Achebe’s burial betrays his traditional believe
By Odimegwu Onwumere
By Odimegwu Onwumere
Professor Chinua Achebe lived between November 16, 1930 to March 21, 2013. He was quoted as saying when he was alive that one of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.
Dejectedly and regretfully, his family compromised what the African cultures and traditions crusader believed in during his life time; the family allowed the European cultures and traditions Achebe was cheerless about their denigration of his forefathers beliefs to reclaim him in death.
His family compromised his belief in death by committing his remains to the soil in the Eurocentric cultures and traditions with regards to his corpse taken to church. They did not give a hoot to the fact that in his lifetime, Achebe was so much concerned about recapturing African cultures and traditions from the grip of Europe; the later was writing about Africa to soothe her perception, as against the true story of Africa.
“In his writing and teaching, Mr. Achebe sought to reclaim the continent from Western literature, which he felt had reduced it to an alien, barbaric and frightening land devoid of its own art and culture. He took particular exception to “Heart of Darkness”, the novel by Joseph Courad, whom he thought “a throughgoing racist”. (Daily Sun, Nigeria, May 23, 2013, pg 34).
No doubt, Achebe was a man from an active-church or Christian background, but he had a different knowledge of the world and all that was imposed on the African continent as a result of colonialism, when he became an ardent reader of different literature from around the world and he found out that his Christian background was not better than the background of his forefathers, who believed in the Igbo cultures and traditions; hence he tilted-back to the beliefs of his forefathers.
“In an interview with ‘The Paris Review’, Achebe said that as his reading evolved, he slowly became aware of how books had cast Africans as savages.” [Daily sun, May 32, 2013, pg 35]. “There is that great proverb that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. That did not come to me until much later. Once I realized that, I had to be a writer.”
It was not the Christian religion that spurred Achebe to become a writer, but the Igbo tradition, which his immediate family initiated him into, without them knowing of it, upon their Christian background. This was a boy who was just five when his father retired from missionary work in 1935.
“My initiation into the complicated world of Ndigbo was at the hands of my mother and my older sister, Zinobia, who furnished me with a number of wonderful stories from ancient Igbo tradition. The tales were steeped in intrigue, spiced with oral acrobatics and song, but always resolute in their moral message.” [Chinua Achebe, Daily sun, May 23, pg 33].
It is pertinent to say that Achebe became a moralist and one who grew up loving humanity and the Igbo cultures and traditions, not first by the tales he learnt from the religion of his parents, but by the moralistic and stubborn ancient folklore in the Igbo tradition of his forefathers. Achebe also declined his continuous philosophy in the Christian religion of his parents, which was an offshoot of the tutelage he acquired from the parents, but he upheld the Igbo philosophy of his forefathers to the acme.
“My beginnings were clearly influenced by religion. In fact, my whole artistic career was probably sparked off by this tension between the Christian religion of my parents, which we followed in our home, and the retreating, older religion of my ancestors, which fortunately for me was still active outside my home. This tension created sparks in my imagination. I wasn't questioning in an intellectual way because I was too young. But without questioning, things can still happen to you. My uncle being there and being available was an enriching experience. I wouldn't give up anything for that, including my own narrow, if you like, Christian background. It was extremely useful that we prayed and read from the Bible and sang hynms night and day. I wasn't uncomfortable with any of that. To be interested in my uncle's religion wasn't to be rebelling. It was simply part of a very rich childhood. I was part of a lucky generation, to be planted at a crossroads, a time when the meeting of two cultures produced something of worth. Now it's impossible to grow up having the same faith, belief and attitude toward religion that I had as a child. Of course, I did have long periods of doubt and uncertainty, and had a period where I objected strongly to the certitude of Christianity -- I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. When I was little, that didn't mean anything to me, but later on I was able to compare it with the rather careful and far more humble attitude of my indigenous religion in which because they recognized different gods they also recognized that you might be friendly with this god and fall out with the other one. You might worship Udo to perfection and still be killed by Ogwugwu. Such sayings and proverbs are far more valuable to me as a human being in understanding the complexity of the world than the narrow, doctrinaire, self-righteous attitude of the Christian faith. This other religion, which is am-bivalent, is far more artistically satisfying to me,” [Bradford Morrow, CONJUNCTIONS:17 Fall 1991].
From the above testament, it is obvious that Achebe was a traditionalist when he was alive, than he was forcefully made a Christian in death. Making him a Christian in death, was the misapplication of the family, who hinged its marooned mind to bury him as a Christian, simple because he came from a Christian background.
In his home town, Ogidi, the reverence to such home deities as Ogwugwu and Udo is fad. Achebe himself came from a kindred in Ogidi that goes by the name of one of the recognized Igbo Gods – Ikenga – which is the Igbo God of commerce and industry.
Like many Igbo villages and towns, which have been humiliated to build churches, due to the fact that the Nigerian Constitution officially recognizes two religions – Christianity and Islam – Ogidi is still vibrant in her practice of traditional beliefs; and it is not bad.
“Ogidi people do not kill Royal Pythons. If you kill it in error, you will give it a befitting burial like a human being. If you kill it in secret, the spirits will deal with you in their own way. If you kill it openly. You will be avoided like a plague by our people. [Daily sun, May 23, 2013]. “Of course, the average Ogidi person proudly identifies with his roots and showcases his culture with pride. This was typified by Achebe, who did not allow his Christian background becloud his Ogidi culture and Igbo identity. Young men get initiated into all traditional adolescent groups while worthy elders take the Ozo title and get inducted into the Ogidi Ndi-Ichie society. The titleholders wear the symbolic red caps with pride.”
Achebe himself was a red cap Ozo title holder with the name – Ugoberenoji. (The eagle on the Iroko). Achebe never refrained from embracing the cultures of his people, even though that modernity has become a virus that is eating up the rural Igbo setting in most and many Igbo villages and towns.
And what is this modernity all about? Is it not just that in many Igbo areas, like in other African villages, they now have tarred roads and electricity and other European ways of life, which have abetted in fast-tracking how people live and how suddenly they also die?
In ernest, it was not the mind and intention of Ogidi people who are regarded as a people with great adherence to their aboriginal cultures and traditions to build church, but for the fact that they were being molested by their neighboring town for not having one; and the town was cajoled to building a church, because they were brainwashed by the European colonialists.
“Ogidi people’s love for their tradition and culture, Christianity came into the community at somewhat snail pace.” [Daily sun, May 23, 2013].
The first church that was built in Ogidi was built as a result of challenge.
“Awka people used to do inyanga [Cajole] for our people who went to worship with them, saying that it was taking us donkey years to complete our church. They said we were lazy. In their characteristic manner, Ogidi people took the challenge in their stride and made sure that the church was completed.” [Daily sun, May 23, 2013].
Taking Achebe’s corpse to church, as against the rich cultures and traditions of his Ogidi people, betrays him in death, as once a man who wanted to re-capture African story, cultures and traditions, from the grip of the rapacious European impostors. Taking Achebe’s corpse to church, obviously, would make those he re-converted from the alien religion – Christianity – to believe in African cultures and traditions, to begin to wonder if he was a hypocrite, who refused to practice what he preached, as a protest-believer in everything African, as against what Europeans wanted to teach Africans to believe of African story, cultures and traditions. This was a man whose influence on African heritages weighed heavily on many. But regrettably, he was a believer of African cultures and traditions that was buried as a Christian.
“Primate of the Anglican Church, Most Rt. Rev. Nicholas Okoh, had told a gathering at the Commendation Service for Achebe in Abuja on Sunday, May 19, that the conflict Achebe narrated in his novels were now happening to him. Achebe, especially in those novels set in pre-colonial and colonial Nigeria, reported about the conflict between modernity and traditional Nigeria.” [Vanguard: May 26, 2013 · In Achebe: Exit of a literary giant].
This was a man who criticized the mis-rule of Christianity against Igbo beliefs. A typical example is in the following passage:
“When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so. But I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter's dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you; I fear for the clan.” ― Chinua Achebe.
In “What the world didn’t know about my father” [Daily Sun, May 23, 2013], Achebe’s first son, Dr. Ikechukwu Achebe, couldn’t have committed the remains of his father to the soil in the Christian cultures and traditions, and at the same told the world debris:
“I think he wanted to be remembered in the way he was remembered in life and he wanted to know that his life has had a meaning. I think by that yardstick alone, his influence is almost immeasurable. His influence on the development of African studies as a global discipline in the universities in North America and Europe, his influence in helping build a body of African writing and a body of African writer, his influence in helping shape his country, his influence on his village, his influence on his town union, all these are really a formidable body of achievements, and I think that he would be remembered for all those things.”
With all that acclamations, there will be no gainsaying the fact that Achebe was a man who fought Europeans with his literary works to reclaim Africa from their grip, but was buried the ways of the same Europeans he fought, with his corpse blessed with Europeans classics in the church, in stead of the African ways he preferred and was a crusader. So, what was the junior Achebe talking about?
Achebe warns Africans in his famous Things Fall Apart, a novel he published in 1958, to be weary of the treacherous nature of Europeans, whom their forceful instigation of their ways of life on the continent, has not left the mentality of majority of Africans, as a resultant of the ruins done to African cultures and mindset by Europe; and it is sad that Achebe’s immediate family are not his disciples in his crusade.
“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.” [Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart].
Professor Achebe never hid his voice in his belief of the African cultures and traditions that should warrant his corpse taken to the church; hence he was planted to the soil like a European. As a man who travelled far and near, he many times expressed that what Europe did to Africa in the cause of colonialism was a ruse, for anybody to begin to think that Europeans were better than Africans.
“Africa is people’ may seem too simple and too obvious to some of us. But I have found in the course of my travels through the world that the most simple things can still give us a lot of trouble, even the brightest among us: this is particularly so in matters concerning Africa.” [Chinua Achebe, The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays].
Yet, the voice of Africa which was salient to him was muffled by his family’s action on the corpse. It was in trying to reclaim the African voice that was once shamelessly stolen by Europe that compelled Achebe to resort in taking writing and the reclamation of Africa as a serious business.
“Writing has always been a serious business for me. I felt it was a moral obligation. A major concern of the time was the absence of the African voice. Being part of that dialogue meant not only sitting at the table but effectively telling the African story from an African perspective – in full earshot of the world.” [Chinua Achebe, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra].
For anyone to make Achebe a “born-again” Christian at death was disrespecting the traditional leaders, whom the church had always treated with disdain. Why would the Church always snoop into every affairs that concerned it and those that do not concern it? The Church in Igbo-land has made everybody a Christian, because it is arrogantly dominating and killing the cultures and traditions of the people? That some persons come from the Christian background do not make them Christians; some persons grew-up and changed their childhood family-infused beliefs, without or with the family knowing of them, to a large extent. It is also dangerous and inferiority complex on some Igbo, that when the deceased is not taken to the Church, the corpse has not had an eternal repose with the ‘Yahweh’s spirit’.
Before Achebe’s remains were committed to the soil on May 24, 2013, at his hometown of Ogidi, Anambra State, his corpse nearly caused a significant uproar between the Church and the traditionalists; the later believed that Achebe never refrained from any cultures and traditions of his Ogidi people till his death.
“As a titled man, he (Achebe) will be buried towards evening in line with our culture and tradition. His body will lie in state in the yam barn where daughters of the clan shall pay him their last respects before he will be buried in the night.” [According to Chief S. Okoli, the Regent of Ogidi, Achebe’s hometown: Daily Sun, May 23, 2013].
But in its intimidating-manner against the cultures and traditions of Ndigbo, it was said that the Anglican Church in his hometown held it would not release the body of the renowned Achebe to the Ogidi community, for burial. And, this is what happened, with the aid of his sons and daughters and wife, and extended family members, who were still swimming in the euphoria that everything about Igbo was evil and should be condemned. If not, how could they have said that they would not allow the wife of Achebe to pay her traditional rites to the husband, but they wanted her to observe every of the Christian culures and traditions?
“The church and family of the late professor have said that they will not allow his wife, Christy, to go through the traditional widowhood rites that women who lost their husbands in Igboland are made to undergo, which practices include making the widow to shave her head…, sit on the floor and sleep in the same room with the corpse. The Archdeacon of Ogidi and Vicar of St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Ven. Obi Ubaka, told the media that the body of Achebe belonged to the church, which shall perform the final rites for the fallen statesman on Thursday, May 23.” Hooey! Hokum!! Bunkum!!!
It could be said that it was in error that the Achebe family said that the issue of when and how he was going be buried was not a subject of disagreement. The head of the Umu Ada Achebe (the female members of the family), and niece of the late Achebe, Ngozi Ezedum, to have said that the story that her uncle would be buried at night, according to the traditional rites, was an unfounded speculation, because he came from a Christian family. That statement was mischievous and a pointer that she did not understand Achebe very well and she was working on emotions against reality. For her to have also said that the Ozo title that Achebe held did not in any way compromise Christianity, can be regarded as the voice of the brainwashed African that Achebe fought all his life to reclaim from the capture of the plague called Christianity.
How does Achebe coming from a Christian family make him a Christian? This belief was a product of colonialism, and when Achebe grew-up, like many African children whose parents converted to Christianity and were blatantly made Christians, deep inside his mind and heart, he knew that he did not belong to the Christian faith.
“He was from a real Christian family. And in the Achebe family, we do things the Christian way,” Ezedum said. [Saturday PUNCH 18 May 2013]. “Ezedum further said Achebe’s wife could feel free to come home without fear that she will be made to undergo traditional widowhood rites.”
The puckish head of the Umu Ada said again: “I have told my uncle’s wife that I am around, nobody will do anything.”
But for the records again, Achebe had warned such people like Ngozi Ezedum: “I can say that my artistic career was sparked by this tension between the Christian religion of my parents, which we followed in our home retreating, older religion of my ancestors, which fortunately for me was still active outside my home. I still had access to a number of relatives who had not converted to Christianity and were called heathens by the new converts. [Daily sun, May 23, 2013, pg 33].
If Ngozi Ezedum said that other traditional rites like searching for Achebe and taking care of his body by the women would be performed, then she is better regarded as a hypocrite, and was not a Christian, as she wanted the world to know.
Does she know that being the Head of the Ada from Achebe’s family is also a strong culture and tradition of the Igbo? Ada Ezedum will not die by tomorrow without the living Umu-Ada from the Achebe family, not paying her traditional rites bequeathed to such status. What right does the Anglican Church or any church in the Niger Diocese around Ogidi has to abolish the widowhood rites or any traditions in Ogidi, for what Ngozi regarded as “they were disgusting to good conscience”?
Ezedum said that Achebe’s widow “will not even wear any mourning clothe – black or white. The Anglican Church doesn’t want that anymore”; but she is proud of the ‘Ada’ tag she boasts of?
Professor Achebe knew where he belonged no matter the ‘Christian’ people like Ngozi Ezedum wanted the world to believe that Achebe was. It is very wrong and sad that the Church has taken itself as a government that must abolish a people’s cultures and traditions without dialoguing with the people first. That majority of the people from a particular village attend a particular church, does not imply that their voices are the voice of the entire community in which the church was instituted.
The church likes causing intrigues among a people. If Achebe was a Church-person, controversy would not have surrounded the type of burial that was supposed to befit him.
“The first controversy that came out was when the renowned author was announced dead last March. Argument began to rage in several cultural, literary and political circles on the kind of burial Achebe would have. While some said it would be traditional burial, another group said it would be Christian while another said Achebe was an atheist. All had their reasons. Achebe in his novels, especially those set in pre-colonial and colonial Nigeria accused both Christianity and colonialism as being responsible for Africa’s woes. But then Achebe had neither been seen in a church… This made some others say he was an atheist. [Vanguad: May 26, 2013 · In Achebe: Exit of a literary giant].
Achebe never made his Christianity public but his traditional belief, no matter what people like Bishop Ikechi Nwosu of Aba Diocese, who gave the funeral sermon in Ogidi, pointed out that he had a strong Christian background.
In a letter said was signed by the duo of Ike and Chidi (Achebe’s sons) to the media; for the men to have said that Achebe would be buried as a Christian by the Anglican Church, could be because of the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu that was in the planning of his burial. Tutu led the international committee for the burial. And bringing Tutu into the burial committee was political, to diminish what Achebe himself believed in, therefore the family questioned the meaning of burying Achebe traditionally because Tutu was involved.
Tutu himself never disparages other people’s culture and traditions. Read [Desmond Tutu: God is not a Christian].
“Even the duo [Ike and Chidi] could not quell the controversy as they failed to say whether it was Achebe’s wish to be buried as a Christian…” [Vanguard: May 26, 2013 · In Achebe: Exit of a literary giant]. This is what happens when a man or woman compromised; and Achebe was strongly against it.
In an interview that Chinua Achebe granted Bradford Morrow, CONJUNCTIONS:17 Fall 1991, which later became “Best of the Web Bradford Morrow’s Achebe interview and was named a
“Shmoop 2010 Best of the Web winner for ‘Things Fall Apart’”, Achebe was recognized as not just “a man of immense literary greatness, but that he embodied a profoundly decent humanity.”
“Shmoop 2010 Best of the Web winner for ‘Things Fall Apart’”, Achebe was recognized as not just “a man of immense literary greatness, but that he embodied a profoundly decent humanity.”
The interviewer and Achebe taught at Bard College. The interviewer regretted that it was a shame that Achebe – a hero in his native Nigeria, well-known throughout the rest of Africa, and in Europe – remained less appreciated in America, but many readers, and the interviewer quite obviously included, were committed to Chinua Achebe's vision and work.
“But it is clear to me that many more people would be well advised to examine the implications of his novels, his essays, his stories and poems -- especially in this country, which is altogether too insulated from world-writers, as we might call them, writers who reach out beyond the imaginable and attempt to address life at its widest possible cast. From the publication of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958 (it's in its 46th printing, according to my Fawcett paperback), and on through the publication of No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, A Man of the People and many other titles, Achebe has established himself as a major writer of political, social and historical conscience.” [Bradford Morrow, CONJUNCTIONS:17 Fall 1991].
No one should say that the Things Fall Apart that Achebe wrote is mere fiction that Achebe perhaps never believed in the human conscience that he was bent on conscientizing because Bradford Morrow on Achebe says that in his essay – The Truth of Fiction – Achebe defines a difference between fiction and what he terms beneficent fiction. The interviewer asks Achebe if he equates fiction with superstition and reserves for literary fiction the term beneficent. Inter alia, Achebe responds:
“The notion of beneficent fiction is simply one of defining storytelling as a creative component of human experience, human life, as something we have always done which has positive purpose and a use. Whenever you say that, some people draw back. Why should art have a purpose and a use? But it seems to me that from the very beginning, stories have been meant to be enjoyed, to appeal to that part of us which enjoys good form and good shape and good sound. Still, I think that behind it all is a desire to make our experience in the world better…”
The Igbo was/is well organized before colonialism of which in defining ‘politics’, Achebe tells Brandford Morrow when he was asked to define politics:
“Anything to do with the organization of people in society. That is the definition. Whenever you have a handful of people trying to live harmoniously, you need some organization, some political arrangement that tells you what you can do and shouldn't do, tells you what enhances harmony and what brings about disruption.”
Bradford Morrow on trying to justify Achebe, ponders that “so there is a politics of family, politics of love relationships, politics of religion, politics of walking across the street.” And Achebe says, “Exactly. What we're talking about is power, the way that power is used.”
The Achebe family and the Church used this ‘power’, which Achebe always tries to define, to assuage the traditional society of the Ogidi people, by burying Achebe as a Christian, by refusing to address the people’s politics, the politics of their culture, by making the Igbo cultures and traditions ultimately of lesser value. Which they were and are not.
The Achebe family should not think that its politics that was juxtaposed with the church’s, on the burial of Achebe, have changed what people believed that Chinua Achebe was. The coming of the church did not change him to become better person; Achebe had been a better person through the dictates of generational cultures and traditions of his people that were not transient. Ndigbo were evolving in their politics before church came and begin to massage the egos of individuals, as against the atmosphere of the general belief of the people, hence the communal belief of the people was marginalized and capitalism was instituted.
The world will never accept that Achebe was a better church-Christian than he was known as a veritable strong voice on African cultures and traditions, because he was buried as a Christian. Like Ndigbo would say, which Achebe once used: “If somebody climbs a mountain, they conquer it”, but the family and the church have not conquered the resonating voice of Achebe that Africans should re-claim their cultures and traditions from the hands of Europe. He warns against this hindsight of one acting the script of others to favour himself or herself, using Nigeria and Biafra war as example. Who would say that the Igbo and the Hausa are one people because they are in one country called Nigeria? They are not one people, but from one country.
“The problem with history is that once a whole lot of things have happened, it's hard to speculate. Nigeria was really a British creation [Likewise church. Emphasis mine] and lasted under the British for no more than fifty years. At the end of British rule, we accepted the idea of Nigeria but the country wasn't working very well, which is why the whole Biafran thing came about. The British had such a vested interest in keeping this unit together, not for our benefit, but for their own. They -- and not just the British, but the Soviet Union and the Americans as well -- were interested in holding it together because of the possibilities of commercial exploitation. What they didn't understand is that if people are unhappy, commerce is meaningless. What would Biafra have become? We wanted the kind of freedom, the kind of independence, which we were not experiencing in Nigeria. Nigeria was six years free from the British, but in all practical ways its mind, its behavior, the way its leaders looked up to the British, the way that British advisers continued to run the country, worried the more radical elements in our society. Most importantly, the fact that a government stood by while parts of the population were murdered at will in sections of the country went against our conception about what independence from the British should mean. So, Biafra was an attempt to establish a nation where there would be true freedom, true independence.”
There is no religions that should see itself as being superior to the other, just as Achebe induces. Achebe did not believe in this, but that independent cultures and traditions and a people should not be infiltrated. He did not believe in the supreme knowledge that any countries enjoys total freedom. But, however, he believed that some enjoy freedom to a large extent than others.
“Some do better than others. Let me give one more dimension of what we were hoping to do in Biafra, and what this freedom and independence was supposed to be like. We were told, for instance, that technologically we would have to rely for a long, long time on the British and the West for everything. European oil companies insisted that oil technology was so complex that we would never ever in the next five hundred years be able to figure it out. Now, we thought that wasn't true. In fact, we learned to refine our own oil during the two and a half years of the struggle because we were blockaded. We were able to show that it was possible for African people entirely on their own to refine oil. We were able to show that Africans could pilot their planes. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that a Biafran plane landed in another African country, and the pilot and all the crew came out, and there was not white man among them. This other country --which is a stooge of France -- couldn't comprehend a plane landing without any white people. They said, "Where is the pilot? Where are the white people?" arrested the crew, presuming a rebellion in the air. There was enough talent, enough education in Nigeria for us to be able to arrange our affairs more independently than we were doing. Your question as to whether any nation is truly independent: the answer is no. You can manage certain things, but you do rely on others and it's a good thing the whole world should be linked in interdependence. As human beings you can be independent but as members of society you are related to your fellows. In the same way, nations can manage certain affairs on their own, and yet be linked with others.” [Bradford Morrow, CONJUNCTIONS:17 Fall 1991].
Achebe died and the church infiltrated his Igbo beliefs, just as he was born at a predominantly period, when the Igbo cultures and traditions of his forefathers were being penetrated by European-aliens and their cultures. The Europeans imposed the English Language as a consolidating language. The family treated Achebe in death, like a European, against his belief of Africa. The family has made Africa to continue to look like a continent without any forms of aboriginal cultures and traditions, or that such cultures are iniquitous.
“…I've met people who think of Africa as if it were Dutchess County. Africa is a huge continent with a tremendous variety and diversity of cultures, languages and so on. The way I show this is to give samples from different areas and histories of Africa. Now, in doing that, I'm limited by the question of language. I use books either originally written in English or translated into English. I begin with West Africa, an area in which one of the most dynamic literatures is being created and which happens also to be my home base…” – Chinua Achebe regrets.
In his essay "Named for Victoria, Queen of England", it better the world comes to the knowledge that apart from his Christian background, Acbebe was a traditionalist that his children and the church wanted to sell Christianity with, using him as a brand.
Achebe participated in his uncle's "heathen" festival meals, which the dogmatic church propagandaically regards as “old religion which was idolatrous, pantheistic and anything evil”. But, this is not true of this Igbo belief-system. The church railed Ndigbo into spiritual torture, with the introduction of Christianity. Upon that there were two religions officially regarded by the Nigerian Constitution, the [Igbo belief-system is not a religion], but a way of life of the people, which was/is found in their diction and characters, in their Chiism and cosmology. This belief-system guided Achebe as a boy, and he grew up believing in this belief of his forefathers, than that of his parents, who were colonized into becoming Christians.
They were brainwashed!
“That's one part of this general feeling I'm trying to express, which is somewhat nebulous. Art and community in Africa are clearly linked. Art is not something that has been so purified and refined that it's almost gone out of real life, the vitality of the street, like European art and academic art tend to be. In Africa, the tendency is to keep art involved with the people. Among my own Igbo people it is clearly emphasized that art must never be allowed to escape into the rarefied atmosphere, but must remain active in the lives of people. Ordinary people must be brought in, a conscious effort must be made to bring in the life of the village in this art.” –Achebe cries.
The family of Achebe must have acted in blunder to bury him as a Christian, which he was not. Their act might not be unconnected with the intimidation which the alien religion – Christianity – is playing over the aboriginal beliefs. They used this burial in making sure that the loud manifestations of the Ogidi/Igbo cultures and traditions and the Things Fall Apart were silenced. Would the church in Igbo-land allow the people to tell their own story? Or does the church want only its story to be told?
“…‘Now we've heard it all.’ I'm worried when somebody from one particular tradition stands up and says, "The novel is dead, the story is dead." I find this to be unfair, to put it mildly. You told your own story, and now you're announcing the novel is dead. Well, I haven't told mine yet. Therefore, we must hear all the stories. That would be the first thing. And by hearing all the stories we will find in fact points of contact and communication, and the world story, the Great Story, will have a chance to develop. That's the only precaution I would suggest -- that we not rush into announcing the arrival of this international, this great world story, simply based on our knowledge of one, or a few traditions. For instance, in America there is really very little knowledge of the literature of the rest of the world. Of the literature of Latin America, yes. But that's not all that different in inspiration from that of America, or Europe. One must go further. You don't even have to go further in terms of geography -- you can go to the American Indians and listen to their poetry,” (Chinua Achebe).
It is time the church should expunge itself of this ignorance by not debasing the Igbo cultures and traditions. Chinua Achebe was not a Christian; and not being one did not make him a less-better man morally, spiritually and otherwise. His love for the aboriginal cultures and traditions even made him to become a Buddhist.
“You sound like a Buddhist to me, Chinua.” [Bradford Morrow, CONJUNCTIONS:17 Fall 1991]. “I probably am!” Chinua Achebe responds.
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, Media Consultant, Motivator, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State