her house before I am buried on the right hand side of her hut? (Ogola, 1994, p. 34)

Like Achebe, Ogola does not set out to show an immaculate Kenyan culture but to show that her people are human beings with faults and strengths just like any other people groups in the world. The Kenyan people have good practices and oppressive ones as well, but they do have a culture. Ogola also confirms that her people understand why they do certain things the way they do. Simply said, Ogola shows more Luo beliefs. The belief in the power of ancestors is demonstrated especially in the early part of the text. After her brother’s death, Nyabera keeps getting dreams; her mother tells her this: I think your brother is trying to tell you something. To bring you a message of hope from the spirit world. However, an ancestral spirit does not pick on a pregnant woman without a reason … May Were find it in his heart to fill our hearts with laughter again. (p. 69)

The idea that the ancestors have power over the living is emphasized. Although the novel is in English, the Luo beliefs are successfully communicated still. Ogola skillfully presents to the readers a rich traditional Luo culture by incorporating proverbs, songs, and narratives, even though the work is not written in the Luo language. Ogola is effective in doing so because she claims English as another one of her languages and does not have a problem using it to convey her culture. She exemplifies what Achebe (1997) has aforementioned: “It will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings” (p. 349). In Chief Owuor Kembo’s quote above, for instance, Ogola twists and bends the language to meet her needs. She uses a new English, that is, a Kenyan English or, even more specifically, a Luo English



that she alters to suit her needs. She finds a way to communicate Luo thoughts that cannot find a literal translation such as Were—the god Luo and Luhya worship, and Chik the rule or life or the nak the luo practice of removing six lower teeth. She invites the readers to do more than just skim through the text if they are to get her message. A reading of the novel is an invitation to experience Ogola’s language and culture.

Conclusion One might ask whose English and whose culture. Nevertheless, the communication within African novels remains a challenge. However, for many great writers of Africa such as Margaret Ogola and Chinua Achebe, the English language they opt to use is entirely their own. This English may have come during colonialism and it might remind others of the colonial rule, but authors like Ogola have chosen to own and use the tool they were given to accomplish their goals. As this article seeks to demonstrate, African authors do not write to convey an English culture; on the contrary, they are expressing themselves in a language they have come to own, a language they have taken as a tool and turned to profitable use. They do not intend to return to the colonizer, for they have bent it and shaped it to be their own. In a highly multilingual context such as Africa, owning one more language is not unique; in fact, being monolingual and owning just one language is what is rare and out of the ordinary. After all, most people in many African states do not find multilingualism an irregularity. It is therefore a normal phenomenon for African authors, such as Ogola, to own the English language alongside Luo, Swahili, and any other language they choose to adapt. It is their language, and they will use it to express their thoughts, experiences, and cultures.

References Achebe, Chinua. 1973. The Role of the Writer in a New Nation. In African Writers on African Writing, ed. G.D. Killam. London: Heinemann. ———. 1997. English and the African Writer. Transition 75(76): 342–349. https://doi.org/10.2307/2935429. Amone, Charles. 2017. Intercultural Dialogue during the European Civilizing Mission in Africa: The Acholi Encounter with British Colonialists in Northern Uganda 1898–1962. In Interculturalism at the Crossroads: Comparative Perspectives on Concepts, Policies, and Practices, ed. Fethi Mansouri. UNESCO Publishing.



Bamgbose, A. 2003. Torn between the Norms: Innovation in World Englishes. World Englishes 17: 1–14. Crystal, D. 1997. English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gilsdorf, Jeanette. 2002. Standard Englishes: Living with a Polymorph Business Language. Journal of Business Communication 39 (3): 364–378. Higgins, Christina. 2003. ‘Ownership’ of English in the Outer Circle: An Alternative to the NS-NNS Dichotomy. TESOL Quarterly 37: 615–644. Kachru, B.B. 1986. The Alchemy of English: The Spread, Functions and Models of Non-native English. Oxford: Pergamon. Odhiambo, Tom. 2006. Writing Alternative Womanhood in Kenya in Margaret Ogola’s the River and the Source. African Identities 4 (2): 235–250. Ogola, M. 1994. The River and the Source. Nairobi: Focus Books. Okparanta, C. 2016. Let No One Be Fooled by the Fact That We May Write in English, for We Intend to do Unheard-of Things with It. The Massachusetts Review 57 (1): 77–81. Opus Dei. n.d.. Accessed https://opusdei.org/en-us/faq/#what-is-opus-dei. Widdowson, H.G. 1994. The Ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly 31: 377–389. Zabus, C.J. 2007. The African Palimpsest: Indigenization of Language in the West African Europhone Novel. Amsterdam: Brill Academic Publishers.


Anglophone African Author Perspectives on Using English Elizabeth Wilber

English is a global language. Over a third of the world’s population is “routinely exposed to English” (Crystal 2010, p. 67). It is now the language most taught as a foreign language in more than 100 countries, and “about a quarter of the world’s population is already fluent or competent in English” (Crystal 2010, pp.  5–6). Considering there are over 6000 languages on Earth (Graddol 1997, p. 13), the number of English speakers is substantial. Though English is influential, the dilemma many non-­ native speakers face is when to use English and when not to use it. Should language be seen as reflecting one’s identity or as a tool, or does some middle ground exist? When English is not only a language but also a representation of the violent vestiges of colonization, the issue of which language to use is compounded. For example, some African writers are faced with the choice of using an indigenous language, which may meet the needs of an immediate audience but not reach a wider, global audience. Using English is also an alternative, which allows the writer to reach a

E. Wilber (*) Palm Beach State College, Palm Beach, FL, USA

© The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_5




wider audience while potentially alienating the very audience he/she is writing about. The debate, then, is can a language imposed upon a people adequately reflect the self? Is rejecting one’s native language tantamount to ignoring linguistic imperialism, or do the pragmatic realities of reaching a global audience in a “good enough” language supersede concerns about the history of the language’s spread? Two prominent African authors, Chinua Achebe of Nigeria and Ngũgı ̃ wa Thiong’o of Kenya, have taken different sides in the English language debate; their respective positions reflect the struggle many postcolonial writers face—English as the pragmatic linguistic choice or as the imperialistic linguistic code of the oppressor. Achebe and Ngũgı ̃ illustrate how the decision to write in English, and therefore the dichotomy between pragmatism and imperialism, is fraught with difficulty. However, despite its cruel colonial past, English has been necessary to these authors’ success and ability to reach a worldwide audience. The global spread of English occurred over two Diasporas, resulting in differing views of the language. The first occurred in today’s native English-speaking countries: Canada, the United States, Australia, [and] New Zealand (Bhatt 2001, p. 529). The second Diaspora, which brought English to additional countries, such as Kenya and Nigeria, established the “global status of English” (Bhatt 2001, p. 529). As a result, in the nineteenth century, one-third of the world, including Africa, used English as a “language of administration” (Graddol 1997, p. 11). In fact, 17 countries in Africa were British colonies, and in all of these countries today, English is the official or co-official language and the language of education (Bokamba 2015, p. 317). Bokamba (2015) explained: This hegemony makes [English] in these countries a critical language to acquire as an educated person; forces creative writers, among others, to use it to publish their African-based literary works in; and to entertain and inform readers regarding African cultural experiences. … This functional hegemony in African literature has generated … considerable acrimony among African intellectuals since the 1960s. (p. 317)

Achebe and Ngũgı̃ demonstrate the two sides of this acrimony; Achebe (1997) argued, the “English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home, but altered to suit its new African surroundings” (p. 349). For Achebe, then, English is malleable enough a



tool with which he can fully illustrate the Nigerian experience. Ngũgı̃ (1986) asserts, “The fact is that all of us who opted for European languages … accepted that fatalistic logic” (p. 7) of having no choice but to write in English. In response, Ngũgı̃ has attempted to shrug off that “fatalistic logic” by writing his creative works in Gı̃kũyũ and then translating them into English for a wider audience. In a 2004 interview with Rodrigues, Ngũgı̃ further explained, The key thing for an African writer, I think, is that we have to write and we have to produce knowledge in African languages. The choice of language is what is the most important for me …. Something is wrong when you have an entire intellectual elite producing knowledge in a foreign language that is not accessible to the ordinary men and women. (p. 164)

For Ngũgı ̃, writing in English is furthering the divide that the colonizer established when it introduced English to parts of Africa, used it to conduct governmental business, and used it to educate the native population. These differing stances reflect the dichotomy second language English users may be faced with: using English can be a reflection of linguistic imperialism or linguistic pragmatism. Block (n.d.) explains that Robert Phillipson developed the concept of linguistic imperialism—the spread of English for business and cultural reasons (p. 36). This is a key aspect of linguistic imperialism: “English is universally imposed by agencies … such as the British Council …which introduce and impose a norm, Standard English,” resulting in “an asymmetrical relationship” between English and the indigenous languages, that is, “internalized as natural, normative, and essential” yet “represent[s] interests only of those in power” (Bhatt 2001, p.  532). Tove Skutnabb-Kangas coined the stronger terms “linguicide” and “linguistic genocide” (Block n.d., p. 37) to describe the effect English has had on many indigenous languages. Ngũgı ̃ (2009) defined linguicide as “the linguistic equivalent of genocide” (p.  17), and he introduced a new term, “linguifam,” which “is to languages what famine is to the people who speak them  - linguistic deprivation and, ultimately, starvation” (p. 18). The strong negative connotation of these terms reflects the bitter feelings many Anglophone Africans have to the history of British colonization. And while they may acknowledge the benefits of knowing English, they see English as a reminder of their colonial past and perhaps as inability to capture their African experiences. However, Achebe (2009) pointed out that by 1876, some chiefs in Calabar, Nigeria, had hired private tutors



because they were not satisfied with how much English their children were learning in missionary schools (pp.  104–105); already, some Nigerians understood how important English would be to Nigeria’s worldwide success. Achebe (2009) further argued, “[T]he only reason these alien languages are still knocking about is that they serve an actual need” (p. 105). Therefore, the pragmatism of using English, for many, supersedes the imperialistic message that continues to resonate with that very use of English. The vast global reliance on English has resulted in “increasing numbers of researchers, writers, and everyday users who are willing to entertain the idea that English has at least no necessary connection with any particular country or group of countries” (Huddart 2014, p.  1). The idea that English may not be connected to its colonial past or the country from which it originated is a notion that not everyone agrees with, however. Ngũgı ̃ (1993) has defined language as having two aspects: “an agent that enables us to communicate with one another in our struggle to find the means for survival” and “a carrier of the history and the culture built into the process of that communication over time” (p. 30). This definition of language informs Ngũgı ̃’s views of English. Since language is integral to oneself and carries within it a legacy, the language one uses is a reflection of the self. Therefore, Ngũgı ̃ argues, African writers should write in the languages that carry their people’s history, that is, their indigenous languages. However, Ngũgı ̃ fails to acknowledge that many Africans are not literate in their native tongues. For example, in 2007, 6.8 million of 36 million Kenyans were Gı ̃kũyũ, and while Gı ̃kũyũ is taught in primary schools in Gikuyuland, English is the official language of Kenya and taught in schools (“Gikuyu” 2009, p. 248). So in choosing to write in his indigenous language, Ngũgı ̃ is not able to reach all of his Kenyan brethren, especially since illiteracy rates in Kenya, though lower in Gikuyuland, are almost 50% (“Gikuyu” 2009, p. 254) for all languages. Therefore, many Africans living in Anglophone countries are also not literate in English, so a primary audience of these texts, the very populations being written about, may not be able to read these works regardless of the language being used. However, writing in English means the African writer will reach the largest possible audience. In fact, an African writer can use English yet resist linguistic imperialism. “This may be done by engaging in what Pennycook (1994) … terms ‘writing back’, the process by which users of English around the world appropriate English and make it work for their



various personal, professional and political purposes” (Block n.d., p. 38). The appropriation of English allows the African writer to still capture his/ her people’s experience while reaching the largest audience possible. Bhatt (2001) explains that due to colonialization, trade, and, later, England and the United States becoming commercial centers, using English as a lingua franca would have been natural (p. 532). English was viewed as so useful. In fact, some Nigerians “contested indigenous languages in the schools because it was perceived as denying linguistic capital necessary for the accumulation of … economic powers” (Bhatt 2001, p.  533). Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that Achebe, a product of Nigerian education, has a more favorable view of English than Ngũgı ̃. In contrast to Achebe, who has written in numerous texts about being enamored by the English language, Ngũgı ̃’s disillusionment with English started early. Ngũgı ̃’s elementary schooling was in Gı ̃kũyũ. He then attended an English language high school. While there, Ngũgı ̃’s English teacher told the class to “learn from the Bible. It has the shortest sentence in English: ‘Jesus wept.’ Two words. So follow the example of Jesus. He spoke very simple English” (Ngũgı ̃ 2010, p. 84). Ngũgı ̃ (2010) states, “I was puzzled. I was not trying to be clever or correct him when I raised my hand and said that Jesus did not speak English” (p. 84). So from his most formative years, Ngũgı ̃ questioned the authenticity of English being used to communicate his, and others’, experiences. Yet, English remains an official language in many colonized countries, perhaps due to linguistic pragmatism. Schneider (2009) observes that while the expectation may have been that colonized countries would abandon English as soon as possible, the opposite happened. Independently, Anglophone countries have kept English as the official language, and English has become indigenized in those countries as well (Schneider 2009, p.  1). For example, Achebe claimed that Nigeria is a country of many languages, and English can act as a lingua franca with which all Nigerians can communicate with one another. In a 1989 interview, Achebe explained that Nigeria has 200 languages and three main ones: Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, so the speakers of these various languages can use English to speak to one another (Rowell 1997, p. 176). In fact, Nigeria has 250 ethnic groups and 394 languages (Emeyonou—personal communication, Oct. 5, 2018). Therefore, “English, then, acquires a particular position of importance” in the country as it is the lingua franca of government and higher education (Rowell 1997, p.  176). Achebe further expounded in a 1987 interview, “As an African and a nationalist looking



at the situation now, there is real value in keeping our countries together using a language that has been imposed upon us” (Searle 1997, p. 164). Therefore, while acknowledging the colonial imperialistic past of English, Achebe preferred to be linguistically pragmatic and write in a language that can reach as many Nigerians as possible. Achebe’s position regarding the effectiveness of writing in English wavered very little throughout his lifetime. In “English and the African Writer,” originally published in 1965 and republished in 1997  in Transition, Achebe (1997) concluded that for him there is no other choice. He argued, “I have been given this language and I intend to use it” (p.  348). More than forty years later, in The Education of a British-­ Protected Child: Essays, published in 2009, Achebe had not changed his perspective on using English. “I write in English. English is a world language. But I do not write in English because it is a world language. … I can only speak across two hundred linguistic frontiers to fellow Nigerians in English” (p. 100). Despite the anti-English rhetoric of African authors like Ngũgı ̃, Achebe remained steadfast in his devotion to the English language throughout his career. As Achebe pointed out, however, English can be bent to suit the many needs of the African writer, supporting a pragmatic view that acknowledges the largest worldwide audience will be reached using English, yet the indigenous nature of his texts will remain in place. As he explained in an interview in 1962, “We have had to fashion a language that can carry the story we are about to tell” (“An Interview” 1997, p. 9). He further made it clear that due to the difficulty of using “classical English” to convey “the reality of Ibo society,” he did not hesitate to make his characters speak “pidgin English” (“An Interview” 1997, p.  9). Later, in a 1989 interview, Achebe added that due to interaction with indigenous African languages, the English of the Anglophone African writer cannot be the same as the English of London (Rowell 1997, p. 176); hence, it is indigenized and made uniquely African. Achebe bent English in this manner to great effect in his novels. In a 1976 interview, he argued that novels are make-believe and have a “pre-­ arranged convention” that is understood by the reader (Enekwe 1997, p. 55). Therefore, if an Igbo character speaks English, the reader understands that the author has put words in the character’s mouth as an “agent” between the reader and the character, and the convention allows these words to be believable. However, Achebe acknowledged that on the stage, the Igbo character should speak Igbo because the convention would not



hold [otherwise] (Enekwe 1997, pp.  54–55). In addition, Bokamba (2015) points out that Achebe uses Africanisms in syntax and word choice as examples of Achebe’s bending of English (p.  321). Achebe (1997) explained: So my answer to the question, ‘Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing?’ is certainly, ‘Yes.’ If on the other hand you ask, ‘Can he ever learn to use it like a native speaker?’ I should say, ‘I hope not.’ It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to be able to do so. The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language so much that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning an English that is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience. (p. 347)

Therefore, while Achebe used English in all of his writings—fiction and nonfiction—in an attempt to reach the largest possible audience, he manipulated English to reflect the African experience. Achebe gained world-wide prominence after publishing Things Fall Apart in 1958 (“Chinua Achebe” 2017). In 1962, Ngũgı ̃ (then a fledgling writer) attended a conference held at Makerere University, in the hopes of meeting Achebe. The African Writers Conference, in part, attempted to define African literature. One area of contention was whether or not African literature must be written in an indigenous language (Achebe 1997; Ngũgı ̃ 1986). A few years after the conference, in 1965, Achebe (1997) argued for using English. Ngũgı ̃ ( 1986), however, concluded that “African literature can only be written in African languages, that is, the languages of the African peasantry and working class” (p. 27). In contrast to Achebe, then, Ngũgı ̃ (1985) strongly advocated for African authors to write in their indigenous languages. He further argued, “Writing in Gı ̃kũyũ does not cut me off from other language communities because there are always opportunities for translation” (Ngũgı ̃ 1985, p. 155). Ngũgı ̃ elucidated, “When you use a language, you are also choosing an audience. … When I used English, I was choosing English-speaking audience [sic]” (Rao 1999, p. 163). Therefore, writing in indigenous languages means other language groups will still be able to read his works, but “the emphasis will be on reaching African audiences first” (Ngũgı ̃ 1985, p. 155).



Ngũgı ̃ felt so strongly about the need for an African author to use his/ her native language that he wrote his first piece in Gı ̃kũyũ in 1977. The play, Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), was seen as an affront to the government, and the license for it was revoked (Cook and Okenimkpe 1983, p.  8). For writing the play, Ngũgı ̃ was detained on 12/31/1977, and he was incarcerated for 12  months without charge (Cook and Okenimkpe 1983, pp. 8–9). While incarcerated, he attempted to reestablish connections with his community in order to stay alive, “[a]nd the only connection I could think of now was language. I felt I had to write in that very language that was responsible for my imprisonment” (Ngũgı ̃ 1985, p. 153). Therefore, while in prison, he wrote his first novel in Gı ̃kũyũ, Caithani Mutharaba-ini (Devil on the Cross), which he translated into English (Cook and Okenimkpe 1983, p. 8). While the publisher was hesitant to accept to publish a novel in Gı ̃kũyũ, the novel sold the first 5000 copies within a month, and in eight months, 15,000 copies had been printed. That was a record for the publisher for any novel in any language for that period of time (Ngũgı ̃ 1985, pp. 153–154), proving an appetite for indigenous language texts existed in Africa. One reason Ngũgı ̃ utilizes Gı ̃kũyũ is to prove, despite some difficulties, that it is up to the challenge of encompassing all topics (as cited in Rodrigues 2004, p. 164), further removing the yoke of colonization from his people. Ngũgı ̃ pointed out that Latin was once the language of learning, and English was “this rude language” (Rodrigues 2004, p. 164). In order to illustrate that Gı ̃kũyũ is not a “rude language,” he wrote the longest Gı ̃kũyũ novel, The Wizard of the Crow, because “[i]t was very important for me to show that an African language can talk about anything in the world” (Rodrigues 2004, p. 167). Ngũgı ̃ confers prestige on his language not only by using it but also by proving it can talk about all topics, and, consequently, illustrating that his people can understand these same topics, further proving wrong the colonizers’ view of Africans as savages. However, Ngũgı ̃ wrote all of his works from 1966 to 1977 in English (when Devil on the Cross was written) (“Bibliography” 2017), and he has continued to write his nonfiction texts in English. Despite the “Statement” in Decolonising the Mind, published in 1986, asserting that this book was his “farewell to English as a vehicle for any of [his] writings” (Ngũgı ̃ 1986, p. xiv), in his next essay collection, Moving the Centre, published in 1993, only 2 of the 23 essays were originally written in Gı ̃kũyũ. In the



book’s preface, Ngũgı ̃ (1993) lamented the difficulties of writing nonfiction in Gı ̃kũyũ; “[t]here are no journals or newspapers in the language inside or outside Kenya” nor in any other Kenyan languages with the exception of Kiswahili, the Kenyan official language (p. xiv). “This means that those who write in African languages are confronted with a dearth of outlets for publication,” which does not help these languages develop vocabulary “to cope with modern technology, the sciences and the arts;” therefore, “[t]he two pieces … illustrate the frustrations” Ngũgı ̃ (1993) has had in attempting to publish in Gı ̃kũyũ (p. xiv). In fact, according to Ngũgı ̃’s son, Mukoma Wa Ngũgı ̃ (personal communication, Nov. 28, 2017), Ngũgı ̃ wrote his 2016 memoir, Birth of a Dream Weaver, in English as well. Therefore, Ngũgı ̃ has not forsaken English, and one may conclude his decision is pragmatic, so while Ngũgı ̃ has brought to light the plight of his indigenous language, spreading his message has necessitated using that very language he has railed against so much. Wafula (2002), a faculty member at Kenyatta University, referring to Ngũgı ̃ writing nonfiction in English and fiction in Gı ̃kũyũ, concludes, “My considered opinion is that Ngũgı ̃’s double-sidedness in the choice of language is logical, practical and realistic” (p. 105). Ngũgı ̃ criticizes writers such as Achebe, and yet he practices a best-of-both worlds” approach to using language. In fact, this practical approach consists of writing nonfiction in English and translating his fiction into English. Ngũgı ̃’s response to linguistic imperialism is choosing to write and publish in Gı ̃kũyũ first, to give his primary audience the prestige they had been denied for so long. Ngũgı ̃ wields language as a weapon; he uses it to cut out the colonizer from parts of the African experience. He writes his creative texts in Gı ̃kũyũ to keep the legitimacy of African languages in the worldwide consciousness. Ngũgı ̃ (1990) demonstrates his position regarding the equality of languages with a beautiful analogy in the essay “English: A Language for the World,” an essay first presented in Gı ̃kũyũ. A world of many languages should be like a field of flowers of different colors. There is no flower which becomes more of a flower because of its color or its shape. All such flowers express their common “floralness” in their diverse colors and shapes. In the same way our different languages can, should, and must express our common being. So we should let all our languages sing of the unity of the people of the earth, of our common ­humanity,



and above all of the people’s love for peace, equality, independence, and social justice. (p. 291)

Ngũgı ̃ advocates for all languages. He argues, “[D]ifferent languages should be encouraged to talk to one another through the medium of interpretation and translation. Each country should encourage the teaching of languages from the five continents of the earth” (Ngũgı ̃ 1990, p. 291). While his solution to teach languages from all five continents may seem unattainable, the reasoning behind his request is sound. As he has pointed out, colonizers brought their languages to Africa and treated the Africans as if they had no languages of their own; therefore, the African languages could not meet English as its equal (Ngũgı ̃ 1990, p.  287). When Ngũgı ̃ writes in Gı ̃kũyũ, he is attempting to equalize his language with English. Unlike Achebe, who bends English to transmit the Nigerian Igbo experience, Ngũgı ̃ has taken a more extreme approach to better communicate the message that Gı ̃kũyũ has as much value as English does. Achebe (2009) acknowledged, “[T]he difference between Ngũgı ̃ and myself on the issue of indigenous or European languages for African writers is that while Ngũgı ̃ now believes it is either/or, I have always thought it was both” (p. 97), and his manipulation of English is how he achieved the balance of English and the African experience. For Achebe, English is a tool he modified to suit his creative and thematic needs. Achebe’s choice to use English is a pragmatic one, not an emotional one. He did not forsake his Igbo language or culture; he used Pidgin English, he incorporated African proverbs, and he reflected the African experience in his writings. However, he very consciously chose to write in English to be able to reach all Nigerians, all Africans, and all humans. In their own way, both Ngũgı ̃ and Achebe let language sing while confronting the thorny issues of linguistic pragmatism versus linguistic imperialism. While they may have differing points of view on when and how to use English to relate their African experiences, they both have used English to signify the importance of their experience, of their audience, and of the very language they chose to write in. Because both writers have been embraced by native English language audiences as well as people using English as a second language, they have illustrated that while the decision to write in English or an indigenous tongue is not an easy one, neither approach is more or less successful than the other. And while Achebe died four years ago (“Chinua Achebe” 2017) and Ngũgı ̃ is 79 years (“Profile”



2017), their texts, regardless of the language they were first written in, will continue to educate and transform all of their readers for centuries to come.

References Achebe, C. 1997. English and the African Writer. Transition, 75/76. Accessed http://www.jstor.org/stable/2935429. ———. 2009. The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays. New  York: Alfred A. Knopf. An Interview with Chinua Achebe. 1997. In Conversations with Chinua Achebe, ed. B. Lindfors, 7–10. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Bhatt, R.M. 2001. World Englishes. Annual Review of Anthropology 30 (1): 527–550. Accessed http://www.jstor.org/stable/3069227. Bibliography. 2017. Accessed http://ngugiwathiongo.com/books/. Block, D. n.d. Language Education and Globalization. In Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 31–43. Springer Science Business Media LLC. Bokamba, E.G. 2015. African Englishes and Creative Writing. World Englishes: 315–335. Chinua, Achebe. 2017. Accessed https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/ chinua-achebe. Cook, D., and M. Okenimkpe. 1983. Ngũgı ̃ wa Thiong’o: An Exploration of His Writings. London: Heinemann. Crystal, D. 2010. English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Enekwe, O.O. 1997. Interview with Chinua Achebe. In Conversations with Chinua Achebe, ed. B. Lindfors, 52–56. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Gikuyu. 2009. In Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, ed. T.L. Gall and J. Hobby, 2nd ed., Vol. 1, 248–256. Detroit: Gale. Graddol, D. 1997. The Future of English? (Rep.). Accessed https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/learning-elt-future.pdf. Huddart, D. 2014. Involuntary Associations: Postcolonial Studies and World Englishes. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Ngũgı ̃ wa Thiong’o. 1985. On Writing in Gı ̃kũyũ. Research in African Literatures 16 (2): 151–156. Accessed http://www.jstor.org/stable/3819410. ———. 1986. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: J. Currey. ———. 1990. English: A Language for the World. The Yale Journal of Criticism 4 (1): 283–293. ———. 1993. Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. Oxford: Currey. ———. 2009. Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance. New  York: Basic Books.



———. December 16, 2010. A Licence to Write. Index on Censorship, 39(4), 83–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306422010390169. Profile of a Literary and Social Activist. 2017. Accessed http://ngugiwathiongo. com/about/. Rao, D.V. 1999. A Conversation with Ngũgı ̃ wa Thiong’o. Research in African Literatures 30 (1): 162–168. Rodrigues, A.L. 2004. Beyond Nativism: An Interview with Ngũgı ̃ wa Thiong’o. Research in African Literatures 35 (3): 161–167. https://doi.org/10.1353/ ral.2004.0074. Rowell, C.H. 1997. Interview with Chinua Achebe. In Conversations with Chinua Achebe, ed. B. Lindfors, 165–184. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Schneider, E.W. 2009. Postcolonial English: Varieties Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Searle, C. 1997. Achebe and the Bruised Heart of Africa. In Conversations with Chinua Achebe, ed. B.  Lindfors, 155–164. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Wafula, R.M. 2002. ‘My Audience Tells Me in Which Tongue I Should Sing.’ The Politics about Languages in African Literatures. In Political Independence with Linguistic Servitude: The Politics about Languages in the Developing World, ed. S.G. Obeng and B. Hartford, 97–112. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.


Women and the Legacy of Chinua Achebe


The Role of Women in Things Fall Apart Esther Mukewa Lisanza

Introduction This chapter examines the role of women in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart (Achebe, 1959). Things Fall Apart portrays Igbo society right before the onset of colonial era. Achebe unveils a great deal about this culture. He also uncovers the role of Igbo women in the society. At a glance, the Igbo women may seem as a subjugated lot, and, to some extent, this is true. However, this characterization of Igbo women is simplistic and limiting. Thus, this chapter seeks to show the fundamental roles played by Igbo women in Things Fall Apart. Before I begin the discussion, here is a brief summary of the novel.

A Summary of the Novel Things Fall Apart is a masterpiece written by Chinua Achebe. In this novel, Chinua Achebe guides his reader through the complexities of Igbo culture, including its democratic governance and judicial system. The major setting of the novel is Umuofia. Umuofia, as a clan, is composed of

E. M. Lisanza (*) Howard University, Washington, DC, USA © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_6




nine villages. The clan has great warriors who are feared and respected by their neighbors. Also, Umuofia’s institutions are no match with any surrounding regions. Their powerful institutions include family, religion, judiciary, and a democratic government. It is important to note that Umuofia is a patriarchal community. The major economic activity in Umuofia is agriculture. The crops grown include yams (the staple food), maize, beans, and many more. Okonkwo, who is the protagonist in the novel, has risen from humble beginnings. He has not inherited anything from his lazy father, Unoka. If anything, he started caring for his mother and sisters from a tender age. Through hard work and determination, Okonkwo has become an elder and a hero among his people. He has married three wives, which is a sign of wealth, and his barns are full of yams. One day, a daughter of Umuofia goes to Mbaino market, a neighboring clan, and she is murdered. It is not clear what led to her death. As a compensation, and to avoid war with Umuofia, the Mbaino clan gives a virgin girl and a young boy named Ikemefuna to Umuofia. Ikemefuna lives in Okonkwo’s compound for three years. Okonkwo gave the responsibility of taking care of Ikemefuna to his first wife, Nwoye’s mother. Ikemefuna is like a son to Okonkwo. Ikemefuna is sacrificed to the oracles after three years. Okonkwo, lest people should see him as weak, takes part in the sacrificing of Ikemefuna despite the advice from Ezeudu to keep off. Ezeudu is one of the wisest elders of the clan. Okonkwo’s involvement with Ikemefuna’s demise affects him for quite some time. Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye, is more like his grandfather, Unoka. Unoka is a lazy man who has accumulated many debts. Okonkwo has fought all his life not to be anything like his father (p.15). Nwoye often disappoints Okonkwo. However, he is very proud of his second child Ezinma (p.  44). Okonkwo wishes Ezinma was a boy. Late one night, Chielo, who is the priestess of the clan, comes to pick up Ezinma for a spiritual encounter with Agbala, the oracle of the hills and caves. Her mother, Ekwefi, and her father are so worried by the encounter that they follow both the child and priestess to the caves without the priestess noticing. However, all their fears were not founded because the child was brought back safely by the priestess. Unfortunately, the wise Ezeudu dies. During his funeral, Okonkwo’s gun explodes, killing Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son. In accordance with the laws of the land, Okonkwo must be exiled in his mother’s community for seven years. Okonkwo is downcast by this experience. Having to start



life all over again during his middle age is unimaginable. In exile, Okonkwo is received with open arms by his uncle Uchendu. Uchendu is the younger brother of his mother. Uchendu is a very wise and generous old man. During Okonkwo’s exile, this is when “things fall apart” in the society. The British have come to both Umuofia and Mbanta. The missionaries are the first to arrive. They win a few converts even though generally the converts are men of low status, outcasts, or women who have faced misfortunes in the society. To everyone’s dismay, Nwoye is one of the converts. When his father learns about this, he beats Nwoye up. Nwoye decides to run away from home. Obierika, Okonkwo’s best friend, summarizes what the white man has done: The White man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. (p. 176)

Not only is the clan split, so is the family as well. After seven years, Okonkwo returns to Umuofia only to find Umoufia is completely changed by the arrival of the British in the society. In fact, the church has several converts, some of them are very disrespectful to the clan customs. For example, one of the converts kills the sacred python. Worse still, the British administration is in Umuofia. Umuofia is no longer free to judge and rule itself; a District Commissioner now makes judgments to support an army. During one of the religious assemblies, one of the Christians unmasks one of the Egwugwus (a clan spirit). This has never happened in Umuofia before. The clan leaders decide that the church should be torn down. After the church is brought down, the District Commissioner requests the clan elders to meet with him to discuss the misunderstanding between the church and the community. The elders trust the District Commissioner’s word, and they attend the meeting. To their dismay, they are quickly captured and detained in prison. While in prison, they are beaten up and cannot be set free without the clan paying a heavy penalty (p. 196). After the release of the elders, the clan calls for a meeting to decide the future of the clan with the British. In particular, should they fight and drive the British out of their society or not? Okonkwo is for war. As the meeting is going on, the British administration sends court messengers to disperse the meeting. The interference with the clan meeting is the end of



Umuofia’s self-governance. Infuriated by the court messengers, Okonkwo kills one of the messengers, and the other messengers escape without the elders capturing them. Realizing that the elders let the messengers escape, Okonkwo knows his people will not fight the British and fearing humiliation by the British government, he hangs himself. Obierika gives the best tribute to his fallen friend by telling the District Commissioner, “That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself” (p. 208). As noted earlier, although the society portrayed in Things Fall Apart is patriarchal, the roles of women and men are distinct. Just like men, women play fundamental roles in the society. Therefore, in the rest of the chapter, I will discuss how Chinua Achebe unveils the role of African women in the novel.

Unveiling the Role of Women in the Novel In the society of Things Fall Apart, women are viewed as pillars of the society. Hence the saying and the name “Nneka”—mother is supreme. As mentioned in the summary section, Okonkwo is exiled to his mother’s land, Mbanta after accidentally killing a kinsman. He is very grief-stricken, so his maternal uncle, Uchendu, notices this and summons his children and nephew, Okonkwo, to speak to them. Uchendu states: It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say mother is supreme. (p. 134)

Women in this society are the paste that keeps the family and society together. Without the women’s nurturing, the family and the society would fall apart. The women are the caretakers even when they are not present physically. This is why even though Okonkwo can no longer live in his father’s land for accidentally killing a kinsman, he is not alone; his mother’s kinsmen welcome him, and he will spend the next seven years in his motherland. The supremacy of women in this society is reflected in the following song when a woman dies. For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well. (p. 135)



It is true, once a woman dies, this creates a big gap in the family and the society. This is why when the daughter of Umuofia, the wife of Ogbuefi Udo, was killed at the Mbaino market, all the men from the nine villages of Umuofia gathered at the market place. The narrator records, “In the morning the market place was full. There must have been ten thousand men there” (p. 10). The men present were very angered by the murder of their daughter. “The crowd … shouted with anger and thirst for blood” (p. 11). They wanted to avenge for their daughter. The Mbaino people were asked by the Umuofia people to choose between war or offer a young man and a virgin as compensation. The Mbaino people chose the latter option. There is no question among the Umuofia people that women are as critical as anyone else in the society. In addition, the women in this society are well protected, especially by their brothers. This is why Uzowulu was told by his in-law Udukwe if he beats their sister again, they will “cut off his genitals” (p. 92). The evil forest told Uzowulu, “It is not bravery when a man fights with a woman” (p. 93). A man who fights his wife lacks self-­control. For example, Okonkwo almost killed his second wife Ekwefi and also beat his third wife during the week of peace because he could not control himself. The women are also the facilitators of societal knowledge. They pass the knowledge of the society from one generation to another. The narrator describes, “Low voices, broken now and again by singing, reached Okonkwo from his wives’ huts as each woman and her children told stories” (p. 96). Through storytelling, the children are taught the expectations of their society. For example, the story of tortoise and birds, the tortoise is greedy and mean to his friends and this almost cost him his life. Moreover, it is important to note that these learning and teaching spaces are quite robust. The mothers are telling the stories, and the children are actively involved in their learning. The children get the opportunity to retell the stories too. For example, Ezinma has just started narrating the story of the Tortoise and the Cat (p. 100) when Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, interrupts and announces that Agbala, the oracle of the Hills and the Caves, wants to see her. The narration of stories by the children promotes their communication skills. In this community, being a good orator is highly valued. Actually, “Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded highly and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten” (p. 7). Additionally, the stories not only give the children a view of the



world but also build their imagination. For example, the narrator states that Nwoye, the son of Okonkwo, [r]emembered the story [his mother] often told of the quarrel between Earth and Sky long ago, and how Sky withheld rain for seven years, until crops withered and the dead could not be buried because the hoes broke on the stony Earth. At last Vulture was sent to plead with Sky, and to soften his heart with a song of the suffering of the sons of men. Whenever Nwoye’s mother sang this song he felt carried away to the distant scene in the sky where Vulture, Earth’s emissary, sang for mercy. (p. 53)

The children’s imagination was nurtured by the stories mothers narrated. Stories also offer answers to the children’s endless questions. For example, why do the mosquitoes go for one’s ear? When Okonkwo was a child, his mother had told him the story of the mosquito and the ear in response to this question. Mosquito, she had said, had asked Ear to marry him, whereupon Ear fell on the floor in uncontrollable laughter. “How much longer do you think you will live?” she asked. “You are already a skeleton.” Mosquito went away humiliated, and any time he passed her way he told Ear that he was still alive. (p. 75)

Also, in the tortoise and the birds’ story, which is mentioned above, because the tortoise was unkind to the birds, they had taken back the feathers they had lent to him, thus, he had to fall from the sky to get home. He fell on hard household items like hoes, spears, guns, and many more. Since he fell on these hard items, this story concludes that this is why his shell is not smooth. Hence, stories such as the ones mentioned, help in resolving conflicts in the children’s thought. Besides being educators and caregivers, women play a major spiritual role in the society. One of the major roles is that of priestess. As mentioned earlier, Chielo is the “priestess of Agbala, the oracle of the Hills and Caves” (p.  49). During Unoka’s (father of Okonkwo) time, the priestess was Chika. Chika “was full of the power of Agbala, and she was greatly feared” (p. 17). These two priestesses were very respected in the society. As already stated, one of the nights Chielo came for Ezinma, the daughter of Ekwefi, and Okonkwo, the warrior and elder of the society. “Okonkwo pleaded with her to come back in the morning because Ezinma was now asleep. But Chielo ignored what he was trying to say … The priestess screamed,



“Beware, Okonkwo!” she warned (p. 100). Okonkwo pleads with no one. Here we witness a powerful woman threatening him because of her position in the society. A priestess’s office is very powerful in the land. Also, we witness the wisdom and power of a priestess through Chika. Unoka, the father of Okonkwo, had gone to consult Agbala about his poor harvest and before he could finish his story, Chika screamed, “Hold your peace! … You have offended neither the gods nor your fathers. And when a man is at peace with his gods and ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm” (p.  17). Chika is a knowledgeable person. For any farmer to get a good harvest, he/she has to work hard. In fact, she commanded him to go home and work hard. Besides being spiritual leaders in the society, first wives hold a major leadership office in the family and the clan. For instance, Nwakibie’s first wife, Anasi was a middle-aged woman, tall and strongly built. There was authority in her bearing and she looked every inch the ruler of the womenfolk in a large prosperous family. She wore the anklet of her husband’s title, which the first wife alone could wear. (p. 20)

The first wives in this society are very powerful. They direct the affairs of the family. This is why when Okonkwo brought Ikemefuna (the boy given by Mbaino people as a part of compensation for killing a daughter of Umuofia) home, he handed him to his first wife, Nwoye’s mother. She is to look after this son of the clan on behalf of the clan. In addition, men of Title like “Ogbuefi Ndulue could not do anything without telling his first wife, Ozoemena” (p. 68). Hence, first wives not only hold their families together, but also the clan. The women also contribute in a major way to the economy. They work in the farms and at the market. They grow crops such as cocoyam, beans, maize, melons, and cassava (pp. 24 & 33). Even though they don’t grow yam, they weed for yams three times at definite times (p.  33). Without their involvement in the farm, the so-called Man’s crop (yam) will not meet all the nutritional and economic values of the society. They also cook and feed the family. The narrator says, “At night each wife [Okonkwo’s three wives] brought her bowl of foo-foo and bowl of soup to her husband” (p. 54). During lunchtime, the mothers sent their daughters to take food to their fathers. For example, Okonkwo’s daughters Obiageli, Nkechi, and Enzima, brought their father food from their respective



mothers. The women were also active at the market selling products. We are told that Chielo and Ekwefi shared a shed at the market. Furthermore, during weddings, women play a major role of preparing the girl for the wedding and cooking for the guests. For instance, when Akueke, the daughter of Obierika, was getting married, a good number of women from the village gathered to cook for the guests. The narrator states: Obierika’s compound was as busy as an anthill. Temporary cooking tripods were erected on every available space … Cooking pots went up and down the tripods, and foo-foo was pounded in a hundred wooden mortars. Some of the women cooked the yams and the cassava, and others prepared vegetable soup. (p. 113)

There is no way this wedding could have succeeded without the women’s help. Everybody in the Igbo society knows this, and that is why the first two pots of palm wine which came from Obierika’s in-laws had to be given to the women, who drank “a cup or two each, to help them in their cooking (p. 115). Also, “Some of it went to the bride and her attendant maidens, who were putting the last delicate touches of razor to her coiffure and cam wood on her smooth skin” (p. 115). Moreover, when a cow runs away from its cowshed and gets into the neighbors’ farms, women have to drive it back to the owner who pays the expected penalty. For example, Ezelagbo’s husband paid heavily even though it was a young child who had opened the gate of the cowshed (p. 115). Women’s law had to be respected no matter what the case was. Young women also have a big role to play in this society. They are the entertainers in the society. After the big wrestling match between Ikezue and Okafo, the women sang praises to Okafo, the winner of the match. Who will wrestle for our village? Okafo will wrestle for our village. Has he thrown a hundred men? He has thrown four hundred men. Has he thrown a hundred Cats? He has thrown four hundred Cats. Then send him word to fight for us. (p. 51)

Wrestling match and all the activities surrounding it were a major social function in the society. Just as the women praised Okafo, they did the



same after the wrestling match between Okonkwo and Amalize the Cat, during their days. The women sang in praise of Okonkwo who had overthrown the Cat. Moreover, the women in this society also play a major role of beautifying the houses. For instance, during the New Yam Festival, “Okonkwo’s wives had scrubbed the walls and the huts with red earth until they reflected light. They had then drawn patterns on them in white, yellow and dark green” (p. 37). Exterior works are as important as the construction of the houses, which is what men do.

Conclusion In conclusion, among the Igbo people, women are integral members of the society without whom the society will not operate effectively. They are the paste that glues the parts together to form a functioning society. They not only play social and cultural roles, but also economic roles.

Reference Achebe, Chinua. 1959. Things Fall Apart. New York: Penguin Books.


The Use and Abuse of Manliness in Things Fall Apart Xixia Yu

Some might say there are four words that best describe the character of a “man”: manliness, masculinity, manhood, and machismo. British author Samuel Johnson defines the term “manly” as “firm, brave, stout, undaunted, and undismayed” (Johnson, 767). A true man should equip himself with all these positive traits. Manliness, I affirm, is the fittest to be ascribed to “true men.” Compared with the word “manliness,” “manhood” is neutral and comprises violence, impulse, and other life-denying forces of a man. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe endeavors to build up a typical image of the African man, one who possesses African manliness. Okonkwo is a man who is expected by his people to tame nature in order to bolster the basic kinship units of his society. Okonkwo’s cognition and practice of manliness is related closely to his fighting for the dignity and independence of his village as well as his beloved people. The manliness of Okonkwo is described as a kind of inner character and willpower; Okonkwo has a

X. Yu (*) Hangzhou Dianzi University, Hangzhou, China e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_7




virtue against fear and oppression from whites. However, Okonkwo commits suicide at the end of the novel. Thus, the manliness of Okonkwo is worth pondering. “In contemporary literary America, manhood is often a mythic confabulation, a holy Grail, to be seized by long and arduous testing” (Gilmore, 123). Okonkwo, with his whole life, embodies objectively the manhood of an African man, which includes all the positive and negative powers of an African man. Achebe describes the hero, Okonkwo, who lives in a natural African style life during the hot period of colonialism. His suicide is a symbol of the old Africa, which fails while confronting Western civilization. In this way, African manhood becomes a problem for Africa to develop further in the coming historical stage of the modern world. The assumed “intellectual deficiency” of African men becomes a first and key element for Africa to cope with, which is also the main problem for other countries that share the same colonized fate as African countries. Manliness derives from social organization and male image. Such self-­ image of a man, on the other hand, reflects the harsh environment and the scarce resources during this colonial period in Africa. The base of Okonkwo’s manliness is an African traditional role for a man, that is, he should keep strong physically and mentally to protect his family and his people. Okonkwo naturally follows the manliness tradition of Africa. In Okonkwo’s mind, manliness is like a precious stone; it is part of an important legacy, one that stands for the African spirit to protect his village, Umuofia, from being intruded by whites. Manhood ideologies always include a criterion of selfless generosity, even to the point of sacrifice. Repeatedly, we find that ‘real men’ are those who give more than they take; they serve others. Real men are generous, even to a fault. Non-men are often those stigmatized as stingy and unproductive. (Gilmore, 229)

Real men nurture their society by shedding their blood and sweat, even dying, if necessary. In East Africa, young boys from a host of cattle-­herding tribes are taken away from their mothers, and they have to go through at the outset of adolescence to bloody circumcision rites to become true men. Okonkwo intends to bring not only respect but also security to his family, lineage, and village, as these groups, all of which share a collective identity, reflect upon his reputation and are protected by it. “He knew that he was a fierce fighter” (Achebe, 22.). Just as the anthropologist Robert



LeVine points out, manhood is an organization of cultural principles that function together as a “guiding myth within the confines of our culture” (LeVine, 312). Manhood is deeply rooted in Okonkwo’s nature, even when he was a little boy. Okonkwo’s father, Unoka—the most important person in Okonkwo’s childhood—represents the opposite power of being a real man. In Okonkwo’s mind, Unoka is not a real man, not even a genuine father. Okonkwo’s self-identity of a true man is derived from his opposition to his father. [L]est he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was an agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, but that it could also mean a man who had taken no title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion—to hate everything that his father, Unoka, had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness. (Achebe, 10)

As a father, Unoka stands for everything, except the vital factor of being a good father and a true man, hence, one upholding values of real manhood. Unoka represents some kind of ignominious predicament and an emblem of failure. In Okonkwo’s mind, his father (Unoka) is like a woman who is sentimental and lazy; to Okonkwo, Unoka has no character of a real man except biologically. Woman has another name of failure and weakness and has no advantages, except childbearing, in the novel. Okonkwo wants to become a mirror of women to reflect those elements which are the symbols of the failure of his family and village. To achieve his highest ambitions in life, Okonkwo rebels, from his innermost mind, against everything his father represents and women denote. Women, in Okonkwo’s eyes, are the opposite of true men. “He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women” (Achebe, 150). Anthropologists argue that, from the very beginning, manhood is a response to specific structure and psychological deficits. The sexual division of labor, which is itself an adaptation to the environment, including the social environment, textures these deficits. Achebe himself values objectively the traditional role of African women and shows high respect



for their ability of motherhood. Thinking highly of women in traditional African society, Achebe never ignores the dominant power of man. The whole African traditional structure of “man-forming” is greatly different between man and woman. In Okonkwo’s limited mind, Unoka’s gentleness is equal to weakness, for he has been restrained from African traditional education for sexual distinction. In contrast to gentleness and idleness (attributes belonging to females), bravery and diligence are characteristics of a man and are transformed into the inner virtue of a true man. Okonkwo learns from this criterion and builds up his own identity of a true man. In the mind of Okonkwo, manhood is stressed as inspiration to the highest degree. Men have to be tough enough to hunt to support their family and fight wars to fend off enemies. The life stage of Okonkwo is at the end of the nineteenth century, a time when Africa is entangled with the ideologies of Western civilization. Okonkwo denies all human nature except his particular manhood, which does great harm to his relationship with his family members. Except for father Unoka, Okonkwo judges his only biological son, Nwoye, from Okonkwo’s perspective of a man with manhood. Son Nwoye eagerly seeks love and understanding from his father, but Okonkwo is not willing to give that to him. Actually, Okonkwo has no ability to share with his son. Naturally, Nwoye turns to Christianity, for he, by nature, feels affective love from Jesus. Okonkwo treats this choice as a lack of manhood for a true man. Nwoye can never understand what a father’s love for his son should be or experience a wholesome relationship between father and son. What he knows is violence. It was late afternoon before Nwoye returned. He went into the obi and saluted his father, but he did not answer. Nwoye turned around into the inner compound when his father, suddenly overcome with fury, sprang to his feet and gripped him by the neck. ‘Where have you been?’ he stammered. Nwoye struggled to free himself from the choking grip. ‘Answer me!’ roared Okonkwo, ‘before I kill you!’ He seized a heavy stick that lay on the dwarf wall and hit him two or three savage blows. ‘Answer me!’ he roared again. Nwoye stood looking at him and did not say a word. The women were screaming outside, afraid to go in. ‘Leave that boy at once,’ said a voice in the outer compound. It was Okonkwo’s uncle, Uchendu. ‘Are you mad?’ Okonkwo did not answer. But he let hold of Nwoye, who walked away and never returned. (Achebe, 136)



Facing the establishment of a foreign judicial system in place of indigenous laws and the reality of Christianity supplanting the local gods, the only reflection of Okonkwo is to resort to violence and ignore the deep deliberation of the village elders. Five messengers from the District Commissioner arrived to prohibit the meeting of the elders: [The head messenger said], ‘The white man whose power you know too well has ordered this meeting to stop.’ In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo’s machete descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body. (Achebe, 210–211)

Okonkwo abuses manliness and changes it directly and extremely into the negative side of manhood. He cruelly kills Ikemefuna, for he feels that he should comply with the monstrous decree of local gods. In Okonkwo’s eyes, the death of Ikemefuna is a fait accompli; he is only a messenger to execute the decree of the gods. Damian Opata, therefore, deduces this. Okonkwo’s killing of Ikemefuna is instinctive. The immediate circumstances under which he had to kill Ikemefuna seem to have been forced on him by capricious fate. He was not in control of the situation. Rather, the situation was controlling him, and we should not apply the principles of morality to a situation in which he was inexorably led by uncanny fate. (Damian, 75–76)

Not only in Things Fall Apart but also in Arrow of God, Achebe penetrates into the relationship between god and human. The power beyond people comes from god, and people cannot understand it or control it; the only thing to do is to obey it. Here I argue that the capricious fate is violence, which is the negative element of manliness in African society during this period. Acting as the negative elements of manliness, violence, without consideration of any effects, is one dominant factor that controls Okonkwo wholly to his ending. Limited by his understanding of African traditional beliefs, Okonkwo never thinks over the real relationship between his true feelings to Ikemefuna and his responsibility for his people, nor does he realize that these two are identical with each other. Okonkwo is confined with his narrow eyesight and, thus, his failure is doomed. What is worth pointing out is that a respected elder tries to prevent him from doing it. Ezeudu, in Umuofia, warns Okonkwo not to participate in this cruel action: “That



boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death.” Okonkwo is surprised and is about to say something when the old man continues: “Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him. The oracle of the Hills and Caves has pronounced it. They will [make it happen.]. But I want [you] to have nothing to do with it. He calls you [his] father” (Achebe, 59–60). After fierce psychological and conflicting activities, Okonkwo succumbs to killing. He is involved in deep self-accusation after his killing of Ikemefuna. In Okonkwo’s mind, killing demonstrates that he not only obeys the decree of the gods, but also proves he is a true man. Hence, the concept of manliness to Okonkwo is defined by African culture and represents African masculine nationalist tradition, which conflicts with a new world dominated by western culture. As Simon Gikandi strongly asserts, “[I]deology as process and critique, rather than product and dogma, is the key to understanding Achebe’s narrative strategies” (Simon, 12). Achebe remains loyal to his understanding of Africa and the African people as he writes Things Fall Apart. In the novel, for instance, the narrator is neutral. I assert that Achebe’s writing of Things Fall Apart is derived from his reading of Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson by Joyce Cary was famous in the twentieth century (1950s), when Achebe begins his writing. The novel Mister Johnson “[is] a most superficial picture not only of the country, but also of the Nigerian character, and so I thought if this was famous, then perhaps someone ought to try to look at this from the inside” (Lindfors, 3–4). Achebe’s “inside” writing is the world of Things Fall Apart wherein he depicts a vivid picture of the Igbo society at the end of the nineteenth century, a period at the threshold of historical transition without any attempt to romanticize it. “The characters are normal people, and their events are real human events” (Lindfors, 21). Achebe describes the Igbos’ political structures, religions, seasonal festivals, ceremonies, and social customs. Achebe also analyzes objectively the requirements of the Igbo culture for its people. As any other culture, the Igbo culture changes rapidly because of the developments of the Western world. The fact that Achebe thinks highly of Okonkwo can be interpreted as his praises of African masculine nationalist tradition. Now I sometimes use the word ‘fail’ myself, and I cannot blame anybody for using it. But I use it in a special way, because there is a very deep sense in which one can talk about Okonkwo or Ezeulu failing. It is a sense in which you see those two people standing for something. They stand for a way of



life, a people, a vision of the world. Now, if a man knows what he stands for, it is difficult to say that he fails. Both men succeed in much the same way Christ can have been said to succeed. I am not sure that Okonkwo’s or Ezeulu’s set of values really die. The simple fact that we are telling their stories and that some people may think, ‘Here is a man after my heart,’ means something, some kind of return or regeneration in the lives of their descendants. (Lindfors, 48–49)

The whole life of Okonkwo is under great pressure, for he feels deep sorrow for his people and his village, which is an agricultural community that is subjected to the order and the vagaries of the seasons and weather. Okonkwo hates British colonial authority, missions, and trade that are infiltrating Igbo society used to its own civil order based upon a hierarchy of gods, ancestors, elders, and families. The invaders cause confusion and division in Umuofia. Says David Gilmore: We may regard ‘real’ manhood as an inducement for high performance in the social struggle for scarce resources, a code of conduct that advances collective interests by overcoming inner inhibitions. In fulfilling their obligations, men stand to lose. They stand to lose their reputations or their lives; yet their prescribed tasks must be done if the group is to survive and prosper. (Gilmore, 223)

Such are some results of Western colonialism enforced upon African societies. The phrase “die like a dog” does not carry enough weight to describe the sufferings of African men such as Okonkwo and his father. Ironically, at the death of Okonkwo’s father, Unoka had no title and was not accorded a proper traditional funeral; he was buried like a dog. To Umuofia, Okonkwo’s death by hanging is an abomination against the earth. Thus, Umuofia buries Okonkwo, as Okonkwo’s only closest friend Obierika observes, “like a dog.” This is the attitude of the clan: His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it. … We cannot bury him. Only strangers can. We shall pay your men to do it. When he has been buried, we will do our duty [by him]. We shall make sacrifices to cleanse this desecrated land. (Achebe, 214)

Here is a man who lacks manliness and another man who possesses manliness; yet, they share the same fate: both of them “die like dogs.” This does



not mean that Okonkwo himself understood his suicide as a failure because he is confined to African manhood ideologies. “Manhood ideologies force men to shape up on penalty of being robbed of their identity, a threat apparently worse than death” (Gilmore, 221). Achebe strictly describes the plight of hero in contextual situations of African history and tradition. Gilmore argues that there exists a deep structure of manhood and a global archetype of manliness in the novel. A question to consider is what kind of manliness for African men in their society will fit African development in the future? Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, enjoys life, regardless of his family and changes in his village. Nevertheless, Western society creates a dooming failure of his African society. In fact, his Africa has already died. Okonkwo is aware of the inevitability of this Africa. He tries to save his Africa with African traditional masculinity, but Okonkwo’s Africa will not develop further because of Western colonialism’s confrontations. This is proven by the way they like dogs. Both father and son show intellectual deficiency in manliness, which becomes evident when these men face a world caught between two conflicting civilizations. Many critics point out the African masculine nationalist tradition in Things Fall Apart. “Often manhood as an ideology becomes caught up in nationalist or other political movements that temporarily magnify its emotive power” (Gilmore, 222). A symbolic ideology, manhood is a practical historical power that reflects the change of society and witnesses the upheaval of a nation. The regenerating power of manhood regarding African men lacks, to some degree, in the historical period when Okonkwo lives. Okonkwo stands for original African strength from the very beginning of the formation of the African nation; this is characteristic of violence, however, when facing the cruelty of a natural world. Such virtue is needed for survival of an African people during a primitive time, as well as for any other people or nation on the earth. As we know, real men are brave in all risky situations. But it is impractical to deal with more superior culture and civilization with the development of society. “When men are conditioned to fight, manhood is important; where men are conditioned to flight, the opposite is true” (Gilmore, 220). On this level, the behavior of Okonkwo’s son who turns against African traditional religion for Christianity is meaningful. For decades, anthropologists have argued that culture is humankind’s device for adaptation. As a symbolic script, manliness is a cultural



construct with endless variables. A global archetype of manliness does not exist and neither does a deep structure of manliness. “Manhood is the social barrier that societies must erect against entropy, human enemies, the forces of nature, time and all the human weaknesses that endanger group life” (Gilmore, 226). Therefore, true human nature, which can cope with any difficulties of life, needs a combination of manliness and womanliness; as a result, we will have a comprehensive and complete human nature. Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, on this level, becomes an allegory of human nature, especially in the field of anthropology.

References Achebe, Chinua. 1986. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann. ———. 2002. Things Fall Apart and Related Readings. Inc: McDougal Littell. Gikandi, Simon. 1991. Reading Chinua Achebe: Language and Ideology in African Fiction. London: James Currey. Gilmore, David D. 1990. Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity. New Haven: Yale UP. Johnson, Samuel. 1755. A Dictionary of the English Language. London. LeVine, Robert A. 1979. Anthropology and Sex: Developmental Aspects. In Human Sexuality: Comparative and Development Perspectives, ed. Herant A. Katchadourian. Berkeley: UCP. Lindfors, Bernth. 1997. Conversations with Chinua Achebe. Mississippi University Press. Opata, Damian. 1987. Eternal Sacred Order versus Conventional Wisdom: A Consideration of Moral Culpability in the Killing of Ikemefuna in Things Fall Apart. Research in African Literature 18: 1.


Utilizing Cosmic Feminism and Critical Organic Writing to Deconstruct Female Oppression: A Connection with Women in Things Fall Apart Hilda Sotelo

Do never call a snake by its name during dark time, call it string. (Achebe 2009)

Cosmic feminism, which embraces all types of feminisms, is organic, it was created in-situ, for healing, intellectualism, and creative purpose to make violence impossible. As Chinua Achebe who uses literary expressions and words to let the world know about a very specific, local African culture, in Things Fall Apart, to portray how ancient traditions fall during and after colonization. Similarly, cosmic feminism uses writing, indigenous knowledge, to deconstruct oppression. While teaching writing, one of the tools is Critical Organic Writing. It helps to deconstruct all forms of oppression. In this chapter, I will explain the hypothesis of cosmic

H. Sotelo (*) University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, USA © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_8




feminism, COW, as an educational tool, and the role of one women in the novel Things Fall Apart, Chielo What is the connection? What does cosmic feminism have to do with Chielo, the liminal, the woman who predicted the fall of her community? Was this visionary woman a feminist? Is cosmic feminism a good path to reunite both genders and to teach us how to build new myths and stories? The theory of feminism is the ideology of equality among all sexes (MacKinnon 1982). This relates to politics, economy, and social life. Feminism is responsible for a majority of society-based changes in the lives of women. This is common in the west, both historically and currently. Feminist movements have helped women access the right to work, the right to equal pay, the right to drive, along with the right to vote. There have been many changes made by feminists to ensure there is protection for women against major assaults, such as physical violence in the household, rape, and other sexual assault cases. There have been many forms of feminism, but most of them, according to critics, have catered to a primarily Caucasian populace of women. This has further given rise to multicultural forms of feminism, which includes indigenous feminism, post-colonial feminism, and black feminism. Feminists have advocated for the male populace as well, alleging that they, too, suffer from the gender roles pre-­ assigned to everyone. In cosmic feminism women do not follow scripted gender roles, as in the novel Things Fall Apart where Chielo is the visionary, she is Agbala. In cosmic feminism women are not afraid of their liminal powers, dead and life are interacted all the time, in the middle of it, lays power, power to see, power to heal, power to advise, prevent, powers that have been taken away by colonizers. Cosmic feminism is a new era of feminism arising out of Abya Yala, the native name of the first nations—Americas, and the border of Mexico and the United States. This branch of feminism firmly believes in the impossibility of violence against women by using tools such as organic writing, meditation, and indigenous knowledge. It is with these tools that resistance to patriarchy may be successful. This encourages freedom from troubles, inspiring women to dream of a world without oppression, further giving them the tools necessary to combat such conditions and make such a world a reality (Hunnicutt 2009). Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) has further stated that by using such tools, there may be a balance in the world, where patriarchy is extremely prevalent and oppressive toward women. There must be coexistence in harmony between the sexes in order for a society to function properly without any form of a hindrance. One may state that



patriarchal agreements and pacts of the modern world, along with the concept of capitalism, are responsible for the division among the sexes. These agreements and capitalism can also be responsible for keeping individuals in a feeling of sickness, insensibility, and dependent on sexist violence (Paredes 2008). In cosmic feminism, we rescue our oral tradition from our female ancestors, we listen to them, we talk, and we trace our indigenous roots and find the specifics about their traditions, exploitations, legends, and habits. Cosmic feminism helps us to spin our lost stories, while we generate—from transcendent duality—new myths and new stories, using organic writing. We travel the territory of words to redefine competition and success, as the driven force of capitalism. We use healing as the political cosmic path. We start by healing the body while observing it during meditation and breathing. We recognize and deconstruct our binary oppositions, that is, the oppressed and the oppressor. We, the New Mestizas, term coined by Gloria Anzaldua, have been colonized twice, first by Europeans who arrived into Mexico and the second time by Anglos in the United States, where Spanish continues to be a foreign language in our own territory. Neither the colonizers nor the indigenous practiced equality, according to Paredes, who said that when Europeans came to America, men were already exploiting women. She called it entronque patriarcal. The indigenous population all over the world has been under the joke of imperialism and colonization. In regards to America, when indigenous immigrants arrived, the concept of both imperialism and patriarchy was real. This further caused the indigenous male population that had immigrated to the United States to feel persecuted, controlled, and subjugated. Due to these factors, the same indigenous male population became patriarchal in nature toward their own women, as this was the ideology of the United States at that time. This led to a more negative impact on women. The goal of the colonizers was to exploit the indigenous population, both men and women, because these colonizers did not see any difference. It is because of imperialism and colonization that the indigenous population has been subjected to racist and patriarchal practices, which has completely changed the social, economic, and political practices of the indigenous population. In indigenous systems, powers granted to women were incompatible with the kind of powers that the colonial system was comfortable with, in order to maintain their own power (Elias et al. 2012). In the Americas, there are a few pieces of evidence of women ruling groups, such as “The Red Mayan Queen.” In the case of Igbo culture, according to Things Fall Apart,



Chielo was given liminal powers to become the priestess of the goddess Agbala. The problems faced by the indigenous population today are a reflection of their system of organization when women bodies were subject to exploitation in addition to exactions by settlers from Europe who were trying to dominate them via imperialism as a tool. The indigenous population has been through a lot of suffering, and the world today is facing a crisis of violence led mainly by males with their predatory and capitalistic practices. Capitalism has been criticized as an economic model for granting too much control and power to a primarily minority capitalistic class which only exists at the expense of the working class and their workers. Capitalists make profit their first priority, willfully ignoring any consequences that may arise for anyone unfortunate enough to be exploited as a result (Cohen 2017). The indigenous population is a part of the class that has suffered because of capitalism as a tool of corruption, unfairness, and instability. When indigenous males suffered oppression by colonial people, they took revenge with their women. Indigenous women fall to the lowest degree of exploitation and will continue to fall if, we, the mestizas (mix Europeans with indigenous) do not do something to avoid their perpetual suffering.

What Is the Role of Education and Literacy? The purpose of education is to sharpen one’s intelligence and mold one’s character, to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner, and to help society to advance in all aspects of life. Nowadays, we face violent times; it seems like we are following the pedagogy of the oppressor. When we reproduce and perpetuate the pedagogy of the oppressor. The oppressed will not have the opportunity to be liberated or experience what it means to be a full human. When teachers and students use literacy— reading the word and the world, they are making sense of their world. Freire and Macedo (1987) state, literacy can be used to empower or disempower people. Critical organic writing can become a vehicle for teachers, students, and citizens, to reinvent themselves, rather than being passive receivers of decontextualized content. COW can be a useful pedagogical tool to deconstruct oppression while improving literacy skills when incorporating daily-life experiences to oppose what is not meaningful to



the goal of achieving an authentic voice and transformation (Quesada 2005; Green 2010). Transformation is a continuous flow that can be abruptly deviated by oppressive conditions such as misogyny and colonial minds. Hooks (1994) asserts that there are misogynistic attitudes in dominant cultures as communication means to maintain patriarchal social order. Critical organic writing is an approach that allows participants to use their own experiences to generate new knowledge. Giroux (2005) proposes that one can be an authentic intellectual by reflecting and finding an organic/ontological voice that synthesizes what one has learned through life. The central aspect of this ingenuity is the ability to create a sphere where knowledge, reality, and imagery can interact with one another. For Giroux (1988), there is a necessity for creating an alternative agency that facilitates change. The existing institutions, such as public schools, can become spaces of conflict and struggle where one can explore and question oppressive norms and social contradictions. Writing, a complex social activity, is usually not acquired through practice and experience, thus being a challenge for many including the experienced writers. As such, Ryan (2014) explains writing as a complex but learned activity that calls writer to shape their thoughts into texts that could fit the intended message, audience, and the medium. Being a complex activity, writing involves moments of critical decision making that may require a person to reflect the inner self to determine what the writers need with precision. The use of critical organic writing has helped to express the mindset of many oppressed individuals. It is an extremely vital tool, and it helps in many different ways. The oppressed will tell their stories in their own voices and language. Much will be lost in translation, but organic writing is not a liner way of constructing a creative world; it can be hybrid (the mix of different literary genres) such as in the case of Bordelands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anazaldua, where she uses essay, poems, and autobiography to explain New Mestiza consciousness. In the book Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe explained how the arrival of colonizers oppressed Africa in its entirety. He shows us how writing can tell the version of the native, in a manner drenched with folklore and myth as a substitute word to normal everyday words (Stephan and Stephan 2013). Exhibiting an example, Achebe referred to a bicycle as an iron demon. Okonkwo had been popularly known as ROARING FLAME. Do not call a snake by its name during nighttime; call it a string. Okonkwo commits a sin against the earth goddess by beating his wife during the Week of



Peace. This is an example of a sin that seems arbitrary. “Living fire begets cold, impotent ash. Bale the water while it is ankle deep.” In organic writing, all types of rhetorical figures can be used to represent what it is that is oppressing our hearts and lives; figurative speech is part of our communication. When working organic writing after a couple of meditation, visualization exercises, the writer will feel free to bring from sensorial memory what needs to be liberated using words.

Metaphors, as They Are Used in Things Fall Apart and Bordelands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza The use of organic writing is an adequate method, which should be used to explain a person’s viewpoint with a non-traditional expression. By using an open-ended flow of writing with no specific end in mind, a person is able to form a story, which is very descriptive, hence expressing detail to their readers. An added bonus is that no one will be confused with folklore-­ based terms. Writing, which helps individuals to develop their expression, is a great activity that helps to increase the social interaction a person has with the rest of the world. Writing further helps a person communicate effectively, engage in negotiations related to relationships, influence perceptions about certain matters, portray themselves in a certain way, and help them grow as a person. The use of literacy is a factor, which truly has the credentials in order to empower individuals (Huang 2012). Organic writing also helps people to use their own experiences to generate new forms of knowledge to educate themselves and others. It is a great way for people who are oppressed to pick up a pencil, enter a world which is truly their own, and use their own words for self-empowerment. This form of writing and self-­ expression is a perfect counter to the patriarchal social order, as it will help to break down that very same order in a very creative manner. The use of literacy is a factor, which truly has the credentials in order to empower individuals (Huang 2012). In organic writing, the use of mystical power is recommended because it helps people to use their own experiences to generate new forms of knowledge to educate themselves and others. It is a great way for people who are oppressed to pick up a pencil and enter a world which is truly their own and, by the use of their own words, help to decode what is in their minds. This form of writing and



self-expression is a perfect counter to the patriarchal social order, as it will help to break down that very same order in a very creative manner. Cosmic women and the indigenous populations battle capitalism and oppression with the use of tools such as creative organic writing, knowledge of oppressed individuals, and meditation. The use of literary techniques is vital in resolving the problem of racism, patriarchy, and sexism employed against many individuals. Women are still facing many problems today in regard to unfair practices carried out against us.

Cosmic Feminism: Women in Things Fall Apart Women play a major role in Things Fall Apart; they are subservient to men in many ways. They do not receive good treatment in their own homes, they are responsible for preparing meals, and they have to put up with men who often have multiple wives. Conversely, women are powerful too. Chielo, for example, is a female spiritual leader who gives directives to her followers to do the right thing. Just as Ani, the goddess of the earth who communicates with dead clan member to make sure Igbo society observed the right conduct (Achebe, p. 36). Igbo community believed they had to honor and respect earth goddess. When Okonkwo, the masculine warrior, battered his wife during the peace week, he was asked to leave the community because the members were worried about having little harvest due to Okonkwo’s violent actions (Achebe, p.  30). Women in Things Fall Apart navigate opposite roles, from servants to priests. Cosmic feminism is Abya Yala, is Agbala the native name of the first nations—the Americas, along with the New Mestiza consciousness. It originated in the border of Mexico and the United States, so as far as this new concept of cosmic feminism is concerned, I am trying to find the connection between women in Nigeria and Mexican women living in the border of Mexico and the United States. According to the community feminism theory, which came from indigenous women in Bolivia, feminism needs to be redefined and reconfigured by women in each of their localities, according to their autonomies, economies, and territories. Western feminism will not make their ideology a universal theory because it will go against its own nature, which is justice and equity. According to cosmic feminisms, words, sounds, and teaching are a key to connect other types of feminisms. Nigerian feminist Chimamanda, Nogozi Adichie (2014) stated that we should all be feminists in her book that later was a



TEDTalk. She assures that gender is not an easy conversation to have and we tend to get lost in definitions as human rights that avoid the word feminism to deny the problem of gender target women. On the other hand, she said, “Gender roles hurt boys, in Nigeria we teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be.” Achebe beautifully pictured the cruelty of patriarchy in Oknokwo’s character, a boy known by raoaring flame. At the same time, Achebe painted the next generation with irony when the Igbo masculine role fell with Nwoye (the son) leaving Oknokwo’s farm, as if younger generations will not follow any old traditions. In contrast, cosmic feminism recommends that we dig into our past to make a better future and talk to ancestors to learn and unlearn roles that make us suffer. In cosmic feminism, duality plays a major role. Male and female roles are present in men and women; they can biologically fulfill both. In the New Mestiza consciousness, binary symbols are scrutinized until they mesh. Males are not out of the equation for change and transformation; they reflect in their new masculinities. In Things Fall Apart, the word, place, or space, Agbala, is important to notice.

Ag/ba/la, Spanish Phonemes, Comparable to Abya Yala According to the site Novel Guide (2018), Agbala is the word for a woman; it is also for man who has taken no titles, so for Okonkwo, womanish is the epitome of everything that is no honorable. It is initially applied to the Christian religion that seems soft and accepting of the failed people in Igbo society. In relation to myths and religion, Gloria Anzaldua states that three forces or archetypes drive the New Mestiza consciousness: La Malinche, La Llorona, and Virgin de Guadalupe. The first one was the woman who helped the colonizers with translation during the invasion; she was the mistress of Hernan Cortez (the conquistador). With him, she gave birth to the first mestizo; therefore, La Malinche has been treated as the mother of Mexicans. She has been portrayed as traitor and temptress. The second one is the weeping woman, the woman who has killed her own children and perpetually cries for them. The third one is the holly, pure, saint, virgin woman. Anzaldúa recommends mixing all of our myths and creating new stories. In Things Fall Apart, Igbo culture is guided by



a system of faith, Agbala, also the name of the oracle of hills and caves, whose decrees come to priestess Chielo, and can command the inhabitants of all nine villages of Umofia, including Okonkwo. The female energy of the Earth is the main nourisher and arbiter for Okonkwo’s people. As Uchedu tries to teach him, “Mother is Supreme.” For Abya Yala women, our territory begins in our bodies; they carry the cosmic thread that connects us with our ancestors. Paredes (2008) in her book Hilando fino (Fine yarns) said: “We consider it a major error to deny the body and sex of those who are part of the social movements and organizations. It is our women’s bodies that have always done and built the history of our country in innumerable marches and actions.” Cosmic feminism is a solution to the growing problem of the patriarchy. It is a good method of ending oppression in order to bring a balance to societies around the world, incorporating justice, where everyone around the world will treat women as equal and all other minority-based populations as well, such as the indigenous population (Wang and Morais 2014). Cosmic women and the indigenous populations battle capitalism and oppression with tools such as creative organic writing, knowledge of oppressed individuals and meditation. The world needs to know about the oppression, restrictive practices along with the discrimination and unfair processes of racist, prejudiced individuals who have no remorse for what they are doing. An example stated earlier is that of the indigenous populations who have had their land taken from them and sold to the highest bidder in smaller pieces. In conclusion, the use of literary techniques in diverse languages is vital in resolving the problem of racism, patriarchy, and sexism employed against many individuals. Women are still facing many problems today in regard to unfair practices carried out against them. Activism utilizing writing to create new spaces and platforms, protests, and active campaigns against oppression and injustice against women is vital. They will help make sure that patriarchal values of society subside to the point where they either no longer exist or are less in nature to avoid interfering with the lives of the minorities they affect. For more information about cosmic feminism watch Sotelo, H. (2019) the TEDTalk “Feminismo cósmico” and read the PhD dissertation “ Escritura Crítica Orgánica Crítica Orgánica Para Deconstruir La Opresión Femenina: Propuesta Nepantlera A Redefinir La Pedagogía De La Creación Literaria” Sotelo, H (2019).



References Achebe, C. 2009. Things Fall Apart. 6th ed. Toronto: Anchor Canada. Anzaldúa, G. 1987. Borderlands: The New Mestiza = La frontera. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute. Cohen, G.A. 2017. Capitalism, Freedom, and the Proletariat. In Liberty Reader, 163–182. UK: Routledge. Elias, B., J. Mignone, M. Hall, S.P. Hong, L. Hart, and J. Sareen. 2012. Trauma and Suicide Behaviour Histories among a Canadian Indigenous Population: An Empirical Exploration of the Potential Role of Canada’s Residential School System. Social Science & Medicine 74 (10): 1560–1569. Freire, P., and D. Macedo. 1987. Alfabetización: Leer la palabra y el mundo. GB: Routledge y Kegan Paul Ltd. Giroux, H. 1988. Maestros como intelectuales. Bergin y Garvey. ———. 2005. Cruces fronterizos: trabajadores culturales y la política educativa. 2nd ed. Nueva York: Rutledge. Green, M. 2010. lanzando la imaginación: ensayos sobre educación, las artes y el cambio social. La Universidad de Michigan: Wiley. Hooks, Bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge. Huang, S.Y. 2012. The Integration of ‘Critical’ and ‘Literacy’ Education in the EFL Curriculum: Expanding the Possibilities of Critical Writing Practices. Language, Culture and Curriculum 25 (3): 283–298. https://doi.org/1 0.1080/07908318.2012.723715. Hunnicutt, G. 2009. Varieties of Patriarchy and Violence Against Women: Resurrecting ‘Patriarchy’ as a Theoretical Tool. Violence Against Women 15 (5): 553–573. https://doi.org/10.1177/107780120833124. MacKinnon, C.A. 1982. Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7 (3): 515–544. https://doi.org/10.1086/493898. Nogozi, Adichie, Ch. (2014) We all should be feminist. Retreived by https:// people.unica.it/aideesu/files/2019/11/Chimamanda_Ngozi_Adichie_We_ Should_All_Be_Feminizlib.org_.epub_.pdf and https://www.ted.com/talks/ chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_we_should_all_be_feminists. Paredes, J. 2008. Hilando fina. Accessed http://mujeresdelmundobabel.org/ files/2013/11/Julieta-Paredes-Hilando-Fino-desde-el-Fem-Comunitario.pdf. Quesada, R. 2005. Liberar la imaginación: ensayos sobre educación, arte y cambio social MAXINE GREENE. Retrieved from http://www.scielo.org.mx/pdf/ peredu/v30n121/v30n121a8.pdf. Ryan, M. 2014. Escritores como intérpretes: Desarrollar identidades de escritura reflexiva y creativa. Enseñanza de Inglés: Práctica y Crítica 13 (3): 130–148.



Sotelo, Hilda Y., “Escritura Crítica Orgánica Para Deconstruir La Opresión Femenina: Propuesta Nepantlera A Redefinir La Pedagogía De La Creación Literaria” (2019). Open Access Theses & Dissertations. 2902. https://digitalcommons.utep.edu/open_etd/2902. Stephan, C.W., and W.S.  Stephan. 2013. An Integrated Threat Theory of Prejudice. In Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination, 33–56. Psychology Press. Wang, Y.A., and D.B.  Morais. 2014. Self-Representations of the Matriarchal Other. Annals of Tourism Research, 44: 74–87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. annals.2013.09.002. Accessed www.novelguide.com.


HBCUs, African Cultures, and the Teaching of World Languages


Encouraging American Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Teach African Languages and Cultures Désiré Baloubi

Introduction This chapter seeks to encourage the teaching and learning of African languages, cultures, linguistics, and literature, in addition to the traditional English and other Indo-European languages across American institutions of higher learning. This must be a deliberate choice based on the conviction that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a vital role to play in a collective endeavor to connect or reconnect America to the entire continent of Africa. The existing literature suggests that quite a few American HBCUs are already moving in that direction. However, we need to do more by engaging in sustainable cooperation with Africa and Mid-eastern nations through the learning and teaching of their languages and cultures. In this respect, the history of African studies should be a useful guide while we are searching for the direction we believe would be most beneficial to all.

D. Baloubi (*) Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_9




Fortunately, progress has been on the rise. Lindfors, Brutus, and other scholars founded the African Literature Association (ALA) in 1974. Since then, the creation in the United States of multiple professional entities, such as African Studies Association (ASA), African Language Teachers Association (ALTA), and regional organizations of which the Southeast African Languages and Literatures Forum (SEALLF) is a vibrant example, has been a reliable indicator of such progress. A National African Language Center is also providing multiple services to instructors, researchers, and learners. In fact, the need to train and educate American citizens to become life-long learners with advanced proficiency in foreign languages and cultures has increased dramatically over the years. Furthermore, the September 11 attacks on America have emboldened us to believe that promoting, but not imposing, democracy across the globe is a worthwhile undertaking. However, democracy serves only as a means to build freedom, peace, and justice in nations/societies in a multifaceted, culturally diverse world. The ultimate goal, one would argue, is to develop as well as promote tolerance and understanding among and across these societies. One way we can reach that goal, as this chapter suggests, is to expand the curricula in our schools, colleges, and universities to include the teaching and learning of more languages and cultures that are non-western. In other words, a better understanding of the outside world, through more diversified, strategic programs of teaching and learning world languages and cultures, will certainly help to bring about a new order of a more friendly collaboration in a world that appears to be shrinking rapidly. Again, the primary intent of this chapter is to recommend that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) take the lead in re-engineering African Studies, in general, in American institutions of higher learning. A major pillar, important reference and crucial indicator of the need for research and professional development in African languages and cultures is the National African Language Resource Center, as stated above. As the Center’s website indicates, The National African Language Resource Center was established in September 1999 by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Center improves the accessibility of African languages in the United States by strengthening the field as a profession and by developing resources for research, teaching, and learning of African languages.



The Center’s activities include African language program coordination, material development and dissemination, in addition to professional development for African language educators. One of the primary beneficiaries of the services of the Center is the African Language Teachers Association (ALTA). This is a U.S.-based professional organization whose mission includes but is not limited to “develop a field of African Language Teaching where members can share common interests and concerns to do with the study of African languages; [to] link efforts of teachers and researchers in Africa with those outside of Africa” (ALTA Homepage). In addition, one might even consider a broader perspective concerning African Studies that has a long history and strongly established records in the United States.

African Studies: A Brief Synopsis of a Long History Pearl T. Robinson (2003) helps us to understand the status and history of African studies in her article, “Area Studies in Search of Africa.” Robinson was an assistant professor and director of Africa in the New World Interdisciplinary Minor in the Department of Political Science, Columbia University. She is currently professor of political science at Tufts University, where she teaches a broad range of courses, including politics and global Africa. In the article aforementioned, Robinson (2003), in “Areas Studies is Search of Africa,” carefully describes the changing paradigms and rationales of African studies in America over the past few decades. She walks us through time and space, pointing at the various Worlds and milestones that represent different trends in African studies in general. In the following terms, she identifies three worlds, which she calls spatially differentiated spheres of endeavor. 1) the World of US research Universities-particularly the top research tier, which is the domain of the major Title VI African Studies Centers; 2) The World of Diasporic Pan Africanist Scholars-a highly polyglot realm that include the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which were the first US institutions of higher learning to introduce African Studies into the curriculum; and 3) the World of African Universities and Research Networks. (p. 1)

As Robinson (2003) explains, the rationales supporting African Studies have changed over time. For example, during the Cold War, studying



Africa is a strategic move to make. Bates et  al. (1993) believe Africa is worth studying for potential contributions to theory in the social sciences, for example, as archeology, anthropology, and the humanities. However, diasporic Pan-Africanist scholars embrace the study of Africa because of “their own history, location, and social position” (pp. 1–4).

African Studies in America: More Emphasis on Languages Spoken in Africa A great number of sources indicate that African Studies Centers in America are placing more and more emphasis on African languages than African area studies. See the following sources: Dahl in ADFL Bulletin (Winter 2000), Bradshaw in Research & Creative Activity (January 1999), GradSchools.com (11/1/2005), Boston University African Studies Center (February 2004), NALRC, UW-Madison (2005) in their “Report of the NALRC/ASP Directors’ Meeting” (November 3, 2001), and The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (November 2005), among others. The report of the November 2001 meeting of the Directors of African Studies Centers indicates the reason for shifting the focus from African studies, in general, to African languages, more specifically. As a rule, languages have not been mentioned in high-level policy discussions. However, the world has changed since the event of September 11, 2001. The importance of language is really coming to light. Before now, language was generally discussed as part of area studies. The focus now is more on foreign languages than area studies. If there ever was a time to strengthen language instruction particularly African languages, it is now. The fact remains that language and national security also go hand in hand. They cannot be separated (Par 1). Only the elite and most prestigious universities and colleges have the most extensive course offerings in African languages. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE, November 2005) names the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University as the top three. According to the same source, Harvard University comes close with its new program that offers a wide variety of African languages such as Bamana, Igbo, Kamba, Kikongo, Kikuyu, Krio, Malagasi, Oromo, Oshiwambo, and Shona. Yale University offers courses in Swahili, Twi, Yoruba, and Zulu, while the University of Pennsylvania is



clearly in the lead with the most course offerings. Note what the article in JBHE points out. The University of Pennsylvania appears to have the most extensive course offerings in African languages of any college or university in the United States. In the spring 2004 semester, 10 instructors at Penn offered 19 courses in eight different African languages. The courses included advanced studies in Amharic, Swahili, Yoruba, and Igbo. Other high-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges that offer courses in African languages are Stanford, Northwestern, Washington University, the University of Chicago, Berkeley, Georgetown, UNC Chapel Hill, John Hopkins, MIT, Williams College, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Grinnell College, Bryn Mawr College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Indiana University Bloomington. “We teach nearly 100 Africa-related courses a year to more than 4000 undergraduate and graduate students on the Bloomington campus alone. The students come from the humanities, social sciences, and professional schools. Many of them learn an African language, including Twi, Hausa, Zulu, Chichewa, Swahili, Arabic, or Wolof,” says York Bradshaw, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Illustrious Bloomington African Studies Program (see “The Dynamism of Africa” by Bradshaw online, Par 7). At Boston University, in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures, the African Studies Center offers courses in various African languages. These African languages include Hausa, Mandinka-Bambara, Swahili, Cape Verdean, Ewe, Igbo, Kanuri, Lingala, Wolof, and Zarma-­ Songhai. Thankfully, a few HBCUs are emerging, such as Morgan State University, Delaware State University, Morehouse College, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, Norfolk State University, and Howard University.

The Choice of Yoruba Language and Dialects Across the programs mentioned above, it appears quite clearly that Swahili is the most popular of all African-language course offerings. Some of the programs offer Yoruba, but it is, unfortunately, one of the less commonly taught African languages in American universities and colleges. Yoruba and its various dialects need to be researched and fully documented so that all may benefit substantially from teaching and learning those languages. In their African Language Program, the Boston University African Studies Center (2004) underlines this important advantage in learning languages.



Language is not just a means of communication. It is also a carrier of the culture and history of its speakers. For example, by studying Kiswahili at Boston University, you will also learn about East African culture and society, its ancient and modem roots. Study of Yoruba will take you closer to one of the largest and most dynamic populations of West Africa, and Zulu will introduce you to Southern Africa.

Despite the large size of the population, the rich customs, traditions, and cultures of the Yoruba on the African continent and of the Diaspora, Yoruba language and dialects are clearly under-represented in the mainstream U.S. academy. In his publication, The Morphophonemics of the Idaacha Dialect of Yoruba, Désiré Baloubi (2005) discusses the definition of “Yoruba” in terms of the people who associate themselves with the Yoruba language and culture across the globe. The literature abounds in information related to the presence of the Yoruba in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, and the Caribbean islands in general [over 20 million Yorubas across these geographic boundaries]. But what does ‘Yoruba’ mean? The term ‘Yoruba’ is used in several ways … First of all, one may consider ‘Yoruba’ as a dialect cluster extending from Central Southern Nigeria across into Benin. (p. 16)

Baloubi quotes Capo (1989): We suggest that Yoruba be viewed as a lect within the cluster, a lect socially defined, which has its distinctive characteristics. In Togo and Benin, the Yoruboid people are better known as Anago and Ana, but they retain their specific names. In Sierra Leone, they were known as the Aku peoples. (p. 16)

Baloubi (2005: 29) points to diversity within the Yoruba language by referring to a major study by Adetugbo (1973), which is a comparative historical study of the Yoruba language across dialects. The Yoruba language, as Adetugbo argues, is a dialect continuum, an aggregate of all the dialects, including Standard Yoruba (SY), spoken inside the Yoruba linguistic boundaries. Baloubi (2003) uses the term “Yoruboid” in reference to the Yoruba communities in Benin. Thus, he identifies three major sub-­ groups in Benin: the Southeastern Yoruboid, the Central Yoruboid, and the Northern Yoruboid. These Beninese Yoruboid have been separated from the Yoruboid in Nigeria by colonial powers. In Beyond Those Arbitrary



Borders, Baloubi (2003) raises questions of ethnic identity and warns about the possibility of language and culture death. By focusing on that colonial legacy, I argue … that the colonial powers, France and Great Britain, imposed not only new destinations but also new destinies on many speech communities. These communities, unfortunately, are still struggling to understand where they actually belong. I also claim some cultures may be endangered if nothing is done and chances are very high that some languages or dialects will eventually die out as well. (p. 529)

In short, language documentation and teaching enrich our cultural and academic experiences. They also help to minimize the risks that the future of a few languages would be in jeopardy, and all of the reasons above justify the choice of Yoruba language and dialects. Moreover, Baloubi (2016) addresses the issue of culture in Idàáchà, Dendi, Yórùbá, and Igbo as represented through a few examples of Achebe’s literary works.

Norfolk State University: A Teaching and Research Institution As one of the best State-affiliated Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Southeast, Norfolk State University has a rich history and a very long tradition in innovative endeavors as a teaching and research institution. The University, at large, is fully prepared to measure up to the challenges that come with research and teaching of African languages. The Norfolk State University (NSU) Department of English and Foreign Languages (ENFL) currently offers Arabic and, at one point, Swahili. With that background and established practice, NSU is prepared to encourage faculty to develop courses in African linguistics and applied linguistics. Such courses will most certainly encourage a better understanding of Africa—its continent and its cultures—through extensive research and well-structured study abroad programs. In supporting Robinson’s (2003) idea, one would believe that researching and teaching African languages “might also serve as bridges for linking African scholars and black scholars in the diaspora in a common intellectual project” (p. 33). NSU faculty, as well as scholars in other HBCUs, ought to heed the advice Lindfors (1995) gives in the following terms: “We must release the syllabus from the stranglehold of Shakespeare. We must shut out the poets



who wrote in England more than a hundred years ago” (p. 6). Not only does Lindfors advise on what to do, but also he proposes ways to obtain the expected outcome. “One way to achieve this objective,” he claims quite unambiguously, “is to modernize the syllabus so that students read books written in relatively recent times about matters of contemporary concern” (p. 6). “Another way,” he explains, “is to Africanize the syllabus so that they read about peoples and places which are not completely outside of the orbit of their own experience” (p. 6). Ultimately, as he concludes, “The best way would be both to modernize and Africanize the entire literature curriculum” (p. 7). Even though Lindfors, through the quotes above, addresses educational matters in the specific circumstances of post-Apartheid Southern Africa, his points are well taken and applicable in the general context of re-orienting educational programs in American HBCUs. Let us learn a lesson from Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-education of the Negro! We must seize the opportunity this time around by listening to credible messages that Lindfors constructs and paints so artfully. Making it abundantly clear, “[Lindfors is] arguing that major surgery is needed if we are interested in saving the system from further deterioration and ultimate collapse. We must transplant the heart of the syllabus if we want to give it new life” (p. 10). Yes, we must cross the Atlantic Ocean again, this time for a better and humane cause in the opposite direction, that is, to see the rest of the world in a new light and to reconnect in all sincerity with Africa. The need is real, as stated earlier, and Wright (2004), for example, fittingly calls for a partnership with Africa in his paper, “The Role of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Building the Capacity of Africa’s Science and Technology Infrastructure.” Dr. Karl S. Wright’s paper is presented at the First Africa’s Congress for Scientific Research, Technology, and Drug Industry in Cairo, Egypt, December 13–15, 2004; noteworthily, he is the Executive Vice President and Provost of Florida Memorial College in Miami, Florida. He strongly claims, “The 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States are potentially valuable partners to Africa as the continent mobilizes to enhance its science and technology (S & T) infrastructure” (p. 2). Wright (2004) points out that there are a great number of benefits to gain from collaborating with Africa through institution-to-institution linkages, HBCUs, and the digitizing of African universities.



African Americans understand the Diaspora Kinship with Africa. Accordingly, the historic relationship between HBCUs and the continent extends beyond the education of African students and scholars, encompassing collaborative projects, student and faculty exchanges and curricula initiatives. (p. 8)

Wright’s views are insightfully correct. We should adhere. To conclude, now is the time in this millennium. Numerous universities and colleges have already embraced the idea of launching research centers related to Africa. The University of Maryland’s Driskell Center for the study of the African Diaspora since 2001 and UCLA’s Globalization Research Center-Africa (GRCA) since 2002 are inspiring and supportive examples (Robinson 2003: 34). We hope that a large number of institutions of higher learning, especially HBCUs, will establish similar centers.

References Adetugbo, A. 1973. The Yoruba Language in Yoruba History. Sources of Yoruba History edited by S. O. Biobaku. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 176–204. African Language Program. February 5, 2004. Boston University. Accessed 1 November 2005. http://www.bu.edu/africa/languagestudy/introduction.html. Baloubi, Désiré. 2003. Beyond Those Arbitrary Borders. In The Foundations of Nigeria: Essays in Honor of Toy in FaIola, ed. Adebayo Oyebade, 529–544. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc. ———. 2005. The Morphophonemics of the ldàáchà Dialect of Yórùbá. Charlotte, NC: Conquering Books. ———. 2016. Culture Prints in African Languages: The World We Share-in Language and Literature. In Vehicles for the Enhancement of Cultural Understanding, ed. Dainess Maganda and Karim Traore, 123–141. London, UK: Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. Bates, R.H., Mudimbe, V.Y., and O’Barr, J. (eds.). 1993. Africa and the Disciplines: The Contribution of Research in Africa to the Social Sciences and Humanities. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Capo, H.B.C. 1989. Defoid. The Niger-Congo Languages edited by John BendorSamuel (275–290). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc. Lindfors, Bernth. 1995. Long Drums and Canons: Teaching and Researching African Literatures. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc.



Robinson, P.T. 2003. Area Studies in Search of Africa. UCIAS Edited Volume 3. Accessed 1 November 2005. http://repositories.cdlib.org/uciaspubs/ editedvolumes/3/6. Wright, K.S. 2004. The Role of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Building the Capacity of Africa’s Science and Technology Infrastructure. Paper Presented at the First African Congress for Scientific Research, Technology, and Drug Industry. Cairo, Egypt, December 13–15, 2004.


Intercultural Connections: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in Language Classrooms Beatrice Mkenda and Anne Jebet

Introduction Intercultural competence in educational institutions has been discussed for decades in the United States, particularly. The question that is often discussed is how to help students in our language classes from various fields of specialization to develop intercultural skills such as the ability to understand, analyze, and observe the social and cultural worldviews of people in the world in order to become better-informed citizens of the world. Byram (1997) insists that the role of foreign language classrooms is to integrate culture and develop the cultural awareness that leads to intercultural and cross-cultural comprehension. This view is in tandem with the two goals of these two Cs of learning languages, that is, Connections and Comparisons. On these two Cs, “learning languages provides Connections to additional bodies of knowledge that are

B. Mkenda (*) University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA A. Jebet University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_10




unavailable to monolingual English speakers. Through Comparisons and contrasts with language studied, students develop greater insight into their own language and culture and realize that multiple ways of viewing the world exist” (World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, p. 27). Therefore, foreign language classrooms act as bridges to introduce languages and cultures of other worlds. Also, they function as instruments that connect individuals, communities, as well as cultures from different parts of the world. Thus, to achieve this goal of intercultural connections, the World-Readiness Standards for Foreign Learning Languages advocates for the use of authentic texts. Using authentic texts in foreign language classrooms provides a wide range of cultural and linguistic aspects of the language (Tamo 2009). Speakers of the target language who share their cultures and experiences (Galloway 1998) could produce these texts in an oral or written format. Using such literary texts in foreign language classrooms has the advantage of motivating learners to read, listen, write, speak, and interpret cultural aspects of the language and the corresponding speech communities. The art of language use in literary works may help improve the linguistic and cultural competencies of students, which could lead to intercultural connections between the learners’ first language and the target language. Scholars in the field of second language acquisition widely support the use of literary texts in the curriculum as a means of creating interest in the target language and culture (Carter 1986; Duff and Maley 1990; Lazar 1993; Mason and Krashen 2004; Hall and Cook 2012). One of the startegies used is the project-based learning (PBL) approach; a strategy that can be used to facilitate foreign languages and cultures learning in the classroom. Literary texts in the classroom are meant to help learners use the language in its content and context as they expand their understanding of other worlds. Therefore, the project-based learning approach organizes learning around projects where students have the opportunity to explore, investigate, consider options/alternatives, and contribute to energizing the curriculum. This approach can be used at all levels of foreign language teaching and learning, where a task is provided, by considering the goals of the activities and the needs of the learners, depending on levels of language proficiency such as novice, elementary, intermediate, or advanced. For students to master a language, they have to master the cultural contexts in which the language occurs. Therefore, to enrich their cultural knowledge, students can bridge the cultural gap by comparing other



cultural contexts (including their own) and finding similarities with Swahili culture. To bridge this gap, a language instructor can ask students to do projects that will do the following: • contribute to their cultural learning, • engage students in meaningful learning experiences beyond the boundaries of the target language, • incorporate a more globalized learning, • create awareness of the differences or similarities between the target culture and other cultures, • provide students with a research-minded perspective and knowledge about the target culture and other cultures (Stern 1992), and • provide adequate target language practice. Providing these opportunities will help train students on how to approach authentic texts from other cultures and enhance their cultural awareness of other cultures. More so, as Maley (1989) puts it, that literature is a potent resource in the language classroom as it allows for “universality,” that is, it deals with experiences that happen to “human beings … common to all cultures” (p. 12). Using Things Fall Apart (TFA) in our classrooms has provided our students with these experiences common to humans, thus, preventing misconceptions about other cultures.

Background This study is based on our knowledge and years of experience in foreign language teaching and learning. We have taught Swahili as a foreign language in higher institutions for over ten years and have always incorporated authentic texts in our teaching of Swahili. Because of the effects of globalization, it seems paramount that we contribute to our students’ learning of other cultures beyond the target language. There is a need to enable learners of African languages, such as Swahili, Yoruba, Arabic, and Amharic, to understand cultural similarities and differences that exist among individuals, societies, nations, continents, and in the world as they become global citizens. This is because in some cases our teaching of other cultures beyond the target culture becomes the only way and only opportunity our students can gain knowledge of other African countries. Utilizing TFA in teaching and learning Swahili as a foreign language not only informs students about the Western part of Africa but also



encourages students to speak the target language as they discuss topics and perform tasks from the book. In our universities, just like in many other American universities, most students who study a foreign language in our classrooms come from different academic disciplines such as international studies, business, linguistics, anthropology, literature, pharmacy, nursing, and medicine. Some of these students have heard about TFA or have read the book in other courses. In our Kiswahili classes, at least more than half of the students have read the book prior to taking our class. Therefore, they bring into the classroom discussions and different perspectives of the book, inspired by their specific interests. Using TFA gives students an opportunity to share and explore their prior knowledge of the TFA story in the context of foreign language learning. Thus, as discussed above, it seems that the use of only authentic texts from the target language in teaching Swahili does not suffice if our goal is to develop multicultural and global citizens. In this paper, we have selected a few examples from TFA to demonstrate how the book can be used in any foreign language classroom to promote intercultural and cross-cultural learning.

ACTFL Intercultural/World Readiness Learning Standards Intercultural connections in foreign language teaching demands that teachers integrate culture in their teaching for cultural competence. This idea is based on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) World Readiness Standards for Foreign Language Learning. It includes making connections as one of the goals of cultural competency. In making connections, these standards highlight three major points as listed below. 1. Learners need to “build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using the language to develop critical thinking and to solve problems creatively.” 2. “Acquiring Information and Diverse Perspectives: Learners access and evaluate information and diverse perspectives that are available through the language and its cultures.” 3. “Learners use the language to examine the relationship between the products and perspectives of other cultures” (ACTFL 2018).



These points are a clear indication that teachers of foreign languages need to incorporate cultural experiences that students can utilize to make connections with their own cultures, expand their knowledge about other cultures and open their minds to diverse perspectives. Therefore, in this chapter, we expect TFA to provide our language students with a different perspective from those of target cultures as a way of motivating students and facilitate their learning.

Why Use Non-Target Language Texts? As discussed above, the role of intercultural connections is to provide students with cultural products from diverse and multiple perspectives in order for students to make connections with other cultures. Schleicher and Moshi (2000) state that the “cultural contents of our textbooks (in target language) are overshadowed by a strong emphasis in grammatical analysis,” this justifies the need for incorporating cultural knowledge to fill this gap and provide ample exposures to African cultures (p. 115). Using TFA or any other authentic foreign language text in Swahili classrooms will fulfill this goal. TFA is a popular book in classrooms in high schools and universities, especially in studying Africa, and that makes it a better choice when it comes to using it in language classrooms. Another added advantage is that TFA enhances the understanding of cultural knowledge from one culture to another culture, and students can make comparisons with their own cultures. Even though we are using TFA as an example, we recommend that instructors use any other literary texts that they are familiar with. These can include audio-video materials, films, comics from other cultures as a way to develop, reinforce and expand students’ knowledge and understanding of other African cultures, which is an opportunity they may only have in our classrooms. Thus, teachers need to envision themselves as producers of language learners who are not only connected to the target culture but also informed about other cultures. In integrating intercultural connections, we consider project-based learning as an example of a pedagogical strategy that has been successful in our Swahili language classrooms.



Project-Based Learning Concept The project-based learning (PBL) concept is an approach to learning that actively engages the learner through project activities. Studies have shown that such an approach enables inquiry, facilitates problem solving, and leads to meaningful teaching and learning experiences (Kokotsaki et  al. 2016). According to Kokotsaki, some factors that have enabled successful PBL are students’ exploration of varied contents of learning to provide them with learning opportunities that they can take up on their own. In teaching TFA through the PBL approach, language instructors give students an opportunity to explore authentic materials and develop their own projects thanks to their pedagogical guidance and support. The PBL process in general requires early planning on the part of the instructor in order to be successful. One needs to teach PBL with a goal in mind. In a Swahili class, this may involve scaffolding activities that include breaking end goals in sub-parts or mini projects, develop timelines for the projects, and create opportunities where students can engage with each other and converse in the target language about their projects. All these activities need early preparation and collection of resources on the part of the instructor, which includes preparing instructions for the students on how to go about planning and developing their projects early in the semester. The instructor will need to organize learning around projects where students have the opportunity to explore, investigate, consider different alternatives and tasks, and contribute to meaningful and enriching experiences. On the one hand, when PBL instruction is organized well, language assessment is easier and, on the other hand, students are motivated and in control of their work. That way, they are also more likely to complete their assignments successfully. In summary, a successful PBL should include guiding and supporting students, designing effective group work with equal levels of participation from members, monitoring student progress regularly, and allowing students to select and develop their projects (Kokotsaki et al. 2016).

Using Things Fall Apart in a Foreign Language Classroom Things Fall Apart (TFA) is a well known, hugely read and analyzed African literary work that has spread worldwide, presenting the culture, history and worldviews of the Igbo people. The book is considered as one of “the



approaches of teaching world literature series” (Lindfors 2011, p. 141). There are a number of reasons for using TFA in classrooms from middle school to university levels in any course on Africa and in any academic institution. Scholars in the field of African literature agree that Things Fall Apart provides a set of knowledge in understanding social cultural history, identities, and modernity in the world we live (Gikandi 2001). Although the novel comes from West Africa, it reflects on the many aspects of the history of the African continent. In a foreign language curriculum and especially African languages, TFA is a tool not only for presenting African history but also for advancing cultural and linguistic knowledge. As stated earlier, because students in foreign language classrooms come from various fields of study, they can lean on their previous knowledge about the novel from their respective disciplines and contribute to the conversation with other students in the classroom while using the target language. It is important to note that even though authentic literary sources can enrich language teaching, some foreign language teachers are still skeptical about teaching cultures because of lack of knowledge and experience in the target culture or about the text (World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, 2015). Using TFA a text from a different culture from the target culture may also pose some hesitancy. However, in an effort to develop “world ready” students, teachers should make the effort to incorporate such texts. Additionally, in teaching TFA, it will be extremely necessary for teachers to recognize that cultural misunderstandings that may often occur among students. For example, students assuming that leaving the twins in the evil forest to die in TFA is a common practice in African countries and in Nigeria today (p.  88). Thus, using tools like the ones described in the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, such as helping students understand the “multiple and shifting cultural identities when making comparisons to cultures abroad,” can help avoid misconceptions (p.  69). Avoiding cultural misunderstandings can ensure best practices in teaching TFA.

At What Level Can Things Fall Apart Be Used? Scholars like Schleicher and Moshi (2000) have discussed approaches to helping students develop interests in learning about other cultures. However, in this section, we discuss pedagogical approaches that motivate students to understand TFA and how it can be used at all proficiency levels of Kiswahili language teaching and learning, that is, elementary,



intermediate, and advanced levels. It is important to note that instructors need to be first of all familiar with TFA or any text they plan to teach for their language lessons to be effective. Activities used can be designed according to the needs, goals, and the level of their language learners. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign languages describes what students should be able to do at each proficiency level of learning a foreign language. In the elementary or novice level of foreign language learning, learners can identify overall information that is related to familiar issues, as well as memorizing a few sentences or phrases. They can also communicate and practice simple tasks or topics in addition to presenting them to their classmates or in other contexts. At this level, students can also ask and respond to simple questions and express their preferences or feelings about certain matters or topics. On the other hand, at the intermediate and advanced levels, students can interpret, negotiate, and present more topics that are complex in the target language. Classroom activities can be adjusted to fit the needs and the goals for these particular proficiency levels of foreign language teaching and learning. Learners at all levels can role-play, create discussions, perform a folktale, write their views and opinions, write a letter to the author, and describe the characters, among other competencies. In the following section, we look at different examples of activities that include proverbs, folktales, similes, and other literary features that play a significant role in explaining the target culture as well as its linguistic aspects.

Using TFA at the Elementary Level These examples can be used with novice students who are just beginning to study languages and cultures of Africa: • Students can use the proverbs in context where by a student writes a paragraph or a story that explains the proverb or simile; • They can match proverbs with an excerpt or story given by the instructor; • They can identify proverbs in the textbook and translate them to target language; • They can write simple descriptive sentences about the characters from the text and describe their geographical location, and they can even relate some of their experiences to the target culture;



• They can use a proverb or similes in writing a simple essay or a paragraph; • They can write responses to characters in TFA, expressing their opinions based on their conducts, by using similes or proverbs as a way of communicating with those characters; • They can translate folktales and similes into the target language; • They can identify grammatical elements from the folktales; • They can role-play the characters in the text; • They can create sentences about the main characters and choose famous people in their society with whom they can compare them; • They can use similes as they create sentences about famous figures in the society and the world; and • They can build their lexicon by translating words or sentences, which will also aid their learning of the target culture. It should be noted that at the elementary level, learners have limited target language knowledge. Therefore, activities have to suit the learners’ knowledge and their linguistic needs in the classroom. Some learners may do well in creating short sentences related to such literary features as proverbs while some may need more time to practice in order to comprehend the meaning and use of certain language aspects. This is an area where one task may not “fit all,” therefore, allowing individual learners to explore on their own and develop their own tasks or projects that can enrich their knowledge.

Using TFA at the Intermediate Level Students at this level can do more with TFA because of their language proficiency level. They can create images, write longer essays and stories on TFA, translate texts into the target language, use proverbs in TFA in their essays, and write book reports and sequels. The list of projects is endless, and students themselves can explore different tasks that they can have fun doing. One of the project-based learning approaches is to divide tasks in parts that can be done during the course of the semester. An example from our classroom is the use of the electronic-portfolio website or a folder of the project/s that can include: • a description of the author, Chinua Achebe, with photos and images;



• background information about Nigeria, and Igbo land, where the story is set; • essays/stories on selected proverbs or folktales where students rewrite these stories; • translations of episodes/texts/short stories from TFA (like the Anansi story); and • a simple essay comparing sections/parts of TFA to other stories/ cultural experiences in the target language or from own experiences At the end of a course, students are able to showcase their work in their folders or on websites. It gives them a sense of achievement to see all the tasks completed and can provide a detailed analysis of the text discussed during the course.

Using Things Fall Apart at the Advanced Level The list for activities or project-based learning projects that students can do using TFA is endless. Most of these tasks are general but can be utilized with any literary text. Below are some of the activities students can do with TFA: • write and role-play short plays based sections of the book (Such as the events around the Oracles decree about the killing of Ikemefuna, p. 40); • create a skit that explains a simile or proverb in TFA; • role-play the folktale (e.g., Ekwefi’s Tortoise story, p. 68); • create their own proverbs that they can use (e.g., if you were to provide wise words to the current generation, what will you tell them?); • compare and contrast TFA to a movie like Black Panther or any other text/movie they have read or watched; • translate a chapter of the text in the target language; • analyze the text critically and write an analytical essay in the target language; • identify themes, writing styles, literary analysis; and • compare and contrast the text to other Swahili texts, highlighting similarities as well as differences. Working on TFA proved quite motivating to our language-learning students and increased their critical thinking skills as they developed



remarkable projects. TFA increased their knowledge about a group of people and a culture they may have otherwise not studied if not for this experience. They controlled and increased their own learning of the target language. The best experience from our students themselves is guiding them in discovering a world of cultures different from their own and from the target culture.

Conclusion This discussion has demonstrated how literary texts can be used in foreign language classrooms through utilizing project-based learning in developing ACTFL world-readiness standards. However, there is need for further studies that look into PBL in foreign language classrooms to provide data and more pedagogical approaches to PBL. More research needs to study how these PBL experiences impact the different and diverse groups of learners at different levels of abilities, interests, and teaching outcomes. Also, there is need for research to look into the particular strategies and approaches used in relation to learning outcomes, the benefits of PBL at each level of language learning, and to investigate what particular pedagogical approaches are successful in teaching foreign languages. It is apparent from this discussion about our use of Things Fall Apart in our classrooms that the benefits of using literature in Swahili classrooms can be far more enriching. It adds to and goes beyond the use of target language texts in foreign language classrooms.

References Achebe, Chinua. 1994. Things Fall Apart. Heinemann Educational Publishers. Byram, Micheal. 1997. Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon/Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, Ltd. Duff, A., and A. Maley. 1990. Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Galloway, V. 1998. Constructing Cultural Realities: ‘Facts’ and Frameworks of Association. In The Coming of Age of the Profession: Emerging Issues in the Teaching of Foreign Languages, ed. J. Harper, M. Lively, and M. Williams, 129–140. Boston: Heinle and Heinle. Gikandi, S. 2001. Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Culture. Research in African Literatures 32(3), 3–8. Hall, G., and G.  Cook. 2012. Own Language Use in Language Teaching and Learning. Language Teaching 45: 271–308.



Kokotsaki, D., V.  Menzies, and A.  Wiggins. 2016. Project-Based Learning: A Review of Literature. Improving Schools 19 (3): 267–277. Lazar, G. 1993. Literature and Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lindfors, B. 2011. Early East African writers and publishers. Trenton, NJ: African World Press Maley, A. 1989. Down from the Pedestal: Literature as Resource. In Literature and the Learner: Methodological Approaches. Cambridge: Modern English Publications. Mason, B., and S. Krashen. 2004. Is Form-Focused Vocabulary Instruction Worth While? RELC Journal 35 (2). Schleicher, F.A., and L.  Moshi. 2000. The Pedagogy of African Languages: An Emerging Field. Ann Arbor, MI: Cushing-Malloy. Stern, H.H. 1992. Issues and Options in Language Teaching. Oxford University Press. Tamo, D. 2009. The Use of Authentic Materials in Classrooms. LCPJ 2 (1): 74–78. World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. 2015. (4th ed.). American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), Alexandria, VA.


Hunting and Gathering of Texts: Exploring Chinua Achebe’s Textual Footprints in American Institutions Kole Odutola

Introduction If the name Chinua Achebe is synonymous with non-Western writing, can one say his corpus of works is representative of the socio-cultural struggles of peoples who, historically, were on the fringes of global concerns? There are different schools of thought on how to integrate non-Western authors into the curriculum or even bring them to the attention of learners in American schools. In order to gain some insight, we will examine Chinua Achebe’s textual footprint which can be uncovered in different disciplines across the United States and globally. The idea of searching for Achebe’s footprint while at the same time focusing on him as an African writer enables us to explore the textual layers of his works; it gives us room to interrogate the ongoing humanization

K. Odutola (*) University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_11




project of Africans in American schools. However, Eve Eisenberg (2013) cautions that “[e]ven if Things Fall Apart performs the role its author imagined for it, that of reclaiming the dignity and beauty of the [I]gbo lifeworld from the racism of colonial discourses, no one text could ever flesh out a truly nuanced image of Nigeria, much less all of Africa.”

A Brief History of African Literature and the American University Richard Priebe (1974) stated that the number of colleges and universities offering courses in African literature has steadily increased over the past five or six years-a period when we have witnessed cutbacks in many academic areas. As at 1972, there were over eighty colleges and universities where African literature was taught in the United States, while before 1968 there were only a handful of places that offered any courses. For the first time, a large number of graduate students are currently engaged in studying African writers. (p. 19)

The statistics for 2018 is unavailable to the author to include in this chapter, but we shall assume that the discipline is not in decline.

The Context of This Presentation At a point in time, the perception, subjective as it is, was that “[r]acialism and departmental conservatism continually work towards making it difficult to teach African literature, even obfuscating the fact that the study of this literature has academic integrity” (Priebe, p. 19). Based on this forty-four-year-old observation, it will be in perfect order to find out what the present politics of African literature is in many American universities of today. The latest I have in print is Christopher Miller’s (1993) chapter in Africa and the Disciplines edited by Bates, Mudimbe, and O’Barr. We are reminded of Dean Donald Kagan’s speech when he said the “study of Western civilization in our schools is under heavy attack” (Miller, p. 214). Tracing the footprints of Chinua Achebe is akin to revisiting the state of African literature. The revisit follows Achebe’s 1975 concern about how to define what African literature is. At the time, the notion was to conceptualize “African literature as a newborn infant.



But in fact what we have is a whole generation of newborn infants” (p. 93). Has the newborn grown?

The State of African Literature: From a Personal Account Dr. Oge Ogede’s personal opinions on the state of African literature are worth sharing in full so as not to lose the essence of his communication. According to him (2018, personal communication): [T]here’s next to no investment in the field by Africans themselves over here [meaning in America]. Rich Africans at home and abroad have established no Africa-centered institution of higher education in America—to rival, for example, Jewish-affiliated colleges and universities that are privately owned. Arabs and other groups are also promoting their own cultures in America. So, can Africans blame others for not promoting their cultures—when even they themselves won’t? In the few places where African studies as a field is recognized within the current disciplinary configurations in the American educational establishment, we are talking about a field that’s shy of expansion. Africa-related funding, for new hires and for research, may be nearly non-existent. In many instances, before a vacancy opens up the person currently occupying the position has literally to give it up either through retirement or death.

His Contribution Ends on a Questioning Note General interest in Africa is minimal because of negative stereotypes in the conduct of African leaders, and politicians have done little to help in alleviating. Might it not be wishful thinking to expect expansion of African studies as a field to occur in America without commensurate growth in Africa’s cultural, economic, historical, and geo-political importance? Whatever response readers may individually have for Dr. Oge Ogede’s probing questions, the words of Christopher Miller (1993) must be allowed to resonate and mediate our responses; “[t]he study of Africa has a vital role to play in the broadening of our students’ intellectual horizons; studying Africa will make them aware of how those horizons came to exist and what they mean” (p. 228).



Do We Still Need to Ponder on Why Study Africa? University of Pittsburgh’s African studies website throws more light on the question and states this: The relevance of African issues is apparent in our everyday lives; we use African products, exports, or mineral resources sometimes unknowingly. The coltan in our cellphones is only one example! Studying African history and current events gives us a deeper understanding of world history and even modern American history [emphasis mine]. For instance, the relationship between the United States and Africa predates American Independence. The profits for the trans-Atlantic slave trade helped jumpstart our industrial revolution, while the labor of enslaved Africans and their descendants laid the economic foundations of this nation. Right now, African immigrants are establishing more and more communities in America, thus enriching our own African culture, which puts the study of African issues and cultures at our front doorstep. African Studies are important to students who want to understand their neighbors--and themselves. You become a better-informed global citizen when you study Africa [emphasis mine]. The study of Africa takes different forms and has multiple entry points of which literature is a part.

Road Map for This Chapter These questions raised will not distract from my pursuit of how Chinua Achebe’s works have permeated different subject areas, but, first, I shall lay out the road map of issues within this purview. The idea of exploring the footprints of Achebe masks the larger question of why the study of (world) literature is essential in schools when the world is faced with more pressing issues. The answer to why the study of literature has received considerable attention is obvious and as such, it will be counterproductive to add any other layer of thought to it. I will therefore focus on exploring means and methods already devised for the study of Achebe in American schools. A brief review of materials online and elsewhere will follow. Questions… At this historical moment in America when Karen Smith (2011) concludes, “we operate under the premise that no world unity exists or can exist, even as we desire to expand the number of bridges we make to other



cultures through the problematic of translation.” Therefore, the subject matter of our interest may be narrowed down simply to two interrelated questions: 1. Where are the books written by Chinua Achebe studied in American schools? 2. How is Things Fall Apart positioned in the curriculum of various institutions?

Literature Review Before attempting any response to the issues, a brief literature review helps put the study of non-Western writers into proper perspective. Brandeis University has a set of courses it terms Non-Western and comparison courses. One of the outcomes as stated on their website is that “Non-Western courses expand students’ horizons and help them better understand their own history and culture.” The implication of this could be that the Non-Western courses become the “other” and a reference point by which American students can seek differences or similarities. It then becomes a way of building bridges of understanding to other cultures. Vicki Galloway, however, warns that “[b]ridges of culture facts produce only fiction: not the real culture, but a hybrid warped in reference to our own; not its internal sense, but the sense we have given it; not its inner dynamics, but only the blips it displays on our own culture’s radar screen” (1999, p. 153). In addition, Vicki Galloway suggests that teachers should guide learners “not only to enter the other culture on its own terms, but also to re-­ enter their own” (p. 153). The real issue is how to gain entry into other cultures without preconceived notions of what these cultures should be. In Ian Bernard’s words, “when difference is treated as absolute, the fetishized Other becomes exotic and unknowable, and could never be like ‘us’—a logic that, however inadvertently, re-inscribes colonialist stereotypes and paternalistically masks critical, political, and moral relativism as respect for difference” (2010, p.  45). As culture becomes a target for learners, the classroom transforms into a battlefield of ideas. What then is the nature of these classrooms?



Classifications in Classrooms The issue of difference now takes us to how teachers frame the teaching of literary texts like those of Chinua Achebe. There are different categorizations by those who teach non-Western authors in American classrooms. Tanure Ojaide (1992) prefers to classify a writer like Wole Soyinka as a post-independence writer as opposed to a post-colonial writer (Bernard 2010). Ojaide and Barnard proffer sophisticated arguments for their choices. On the one hand, the post-independence classification “emphasizes the people’s responsibilities to themselves over the never ending ‘postcolonial’ which seems paternalistic by comparison.” On the other hand, Bernard cites Masood Ashraf Raja who pointed out that “the mere act of entering a postcolonial literature class can be quite a challenging event, especially because of the international, anti-foundational, and anti-imperial nature of the postcolonial texts” (2010, p. 45). A major feature of postcolonial literatures, according to an Indian scholar, Madhumita Ganguli, 2006, “is the concern with place and displacement leading to a crisis of identity between self and place resulting from migration, enslavement and the concern with myths” (p.  91). In other cases, particularly the West African sub-region, the concern is for the displacement of colonial narratives and the struggle for independence without bloodshed. The novel as one of the vestiges of colonial influences in the texts of these writers was noticeable by a number of critics. The form of the narrative was said to be Euro-American in origin. Kwame Anthony Appiah (1991) argues that the first generation writers like Achebe and Camara Laye wrote in the “context of notions of politics and culture dominant in the French and British university and publishing worlds in the 1950s and 1960s” (p. 348). Appiah further stated, “Achebe moves from the creation of a usable past in Things Fall Apart to a cynical indictment of politics in the modern sphere in A Man of the People.”

How Achebe Is Positioned in American Schools The simplicity of the text makes it a candidate for English classes. However, Eve Eisenberg (2013) draws attention to an integrative unit, which is a derivative of a typical English-Social studies interdisciplinary unit. “The move towards interdisciplinarity has re-framed English, orienting it



towards basic reading and writing skills while reducing emphasis on formal and stylistic analysis of literary texts.” In this case, Achebe’s novels become a means to an end. The end of humanizing Africans in the minds of American students whose age-old perceptions of Africa is in line with that of their parents and grandparents (Osunde and Tlou 1996). English classes use Achebe’s works, so do other disciplines. For instance, his works are relevant in the study of societies. Achebe as Part of Introduction to Sociology Apart from social studies, Cheryl Hartman (2005) of Kilian Community College said “[i]n order to help students understand sociological concepts in more experiential ways and to give them a glimpse into a culture that may be different from their own she turned to the novel Things Fall Apart as a supplementary reading to the main text.” Hartman, as a Cameroonian teaching in an American College could relate to polygamy; gender relations; the mystery and familiarity of ancestral masquerades; and their capacity for social control. The basis of using fiction for the study of sociology is that literature reflects society. Margaret Turner (2003) also argues that literature matters to social work because it gives a holistic account of life. “It expresses human nature in its complexity and unique variations and comments on its social world” (p. 233). Literature and Sociology As Soraj Hongladarom (1999) says in a review of Wendy Griswold’s work, “[t]raditionally, culture is not favorite subject of sociology.” He further states that sociologists prefer to study those aspects of society that can lend themselves to empirical or quantitative methods, but now sociologists study topics such as cultures as systems of meanings, production and reception of cultures, and cultural construction of social problems. The statements above give an idea why Achebe’s novels may be of service just like any other author’s work. The text and its context become the means to sociological explorations of the other. Griswold herself (2010) submits that “Achebe’s stature rests not only on his immense literary gifts but also upon his extraordinary sociological analysis” (p. 105). She is of this opinion because to her Achebe’s works are less of an expression of inner life but an almost true to live representation of life and social transformation in his immediate environment. Is Griswold



hinting that Achebe’s literary expressions are true versions of life as lived in the geographical spaces of his concern? Griswold’s position must be read in tandem with Chinua Achebe’s comment in Morning yet on Creation Day (1975) where he objected to his works been treated as anthropological data. Lyon citing Achebe wrote that the “tendency of Western literati to treat his works as anthropological data rather than as literary exemplars of the new African novel” (1984, p. 350) must be avoided. According to Simon Gikandi (1991) the tendency Achebe cautioned about should be traced to his pronouncements on African fiction which seem to foster an anthropological approach that, in my view, forestalls a more complex reading of his works” (p.  26). Gikandi goes further to cite an interview with Kalu Ogbaa (1981), where Achebe stated, “he does not object if readers use his novels as sources of cultural information” (p. 26). To be sure Gikandi is not in total disagreement with Achebe, he further clarified his stand that he is not opposed to his students’ sensible use of Achebe’s “fiction for its supply of cultural data, he cautions his students that novels, like all sources of knowledge, proffer incomplete and often contradictory perspectives” (p.  26). This kind of contradictory perspective between imagination and reality was spotted by Lauren Benton’s (2002) Law and Colonial Cultures in which she argued that “Achebe’s novel exaggerates the isolation of Ibo villages, who lived in a region long incorporated in long distance trade routes— including the slave trade—and exposed to cultural difference” (p. 16). Introductory Geography and Achebe Achebe’s protestation not discounted, John Povey (1970) submits that “African writers as Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe are so sophisticated and skillful that their works may very appropriately be studied in an English literature class.” Earlier he expressed his view on the nature of what he terms “the new African writing.” Such writing, according to him, “contains much that would inform the social science teachers or even historians and geographers” (p. 23). The department of Geography, Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania uses Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in introductory geography courses called “Discover Geography”. According to James Hathaway (1993), the novel “centers on the explication of its deep sense of place and on an examination of the book within the context of political geography” (p. 75). The definition of political geography as the study of the effects of



political action on human geography makes Things Fall Apart more attractive to the entire learning experience. The section of the syllabus in which the novel is assigned is “The process of colonialism: Britain in Nigeria” (p. 79).

Use of Fiction in the Geography Classroom Geography as we know is a subject about rocks, mountains, and waterways. When Hathaway (1993) reviewed the works of others who have used fiction in classrooms, he submits that “[a] core theme is that fiction provides a compelling way for students to learn about the rich complexity of places” (p. 75). The objective of learning about the complexity of places is acquisition of “more understanding and tolerance of people from other cultures” (p. 75). It should be noted that it is not only creative works from developing countries that are used for building cultural bridges in American classrooms. The work of Broker-Gross (1991) shows how Ntozake Shange’s novel, Betsey Brown, has been used for cross cultural comparison, and compassion for different peoples’ conditions. The novel’s blurb describes it as a “unique and vividly told novel about a girl named Betsey Brown, an African American seventh-grader growing up in St. Louis, Missouri.” Things Fall Apart and Political Geography “Gunn (1974) also noted that the use of fiction counteracts a common student conception of geography as consisting of mountains, capital cities, and chief exports.” Teachers of geography are also of the opinion that students’ need for the art of good writing and reading well-written novels like Things Fall Apart will be a good start. It is said that novels pay attention to details about places in creative ways that excite readers. Things Fall Apart as a Source of History History has been defined as the account of how we (humans) got to where we are. Chinua Achebe also left his voice to how history should be treated by producers and consumers of history. To Achebe, there will be a different point of view when lions are allowed to give an account of how many hunters they have killed instead of the present one-sided account of how many lions hunters kill. Achebe’s multi-perspectival view is not far from



Leopold Von Ranke’s point of view “that history, while assembled out of facts, has a spiritual and subjective content that needs to be unscrambled like hieroglyphs” (1981, p. 375).

African Novels and History Based on an understanding of history, Emad Mirmotahari (2011) says, “history has to be understood as a product of its sources” (p.  373). Furthermore, he adds, “[t]hough Achebe’s novel [Things Fall Apart] cannot be reduced to history, it performs history as an idea and as a project through its form” (p. 374). It is well stated that the form is not unmediated by the imagination of the writer. David Ker is quoted as expressing his view about the African novel and the modernist tradition it holds. He says modernism rather than realism captures the spiritual energy of early African fiction because it is the formal expression of a world in disrepair, a world that has been amputated from its former self and is suffering from a crisis of culture. African Novel’s Historical Engagements It will be seen shortly how Chinua Achebe’s works fit into the three categories identified by Eleni Coundouriotis. The African novel he says responds to colonialism; they are critiques of state power in specific national contexts and finally as interventions in (inter)disciplinary conversations. Emad Mirmotahari (2011) refers to Things Fall Apart as multi-­ discursive because it collates story-telling, colonial narratives, historicism, and anthropology, among other modes of knowledge” (p. 375). The African Novel as History It is not only Mirmotahari who focuses on the link between the African novel and its potential as a historical source material, Adeleke Adeeko (2008) reflects on how “Great books make their own history.” Adeeko talks about how historical method defines one of Achebe’s works; Things Fall Apart. Adeeko’s focus on history highlights Achebe’s skillful reconstruction of past events in his narratives. “History happened in Umuofia, indeed, more history than a person should experience in one lifetime happened, although not in the circumstances chosen by its inhabitants”



(p. 37). What Adeeko does here is to show how history weaves into the narrative in very creative ways.

Use of Historical Methods in Achebe’s Works Adeeko reinterprets the ending of Things Fall Apart as a commentary on how history from different perspectives gets made. “Achebe’s understated critique of the Commissioner’s reduction of the story of an illustrious life into a ‘reasonable paragraph’ reveals how colonialist records, hitherto the main source of written knowledge about early European acts in Africa, deliberately substitute romance for history by disregarding existing circumstances on the African ground” (p. 39). In effect, the use of historical methodology in Achebe’s works becomes history in and of itself.

Three Concepts of History Applicable to Things Fall Apart Richard Begam (1997), in his article, focused on “Achebe’s sense of an ending: History and tragedy in Things fall Apart.” Begam raises a number of pertinent questions about historical periods and origins and endings of each of these periods. He asks “where do postcolonial writers locate their past?” He then goes further to argue that there are three distinct endings in Things Fall Apart and these can be read along the lines of nationalist history, adversarial history, and metahistory. He concludes by arguing that “Things Fall Apart demands what is, in effect, a palimpsest reading, a kind of historical and generic archaeology, which is designed to uncover, layer by layer, those experiences that have accreted around colonialism and its protracted aftermath.” Achebe in Law and Colonial Cultures Outside of sociology, geography, and history, there are aspects of Things Fall Apart that shed light on customary and land law. Lauren Benton, an anthropologist and historian uses Things Fall Apart in her book on Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400 to 1900 (2002). In her opinion “Okonkwo’s obliviousness may reflect Achebe’s overstatement of Ibo isolation” (p.  17). In a footnote, she goes on to explain that “Achebe’s portrayal of Okonkwo’s perception of British ceremony is a literary device.”



Things Fall Apart and Land Law There also are other aspects of Things Fall Apart that shed light on unwritten customary and land law. A case in point is chapter 20 when Okonkwo inquired about what happened to a land in dispute. The response goes to the heart of customary law and jurisprudence and speaks to the presence of the colonial legal system and its limitations. According to Benton, “it is tempting to view any participation in an imposed legal system as collaboration, on the one hand, and to represent any form of rejection of the law’s authority as resistance”(p. 17). The passage below does not in any way do justice to the fact that Igbos too had their own court system before colonial intervention, but it shows Okonkwo’s rejection of the colonialists imposed judicial system. Does the white man understand our custom about land? How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? However, he says that our customs are bad, and our own brothers who have taken up his religion say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and calmly and without fighting with his religion. We were made happy. … and [we] allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our group of people can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.

Things Fall Apart and the Study of Tragedy Kathleen Puhr (1987) brought to the fore Italy in the sixteenth century, the Golden Age of Greece, and nineteenth-century Nigeria. Her concern is that a common literary genre links all three. Romeo and Juliet and Medea (or Antigone) are all works about tragedy. She says further “[the] bonus accompanying this work is that it allows a class to engage in a mini lesson on the history of the colonization of Africa, specifically of Nigeria, and provides a look at a culture unfamiliar to Westerners” (p. 43). This goes to show that Achebe’s book apart from its literary qualities serves as a means to a cross-cultural educational end. In order to situate the text properly, she observes that in the tradition of great tragedy, the novel raises the question of fate versus free will: how much is Okonkwo himself responsible for his tragedy, and how much is he a victim of fate, in this case, the seemingly arbitrary decrees



of the tribal oracles and the influx of the British colonials? The question of fate versus free will generated debate among the sophomores in connection with Medea and Romeo and Juliet; the debate was even more heated in connection with Things Fall Apart and extended from class discussion into essays in which the students took a side on the question. (p. 43)

In the same way, one can say that things come together. One can therefore deduce that Achebe’s book, apart from its literary qualities, serves as a means to a cross-cultural educational end. To situate the text properly, she observes that literary scholars also engaged in a typology of tragedy.

Classifications of Tragedy The debate the novel generates in classrooms notwithstanding, Richard Begam (1997) invoking an interview Chinua Achebe gave to Robert Serumaga states that the political implications of tragedy must not be overlooked. A fact remains that the African conception of tragedy does not fit the Aristotelian model (Bruce Macdonald, 1980). Other literary scholars classify the tragedy in different ways; Abiola Irele 1970is of the view that it is a cultural and historical tragedy; Afam Ebeogu (1983) posits that it is an example of Igbo tragedy while Alastair Niven refers to it as modern tragedy. My position is that the death of Okonkwo may appear as that of the individual, but it still represents the death of a collective and the bringing to life of a new vision. To posit that the footprint Chinua Achebe left in this aspect is indelible will be an understatement.

Conclusion The very few samples we have shown of the footprints of Chinua Achebe are, of course, a tip of the iceberg. Books written by Chinua Achebe and other non-Western writers are studied in American schools in different disciplines. The works, particularly Things Fall Apart, fit into areas one would not have thought they might feature. Course developers have found ways of using different aspects of the works to reinforce the otherness of African and non-Western writers. Achebe’s footprints have created clear prints in the minds of readers outside his culture. The vivid description of geography of the place and the nature of a pre-modern Igbo society with its own systems of law, philosophy, and ritual practices contribute to the dismantling of pre-conceived notions.



Achebe in his writing did not only dismantle existing literary structures but erected his own literary structures, ways of seeing, and creative reconstruction of memory. This is in addition to his imaginative use of language that set his novels apart from the pace and flavor of Western narrative. The positioning of Things Fall Apart in the curriculum of various institutions defies the Western world’s low expectation of literary works produced from a continent once termed dark with regard to its ability to produce, circulate, and add value to knowledge. Achebe’s works cannot be restricted to just the study of literary styles, genre, or narratology. They now lend themselves to other disciplines where clarity of thought is essential and systematically balanced views, which means positions as well as counter-positions, are imperative.

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Education, History, and Chinua Achebe’s Fiction and Political Texts


Religious Violent Extremism: Lessons from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart Mohamed Mwamzandi

Introduction Several works on Things Fall Apart discuss the flaws of the Igbo belief system and Christianity as an ideological aid to colonization. Studies discussing violence in Things Fall Apart explore domestic violence resulting from the failure of the traditional patriarchy system and masculinity, clash of civilizations, as well as the general violence narrative of the novel with scaring acts such as drinking palm-wine from a human skull (e.g., Okoye 1987; Olugunle 2018; Bady 2014; and Lau 2017). In his discussion of violence, Lau (2017, 26) focuses on the “terroristic violence” that “emerges in pre-colonial Africa as a response to the threat of colonization or Christianity.” Okoye explores the violence perpetrated by the Christians and traditionalists as a clash of ideologies. None of these works relates the religious violence extremism tendencies displayed by the two conflicting belief systems—Igbo traditional religion and Christianity—in the violent extremism conversation. Although there is no specific expression for the

M. Mwamzandi (*) University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_12




religion that was practiced before Christianity in Igbo language, the Igbo belief system was and remains central in all aspects of Igbo life including politics as well as economy and social justice (Okoye 1987, 29). This article discusses the acts of violence depicted in Things Fall Apart from the perspective of religious extremism instigated by skewed interpretation of religious scripture as is witnessed today in Islamist terror organizations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabab in Kenya and Somalia. A common characteristic in violent extremist organizations guided by religious ideology is a leader who encourages and justifies violent acts against non-members (Barkindo 2018, p.  55). In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (1958/2009) shows that radical preachers can instigate violent extremism with an uncompromising overtone that insists on a complete eradication of the “other.” A systematic failure by the new catechist of Umuofia, the Reverend John Smith, to tolerate and respect the traditional religion of the Umuofia people licenses extremist acts by the new converts. Rev. John Smith, who openly condemns Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation, “saw the world as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in a mortal conflict with the sons of darkness” (p. 104). He breeds fanaticism and violence in the name of religion and some of the new converts demonstrate their faith and zeal by attacking the “pagan” customs of their society. Enoch’s act of unmasking the highly respected egwugwu, for example, is a deliberate attempt to instigate a religious war. Within the Igbo society, there are elements that see the Christian ideology as a danger to their traditions. Okonkwo disowns his son, Nwoye, because of Okonkwo’s inability to reason with Nwoye on the subversive practices of the Igbo tradition that make him see Christianity as attractive. Further, after his return to Umuofia, Okonkwo orchestrates violent acts against the Christian church and its members to defend the Igbo customary law and religion. He “mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia” (p. 104). This is reminiscent of the perceived fear of Islamist terror organizations such as Al Qaida and Boko Haram that Islam is under threat from the US and its western allies. A clash between the government protecting the interests of the “encroaching” Christian religion and the “oppressed” Igbo people, whose religion is under threat of extermination due Christianity and the actions of the white man, is finally inevitable. Furthermore, the harsh and brutal treatment of rebellious traditionalists by the newly established colonial government strengthens the resolve of the oppressed Igbo people to resist religious as well as political and



economic domination. Gross misconduct and violation of human rights does not crush violent extremism. Mass arrests and extrajudicial killings in volatile regions, affected by religious violent extremism (RVE), enhance the terror narrative and create a feeling of victimhood. The reader learns that the white man built a court in Umuofia where the District Commissioner (DC) judges cases with ignorance (p. 99). The judge has court messengers who take men to him for trial. The court messengers, called kotma, guard the prison, which is “full of men who had offended against the white man’s law” (p.  99). The arrest of six elders after the church is burned, their mistreatment when in detention, and their sentencing without defense are the immediate reason for Okonkwo’s killing of the court messenger; in fact, the killing of the court messenger happens during a violent crackdown of the demonstration led by the titled men. The rest of the chapter is organized as follows. First, I discuss the Igbo traditional religion wherein I make clear that the Igbo belief system, like the mainstream religions such as Christianity and Islam, sets up moral values for the people to follow unconditionally. Then, I explain I argue the nascence of Christianity and colonialism. Finally, I examine the contrasting methodologies of moderation and radicalism used by the Christian catechists and the resultant effect of the latter in instigating religious violent extremism.

The Igbo Traditional Religion The Igbo traditional religion is about the belief in gods and ancestors in the form of spirits. Through the conversation and arguments between Akunna and Mr. Brown, readers understand that Chukwu is the supreme God. He makes the world and all the other deities who work directly under him (pp. 101–102). These deities include Ani—the goddess of the earth, Ifejioko—the god of yams, Amadiora—the thunderbolt, Igwe—the sky god, Idemili—the owner of the royal python, Ogwugwu—the deadliest of the deities, and Chi—the personal god. Akunna explains that these gods are Chukwu’s messengers appointed “to help Him because his work is too great for one person” (p. 102). People worship and pray to the deities and ancestors by offering sacrifices of kola nut, food, and palm wine (p. 10), a cock (p. 12), a hen, a goat, a piece of cloth, and some cowries (p. 22), in addition to a new yam and some palm oil (p. 25). The Ibo realize that Chukwu is the supreme God, but they worship and offer sacrifices to the small gods because they are afraid to worry the master. Before



planting, Unoka sacrifices a cock to Ani (Ala—the earth goddess). He also kills a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, the god of yams. In some cases, it is human sacrifice. When the Oracle of the hills and caves pronounces that Ikemefuna be killed (35), Ikemefuna is offered as sacrifice (p. 38). The gods control every aspect of life of the Igbo people from birth to death. For example, if a woman gives birth to twins, these twins are put in earthenware pots and thrown away in the forest (p.38) because “the Earth had decreed they were an offence on the land and must be destroyed” (p.  74). If a man dies of a swelling, the Earth goddess considers it an abomination to her and, therefore, denies his burial and has him thrown to the evil forest. Fellow clansmen do not burry a person who kills himself or herself, so they will not burry Okonkwo because he has committed suicide. In essence, success and failure are the work of Chi—the personal god. Although the Igbo proverb states, “If a man says yes, his chi says yes,” Okonkwo’s misfortune after hard work affirms the counter proverb that declares, “A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi” (p. 76). Earlier in the novel, the failure of Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, is attributed to “a bad chi” that predestines his life with evil fortune to his death (p. 12). The gods are in control of peace and war. It is customary for the ancestors to ordain the Week of Peace (also called the ‘Peace of Ani’) in honor of the earth goddess (pp.18–19). During the Week of Peace, people do not say harsh words to neighbors but live in peace with their fellows. Moreover, Umuofia never goes to war, unless its case is clear and is accepted as such by Agbala—the Oracle of the hills and the cave (9). The gods are believed to be omnipotent and invisible, except to the priest/priestess. Agbala, for example, is believed to be in a cave accessed through a hollow path. No one has ever beheld Agbala, except the priestess (p. 11). The Igbo people highly respect and fear the deities. Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, greets her god with a multitude of names: the owner of the future, the messenger of earth, the one who cut a man down when life was sweetest to him (64). These names are reminiscent of God’s names in major religions such as Christianity and Islam. The deities are consulted when misfortune hits or when there is some dispute with neighbors. Additionally, they are consulted about the future and departed fathers. During the Feast of New Yam, Okonkwo asks ancestors to protect him, his children, and their mothers in the New Year (p. 10). When in dire need of help, the Igbo people consult the deities through a priest or priestess. They believe the priest or priestess is full of powers of the gods, and, consequently, is feared and respected by the society (p. 12).



Only the priest or priestess may communicate directly with the deities. The priests and priestesses represent the different deities; they communicate the will of gods and receive peoples’ prayers in shrines and, sometimes, at the homes of the targeted people. To be clear, when Unoka has a low harvest, he consults Agbala—the oracle of the hills and the caves— through the priestess (p. 13). Chika, the priestess at the time, tells him that his misfortune is of his own making because he has offended neither the gods nor the ancestors. The priest or priestess prophesizes when possessed by spirits, and they will speak the words of the gods he or she represents. Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, for instance, comes to Okonkwo’s home with a prophecy that Agbala wants to see their daughter, Ezinma (p.  60). Okonkwo’s wife, Ekwefi, sees the possessed Chielo as a completely different woman from the Chielo she sits with at the market place and from whom she buys bean cakes for Ezinma. Apart from priests and priestesses, there are other symbols and shrines through which gods and ancestors are reached. Trees, such as the big and ancient silk-cotton tree in the ilo—the village playground, are considered sacred. “Spirits of good children lived in it waiting to be born” and “young women who desired children came to sit under its shade” (p. 29). Another symbol of the deities is the royal python. The royal python is an emanation of the god of water and is considered to be very sacred. If one accidentally kills a royal python, he or she offers sacrifices and arranges an expensive burial ceremony for it. However, no punishment is meted on a person who deliberately kills the royal python because “it was seen as interfering in a matter that lied between god and the transgressor” (p. 93). There are individual and clan shrines, such as the medicine house in Okonkwo’s compound and Agbala’s cave, where prayers are conducted and sacrifices offered. Most mainstream religions believe in life after death. The Igbo people believe in reincarnation. They believe that people come back either in the same status or better after they die. During the funeral of Ezeudu, one of the spirits addresses Ezeudu and says: If you had been poor in your last life I would have asked you to be rich when you come again. But you were rich. If you had been a coward, I would have asked you to bring courage. But you were fearless warrior. If you had died young, I would have asked you to get life. But you lived long. So I shall ask you to come again the way you came before. (p. 73)



According to this excerpt, Ezeudu would have come back as a rich person if he had died as a poor man. Ezeudu is a noble warrior decorated with three out of four titles during his lifetime. Since his achievements were great, he will come back to the world in the same status. The justice system is intertwined with the belief in gods and ancestors. The council of elders and titled men known as ndichie administer justice. There are also masked spirits, referred to as egwugwu, that are believed to be departed ancestors; they appear to their clan members to administer justice at the village ilo. The egwugwu are nine, and each represents the nine villages of Umuofia. The masks recall the robes that judges wear in the modern government courts of some countries that act as a symbol of power. The ancestors derive their power from their close communion to the Earth goddess. The leader of the egwugwu is called the Evil Forest, and smoke constantly pours out of his head during community gatherings. He is the main speaker who asks questions and gives the accused, the accuser, and witnesses time to talk. He maintains discipline during the proceedings, conducts the hearings, and pronounces the judgment. In addition to the ndichie and the masked spirits, the deities also play an important role in the justice system. Of all the deities, Ani plays the biggest role in the lives of the people. Ani, through the priests and priestesses, enforces law and order. He is “the ultimate judge of morality and conduct” (p.  23). Violation of the traditions and customs is punished with sacrifices, fines, and banishment. Okonkwo, for example, is fined after physically assaulting his wife, Ojiungo. He is ordered by Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess, to bring a she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth, and a hundred cowries (p. 20). The spirit of the Evil Forest arbitrates the child custody case between Uzowulu and his wife. During the hearing, Evil Forest says, “It is not bravery when a man fights with a woman” (p. 57). A neighbor who let his cow loose to eat crops is fined heavily (68–69). If a person inadvertently kills another, it is considered a female ochu (manslaughter) and must flee from the land. His property (including animals, barns, houses, and fence) is destroyed and burned to appease the Earth goddess. He returns after seven years of banishment. The description above depicts a very organized society guided by religion. The clan enforces law and order. The justice system prevails because of the strong belief in gods and spirits who punish the clan if their decrees are ignored. Obiereka oppugns the banishment of Okonkwo after he accidentally kills the sixteen-year-old son of Ezeudu during the old man’s funeral. Obiereka mourns his friend’s calamity and asks why a man should



“suffer so grievously for an offence he had committed inadvertently” (p. 74). He wonders what crime his twin children committed for them to deserve to be thrown away. However, if the clan does not exact the punishment for the offence committed, the Earth goddess will punish not only the offender but also the whole clan. This belief ensures that law is enforced in the community.

The Nascence of Christianity Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is considered a historical criticism of Colonialism, Christianity, and their effects on the Igbo traditional religion and political systems in the late nineteenth as well as early twentieth centuries (McLaren 2002, p.  103). The precursor to acts of violence that ensue between the Igbo society and the missionaries and their followers is the introduction of Christianity. Obierika mentions the presence of white men in Umuofia land and in the neighborhood for the first time. He says, they are as white as chalk (p.  45). Recall that Okonkwo has to flee his homeland, Umofia, and settle in his motherland, Mbanta, for seven years. Two years after Okonkwo’s exile, Obiereka pays him a visit. He tells him about the appearance of the white man in Abame. The white man in Abame is killed because the oracle has said that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them. The oracle also said that other white men were on their way, that they were locusts (80), and that the first man was a harbinger sent to explore the terrain. Two years after his first visit, Obiereka comes to Mbanta again but this time to talk about the intrusion of Christianity in Igbo land and Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye’s, conversion to Christianity. Nwoye’s journey to Christianity starts when six missionaries, among them one white man, visit Mbanta, his dad’s (Okonkwo’s) motherland. Both the Christians and the Igbo traditional religion adherents display a sense of religious intolerance. The missionaries describe those who do not follow Christianity as evil men “who in their blindness bowed to wood and stone” (p. 84). The wood and stone worshippers would be thrown into the hell-fire while “good men [Christians] who worshipped the true God lived for ever in His happy kingdom” (p. 84). The message of the Christian missionaries is a direct assault on the Igbo traditional religion (McLaren 2002, 106). Statements describing non-believers of a religion as evil people have been used as a justification of violent acts against others by religious terror groups such as Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and



Al Shabab in Kenya and Somalia. Radical preachers decree that Islam is the only religion, that Islamic law is the only source of political authority, and that secular governments and democracies are all kufr (denial of the truth) (Barkindo 2018, p. 57). The author also mentions some followers of the Igbo traditional religion who are there to disrupt the peace of the first Christian congregation in Mbanta. They persistently interpret the speaker and mock the accent of his dialect, which is different from the one spoken in Mbanta. Okonkwo, a strong follower of the Igbo traditional religion, “only stayed in the hope it might come to chasing the men out of the village or whipping them” (p. 85). He expresses his strong emotions against the Christians through his satirical remarks and rebuke of the Trinity principle he declares as being insane (McLaren 2002, p. 106). A negotiation ensues between the elders and the missionaries and ends with the offer of land in the evil forest to the Christian missionaries. According to the Igbo beliefs, “the ‘evil forest’ was alive with sinister forces and darkness” and anyone who stays in it will die after four days (p. 86). To the surprise of the Mbanta people, the missionaries and their converts survive beyond the twenty-eight-day limit set by the ancestors and gods. This proves to be a strong miracle that catapults the number of converts because of the belief that the Christian God is more powerful than the Igbo ancestral spirits and deities. The co-existence between the Christian faithful and the traditionalists in Mbanta is not without problems. The new converts openly mock the Igbo gods as being “dead and impotent” and threaten that they will burn all their shrines (p.89). In retaliation, the villages beat them until they bleed. A moment of peace follows until a year later when a neo-convert Osu, Okoli, kills the sacred python, the emanation of the god of water. The royal python is the most revered animal, and if one accidentally kills a royal python, that person must make sacrifices of atonement and perform an expensive burial ceremony. ​A decision is made that the adherents of the new faith be ostracized, that is, be excluded from events of the clan. ​Okoli dies a natural death shortly thereafter, and it is concluded that the gods are still able to fight their own battles (p. 93). The exclusion of the Christians is ended. T ​ hese events are an indication that a feeling of “otherness” is brewing between the Christian faithful and the adherents of the traditional Igbo religion. In Umuofia, the missionaries build a church and win a handful of converts. The new converts are a people called efulefu—fool, idiot, ne’er-do-­ well (worthless men, men with no titles). Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, calls the new converts “excrement of the clan, and the new faith was a mad



dog that had come to eat it up” (p.  83). The differential treatment of “non-believers” as evil, if instilled, is a warning sign that some followers of the “true” religion may be extremists and, therefore, vulnerable to the ideals of religious violent extremism. During the very early stages of Christianity, religious extremism is illustrated by the break-up of Okonkwo’s family. When Obiereka meets Nwoye after his conversion to Christianity, Obiereka asks Nwoye how his father is. Nwoye responds, “I don’t know. He is not my father.” Among extremist tendencies is when followers of a religion or a respected religious leader are ready to abandon their family for the sake of God. After his return to Umuofia, Okonkwo laments that the Umuofia people have lost the power to fight. When Obiereka reminds Okonkwo how the white man wiped out the Abame people, Okonkwo dismisses the Abame people as “weak and foolish” (p. 100). He declares war against the white man. He says, “We must fight these men and drive them from our land.” The death of the main protagonist at the end of the novel symbolizes his incapacity to deal with “other” and the triumph of Christianity and European imperialism against the traditional order (cf. Chifane and Chifane 2018).

Religious Violent Extremism in Things Fall Apart There is an increased visibility of religious violent extremist groups in Africa, the most well-known being Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya. Religious violent extremism occurs when followers of a religion invoke a system of beliefs to engage in or justify acts of violence against other people or governments for the advancement of their political-social agenda and their ideologies. Those involved in violent extremism believe they are fighting a legitimate war to defend themselves against human rights violations and/or political and socioeconomic dominance (Finlay 2015: 2). There are two interrelated drivers of RVE, namely, pull and push factors (United States Agency for International Development 2009, 5). Pull factors focus on individual reasons to support or engage in RVE, such as, the appeal of an inspirational figure (imam) or economic-­ religious benefits that a person perceives to get by joining a terrorist group. Push factors are associated with society’s environment wherein social, economic, and political reasons will push individuals to violent extremism. By joining a terror group, a recruit motivated by one of the pull factors makes a personal decision with an intention of gaining emotional, spiritual, or economic benefits. This article’s focus, now, is on the two religious



factions in Things Fall Apart: the Christians become colonialists and the Igbo traditionalists. Although many people talk about violent acts in Things Fall Apart, none of these studies associates the violence directly with RVE but with other underlying reasons. Lau (2017, p. 25), for example, argues that African terror in Things Fall Apart is the result of the breakdown of family and imperialist capitalism that subverts the Igbo ritualistic customs. I argue that the acts of violence are instigated by religious intolerance and can be best explained from the perspective of RVE. A common characteristic across terrorist organizations is that these organizations have charismatic leaders. In Things Fall Apart, I draw a contrast between Mr. Brown’s moderation and Mr. Smith’s radicalism (cf. Okoye 1987, p.  171). Mr. Brown is tolerant and understanding to the Igbo traditional religion. He engages in very respectful debates about Igbo religion and Christianity with Akunna, as exemplified in the following excerpt: Mr. Brown learnt a good deal about the religion of the clan and he came to the conclusion that a frontal attack on it would not succeed. And so he built a school and a little hospital in Umuofia He went from family to family begging people to send their children to his school … In the end Mr. Browns arguments began to have. an effect. More people came to learn in his school, and he encouraged them with gifts of singlets and towels. (pp. 102–103)

Mr. Brown’s success is largely due to his moderation. He learns the traditional order and reasons with the traditionalist on the differences and similarities between Christianity and the Igbo belief system. He educates them on the importance of sending their kids to the school and, in that way, peacefully wins converts. In contrast, when Rev. John Smith takes over from Mr. Brown, he openly condemned Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation. He saw the world as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in a mortal conflict with the sons of darkness. (p. 104) Rev. John Smith insists on puritanical Christianity devoid of an “idolatrous crowd” (p. 104). His ideological stance compares with the religious leaders who have been associated with Islamist violent extremism and who advocate for a puritanical Islamic religion that has no relationship with other individuals who are non-Muslims. ​This hard stance version of Islam is guided by the Salafi Islamic thought, which has been adopted by some Muslim extremists who urge their followers to protect Islam from external



influences (Amble and Meleagrou-Hitchens 2014, 526). “Non-Muslims” to these puritans also include Muslims who do not subscribe to their ideology. The following are examples of religious leaders who have inspired Islamist violent extremism: Al Shabab and surrogate Aboud Rogo, who is known for his support and justification of violent acts against the Kenya government and Christians (Amble and Meleagrou-Hitchens 2014), as well as Muhammad Yusuf and Abubakr Shekau, who are credited with the founding and the rise of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria (Barkindo 2018). Due to his hard stance, John Smith suspends a woman from the church because she allows the mutilation of her dead child’s body, which is believed to be an ogbanje (p. 104).​ To illustrate the role that religious leaders can play in breeding extremism and its associated acts of violence, the author presents a saying in Umuofia: “As a man danced so the drums were beaten for him” (p. 105). Thus, the violent acts that follow, after the coming of Mr. Smith in Umuofia, are the result of his toxic lectures that create a feeling of “otherness” between the Christian and the traditional order. Because of the power of the white man and Mr. Smith’s attitude toward the traditional religion, the converts increasingly become radicalized. The immediate trigger of the brewing conflict in Umuofia are overzealous converts, such as Enoch, who is described by the villagers “as the outsider who wept louder than the bereaved” (p. 105). He is more passionate and defensive about Christianity than the missionaries who brought the new religion. Mr. Smith’s radicalism compares with Mr. Goodcountry’s act of justifying to his flock in Umuaro the killing of the sacred python to prove the Christian faith in Chinua Achebe’s (1964/1977) Arrow of God (AOG). Like the radical Islamist preachers who use the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s teachings to justify violent extremism, Mr. Goodcountry uses the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible to equate the royal python with “the snake that deceived their first mother” (see, Okoye 1987, p.  172). He tells his followers historical courageous acts in his region where men of faith “fought the bad customs of their people, destroyed shrines and killed the sacred iguana” (AOG p. 46). Chinua Achebe contrasts the radical acts of Mr. Goodcountry with the moderate interpreter Moses and the Bishop who wisely advises the villagers to offer yams to the Christian God to protect them from the anger of Ulu (AOG, p. 215). In Umuofia, one of the greatest crimes that one can commit is to unmask egwugwu or to say unkind words to them before uninitiated people. Egwugwu are masked spirits believed to be ancestors who are



committed to the earth deity throughout their lives. Each year, a festival is conducted in Umuofia to honor the earth deity. One such festival coincides with the end of a church service on a Sunday. This is of concern to the Christians because the egwugwu will normally scare away women and children who are close to them. A compromise is struck between the Christians and the egwugwu for the ceremony to be postponed until the Christians got to their homes. Enoch, a Christian convert who was initially an Osu, dismisses the agreement as unnecessary and dares the egwugwu to touch a Christian. One of the egwugwu whips Enoch who, in turn, pounces on the egwugwu and unmasks him. This is very daring and disrespectful to the traditional Igbo religion. This act of deviance is equated with killing an ancestral spirit and opens the wounds of hatred and pain that have piled up for some time after the departure of Mr. Brown. “That night, the mother of the spirits walked the length and breadth of the clan, weeping for her murdered son” (p.  106). The next day, all the masked egwugwu of Umuofia gather in the market place. This marks the beginning of a chain of terror acts instigated by violent extremism tendencies of the leaders of the two religious groups: Mr. Smith, on one hand, and the egwugwu and titled men on the other. Push factors associated with willingness to fight against economic, social, and political injustices for the sake of the society encourage individuals to become active participants of violent extremism. There are instances when the state, either through its relationship with communities or perpetual neglect of some regions, motivates some individuals to join terrorist groups or to undertake terrorist acts. Human rights dictate that people will resist injustice meted on them by the state or a colonial administration in pursue of self-determination (Finlay 2015, p. 10). Recall that the missionaries establish a court to protect their interests in Umuofia land and its neighbors. Various acts violate the liberties and human rights of the Umuofia people. The court messengers, called kotma, guard the prison full of men who affront the white man’s law. Further, the white man hangs Aneto and gives his piece of land to Nnama’s family, because the latter gave more money to the white man’s messenger and interpreter (p. 100). Stirred to aggression because of the Christian missionaries, Mr. Smith’s sermons, and some of his extremist followers’ provocation, the egwugwu destroy Enoch’s compound and burn the church to ashes. Okoye (1987, p. 173) makes reference to the church’s burning: “This situation with its violent action on the part of the ‘masked spirits’ as a response to the sacrilegious deed of Enoch.” Enoch uses echoes of violent extremism to show



disappointment when Mr. Smith declares that the Christians cannot offer physical resistance. “Enoch was greatly disappointed when he heard this, for he had hoped that a holy war was imminent” (p.  106, emphasis is mine). Achebe’s mention of a holy war alludes to the interpretation of violent extremism as being synonymous with call for holy war in Islamist violent extremism discourses. After the masked egwugwu burn the church, six elders, including Okonkwo, are called at the DC’s court. Twelve men handcuff the egwugwu, and the DC calls them into the court. Then the court messengers humiliate the six elders who are in custody. The hair on their heads is shaved off with a razor while they are still in handcuffs. The court messengers mock their anklets of title, give them no food or water to drink, and knock their shaved heads together (p. 110). Because of the magnitude of mistreatment, Okonkwo regrets that they did not kill the white man. He “was chocked with hate” (p. 110). The people of Umuofia are to pay two hundred bags of cowrie to secure the release of the six elders, but the court messengers increase the fine by fifty bags to include a share of their own. After his release, Okonkwo “thought about the treatment he received in the white man’s court, and he swore vengeance” (p. 112). A feeling of excessive and indiscriminate repression in form of mass arrests, detention, and a corrupt justice system increases the possibility of a vulnerable people to commit acts of terror. Although the Christian religion finally triumphs the Igbo traditional order due to its inherent shortcomings, including the throwing away of twins and the killing of Ikemefuna, the transition is met with resistance (Okoye 1987, p.  304). This is largely because of the harsh and brutal treatment of the African people from the coming of the white men to the inception of colonial administration. Obiereka explains to Okonkwo, when he visits him in Mbanta, how white men have wiped out Abame to avenge the killing of a single white man (p.  80).​If violent extremism entails committing acts of terrorism against the innocent, and it is justified by political, religious, or ideological inclinations, then the indiscriminate killing of the Abame people in a big market by three armed white men and their mercenaries is not an exception. After the initial brutal encounter with the white man, the Africans in Umuofia and its neighbors decide not to pick up arms to resist colonial, political, and social domination. The justice system is a failure because of its unfair treatment of the suspects. Acts that violate human rights and infringe on people’s liberties enhance the terror narrative in vulnerable communities in Northern Nigeria and Kenya.



​​Conclusion Violence extremism as a product of religious ideology is not a new phenomenon. Chinua Achebe shows that the conflict and violent acts of the Christians and the Igbo traditionalists in Things Fall Apart are instigated by the clash of religious ideology. The results are radicalized converts who take it upon themselves to defend the new religion. The violent extremist acts by the neo-converts such as Enoch start a chain of retaliatory terror acts that destroy the peaceful coexistence of the Christians and traditionalists witnessed during Mr. Brown’s era. These are important lessons that people from Africa and the world at large can learn. Looking at Islamist violent extremism as a completely new phenomenon and a problem of the radical Muslim raises fear and speculation of state. The indiscriminate arrests and demonizing of a whole society based on actions of a few people create a vicious cycle of violent extremist acts in defense of a marginalized people and religion. The hard stance taken by the African states in solving the problem of violent extremism in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria promote the terrorist narrative of victimhood among Muslims. It is fortunate that the call of war by Okonkwo does not gain support because of the heavy artillery of the colonial governments and the mass killing of the Abame people: “Okonkwo mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia” (p. 104). Okonkwo, therefore, single-handedly wages a holy war against the missionaries and the colonialists; he kills a court messenger. His fear of intimidation and devaluation of his prestigious status in the clan leads him to commit suicide. In the modern era of suicide bombings and violent extremism, vulnerable followers who see themselves as victims of the state and international system easily sacrifice their lives in the name of a holy war. Understanding the local dynamics of drivers of violent extremism, skillfully illustrated by Chinua Achebe’s literary works such as Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God may help a great deal in the war against terror. Chinua Achebe, throughout Things Fall Apart, emphasizes the importance of understanding the local languages spoken by the people at the grassroot level. Obiereka, for example, believes that the failure of the missionaries to understand the customs of the Igbo people is because of their failure to “speak our tongue” (p. 100). The presence of the court messengers in Umuofia aggravates the conflict between the Christians and the Igbo traditionalists. “These court messengers were greatly hated in



Umuofia because they were foreigners and also arrogant and high-handed” (p. 99). This is a very good lesson, because governments in Africa adopt a foreign policy in the fight against terror; hence, the common terrorist narrative is that war against terror is a war against Islam by the United States and its allies. Religious leaders who instigate violent extremism are good communicators and fluently speak the languages of the communities they recruit and radicalize. The online YouTube videos that Al Shabab posts, which show Aboud Rogo instigating terror or Abu Bakar Shekau of Boko Haram calling Muslims to take up arms to defend the religion, attest to their excellent command of the local languages: Kiswahili in East Africa and Kanuri (the local language) and Hausa (the lingua franca) in North-­ Eastern Nigeria (Mwamzandi 2019). Any counter-violent extremism activities must consider the question of language and its importance in the terror narrative and counter-narrative.

References Achebe, Chinua. 2009. Things Fall Apart. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. (Original work published 1958) ———. 1977. Arrow of God. London: Heinemann. (Original work published 1964). Amble, John C., and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens. 2014. Jihadist Radicalization in East Africa: Two Case Studies. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 37 (6): 523–540. Bady, Aaron. 2014. The Thing and the Image: Violence in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In Stacey, Pebles (ed.). Critical Insights: Violence in Literature, 3–53. Barkindo, Atta. 2018. Abubakr Shekau: Boko Haram’s Underestimated Corporatist Strategic Leader. Accessed 22 December 2018. https://ctc.usma. edu/app/uploads/2018/05/Boko-Haram-Beyond-the-Headlines.pdf. Bloom, Harold. 2002. Modern Critical Interpretations: Things Fall Apart. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. Chifane, Christine, and L.A. Chifane. 2018. Chinua Achebe’s African Trilogy and the Dual Construction of the Other. British and American Studies; Timisoara 24 (55–63): 265–266. Finlay, Christopher J. 2015. Terrorism and right to resist: A theory of just revolutionary war. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lau, Chi Sum. 2017. Family, Violence and Gender in African Anglophone Novels and Contemporary Terrorist Threats. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.



McLaren, Joseph. 2002. Missionaries and Converts: Religion and Colonial Intrusion in Things Fall Apart. In Bloom Harold. Modern Critical interpretations: Things Fall Apart. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. Mwamzandi, Mohamed. 2019. The Role of Language in the Kenya Violent Extremism Narrative and Counter-Narrative. In Muaka, Leonard and Lisanza, Esther M. Language in contemporary African cultures and societies. New York: The Rowman & Littlefield Pablishing Group, Inc. Okoye, Emmanuel M. 1987. The Traditional Religion and Its Encounter with Christianity in Achebe’s Novels. New York: Peter Lang. Olugunle, Wole. 2018. ‘A Comparative Reading of Domestic Violence against African Women in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart’ and Bayo Adebowale’s ‘Lonely Days’. African Research Review 12 (4): 128–139. United States Agency for International Development. 2009. Guide to the Drivers of Violent Extremism. February 2009. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/ PNADT978.pdf.


Turning the Tide for African Literary Criticism: Achebe’s “An Image of Africa” as a Founding Text of Africana Studies Page Laws

Every poem is a misinterpretation of a parent poem … Poets’ misinterpretations of poems are more drastic than critics’ misinterpretation or criticism, but this is only a difference in degree and not all in kind. There are no interpretations but only misinterpretations, and so all criticism is prose poetry. Critics are more or less valuable than other critics only (precisely) as poets are more or less valuable than other poets. For just as a poet must be found by the opening in a precursor poet, so must the critic. The difference is that a critic has more parents. His precursors are poets and critics. —Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 1973 Conrad was a thorough-going racist. —Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa,” 1978

P. Laws (*) Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_13




Ever since that fateful day in 1975  in Massachusetts, whenever Joseph Conrad’s character, Marlow, tells his tale about his journey up an African river to find Kurtz there has been an additional avid listener, on the deck of the Nellie, waiting for the tide to turn on the Thames in the famous frame story in the main narrative of Heart of Darkness. This avid listener— as I imagine him—is Chinua Achebe, invisible to some readers, all-toovisible to others. Achebe listens as one great novelist listens to another, but just as importantly, as a proud African might listen to a Polish/French/ British outsider’s perspective on the continent of his (Achebe’s) birth. Achebe’s lecture, which attacks Conrad (and the West’s) “dark continent” trope for Africa, is actually a case of an African artist stepping boldly into the light of world notice. It is invisible and silent no more; moreover, Achebe’s essay, “An Image of Africa,” begins to turn the tide of world critical opinion, if not totally against Conrad, then certainly for the existence and value of African, African Diaspora, and post-colonial discourse. This article considers the Rezeptionsgeschichte (reception history) of Achebe’s lecture-essay; issues of fairness toward Conrad, Achebe, and others; plus ways that Achebe’s important essay informs the teaching of both authors today. The famous literary feud continues, involving not only Conrad and Achebe but also all the other writers and critics who have entered their famous fray. This now includes all who read this brief essay. Rezeptionsgeschichte is one of those long words that makes the German language so daunting for us non-native speakers. Hans Robert Jauss employs the word to recommend a critical approach combining literary historiography with a study of readers’ expectations (i.e., we see what we are culturally primed to see). Achebe and Jauss are both writing in the heavily theoretical 1970s and 1980s. Rezeptionsgeschichte is a compound word concerning the compounding quality of both literature and literary criticism about that literature and the critics that criticism attracts as well as the critics of those critics and the critics of those critics—ad infinitum. Rarely in literary history, has there been such a nuclear fissile chain reaction as the one touched off by Chinua Achebe’s lecture at U.  Mass in 1975  in which he dares to call his literary “father,” Joseph Conrad, “a bloody racist.” This phrase, later softened to “a thorough-going racist” in the 1978 published version of the lecture, has become, in the words of Padmini Mongia, “almost as entrenched a quotation as Conrad’s own ‘the horror, the horror’” (160). When I chose this topic—the reception history of Achebe’s “An Image of Africa,” I certainly knew that critics have already written about it.



Nevertheless, that did not prepare me for the 40 lengthy articles that popped up on entering “Conrad and Achebe” into the MLA database. Moreover, I never anticipated the variety of responses: vituperatively anti-­ Achebe; passionately pro-Achebe; and all manner of critics stepping in to try to calm the troubled waters of both the Thames and the Congo. (That latter group—the “Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along?” School—is the one to which I probably belong.) One article employs the “case” of Achebe versus Conrad to discuss Wittgenstein; another uses Achebe versus Conrad, in addition to some Oscar Wilde, to review a contemporary art show in London (Stilling 2013). Edward Saïd is frequently invoked (e.g., AbdelRahmen, n.d.); Homi Bhabha is invoked. Just listing each critic in the fray would take a full page. However, I will cite the more egregious attacks on Achebe, on Conrad, and on fairness itself. I am certainly not the first to mention the Oedipal dimension of the battle between Achebe and Conrad (e.g. Kuesgen 1984). In fact, I am surprised to see that no one I read summons Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973 [1997]). Bloom, in spite of all his irritating qualities, does not deal with Conrad and Achebe, but his quarrel with the latter seems to be an ideal example of a talented literary son’s unconscious “misprision” or misreading. I hasten to add partial misreading of his literary father Conrad’s work in order to “kill him off” and create space for the great novel we celebrate: Things Fall Apart. This is also a moment, albeit an odd one, for me to acknowledge my own father in African Studies, Bernth Lindfors (whom I would never kill off in a thousand years). Before returning to the cavalcade of critics, let us examine first the matter of Achebe’s tone and his considerable skills in argumentation within “An Image of Africa.” Achebe gently draws his readers into his essay by describing a situation where he, a Nigerian, is the outsider, comparable to Conrad, Marlow, and Kurtz in Africa. Achebe is strolling across the U. Mass. campus on a “fine autumn morning” (Achebe 1) in fall 1975. He is an academic among academics—sort of. He soon cites two examples of mild, background-level racism on the part of an adult student he meets and then two high schoolers who have sent him a letter. The non-traditional student chattily inquires about Achebe’s position at the University and, told he is a teacher, asks what he teaches. When Achebe answers “African literature,” the student, inappropriately but perhaps innocently, says that he “never thought of Africa as having that kind of stuff” (1). Achebe’s anger at the slight may have been controlled at the time, but it is apparent to the essay readers.



Why else would he have shared the anecdote? The older man at least departs with an implied willingness to learn more: “I guess I have to take your course to find out.” That which Achebe must suffer next is “off stage” to the campus scene just described but still clearly a source of consternation. Achebe speaks of receiving “two very touching letters from high school children in Yonkers, New York who—bless their teacher—had just read Things Fall Apart” (1977, 1). Achebe indicates his gratitude to his young fans by his choice of the phrase “very touching” for their letter, and, of course, by including a folksy blessing for their teacher. Book sales, after all, butter Achebe’s bread, and he is frank in admitting that. However, the fan letters also clearly disturb him when the children speak, perhaps innocently but condescendingly, about their pleasure in learning the “customs and superstitions of an African tribe” (1). Achebe’s delight in having American fans is sullied by the children’s ignorant pseudo-anthropological terminology. Achebe then closes in swiftly on his true argumentative target and shifts to another academic scene on a campus far distant from U.  Mass and more hallowed in reputation: Oxford University. Achebe makes his real point (the one he has been building toward all along) with a rhetorical question: “For did not that erudite British historian and Regis Professor at Oxford, Hugh Trevor-Roper, also pronounce that African history did not exist?” (2). The rhetorical question allows for no answer, but we surely get Achebe’s point. The superciliousness of the U.  Mass student and Yonkers high schoolers is NOT culturally innocent. Instead, it is a distant but clear echo of the outright antipathy of their intellectual betters such as this very fancy Oxford don, given all his due titles and airs by a very angry Achebe. This Hugh Trevor-Roper, with his very aristocratic name and very impressive endowed professorship, certainly should know that Africa has a history. His ignorance is willful, bloody racism, and he and his ideas are safely ensconced in the highest of academic echelons, yes, Oxford University! No wonder ignorance about and antipathy toward Africa and Africans permeate high schools and universities in Massachusetts (arguably America’s “best-educated” state). Achebe then moves, with a champion debater’s skill, to state his “foil” hypothesis. He decries “the desire—one might indeed say the need—in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest” (Achebe 2). Good debater that he is, Achebe hears in advance, the squeals of Conradians that their hero does not do this and that Conrad does say that



Europe (specifically England) has been “one of the dark places.” But, Achebe counters, as he will repeatedly, Conrad condescends at so many other moments of his novella. And Conrad, smart and gifted as he was, should have known better. Achebe’s later attackers will call this expectation of Conrad who did, after all, live and write at the close of the nineteenth century “presentist,” but then Achebe supporters will point to the fact that more perspicacity is to be expected from such a great artist. Achebe, for his part, proceeds to indict Conrad on multiple counts of “bloody racism” in a multi-pronged attack on the text, Heart of Darkness. Conrad (1996) argues, for instance, that he makes the Thames and, by implication, its environs and inhabitants look calm and civilized, while, at the same time, he portrays the Congo and its inhabitants as dark, bestial, and frequently frenzied. For support in this point, Achebe judiciously calls on prominent critic F. R. Leavis as an expert witness to back him up. He cites Leavis’ charge that Conrad uses “adjectival insistence upon inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery” to make the Africans look at all times inchoate and incapable of rational action, even to save themselves. Perhaps most tellingly, Conrad robs the Africans of human speech. They moan and gibber as the Europeans, not surprisingly, speak the finest English imaginable. To make this accusation, Achebe himself uses diction “high” and “academic” enough to impress even a Hugh Trevor-Roper at Oxford. First Achebe tosses in a sly joke only academics will truly relish about the Congo being “quite decidedly not a River Emeritus” [such as the Thames is] (3). Achebe follows up with a torrent of multi-syllabic words that might send students rushing for their online dictionaries, for example, “avenging recrudescence” (4). Achebe then lands a direct blow against Conrad with the accusation that the older writer’s use of stylistic mumbo-jumbo and trickery “raises serious questions of artistic good faith” (4). Instead of trying to depict the Africans as individual people, Conrad “chose the role of purveyor of comforting [to Europeans] myths” (5). Conrad preferred minstrelsy and impressionism over real drama and realism. Heart of Darkness passages Achebe scrutinizes and finds wanting include those about the fireman on Marlow’s riverboat and the famous description of Kurtz’s mistress, which Achebe contrasts with the passages about Kurtz’s Intended who, unlike the African woman, actually gets to speak. Achebe is particularly irate about the few lines given to African characters and the almost derisive quality of those few. The Congolese cannibals say, “‘Catch ’im! And then ‘Eat ’im!’”; they do so modified by the adverb “curtly.” A



Congolese boy famously announces Kurtz’s death, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead” (86–87), and the boy’s head is synecdochally modified by the adjective “insolent.” To Achebe’s credit, again, judging him as a debater, he predicts his opponents will harp on the presumed difference between Marlow’s ideas and Conrad’s own (Achebe 9). He states, “Conrad seems to me to approve of Marlow, with only minor reservations” (10–11). Despite Achebe’s grudging concession on this point—that Conrad may indeed be employing irony and hold opinions quite different from those of his character Marlow—Achebe’s detractors harp on the Marlow/Conrad split, universally and incessantly. Achebe shifts a heavy burden onto Conrad as someone at least partly responsible for the “untold agonies and atrocities [Africans have suffered] in the past” (and we here in America must regretfully add, in the present) because of virulent racism. Achebe ends his argument with an effective literary analogy borrowed from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey. Conrad is said to be one of those who fosters the baleful practice of shifting all of mankind’s ugly sins and atrocities onto the picture of Africa, while Europe stays pristine, pure, and blameless. Call it projection or displacement, but do call it out. Achebe’s affront to Conrad swiftly elicits outrage in classrooms across the Anglophone world and soon on the pages of the journal Conradiana and other publications. Achebe attackers who are white eagerly seek out African or African-American critics who might agree with them. The most egregious attacks on Achebe come from critics who have obviously staked their careers on Conrad and feel existentially threatened. Hugh Mercer Curtler, writing first in Conradiana and a decade later in Modern Age, insists “Achebe’s problem is his own and cannot be laid at the feet of Joseph Conrad.” Curtler continues, “In his criticism of this novel Achebe has reached into the patient’s body, removed a vital organ, raised it in triumph and shouted, ‘behold, the patient is dead!’ It will not do” (39). Curtler does not deny that some elements of racism are there in Heart of Darkness; he just thinks “greatness” can still be there “as long as there are other mitigating factors” (1997, 31). He takes Achebe’s attack as “libel” not only against Conrad but also against the canon itself, including Shakespeare, Dostoevsky et al. Detractor Cedric Watts (n.d.) says that “spleen has clouded his [Achebe’s] judgement” (n.p.) He mentions several times that Achebe’s actions as a critic are “saddening” and that Achebe should, in effect, “stick



to his business” of writing novels. A. Banerjee dismisses Achebe’s essay as misguided “political/social (Marxist?)” [sic] criticism that is “riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and even misquotations” (15). P. J. M. Robertson finds Achebe “laceratingly aggressive, and gratuitously so.” He continues, “How can a man so obviously intelligent and articulate [as Achebe] be so perniciously wrong about a fellow writer and truth-­ teller?” [Conrad] (1980, 107). Among the attackers of Achebe, Marcus Ramogale is particularly patronizing when it comes to Achebe’s abilities as a critic. He says that there’s an “absence of self-reflexivity in Achebe’s reading of ‘Heart of Darkness’” and that Achebe lacks “self-introspection.” But Ramogale is a huge fan of Achebe as a novelist, as are others in the pro-Conrad camp. Go figure. Robert Hampson fusses at Achebe for a “very careless and ideologically driven reading of the text” (Hampson 2011, 19). He likens Achebe to an early lover of Conrad who somehow later feels jilted, perhaps like a father-­ son Freudian-Bloomsian analogy. Hampson, like others, suggests that Things Fall Apart depends on Heart of Darkness for its very existence. Many, and probably most, critics disagree with some of Achebe’s points while still accepting or even praising his main thesis overall. C. P. Sarvan (1980) (U. of Zambia) sometimes cited as an African who disagrees with Achebe, defends Conrad without dismissing Achebe. St. Kittitian novelist and Yale professor Caryl Phillips goes to meet with Achebe before Achebe’s death and leaves thinking that if he (Phillips) were an African, he might well think as Achebe does (Phillips 65). Mongia speaks of Achebe’s “obsession” with Conrad, and Achebe does, indeed, repeat his accusations of racism at least twice more in public or print (e.g., Kuesgen 1984). Nonetheless, some of the better critics of Achebe and Conrad are able to overlook foibles on the part of both authors in favor of truth wherever it’s found. Kwaku Larbi Korang’s essay “Making a Post-Eurocentric Humanity: Tragedy, Realism and Things Fall Apart” falls into this category. Korang agrees with Achebe’s disdain for Conrad’s turn away from realism to impression, when it comes to describing Africa and Africans. Says Korang, “Achebe seeks a writerly and readerly renegotiation of the realist compact” (2011, 7). Korang makes it clear that we are talking about more than style: “Achebean realism makes an Africanist case for the common life of humanity” (10). Reinhardt Kuesgen’s (1984) “Conrad and Achebe: Aspects of the Novel” is similarly perceptive about both authors, as is Nidesh Lawtoo’s “A Picture of Africa: Frenzy, Counternarrative,



Mimesis.” While Lawtoo does not want to call Achebe’s work “colonial mimicry” (Homi Bhabha’s famous term), he does note that Achebe’s work is “based on a paradoxical form of mimetic repetition with a difference that is both subversive of and complicit with, colonial power” (2013, 28). Though Lawtoo is ready to “move beyond this all-too-human polarization” (26) between Conrad supporters and Achebe supporters, he does not fear the debate but calls it, instead, an “exemplary mimetic quarrel for our contemporary, postcolonial and transnational times” (27).

Conclusion: Here I Stand Some critics will probably always remain incensed by Achebe’s stand on Conrad. Padmini Mongia believes that Achebe wants only black or brown critics to have the authority to mention Africa (156). Mongia entitles her essay in Conradiana on this subject, “The Rescue: Conrad, Achebe, and the Critics.” Also, Mongia goes so far as to advise teachers NOT to try the tactic of having students read both Heart of Darkness and “An Image of Africa.” She declares, “[T]he canonization of Achebe’s ‘An Image of Africa’ sets the terms and limits of discussion of race and empire in Anglo-­ American college classroom … For clearly we are on a battlefield” (2001, 161). Personally, I very much disagree with that conclusion. Mongia underestimates students’ abilities to engage in real criticism, which is, by its very nature, messy and tendentious. Even the controversial late V.  S. Naipaul expresses, “Perhaps it doesn’t matter what we say about Conrad; it is enough he is discussed” (after Kuesgen 32). Just add the name Achebe to be inclusive and fair. It is quite possible to disagree with Achebe’s overall take on Conrad and still admire his skill at argumentation. Says Caryl Phillips of Achebe’s argument, “I feel as though I am walking around an impregnable fortress. However, I am losing interest in the problem of breaching the ramparts and becoming more concerned with the aesthetics of its construction” (65). In short, I believe Achebe’s essay makes a perfect pairing with Heart of Darkness, especially with Achebe serving as a kind of North Star for those lost in Conrad’s jungle of dark continent metaphors. Most certainly, allow students to join in the debate. Be sure to listen well to Mr. Achebe as he speaks up loudly on the deck of the Nellie to take note of and, perhaps, even cause the turn in the literary tide.



References AbdelRahman, Fadwa. n.d. Saïd and Achebe: Writers at the Crossroads of Culture. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, No. 25, Edward Said and Critical Decolonization, pp. 177–192. http://www.jtor.org/stabel/4047456. Achebe, Chinua. 1977 [1983]. An Image of Africa and The Trouble with Nigeria. London: Penguin. Banerjee, A. 1992. The Politicization of Heart of Darkness. The Literary Criterion 27 (Issue/Part: 3): 14–22. Bloom, Harold. 1973 [1997]. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, 2nd ed. New  York: Oxford University Press. https://prelectur.standford.edu/lecturers/bloom/excerpts/anxiety.html. Conrad, Joseph. 1996. The Heart of Darkness. In Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism, ed. Ross C. Murfin. Boston: Bedfore Books. Curtler, Hugh Mercer. 1997. Achebe on Conrad: Racism and Greatness in Heart of Darkness. Conradiana 29 (1): 30–40. Hampson, Robert. 2011. Joseph Conrad—Postcolonialism and Imperialism. EurAmerica 41 (1): 1–46. Korang, Kwaku Larbi. 2011. Making a Post-Eurocentric Humanity: Tragedy, Realism, and Things Fall Apart. Research in African Literature 42 (2): 1–29. Kuesgen, Reinhardt. 1984. Conrad and Achebe: Aspects of the Novel. World Literature Written in English 24 (1): 27–33. Mongia, Padmini. 2001. The Rescue: Conrad, Achebe, and the Critics. Conradiana 33 (2): 153–163. Lawtoo, Nideh. 2013. A Picture of Africa: Frenzy, Counternarrative, Mimesis. Modern Fiction Studies 59 (1): 26–52. https://doi.org/10.1353/ mfs.2013.0000. Phillips, Caryl, and Chinua Achebe. 2007. Was Joseph Conrad Really a Racist? Philosophia Africana 10 (1): 59–66. Ramogale, Marcus. n.d. Achebe and Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’: A Reassessment of African Post-colonialism in the Era of the African Resistance. In Contemporary Literary Criticism, ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau, vol. 370. Framington Hills, MI: Gale. From Literature Resource Center. Robertson, P.J.M. 1980. Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness: A Creative Dialogue. The Inter-national Fiction Review 7 (2): 106–111. Sarvan, C.P. 1980. Racism and The Heart of Darkness. The International Fiction Review 7 (1): 6–10. Stilling, Robert. 2013. An Image of Europe: Yinka Shonibare’s Postcolonial Decadence. PMLA 128 (2): 299–321. Watts, Cedric. n.d. ‘A Bloody Racist’: About Achebe’s View of Conrad. In Short Story Criticism, ed. Lawrence J.  Trudeau, vol. 171. Detroit: Gale. From Literature Resource Center.


Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad: Irreconcilable Differences? Kasongo Mulenda Kapanga

Almost fifty years ago, Chinua Achebe unequivocally and publicly wrestled with Joseph Conrad in an article entitled “An Image of Africa” on the charge of the latter’s condescension of Africa in his novella Heart of Darkness. Among other things, Achebe stigmatized the description of Marlow’s steamboat penetration going up the Congo River into the pristine forest as a backward trip to the outer primeval world peopled by hordes of primitive tribesmen whose humanity he could not vouchsafe, except as a sketchy form worthy of the dawn of humanity. These black humans with “faces like grotesque masks … had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast,” remarked Marlow (HOD, 11). In witnessing what was unfolding, Marlow pitied these “savages” who let themselves be brutalized by greedy conquerors in search of material possessions and left idle-­ rich land waiting to be exploited—terra nullius. However, the philanthropy

K. M. Kapanga (*) University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_14




painted “idea” Marlow mentioned at the beginning of the text is clouded and cancelled by the raging pursuit to profiteering: I have seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the starts! These were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men—men, I tell you. But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. (13)

Was Marlow’s stance a mere duplicitous compassion while subscribing to the civilization tenets? Achebe’s charge leveled at Conrad divides critics into two opposing sides: those who defend the Polish-born novelist and those who side with Achebe. Heart of Darkness has been hailed as one of the West’s finest literary pieces (F. R. Leavis, Hunt Hawkins, and Cedric Watts). On the other side, in the Postcolonial era, the consecration of Conrad did not dwell well with many modern African critics (Singh, Mopongia, Mudimbe, Ngandu Nkashama, Mpoyi-Buatu, and Bofane). They stigmatized the lingering disparagement that the text made as its central message. It has been customary to identify Conrad with the topos of darkness that the European colonial discourse in its civilization propaganda about Africa unabashedly spread.1 In the debate, Achebe has remained one of his fiercest critics, at least one of the most consistent throughout. One question worth asking is this: Should the novel be blacklisted as Achebe suggests? Without discounting Achebe’s denunciation—which has merits—the article argues in favor of the meticulous study by Africans and the Diaspora, not as a mere therapeutic exercise to linger over any discourteous words thrown around (it is not a self-flogging exercise) but as an archival exploration with a view of identifying the discursive strings that still influence the present. Despite Achebe’s rejection, the novella must be read by Africans, especially those from societies most affected by disruptions such as slavery, derogatory social practices, imperial domination, and relentless exploitations. I do make the claim as someone from the very heart of darkness (DRC), and one who took vital interest to scrutinize competing discourses. Heart of Darkness is a text worth spending one’s efforts on for the present and the future in order to uncover its impact on the relations between Africa and the outside world. The first part will analyze and flesh out the main charges that Achebe leveled against the novella in the article



“An Image of Africa,” originally delivered at the University of Massachusetts and later published in The Massachusetts Review (1977). The second part will link the main events in the novella to occurrences that may have plausibly triggered Conrad’s narrative. Third, it will explain and enumerate the compelling reasons for advocating the adoption of the novella as a must read in today’s context.

The Charges That Chinua Achebe Brought … First, Achebe casts serious doubts on the claim that Heart of Darkness is one of the greatest works of literature for its message. Although he recognizes the literary quality of the writer, he denounces the great stylist’s debasing message that describes Africa as “a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality” (“An Image” 3). Any novel that “depersonalizes a portion of human race” does not deserve to be labeled as great (Blake 398). He castigates this image of primitive Africans in dire need of further progress to match their European counterparts. As illustration, “the savage who was fireman” Marlow mentions, could be at best anything but an “improved specimen” rescued from his natural mediocrity by European trade training, otherwise just “a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs” (HOD 33). Second, Heart of Darkness foregrounds Europe’s self-ascribed primacy that provides a wide range not only of knowledge but also legitimization of her undertakings. With history at our back and the benefit of direct experience, it is logical to surmise that Achebe’s stand is the result of his own exposure to English literature, especially to canonical texts in the literary pantheon where they are kept, studied, and venerated. Against this background, Achebe bitterly complains: If there is something in these utterances more than youthful inexperience, more than a lack of factual knowledge, what is it? Quite simply it is the desire-one might indeed say the need-in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar in comparison with which Europe's own state of spiritual grace will be manifest. (“An Image of Africa,” 2)

The shock that his charges cause does not lead him to mellow his rhetoric or moderate its sting along the years. Even with time, they do not wrinkle



or fade away. On the contrary, Chinua Achebe continues with the same intensity, triggering critics to dig deeper into Conrad’s writings. For instance, in March 1998, at the 48th Annual Conference of the African Literature Association entitled “Multiculturalism and Hybridity in African Literatures” held at the University of Texas-Austin, Achebe does not hold back on Conrad in front of a room packed with literary experts and critics. Instead, he energizes studies that scrutinize the colonial discourses and its library, as Mudimbe put it (The Invention of Africa). This once powerful epistemological chest encapsulates the claim underlying the subsequent actions by his fellow Europeans who he will come across on his path in the African jungle. In this sense, Achebe’s hunch of these core beliefs as widely shared by many others is quite relevant, as revealed by the following excerpt: Of course, there are whole libraries of books devoted to the same purpose, but most of them are so obvious and so crude that few people worry about them today. Conrad, on the other hand, is undoubtedly one of the great stylists of modern fiction and a good storyteller in the bargain. (“An Image,” 2)

Conrad verbalizes deep-seated perception of Europe’s alterity, be it as it manifests itself in Eugène Delacroix’s painting Les femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement, Paul Gauguin’s idealization of Pacific Islander female beauties, or even Charles Baudelaire’s evocative lines in his Jeanne Duval poetry. In these examples, the evocation of “civilization” (a code word for invasion, dispossession, and alterity construction) seems to find a common denominator. Admiration, Schwetzerism, or even empathy conceal deep-­ seated belief of Europe’s supremacy. Third, Kurtz’s demise does not stand as a mere individual experience. All Europe contributed—both with blood and discourse—to the making of Kurtz. Achebe’s charge makes it clearly a collective enterprise. Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world … the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.’ The book opens on the River Thames, tranquil, resting peacefully ‘at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks.’ (2)



But the actual story takes place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames. The River Congo is quite decidedly not a River Emeritus. It has rendered no service, and it enjoys no old-age pension. We are told that “going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world” (3). Everyone, including historians, anthropologists, and missionaries, agree with the mission statement: all undertakers of The Act of the Berlin Conference mean to neutralize barbarity. The battle to spread the virtues of civilization is a collective endeavor. Consequently, as an educated Englishman of the liberal tradition, Marlow’s convictions do not spring from a deep attraction to the truth as Plato would advise. It is a matter of acquired trusteeship on behalf of the entire society to preserve Europe’s primacy: As I said earlier, Conrad did not originate the image of Africa which we find in his book. It was and is the dominant image of Africa in the Western imagination, and Conrad merely brought the peculiar gifts of his own mind to bear on it. For reasons which can certainly use close psychological inquiry, the West seems to suffer deep anxieties about the precariousness of its civilization and to have a need for constant reassurance by comparison with Africa. If Europe, advancing in civilization, could cast a backward glance periodically at Africa trapped in primordial barbarity it could say with faith and feeling: There go I but for the grace of God. Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray-a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forward, erect and immaculate. Consequently, Africa is something to be avoided, just as the picture has to be hidden away to safeguard the man's jeopardous integrity. (“An Image,” 13)

No one should, therefore, be surprised to find echoes in Marlow’s narrative and a laudatory description of Kurtz relayed by one of his associates who not only gives almost a complete picture of the ivory collector, but also testifies of him as Europe’s creation. There are two major moments in Kurtz’s existence, some kind of valorization of Henri Bergson’s theorization of time as a commodity. To improve the primitive means to bridge over heterogeneity and neutralize “distanciation.” Marlow’s tragedy suggests a denouement beyond reach with the original Kurtz and the Africa-­ tested Kurtz somehow matching each other by their cold calculation of dispossession. Marlow observes:



The shade of the original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow sham, whose fate it was to be buried presently in the mold of primeval earth. But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power. (63)

In a long stretch, Marlow specifies “the original Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and—as he was good enough to say himself—his sympathies were in the right place. His mother was half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (45). European feuds find a positive outcome in their mutual engagement on a neutral and untainted ground that Central Africa happens to be. Inevitably, there is a call to Europe to admit Kurtz’ cruelty and King Leopold’s atrocities. Likewise, Marlow is a full participant in the venture. As Susan Blake puts it, “Although Marlow criticizes—indeed mocks—the colonial venture he has participated in as inefficient, inhumane and hypocritical, he ultimately endorses it” (CLA Journal 397). Fourth, Achebe questions the dualism upon which Marlow’s ideology—or Europe’s—is firmly grounded. In fact, he situates the brutality observed within the framework of normalcy proper to human behavior in a situation of power: They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence; aggravated murder on a great scale and men going at it blind--as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ours, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. (HD 4)

It is this collective responsibility that Chinua Achebe underlines, indeed, the ideology on which the English novelist has built the plot and the contrast he sets between the River Emeritus, the Thames, and the Congo— the savage and untamed strong river. Nothing substantive can stand scrutiny, except what Europe has put forth in terms of technology (what Marlow calls “efficiency”) or the tallies of the main projects recorded in sanitized offices of the European capitals, all this sustained by the power ideological discourse in which the content has enwrapped itself. The



evocation of civilization, although not lethal in itself, becomes a dangerous instrument as a discursive element of power, of conquest, and of alterity. Behind this so-called noble cause preached with a straight face, the overarching motive has everything to do with possession. This is the insidious reason that is captured all through the novella by words such as “greed, the miracle, the pilgrims…” Philanthropy, or the vague sense of it, rescues anything and brings “stability.” The “pilgrims” convince themselves that no one is being misplaced because, at the start, there is a void that, following John Locke, can be legitimately filled in by the laborious and entrepreneurial hands. Similarly, those who linger in their primitive status have only themselves to blame for their deprivation. Partly, the biased perception could paradoxically be construed as the consequence of rationalism appeals for objectivity that start during the Renaissance Period and gain steam during the Enlightenment Era. Carrying its momentum forward, it morphs into the colonial ideology that operates on binary and dualistic oppositions. On the one hand, there is the Western presence with all its capabilities, and, on the other hand, there are the conquered lands and their cultures in a state of desolation begging for timely rescue. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled back and forth like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking. Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of that ship of war I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could, by no stretch of imagination, be called enemies. They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea. All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, [and] the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. (HD, 12–13)

When one relies on the Levinas’ analysis of this inequality, the gap between the Western “I” and the natives’ alterity find itself here at its maximal point. The weakness of the natives magnify the strength of the newcomers who feel it their duty to fill in the void. Finally, Achebe notices that the native subject is only present as an object of description, as a contrived speechless participant in the labor that leads to an outsider’s gains, but not as a partner to negotiate within the



sharing of the fruit from both the collective and the individual contributions. Marlow’s voyage becomes a trek of meticulous observation, one that uncovers the overpowering pull to possess, to grab, and, if need be, to eliminate any obstacle standing in the way. Wherever Marlow places his eyes stands a group of people to oppose, to neutralize, and, eventually, to maim with their heads on sticks as a deterrent for anyone who defies the likes of Kurtz. Topology threatens and requires domestication. Fresleven’s death that prompts his appointment as the skipper of the steamboat Le Roi des Belges exemplifies the crippling spell of the jungle. How could Fresleven, “the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs,” engage in the noble cause for two years, turn out to be this heartless brute? How could such a “supernatural being” inflict so much human loss and obliterate a village by burning it down, driving the inhabitants into the bush? (HOD 8) Gentleness and horrific deaths do not go together.

What Does Conrad Have to Do with Today’s Congo or Africa? In the wake of these discussions, there springs a darkness paradigm whereby the thick forest covering the region leads to a metonymy of doom that needs radical alteration. Darkness invites shadiness in the operators who roam the area over a century and a half. In relation to the Congo, on whom is Kurtz patterned? What historical figures might have inspired his creation? At first, it will be all the European bodies that rush into Africa, some in a very tragic way like Marlow’s journey from the coast to Stanley Pool all taken in by the “cause”: This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust. After all, I also was part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings. (68)

It is about that European subject that Albert Schweitzer talks about, the one devoted to the cause. In spite of our own choices, participation in the maintenance and even the production of any enunciation hardly happens in the vacuum. As Edward Said rightly observes, “no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author’s



involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances” (Orientalism 11). The political, cultural, and ideological landscapes participate in the deployment of epistemological assets. This is even apparent when the subject hovers on the liminal spaces where confrontation, confusion, and conflict impact the relation with the outside. In Heart of Darkness, the natives are impacted by the judgment of outsiders who have power, for example, Kurtz, Marlow, or even Conrad. Although old colonial claims may no longer represent an existential threat, awareness of one’s such genealogy in knowledge and the string of relationships cannot be sidestepped. In the postcolonial context, Achebe is introduced to Conrad as a member of the literary pantheon, only to realize, later, the counterproductive inducement to self-hate that the writer’s discourse potentially exerts on him. As Bernth Lindfors remarks, Achebe became conscious of the possibilities of representing somebody from a certain standpoint, from that moment [he] realized that there must be misrepresentation, there must be misjudgment, there must be even straightforward discrimination and distortion. (Lindfors, Conversations, 112)

This is not a contrapuntal strategy adopted as part of the writing back process, but rather an element for Achebe to re-establish normalcy after disclosing the insidiousness of the discourse. From the beginning, the whole journey becomes an undertaking to uncover actions by a group ultimately looking up to the “weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly” (HOD 68). Marlow hopes that the devil will appear “several months later and a thousand miles farther” (69). His trip turns out to be an adventure, a narrative that props up the model of greed. Indeed, greed for ivory, rubber, gold, or coltan all lead to similar dramatic effects on the natives. Past abuses mirror today’s. Likewise, its features are reflected by other narratives whether in textual form such as Michela Wrong’s In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo, Koli Jean Bofane’s novel Congo, Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament (2014), or in filmic form such as Apocalypse Now (Coppola 1979). Additionally, multi-layered Kurtz inspires the creation of other characters who feed other narratives. Some reflect biographical features or cognitive traits that Marlow particularly underlines. Others underscore human frailties created by greed, selfishness, or the haunting presence of Africa’s topology. As to allusions reflected in figures, studies convincingly demonstrate that several Western figures lend their behavioral traits to Kurtz. The



list is not without controversy but includes individuals such as Henry Stanley (1841–1904), Major Edmund Musgrave Barttelot (1959–1888; Jerry Allen), Camille Delcommune, Georges Antoine Klein, Arthur Hodister, and Guillaume Van Kerckhovenor,2 Leon Rom, and Lion Fievez (Hochschild 1997). Indeed, it will be highly daunting not to imagine a composite figure. Given the conditions of horror at hand, one single individual cannot be the one sheltering such lethal instincts of cruelty as does Kurtz. The Kurtz persona, in its complexities, fostered a multiplicity of characters by emphasizing certain features that create new behaviors, either reflecting the ideologies of the time or fostering new possibilities. The human mind, to the extent that it stands as the most important asset of our species, can easily turn into a lethal instrument when one is in a position of power, a situation of decision and moments of high responsibilities with enhancement. One of the most salient characteristics that feed various discussions of narcissism poked by an ideology of superiority constitutes a foundational idea of the construction of Walter Kurtz (the mysterious highly decorated Green Beret Colonel) in the film Apocalypse Now with the scenario by Francis Coppola and John Milius. Kurtz comes out as a godly figure, a creature who self-ascribes every power to cause change in what he deems disjointed, backward, and dangerous for all. However, when things go sour without seeking the demise of the foundational discourse, society, through its main representatives, remains steadfast in its position while invoking its right to stability, peace, and normalcy. Was that ill-fated stubbornness or inability to gauge reality?

Apology for Doing a Close Reading of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness This could also be brought at the continent’s level. The encounter between Europe and Africa occurred in a framework of power relationship where the balance is definitely in favor of Europe. In the Postcolonial era, many incoherencies and unsustainable myths have been uncovered; nevertheless, Africans still believe that the crippling colonial mindset has survived and the enduring “legacy of inequality” claim has left deep scars. Despite the persistent unequal balance of power, the determination to counterattack and redeem oneself is obvious. Wole Soyinka’s play Death of the King’s Horseman offers a counter example.



Olunde, the son of the King’s horseman, Elesin, is the equivalent in French colonial West Africa of a victim of “hostage school” (l’école des ôtages). Indeed, in order to tear the “primitive society” asunder, colonial authorities almost manu militari wrestle the heirs of African chiefs to formal French education. Olunde, sent to Great Britain to be trained as a medical doctor, represents this insidious way to cripple “superstitious” practices by discrediting them from the inside. A solid footing in both cultures gives him a vantage point equal to none. Ironically, countering Jane Pilkings, he uses the same epistemological instruments to denounce the arbitrariness fed by “comforting myths” (“An Image” 4). After a long discussion with her, Olunde takes the opportunity to dispel the dualistic belief that any knowledge worth admiration will be the sole fruit from European learning: “Yet another error into which your people fall. You believe everything which appears to make sense was learnt from you” (Death 53). If the earlier heavy-hand treatment is outdated, the Postcolonial era is no less subjected to the same crippling myths. In other words, would reading Heart of Darkness be of any use in the twenty-first century’s context? If Franz Fanon’s writings such as The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin White Masks stand as core references to grasp the pathology of the colonized mind, reading them side by side with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness would shed further light on the insidiousness of colonial narratives. For strategic reasons, identifying the foundational thought that fosters innumerable pains ought to be privileged to evaluate the type of relationship that Europe means to tie with the primitive other that might have survived down to the present times. Congo DRC is a vast country that, by its topology, reflects what Heart of Darkness describes. It bears the synechdochical weight of the entire Africa, Europe’s other that Achebe talks about. It has been turned into the alterity core by which everyone is mesmerized and wants to alter. In the midst of competing discourses using the darkness spell to explain natural calamities, man-created tragedies such as civil wars, conventional wars, or shameful exploitations of natural recourses, the scepter of the old ideology of Godmandated intervention, as articulated at the beginning of Heart of Darkness, lurks defiantly its tail. In fact, it has become customary for outsiders to define the region by resorting to Conrad’s text as the shortcut. Likewise, several writings and reports touching upon the slightest misfortune, natural or man-made, have used the text to invoke crippling darkness.3 Indeed, it has found a renewed relevance now with the DRC engulfed in a continued unrest as if time has not elapsed from the eighteenth



century when Christian missionaries roamed the area with their gospel-­ hardened battalions to launch campaigns of conversation of the heart of Africa. Achebe’s charge highlights the resilience of this orientalist inclination that Europe foisted upon Africa. The dualistic stance—“‘adjectival insistence upon inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery’”—although contradicted and assailed in many ways, has still lingering effects (“An Image,” 3). Conrad is present in the way Congolese writers of the first and second generations have incorporated him in their plots, their writings, as well as in their allusion in the depiction of the forest-thick area: Mudimbe’s, Ngandu Nkashama’s, Mpoyi-Buatu’s (La Re-production) and of course Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s (Tram 83). If the earlier generation makes oblique allusions to Heart of Darkness, the new generation with Mujila and Bofane (Congo, Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament) is more direct. In both instances, like in Heart of Darkness, greed is underlined and gets into the way of decency, ultimately leading to madness and darkness. The new generation employs the metonymy of nature, not as incomprehensible or overwhelmingly crippling as Marlow infers, but to construct narratives where Congolese protagonists chart their paths with renewed vigor in spite of the various obstacles in their way. These are not dehumanized beings deemed enemies of some cause but rather those who welcome newcomers, although with some justified bewilderment. Given the constraints of the moment, the older generation turns to recreating the past, a disparaged past in need of mending. As Bernard Mouralis notices in studying Thomas Mpoyi-Buatu’s novel La Re-production, it seems imperative to re-examine the mechanisms of alterization that have produced a hierarchical order meant to satisfy one’s invention with the ultimate design of self-aggrandizing. Casting a backward look is not only important but also highly desirable. Mouralis notes: Une sorte de fatalité semble ainsi peser sur ce pays, soumis depuis si longtemps à des forces qui le dépassent et l'empêchent d'être lui-même. C’est ce dont témoignent tout au long du roman les principaux protagonistes : Yowa, Boris, le jeune journaliste et écrivain, et Kena, le narrateur. (21)

Some kind of fatality seems to weigh on this country and for a long time to overwhelming forces that prevent it to be itself. That is what the main protagonists testify: Yowa, Boris the young journalist and writer, and Kena, the narrator. For the new generation, the sight is on the future, one that a cascade of events such as civil wars jeopardizes.



On both levels, the novel acquires a metonymic status (the region as antithesis of reason and decency) accounting for the urgency to counter the incomprehensibility of the surrounding and begs for a new epistemological order. Darkness clouds comprehension in its normal transmission and relevant exchange of meanings because of the confrontation between “sanity” and “madness” that the encounter entails: “We were cut off of the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be, before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse” (my emphasis, HD, 62). The darkness trope in the work warrants space in the study of literary texts to grasp the profound reasons that preside over the relationship between Africa and Europe. Radical (paternalism) intervention stands as a justification to forestall unfathomable dangers looming over defenseless victims.

Conclusion If someone spreads falsehoods about you, should you not try to find out an efficient way to deal with him or her? The instinct of preservation requires that adequate grasping of relevant information be properly assured in order to fight the wrongful view. For example, Mpoyi-Buatu takes to task the proponents of the early colonial period, namely Stanley and Conrad, to question the underlying tenets of their discourses. Therefore, Africans and the Congolese, in looking at their history, have the duty, for their own sake and for the sake of future generations, to challenge past representations and the grid of power that came out as the result of the colonial pursuits. Achebe graciously takes the lead. One may have the choice to stop with Heart of Darkness, but others as equally relevant may entice the reader to go further in exploring the darkness topoi such as in Naipaul’s The Bend in the River or Barbara Kingslover’s Poisonwood Bible (1998) where the father, Reverend Nathan Price, goes on an expedition to save the heathen Congolese souls. Still, as a literary piece, Heart of Darkness resonates with and participates in early Congolese colonial writings on the conflictual nature of the civilizing mission. Hence, given the relevance of the representational power of the image—an image that re-occurs in other writings—and the acquired status of the text as a ready-made symbol to designate a geographical area, Congolese should read it, study it, and analyze it. Mudimbe, Ngandu Nkashama and Bofane provide the lead and confront even obliquely the claim of darkness. Outside the area, everyone ought to



engage the work and its demons. Irreconcilable differences between Conrad and Achebe, or not, at least one should become familiar with and contemplate the text for the mere taste of the forbidden fruit. Would Achebe mind?

Notes 1. Harold Bloom, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, 2008, 107. 2. Kasongo M. Kapanga, The Writing of the Nation, Trenton: Africa World Press, 2017, 133. 3. Anderson Cooper’s report of the Nyiragongo irruption that partly destroyed the city of Goma in 2002 could be an illustration. The various reports on Ebola in Equateur Province are other ones, despite the fact that the DRC has one of the most reliable Ebola protocols to contain the outbreak from spreading.

References Blake, Susan L. 1982. Racism and the Classics: Teaching ‘Heart of Darkness’. CLA Journal, 25 (4): 396–404. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/ stable/44321723. Clarke, Clare. 2017. An Image of Africa [Electronic Resource]: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. London: Macat International Limited; Florence: Taylor & Francis Group [Distributor], July 2017. Conrad, Joseph. 1990. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover Publications. Coppola, Francis. 1979. Apocalypse Now, performed by Marlon Brando et al, produced by Omni Zoetrope, New York City. Gordimer, Nadine. 2010. Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954–2008. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Gosling, Jonathan, and Peter Villiers, eds. 2012. Fictional Leaders: Heroes, Villains and Absent Friends. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Hochschild, Adam. 1997. Mr Kurtz, I Presume. The New Yorker, April 7: 40. Kapanga, Kasongo Mulenda. 2017. The Writing of the Nation: Expressing Identity through Literary Texts and Films. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. Lindfors, Bernth, ed. 1997. Conversations with Chinua Achebe. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Maz, Jesse. 2016. The ‘Image of Africa’ from Conrad to Achebe to Adichie. In Lasting Impressions: The Legacies of Impressionism in Contemporary Culture, ed. Jesse Matz. New York: Columbia University Press. Mouralis, Bernard. 1987. Un Roman ‘Super-Moral’: ‘La Re-production’ de Thomas Mpoyi-Buatu. Présence Africaine 144: 21. Watts, Cedric. 1983. A Bloody Racist: About Achebe’s View of Conrad. Yearbook of English Studies 13: 196–209.


Things Fall Apart and the Modern African Hero David Tenenbaum

The impact of Chinua Achebe’s oeuvre is easily recognizable in the work of African American authors such as James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. These writers’ multiple interviews and collaborations with the esteemed African novelist have exhibited a collective recognition that the cultural challenges facing indigenous African peoples can also be recognized within twentieth- and twenty-first-century American social spheres. However, I would like to suggest that continental folk fiction both during and after European occupation, like Achebe’s (1994) most celebrated novel, Things Fall Apart, has profoundly influenced not only the literature of well known authors but African American graphic fiction and cinema as well. The famous novel’s protest against English imperialism and the mollifying impact of evangelism on purported “social ills” represents a trope that can be considered as relevant to expressions of alterity in American narrative as it was to depictions of British influence on the Umuofia Tribe in 1958. Utilizing Homi Bhabha’s theory of “mimicry,” which can be understood as a cultural simulacrum “which coheres the dominant strategic function of colonial power” (1994, 85), I plan to demonstrate the way that

D. Tenenbaum (*) Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA, USA © The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8_15




cinematic adaptations of contemporary graphic fiction ultimately attempt to challenge this fundamental ideology. Peter Berg’s film Hancock portrays a black superhero whose questionable reputation must be reconstructed in accordance with hegemonic social values, and Black Panther (2018) is a story detailing the cousin of an African king’s usurpation of the throne after defeating his relative. Both delineate stereotypes associated with black communities and the efforts to protest forms of imperial oppression through localized as well as global insurrection. These two features offer a unique perspective on the means through which graphic fiction has both idolatrized the African freedom fighter as well as foregrounded the perennial challenge that heroic icons of this nation in the diaspora face as they seek a place within the annals of Western drama. In both filmic narratives, we see echoes of Achebe’s central protagonist’s attempt to resist English colonialism in these modern mythical characters’ subversion of normative Western ethical parameters. I hope to show the way that in light of these figures’ personal battles, deep-seated cultural oppression demands a form of bravery that reflects the multiplicity of challenges these characters face as martyrs for disenfranchised communities within their respective nations. In doing so, I intend to elucidate the inequity of the struggles faced by such figures as they attempt to ascend to the vaunted status of their white counterparts who’ve for centuries graced the pages of King Arthur legends and Marvel comics alike. Part of Achebe’s motivation in portraying as heroic a figure who adamantly opposes Christian doctrine stems from the fundamental difference between African and Western iconographic constructions. Where European civilization had long struggled over the question of evil in a world created by a benevolent deity, African tales posited no such conundrum. Lavinnia Jennings (2008) shows that among such writers, “there seems to have been a greater willingness to accept the idea of God’s fallibility. Many African folktales depict ancestral deities as thoroughly humanized, and at times almost comical characters” (28). In their adoption of such a trope, African American artists and filmmakers appear to offer a sometimes tongue-in-cheek portrayal of doctrinal facets of authoritarian morality. These craftsmen attempt to demonstrate ways in which the demands of the Lacanian Other, or the superego, lie as much in the mind of the protagonist warrior as in the religious values of his culture. I would like to argue that the ethical ambiguity that we see embodied in figures like Okonkwo becomes echoed in the modern-day African comic hero



whose struggles sometimes appear to exist in an ontological vacuum following the failure of a God to protect his followers. The effort to speak for a people whose struggles demand suspicion of an exhaustive faith in the power of transcendental suggestion has continued among black artists and filmmakers in America. As Nwachukwu Ukadike (1994) has pointed out, “In the United States, the audiovisual mass media is a complex organizational and bureaucratic technical system, formed by the political economy of advanced capitalism” (1). Recognizing that they must seek to invert certain established components of representation, many young artists have attempted to remind their community that the debate over whether or not the moral teleology that protects their white counterparts speaks for them as well is a question that, today more than ever, demands consideration in creative and political contexts. The famous Superman (1983) series of the 1980s depicted Christopher Reeve as bespectacled reporter who ducked into telephone booths to transform into the dynamic man of steel. The covert nature of his identity was the initial aspect of hegemonic infiltration that characterized this figure. The premise that he could have been anyone testified to the potential supernaturality that, by implication, even the most awkward of every-day individuals who dwelled among Metropolis’ population could achieve, ascribed his supernatural capabilities to his inclusion within the city’s white staple inhabitants. A number of critics have pointed out that African Americans were traditionally seen in Marvel and D.C. comic films as the antithesis of the caped crime fighter. Often used for humorous effect as the gawking individuals who stood wide mouthed in awe at the ascendancy of the super figure, they fulfilled what Marc Singer has described as the fundamentally insensitive bent of these youth-oriented entertainment publications. In his article “Black Skins and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race,” he chronicles how these graphic works “expose children’s minds to an endless stream of prejudice-producing images” (2002, 108) in which “whites are always handsome and heroic whereas non-whites are inferior and subhuman.” In the third installment of the Superman series, actor Richard Pryor played Gus Gorman, a corporate peon whose ability to hack into his organization’s central database and change his salary drew the attention of the company’s leadership. The powerful mogul Ross Webster uses Gorman to infiltrate a number of digital systems to wreak havoc in coffee and gasoline markets. Through his technical savvy, he finally obtains the ultimate tool with which to manipulate the city’s protective systems, kryptonite, that he uses to destroy



Superman’s powers. In this capacity, Pryor is visualized as a pawn of the hegemonic authority, much like his role in the 1982 film The Toy in which he is employed by a white family as a playmate for a very privileged boy. He effectively serves as a minstrel figure utilized at the pleasure of the controlling body capable of exploiting him as a result of his tenuous claims to legal resources created by a spotted past. With his devotion unswerving, the corporate moguls are able to utilize the non-existent African American figure to infiltrate legal systems that whites’ involvement in would be recognized and addressed accordingly. This trope is also clear in the famous Batman comic in which the societal other is consistently portrayed in contrast to the mighty caped crusader, a man whose own family origin associates him with the Metropolis’s landed establishment. Able to use the fortune at his disposal as a result of his primogeniture, he’s capable of investing countless millions in crime-­ fighting nanotechnology. His villains are non-coincidentally reflective of the spectrum’s alternate wavelength. The Penguin has often been identified with the Shylock figure in a great deal of graphic fiction scholarship, and the maniacal Joker is often depicted as the dandy character in opposition to Bruce Wayne’s hyper-masculinity. The early manifestations of African American comic characters onto the silver screen in the latter half of the twentieth century gave way to the adaptations we have seen in a number of African American comics that began alongside the rise of the black figure in modern media. In the 1972 feature Superfly, the black drug dealer is the iconic lackey in the larger criminal enterprise of a much more powerful organization. The low-level delivery man wishes to make a break from the gangster life but is, in fact, symbolically restrained in his efforts to get out of the game by the all-­ powerful drug czars. The film intentionally juxtaposes the main character with those whose fantastic wealth and influence are such that they remain perpetually immune to the perils that the film’s protagonist lives in fear of. Superfly’s challenge to the structure of the organization is similar to that of the Okonkwo figure who recognizes the deleterious effect of prayer to a Christian deity on his tribe’s efforts to protect themselves during times of war. In the movie, we recognize that the fact that the police offer no help to the central figure is iconic all but non-existent recourse for the alienated social figure as he is systematically abused by the white hegemony. We recognize that the protection he is offered from personal enemies represents the false security he benefits from as a result of his subscription to the majority’s collective will. The film points out that



anyone unwilling to offer his docility for such an aegis is immediately demonized by both legal and criminal superstructure so dominant in their self-referential moral economy that they perceive the protagonist’s rebellion as a fundamental display of ingratitude. In Marvel’s 2008 movie Hancock, Will Smith plays John Hancock, a down-at-the-heels African American superhero. The protagonist’s stereotypical characteristics, waking up from a night’s sleep on a park bench and flying haphazardly across the city’s skyline in a drunken stupor, become iconic of the cynical humor of the comic book’s authors who have created the character himself as the anti-hero to prototypical invulnerable white figure. His identity as a homeless alcoholic is apparently meant to reflect a generalized supposition about the true nature of those African Americans legends in athletics and entertainment whom society only fully reveres in public forums. After a particularly violent bout with one of his many nemeses, the citizens of Los Angeles are up in arms at the amount of property damage that Hancock has caused. Such an incident is meant to exhibit the fundamental disparity between the treatment that a black superhero receives in contrast to his white forerunners. The fantastical destruction, which is considered the occupational hazard of Spiderman or the Hulk’s crime-fighting heroics, is summarily condemned by a civic populace when the figure happens to be a member of a minority group. After he saves the life of executive Ray Embry, a business tycoon played by Jason Bateman, the corporate success promises to restore Hancock’s image. In this context, Embrey becomes a reflection of the white carpetbagger, a figure attempting to appeal to the charitable impulses of the white hegemony in order to garner a modicum of pity for the ironically incarcerated superhero. Hancock faces another challenge in conflict that exists between himself and his white female alter ego whom we learn have been locked in ancient relationship dating back 3000 years. Their antagonism serves initially to symbolically reify the predatory impulses of the black male figure in the post-civil war American South. The fact that when this opposing character is injured, the protagonist’s only recourse is to flee in order that she may heal reinforces our perception of the prevalent danger inherent to this taboo form of intimacy. Embrey slowly rebuilds Hancock’s image and when the protagonist is able to foil a bank robbery, trust in the has-been superhero is overwhelmingly restored. Though his return to glory is still somewhat iconic of a black-faced lawn jockey pantomime, his redemption in the face of



naysayers’ vituperative reflects the abrupt dissolution of these unspoken, yet concretized facets of social prejudice. In addition to this evolution in the central figure’s persona, Hancock’s costume becomes a semiotic that offsets the potential manifestations of black minstrelsy. The main character’s fundamental resistance to the superhero uniform becomes a denial of the elitist conception of the salutary figure’s preternatural moral ascendency. Though Hancock begrudgingly assumes the appearance of a caped crusader as his return to the status of cultural icon progresses, his fundamental opposition to this aspect of his identity places him in sharp juxtaposition even to previous African American comic heroes. Jefferson Pierce, from the DC Comic Black Lightning (1995), who used his powers to generate electricity to fight crime in the Suicide Slum section of Metropolis, donned a metaphoric disguise including an affected slang and an afro that exaggerated his identification with the ghetto. In assuming such an alternate self-conception, he effectively located himself in what W.E.B.  Dubois called “the veil of double consciousness.” The African American figure Dubois (1961) argues has long taken on a bifurcated identity because of the racist ideology that has shaped the understanding of his personal identity. In opposition to such a trope in Black Lightning, Hancock resists the impulse to hide from others behind either a veil of blackness or the mask that he puts on for a white audience. Committed to his own personal statement of righteousness, he finally defies the impulse to bend to the will of the moral majority. Rather than “truth, justice and the American way,” he simply stands by the common man as a result of his own economic origins. This is emphasized by the fury he exhibits throughout the film whenever insulted and particularly at the end of the movie when he adamantly challenges someone who accuses him of cow towing to the white populace. Upon landing on a street in Harlem during a robbery, one the New York City denizens insults the hero’s disguise for his appropriating this simulacrum of mythic white culture. Hancock’s anger at the jab suggests his own resistance to criticism by the very group that had molded his innate identity. His pride in maintaining this alter ego leaves us with the suggestion that he has ultimately subverted the danger of double-identity or the schizophrenia of a previous generation. The movie Black Panther manifests the same defiance of an ideological purity normally associated with the American superhero. Briefly, Wakanda is a mythical African society that had long ago begun developing technology because of a mineral vibranium they mined from a stray meteorite.



With the use of this ore, the Wakandan society has managed to create an advanced utopia with ample means not only to provide for its people but also to fuel a rich and productive futuristic industrial environment. Wakanda’s riches are consistently contrasted with the other impoverished areas around the world that remain severely lacking in the resources the sequestered African kingdom enjoys. A central conflict arises near the beginning of the film when King T’Challa, the leader of the ancient empire, journeys to Oakland, California, where Prince N’jobu and T’challa’s close friend, Zuri, have been working undercover on a humanitarian mission. Convinced that their isolation has hampered the potential success of the kingdom, N’jobu has enlisted an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue to steal a cache of vibranium. When T’challa challenges N’Jobu, the prince threatens to kill Zuri, forcing T’Challa to take N’Jobu’s life to protect his friend. N’Jobu’s son is left fatherless as a result of his execution. It is here where the movie’s conflict earns its initially ambiguous tone. The helpless child becomes representative of the greater diasporic population who are left unprotected by the Wakandan culture. As N’Jobu claims, the empire’s ample means could not only elevate their brethren from their poverty but also affect these global communities’ mastery of their own fate. Ulysses himself becomes iconic of the influence of former imperial authorities as he seeks to exploit the African kingdom he was hired to abet. In the Black Panther comic, he was originally sent by Adolf Hitler to steal vibranium to be used to further empower the Third Reich’s vast militia. In this respect, he acts in an identical role to that of foreign French and British powers attempting to exploit the resources of their colonial conquests. When the arms deal goes sour, Ulysses is captured but then ultimately freed by N’Jobu’s son Eric, now Eric Stevens, and a veteran military operative. Stevens later kills Klaue and presents his body to the Wakandan leaders in a sign of his loyalty to the nation. Stevens, however, goes on to best T’Challa’s son, T’Chaka, the true heir to the thrown and usurps the authority of the kingdom. The film then creates a customary structural dichotomy between good, represented by those determined to prevent Wakanda’s resources from falling into the wrong hands, and evil, embodied by Eric and his followers who wish to use the vibranium to establish a new world order. Stevens’ character becomes symbolic of the prototypical Achebean figure insofar as his impulse to lead other members of his ancient community



fundamentally subverts the hegemonic global authority that he believes his people have subscribed to shortsightedly. T’Chaka’s younger sister and the banished leader himself become aligned with a strictly Christine doctrine in which an adherence to empathy and patience are seen as penultimate goals. In some regard, they play a similar part to that the white missionaries in Things Fall Apart whose continuous mantra serves to pacify those who would fight to overcome the soporific effects of their own nation’s inherited morality. Here, the above-mentioned lack of a faith in the power of a higher force to effect justice fuels the struggle of the rogue leader Stevens as he attempts independently to redeem his people. At the film’s conclusion, T’Chaka returns from banishment and defeats Eric in an epic battle between the two warring kings. The vanquished competitor for the throne lies dying and refuses to be saved only to serve in a Wakandan prison. His denial of any clemency is akin to Okonkwo’s rejection of surrender to white authorities. Stevens would prefer to die as a martyr of his cause rather than accept the kindness of an opposing force he refuses to countenance. In both of these comic book figures, we see a fundamental reimagining even of the attempts to establish racial equality in the superhero world that had occurred in both D.C. and Marvel Comics during the civil rights era. The Justice League was famous for what was perceived as a gesture of integration. The characters are well known for championing the sentiment, “When it comes to race, we’re color-blind! Blue skin, yellow skin, green skin … we’re brothers and sisters … united in the name of justice every-where!” (Bates 1976). Yet, as some critics have pointed out, superhero comics represented every fantastic race possible as a means of ignoring real ones. Works like Hancock and Black Panther have shifted away from this paradigm and demonstrated that the question of race cannot be discounted in any context where normative moral ascendancy assumes the position of a narrative bedrock undergirding every facet of the adventure fiction. Like the society who complacently accepted their peaceful place in the arms of the colonial authorities, Okonkwo forced us to recognize that there was more to his people’s story than the brief moment of subversion among natives famously deemed “worthy of no more than a paragraph.” Contemporary artists and filmmakers alike demonstrate that the African American community cannot rest on laurels now that its figures grace the big screen like Saturday afternoon heroes in days of yore. It is through peaceful means that struggles against complacency should continue; they are battles that still, nevertheless, need to be fought.



References Achebe, Chinua. 1994. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor. Bates, Cary (Writer), and Mike Grell (Artist). 1976. The Hero Who Hated the Legion. In Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #216. New  York: National Periodical Publications (DC Comics). Bhabha, Homi. 1994. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge. Black Panther. 2018. Ryan Coogler. Marvel. Film. Dubois, W.E.B. 1961. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dodd, Mead. Hancock. 2008. Peter Berg. Columbia, 2008. Film. Isabella, Tony (Writer), and Eddy Newell (Artist). 1995. Black Lightning. Nos. 1–8. New York: DC Comics. Jennings, La Vinia Delois. 2008. Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Singer, Marc. 2002. ‘Black Skins’ and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race. African American Review 36 (1): 107–119. Superfly. 1972. Gordon Parks, Jr. Warner Bros. Film. Superman 3. 1983 Richard Lester. Dovemead Films, 1983. Film. The Toy. 1982. Richard Donner. Columbia Pictures, 1982. Film. Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank. 1994. Black African Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press.


A Achebe, Chinua, 3–9, 9n2, 10n4, 10n5, 11–19, 24, 25, 27–31, 46, 62, 66, 71, 74, 77, 79, 82, 99, 103, 123–133, 135–148, 151, 153–167, 170, 179–193 ACTFL, see American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Africa, 3, 5–9, 9n2, 10n4, 10n5, 11–16, 28, 29, 31, 50, 51, 53, 57, 62, 66, 67, 72, 74, 90, 92, 94, 96, 103, 113, 115–121, 125, 127, 129, 130, 136–138, 141, 145, 146, 153, 161, 166, 167, 169–176, 179–184, 186–189, 191 African, 3–8, 9n1, 9n2, 9n3, 10n4, 10n5, 12, 14–16, 18, 21, 24, 26, 28, 29, 31, 33, 37, 41, 46,

49–62, 65–74, 82, 89–91, 93–96, 99, 111, 113–121, 125, 127–129, 135–138, 140, 142–145, 147, 162, 165, 166, 169–176, 180, 182, 189, 193–200 African literature, 4, 7, 15, 26, 28, 29, 66, 71, 129, 136, 137, 171 African Literature Association, 7, 8, 114, 182 African peoples, 193 African stories, 15 Agbala, 33, 43, 45, 80, 83, 84, 102, 106, 156, 157, 160 Alternation, 23–46 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 126–127, 130, 133 The Anxiety of Influence, 171

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2021 D. Baloubi, C. R. Pinkston (eds.), Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’, African Histories and Modernities, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50797-8




B Baldwin, James, 13, 15, 193 Books, 13, 19, 147, 195 C Chi, 34, 155, 156 Christian, 24, 106, 154, 155, 159, 160, 163–165, 190, 194, 196 Christianity, 92, 93, 96, 153–156, 159–163 Colonialism, 159 Commitment, 5, 7 Congo River, 179 Conrad, Joseph, 8, 9, 170–176, 179–192 Cosmic feminism, 99, 100, 105–107 D Deities, 43 Dialect, 118 The drumbeat of literature, 14 Dysfunctional families, 17 E English, 3, 4, 7, 16, 18, 24, 26–29, 31, 32, 35–42, 45, 46, 49–62, 65–74, 113, 119, 124, 140–142, 173, 181, 184, 193 English literature, 142, 181 Europe, 5, 8, 9, 49, 102, 172–174, 181–184, 188, 189, 191 Europeans, 5, 28, 101, 102, 173, 182 F Fanon, Franz, 6, 189 G Gı ̃kũyũ, 67–69, 71–74

H Heart of Darkness, 8, 9, 170, 173–176, 179–182, 187–191 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 113–121 Homeric, 15 I Igbo, 4, 7, 11, 12, 16–19, 24, 26–27, 29, 31–42, 44, 45, 69, 70, 74, 79, 86, 87, 94, 95, 101, 105, 106, 116, 117, 119, 128, 132, 147, 153–160, 162, 164–166 Indigenous, 102 Intercultural connections, 126 K Kotma, 42 L Language, 23–46, 53–54, 59–62, 73, 114, 115, 117–119, 123–133 Linguistics, 21 Literature, 4, 7, 8, 9n3, 26–27, 49–62, 114, 139, 141–142, 182 M Manhood, 90, 91, 96, 97 Manliness, 89–97 Marlow, 170, 171, 173, 174, 179–181, 183, 184, 186, 187, 190 Massachusetts, 170, 172, 181


Metaphors, 104–105 Multiculturalism, 182 N Nigeria, 4, 11, 13–15, 17, 19, 25, 27, 51, 66, 67, 69, 105, 118, 129, 132, 136, 143, 146, 154, 159, 161, 163, 165–167 O Oedipus, 17 Okonkwo, 16–19, 25, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35, 42–45, 80–85, 87, 89–96, 103, 105, 106, 145–147, 154–159, 161, 165, 166, 194, 196, 200 Onitsha, 14, 17 Oppression, 99–107 Oracle, 156 Organic writing, 104 Oyim, 19


P Paradigm, 49–51 Philanthropy, 185 Pioneers, 4, 56 Proverbs, 39–41 S SEALLF, see Southeast African Languages and Literatures Forum Shakespeare, 17, 50, 119, 174 Southeast African Languages and Literatures Forum, 114 Superman, 195 T Traditions, 5, 18, 24, 27, 99, 101, 106, 118, 154, 158 Tragedy, 175 Y Yoruba, 26, 33, 69, 116–119, 125