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In Memoriam: Elegies for Chinua Achebe

By ZODML on 23 May, 2013

Professor Chinua Achebe will be buried in his hometown of Ogidi in Anambra State today, an event that is being closely followed around the world and even live-blogged by Nigerian news outlet Premium Times. Since his death in March many have written moving pieces in memory of the celebrated writer's work and his impact on their lives and literature at large. Below is a collection of some of these tributes:       Ghanaian writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes:

Yes, we are bereft. Achebe was a great writer, editor and mentor, a highly intelligent individual with incredible capacity for empathy and forgiveness (in my opinion, Biafra was a hard thing to forgive). He was also fearless; he went onto battlefields where few had dared tread and showed us what armour we would need for our future skirmishes. He bore a torch and raised it high so we wouldn't trip over our own feet... Oh, Chinua, thank you for the stories, for the guidance, for your clarity. Because of you, we can see how much work we still have to do. We mourn you, we mourn our sleep. Our writing lives are like the breaking of anthills – the ants rebuild if we ever dare to rest. This is our private grief. [Read in full here]

Chimamanda Adichie, Wole Soyinka and more after the jump:

Dele Momodu:

I, like many of my contemporaries, was introduced to Achebe in our early days. It was impossible in those good old days not to have read all of Achebe’s works. Literature had always been one of my favourite subjects at St. John’s Grammar School, Oke-Atan in Ile-Ife, where a Singaporean woman, Mrs H Sutton took on us on a tour de force of the literary world. We read voraciously as if literature was going out of vogue. The beauty of Achebe was in his simplicity which was also a reflection of his personal gentle mien... As painful as his death definitely is to his families, friends and admirers, the world takes consolation in his works as gifts to humanity. His departure must not end with the usual eulogies and jamborees. We must preserve his outstanding legacy by making his books compulsory read[ing] in all our secondary schools and universities. No Nigerian student must ever escape owning a copy of Achebe’s work before graduation. It is the least we can do to keep his memory alive. [Read in full here]

Chimamanda Adichie's elegy in Igbo (with English translation via Adaure Achumba):

Ife mee (Something has happened). Nnukwu ife mee (Something grave has happened). Chinua Achebe anabago (Chinua Achebe is gone). Onye edemede nke di egwu, onye nnukwu uche, onye obi oma (A great writer, a man of great wisdom, a man with a good heart). Keduzi onye anyi ga-eji eme onu (Who shall we brag about)? Keduzi onye anyi ga-eji jee mba (Who are we going to tell the world about/take to other lands)? Keduzi onye ga-akwado anyi (Who will guide us)? Ebenebe egbu o (A catastrophe has happened)! Anya mmili julu m anya (Tears fill my eyes). Chinua Achebe, naba no ndokwa (Chinua Achebe, rest in peace). O ga-adili gi mma (It shall be well with you). Naba na ndokwa (Rest in peace).

Wole Soyinka and JP Clark (in a joint statement):

For us, the loss of Chinua Achebe is, above all else, intensely personal. We have lost a brother, a colleague, a trailblazer and a doughty fighter. Of the 'pioneer quartet' of contemporary Nigerian literature, two voices have been silenced – one, of the poet  Christopher Okigbo, and now, the novelist Chinua Achebe.  It is perhaps difficult for outsiders of that intimate circle to appreciate this sense of depletion, but we take consolation in the young generation of writers to whom the baton has been passed, those who have already creatively ensured that there is no break in the continuum of the literary vocation... No matter the reality, after the initial shock, and a sense of abandonment, we confidently assert that Chinua lives.  His works provide their enduring testimony to the domination of the human spirit over the forces of repression, bigotry, and retrogression. [Read in full here]

Jesse Weaver Shipley, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Haverford College:

Some days Chinua was tired and did not want to do his exercise routine. He hated having to use a special van to accommodate his wheelchair. He wanted to feel free and autonomous and instead was trapped and grounded. But he never showed his frustration or let it affect how he related to people he met. He was genuinely interested in talking and listening to people. But his daily routine was punctuated with grander and more joyous events. His engagements ranged from speaking at the United Nations to meeting with members of a visiting Ghanaian theatre troupe. It was amazing to watch how people of all sorts revered him and felt an intimate connection to him through his work and how genuinely he responded to the personal stories people would tell him. I have been thinking about the sparkle in Chinua’s eye and the subtle ways he used his hands when he talked. One of the brilliant things about Chinua was how he used silence both in writing and in person. He was a master of the pause and the unexpected proverb, of multiple meanings, of putting stories to good use while enjoying the process of the telling. His work was deceptively minimalist and immensely complex. He had brilliant comic timing; he could read a room and command it from the first words out of his mouth. He taught me that you can be fierce and respectful. You can talk softly while compelling people to listen to ideas and stories. He must have been a wise elder even as a young man, but as he grew older he never lost the mischievous dry wit of youth and the belief in redemption even for the most corrupt and lost. Chinua’s legacy is not fixed but rather about responding to change with energy and wit. [Read in full here]

Professor Bartho Okolo, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka:

We mourn him for his unique contributions to the development of our university and for the enormous visibility he brought to our university through his creative works, even in death. He will be remembered as a remarkable teacher, an astute administrator, a creative genius, a storyteller and author of extraordinary ability.

Share your thoughts on Professor Achebe in the comments section or tweet them to @ZODML.    

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