“It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have – otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.” Chinua Achebe
“Then listen to me,’ he said and cleared his throat. ‘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 that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted? Be careful or you may displease the dead. Your duty is to comfort your wives and children and take them back to your fatherland after seven years. But if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile.” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
UPDATE: It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of an illustrious writer, a great son of Anambra State, Nigeria, and one of the pivotal influences on my love for the written word. Chinua Achebe passed away after a brief illness and he will be terribly missed. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family. RIP Mazi Achebe. Ijeoma, Chukwu dobe gi.
What is your earliest memory of a writer or book that had an enormous impact on your life? Which books have influenced your Worldview? Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, and his classic book Things Fall Apart played a pivotal role in shaping my earliest views of the complexity of human behavior. It had an enormous impact on my thinking and writing life too. As a child, I read my fair share of Fairy Tales and Children’s books and understood the good-meets-bad-and-vanquishes-evil format. However, during the Nigeria – Biafra war, I was exposed to the writings of Achebe and his milieu. I read Things Fall Apart first and it pulled me in like a spider’s web, holding me captive. I devoured every word and every story; the power of his incisive language cut through any confusions I had about our Ibo culture. I read the sequel, No Longer at Ease (1960), then, Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and his other works. Achebe’s writings captured the cadence of the language and life in the village, as well as the minutiae of daily struggles and interactions.
During the war, the goal of encouraging Ibos of all ages to read books by Ibo writers was multilayered; First, there was much to learn about Ibo history, culture, and philosophy in those books; education mattered to the Ibo but the war had interrupted our studies, therefore, learning everything about our social interactions and traditions through the keen eyes and words of Ibo writers/thinkers would ensure we continued to gain reading skills. Reading Ibo writers was another way of substantiating the argument that learning/maintaining Ibo culture was imperative for the survival of the group; storytelling was a key way of passing down family stories and community history, therefore, mastering the written word was the next step to preserving valuable information gathered through the oral tradition of storytelling.
“There is no story that is not true, [...] The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.” Chinua Achebe
“ The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. William Butler Yeats
Additionally, since all schools were closed during the latter part of the war, literature was an important way to ground us, indoctrinate us even, in all things Ibo and Biafran – in preparation for a new world order we were going to inherit once we won the war for independence from Nigeria. Whatever the motivations, Achebe’s bold book struck a chord and kindled a love for the written word; a love that remains vibrant in my heart today.
Things Fall Apart is a powerful tale about bravado and betrayal in the fictional village of Umuofia. It introduces the reader to a deeply flawed and strong man, the protagonist, Okonkwo, whose life is controlled by two debilitating emotions; anger and fear. It is a story of the beauty and cruelty of customs and rigid traditions; the delicate balance of life in an Ibo village and the characters that populate it. It is also the tragic tale of Okonkwo’s treatment of the young sacrificial boy, Ikemefuna, which remains one of the most disturbing stories of fate and betrayal. The book is rich with Ibo proverbs and nuanced exchanges that serve as an education to those of us still learning about the mores of Ibo life.
“When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.” Chinua Achebe
“Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate that 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.” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Has a book ever brought you to tears? Have you put down a book you were reading because you were overcome by emotion; touched by a powerful event in the book that triggered something in you? I remember the first time I read Things Fall Apart; I had to put it down several times as the painful scenes became overwhelming… There were many unsettling scenes as Achebe’s characters lived in a period when village life was brutal, often short, and filled with peril.
Villages battled each other, women died at childbirth, warring factions settled scores by seizing humans for sacrifices to the gods; all under the seemingly steady, languid pace of life in a farming enclave. There were moments of searing tragedy and pain for Okonkwo and his co-villagers, moments of delightful celebrations, and then, there was Ikemefuna and the complicated relationship he had with Okonkwo. When Ikemefuna was killed, I wept. When that happens in a book, I take time to regroup and to examine what made a particular passage so painful; so poignant. I believe that great books touch both our hearts and our souls… More below!
“At the most one could say that his chi or … personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed. ” Chinua Achebe
“Ogbuefi Ezedudu, who was the oldest man in the village, was telling two other men when they came to visit him that the punishment for breaking the Peace of Ani had become very mild in their clan. It has not always been so,” he said. “My father told me that he had been told that in the past a man who broke the peace was dragged on the ground through the village until he died. But after a while this custom was stopped because it spoiled the peace which it was meant to preserve.” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
What was the most memorable line you ever read by them and how did it exemplify their tone? There is a popular saying attributed to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, it says, “He who does not know where he is going must, at least, know where he is coming from.” What struck me about that quote was that it was a reminder of the rich proverb driven way the elders spoke in the village and how everything revolved around family trees, history, hierarchy and legacy. I’ve added some classic Ibo proverbs (from Achebe’s books) below that are often used in conversations in the community.
In many African communities, people always ask who your family is when they meet you. Your individual name carries less weight than the family name and history that precedes you. So they ask, “My dear, which compound/household do you belong to? What are your ancestral ties?” Whenever I feel disconnected, I reach back to my ancestral connections, directly and indirectly, and remember the ties that strengthen and affirm me. Reading African/World literature is definitely one way and writing is another way I connect. Chinua Achebe and his writings have been a tremendous blessing and influence in my life as a writer… I am grateful for the education.
POPULAR IBO PROVERBS
“Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
“Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them.”
” As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.”
“When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.”
“An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.”
“The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.”
“As our fathers said, you can tell a ripe corn by its look.”
“Those whose palm kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.”
“The Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed.”
“A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm.”
“When mother-cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth.”
“Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.”
I hope you enjoyed this post. What about you and your stylish imitation? What are your thoughts? Did you have one author or several stylish imitations? Where did your material come from? What memories do they hold for you? What insights could you share with others? Do share! Have a spectacular weekend ahead! You are already a light on the path. Thank you.
This post was inspired by a prompt from WP Weekly Writing Challenge: Stylish Imitation Like it or not, we all have our own style. Where we’re from, our local colloquialisms, our favorite writers, and our preferred subject matter all influence the tone and language in our posts. We do not blog in a vacuum. For this week’s exercise, tell us about a writer whose style most influenced your writing voice. Who was that author that when you first picked up one of their books, you thought, “I need to write”? What was the most memorable line you ever read by them and how did it exemplify their tone?
*Please bear with me as I catch up on your blogs and commenting… I’m back on track with reading and responding to your blogs; albeit at a slow pace. Thank you all for your patience!
Positive Motivation Tip: The written word can be used to inform, elevate, educate, challenge, motivate, destroy others, build memories and heal… Use it wisely.
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