BY JIMANZE EGO-ALOWES
The only difference is that while Achebe was Okonkwo-specific in his reportage, it is Achebe’s composite class of ex-colonials that were granted unimaginable wealth, position, and power. And this was typified by their moving into Government Reserved Areas, GRAs, after the white man left. The plain fact is that the Achebe composite class had no hand in building such a civilization or country. They merely inherited the rump of a British Empire and civilization. And as it turned out, they just could not run it. Achebe confesses to this even if obliquely. In his There was a Country, he writes: “Here is a piece of heresy: The British governed their colony of Nigeria with considerable care… British colonies, more or less, were expertly run.” (43). Of course, they ran it and handed it over to the Achebe composite class of ex-colonials.
Today alas, Nigeria is run like chaos. The Nigeria – the Achebe composite class of ex-colonials, inherited – that was once expertly run by the colonial power is today alas run as disorderly as the gates of hell. Perhaps it is that this Achebe composite class of ex-colonials, came suddenly into a fortune they could scarcely imagine, not to speak of manage or organize or run, and it all collapsed on their heads – and ours too.
One is forced to conjecture that it was the downside of a sudden meteoric rise in fortune that laid Okonkwo low and out. Okonkwo could not handle the new and unbelievable wealth and power he ran into by his industry. Both the Achebe composite class of ex-colonials and Okonkwo were like modern Mike Tyson. A famed American boxer, Tyson’s unimaginable good fortunes was beyond and blighted him, fatally, unto ruins. Perhaps, all too perhaps, these types make up one class.
And it is not out of place that the Achebe composite class, an heir of the rump of a perishing British civilization never came to knowledge that they were merely a band of adopted heirs. They were not truly of the bloodlines. Yet, alas, they deluded themselves that they were. The fact of this delusion is their mother sin. That explains in part, perhaps, why Achebe, one of the best of the rot that is their class, wrote his prose, even if apocryphal masterpiece, The Trouble with Nigeria. His tract above all was aimed at rationalizing the shameful failures of his class, the merely adopted, not true heirs of British or any civilization. In other words, the Achebe ex-colonial composite clan lacked a dialectical knowledge of even who they are. So, how could they generate the leaders to lead the unknowns, themselves?
And that was similar of course to Okonkwo, one can extrapolate. If Okonkwo were to author his own The Trouble with Umuofia, it would have been as un-dialectical as Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria. But the truth of the fall of Umuofia is closer to this dialectical short-circuit than to whatever Okonkwo, would as Achebe, have conjectured. For Okonkwo as much as for Achebe, they are never to be complicit of errors. Umuofia’s fall is in their cosmological not leadership failures. They did not fully comprehend what the world was made of. Thus, they could not defend themselves on the “ecologically” indicated, even if to them, mutant manifestations. Therefore, if one editorialized, substituting Umuofia for Aztec, etc., the truth of Carlos Fuentes, a Mexican Achebe if you liked, rings perfectly true:
But the Umuofians didn’t know the world existed outside the boundaries of the Igbo universe. When the white man arrived, they died of fright. There was another world they never thought of, and they were paralyzed to death. (Moyers 1989, 507).
And this concludes and summaries the counterfactual history of Umuofia and the current and resistant reality that is Nigeria. This is a Nigeria procured and bequeathed by the Achebe ex-colonial class to present and succeeding Nigerians. However, it is on record that Nobel Prize winner, Professor Wole Soyinka, member of the Achebe class of ex-colonials, was more forthright, more honest, in admitting to, not rationalising, his own and his group’s complicity in the shameful Nigerian tragedy:
BBC: “Has your generation of older Nigerians failed the people?”
WS: “Yes, I believe so.”
The following question may be indicated. How did Achebe write accurately of his future unto his death, when he was only 28? The answer is simple. It is in the nature of the artist to be both analytic and a seer. Most great artists– Achebe is indisputably one – have Delphic insights and hints of who they are and the likely unfolding of those seed personalities.
One of the most immediate in our national memories, must be of the poet Christopher Okigbo. His last book Labyrinths was declared as ‘’prophetic’’ by his publishers in their blurb. And the facts of Okigbo’s future actually matched his fears as he prerecorded them. So, the rite of the writer as prophetic is nothing strange or exotic. And this is also known in other climes. For instance, in his essay on Richard Wagner, Thomas Mann, a German Achebe if you liked, writes:
It has seemed to people that Tolstoy, in his old age, fell into a kind of religious madness. They do not see that the Tolstoy of the last period lay implicit in characters like Pierre Besuchov in War and Peace and Levin in Anna Karenina. (Mann 1958, 200.)
So, an Achebe foreseeing his future is neither odd not outlandish. These things happen. And the Latin American author ties it all up in his half dream world of characters: ‘’Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave the room…” (Marquez 1971, 383). Look, we are all doomed. Our greatest men are those who foresee these ends and try to counsel us on ways about or out of our fated tragedies. Achebe and Okonkwo were two of such, each after his own way.
Perhaps, why the self-evidence of Okonkwo as Achebe’s autobiographical double has eluded us is because of the elephant in our brains. We just could not think of comparing Okonkwo, a common ‘’wrestler’’, with Achebe, one of the world’s greatest minds. The error comes as follows. We are wrongly seduced by forms and categories. We gave up too easily, too suddenly, on content, on development; and content and development ironically are the defining assets.
First, it serves well if we came to knowledge that being an artist is not due to form. The conventional category of denoting artists by form may only be self-serving at best. The point is that not all novelists [that is users of the novelistic forms] are artists. Some novelists are in it, legitimately, for the money. Writers – or if you liked fabricators – of Mills and Boon titles are such types. Sometimes, other users of the novelistic forms are no artists too. But that is because they have no talents whatsoever. They remain journeymen, not artists, not masters. The German example of the so-called, The Good and the Bad Mann brothers are telling.
The analogue to the above is this. The so-called non-traditional categories or forms that are considered non-art, like wrestling, business etc. abound with visionary artists. Perhaps, they are rare, but history records they have been there. Fact is, if any man or maker advances the form, whatever form, or uses the current forms, for the search for perfection in whatever area, such as one is an artist, is a poet. Thus, it is not the form that creates the artists, the poets, the geniuses. It is the content, the innovation, the genius a given practitioner brings to the form.
For example, Donald Trump who is America’s current president once gave an insight in his autobiographical work, The Art of the Deal. It is now said that it was ghosted. However, the point is that he said it right: ‘’Deals are my art form.’’
Even if it is not true for him, the fact of it has been and still remains. Long before Trump for instance, one of the greatest banker-businessmen of all time have had his biography written. And an excerpt goes:
When I remarked that on how unusual it was to find a banker who was also a genuine man of letters, [Raffaele] Mattioli’s…: ‘’I see no difference whatsoever between a poem and a balance sheet…. At best, each is a work of art…. When I look at either a poem or a balance sheet, I try to see the center of gravity, the focal point. (Wechsberg 1966).
And it is not a matter exclusive to professors as Mattioli was. A signalling report on boxing reads:
Once, in answer to the Irish fighter Roger Donoghue, who asked how [Archie] Moore could throw punches out of a position that kept his arms crossed in front of his face, Archie replied, ‘’You’re talking about technique, Roger, and what I do is philosophy.’’ Editorialising Miller writes: ‘’Moore was to boxing what Nimzovitch had been to chess. (Mailer 2000).
And we can recall that Plato, rated as one of the finest minds ever, started out as a boxer. In fact, his name, Plato, originally a nickname which he finally assumed, is said to be derived from the fact that he had a broad chest, was a boxer. That Plato was so proud of his boxing endowment that he signed it as his proper name, should make us circumspect in dissing physical or martial grace. Let us suppose that Plato deployed to boxing, his strength and genius. Imagine what innovations he would have purchased for the world by that form, the form of boxing. That he finally chose the philosophical form against the martial kind, does not make him thus a greater genius or innovator. It was his content that was at work and play, and that same content would have been played out in whatever fields he has a knack for – and boxing, a martial-arts, like wrestling, was one of those.
In other words, that Okonkwo was a wrestler and farmer should not automatically degrade our assessment of him in contrast to other parties, say novelists and mathematicians. Rather, what should count is what innovations he brought to his trade, and the data is in his favour. Okonkwo achieved a deed, an upset, an innovation, that ranks him with the founders of the clan. In summary, Okonkwo was a supreme martial artist; and, by this fact merits comparisons with even the gods, literary or otherwise. So, we have to quickly slaughter the elephant in our brains and make meat of it, rather than allow it to decimate our minds as a scarecrow.
In conclusion, it is apparent we can see that Achebe’s and Okonkwo’s lives run nearly as one in character and in fate, essentially. The only differences are in matters of Achebe’s management of his family for which we have no firm data. Anyway, that rather closet, even petty detail, does not detract from the dominant broad strokes in the essential lives of these two characters. And a novel need not conform to the least commas and periods to be autobiographical. Just the essential details, and “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
In all, it may now be safe to say and in justice that the author of Things Fall Apart is [Professor] Chinua ‘’Okonkwo’’ Achebe, not Chinua Achebe. Ahiazuwa.
Ego-Alowes is a notable critic and Nigerian publisher
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN