Achebe: Exit of a literary giant

April 13, 2013

Chinua Achebe: Ogidi man first, Ogidi man last

By Nnamdi Ken Amobi

The departure of High Chief Chinua Achebe (Ugo belu n’oji – The Eagle on the Iroko) is painful to many Nigerians and peoples all over the world. For the Ogidi nation, it is particularly agonizing.  Our loss is immeasurable. As we weep, the cry has been: can we ever replace this man? The “Eagle on the Iroko” has fluttered its fatigued wide wings and flown away; and disappeared.  The man that put Ogidi on the world map of literature and culture has joined his ancestors.

Ogidi is an Igbo nation with a rich well-documented history dating back approximately one half of a millennium. The town is well known in and around Anambra State.  It is town of approximately 200,000 proud and productive people; currently mostly Christians but with rich and valuable vestiges of traditional religion. It is the headquarters of the Idemili North Local Government area; with neighboring towns of Nkpor, Oze, Obosi, Umuoji, Ogbunike, Umunachi, Umudioka and Abatete.  Mention Ogidi, and what comes to mind to most people in the state is the famous yearly Nwafor Festival.

But google Ogidi and the name Chinua Achebe pops up with it.  It is Chinua Achebe that is now most associated with Ogidi, and for that Ogidi Inwele indigenes owe incalculable gratitude to their illustrious son, now departed.

Late Prof Chinua Achebe

Late Prof Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe has gone to commune with Ezechuamagha the progenitor of the Ogidi nation.  Oral history tells us that Ezechuamagha is the father of Inwele; and Inwele is the father of Ogidi.  This historical teaching was embraced and given resonance by Chinua Achebe, the historian and Chinua Achebe the anthropologist.

In Ogidi culture, and indeed Igbo culture, the belief is that famous people are demigods; demigods are deified mortal and do not die, they merely return to their ancestors.

In 1985 when Igwe Amobi III of Ogidi joined his ancestors, one tribute that stood out prominently was that written by Chinua Achebe. Chinua Achebe, in the characteristic style of the master wordsmith himself, penned a glowing tribute to Igwe Amobi III at Igwe’s funeral in 1985.  The “Eagle on the Iroko” prayed and dedicated the soul of the departed Ogidi ruler to Ezechumagha.

Now another colossus has departed, it is our turn to do the same for Professor Chinua Achebe.  We send our fervent supplications to our great progenitor to receive Chief Chinua Achebe listen to him, guide and protect him.

Achebe will dutifully and willingly carry our message to Ezechuamagha to intervene in the currently troubled affairs of Ogidi.  Presently in Ogidi, the “arrow of God” may have been miss-directed; the ebullient and proud Ogidi man is “no longer at ease”; the center is not holding securely, even though “things have not fallen apart” completely.  Ogidi has not had an Igwe since the departure of Igwe Amobi IV in 1998.  All manners of intrigue and acrimony have bedeviled the emergence of the next Igwe.  Persons both qualified and unqualified have laid claim to the ancient throne that have been in existence since 1904.  We need Ezechuamagha to intervene.

Professor Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi in 1930.  His early life experiences were shaped and sharpened from exposure and interactions with the rich and admired Ogidi culture.  His magnum opus, “Things Fall Apart” is undoubtedly influenced by Ogidi culture.  If you like the African culture as narrated in “Things Fall Apart;” you will also like Ogidi culture.

Professor Achebe was indeed a proud Ogidi man.  His Christianity did not becloud his acceptance of Ogidi culture.  He was a onetime National President General of Ogidi Union and served the community creditably with a high sense of pride.  He fully accepted the Ogidi culture: became initiated into all traditional adolescent groups; became a member of the Ogidi Age-grade of Government; took the Ogidi ozo title, got inducted into the Ogidi Ndi-Ichie society and wears the symbolic red cap with pride.

To cap it all, he was appointed a member of Ichie Ume, an Ogidi High Chief; one honor he accepted with grace and gratitude.

The courage, candor and character you see in Chief Achebe, is symptomatic of the resolve of the many Ogidi people.  It is the same dogged resolve exhibited by the fictional Okonkwo in “Things Fall Apart.”  Christianity came to Onitsha in 1857; even though Ogidi is less than ten kilometers from Onitsha, it took more than twenty years for Christian Evangelists to fully penetrate and reach converts in Ogidi.  The reason? Ogidi man was opinionated, dogged, and proud of his heritage and beliefs. Doesn’t that remind you of Okonkwo in “Things Fall Apart?”  Doesn’t that remind you of Chinua Achebe, the man?

The last published work of Professor Chinua Achebe “There was a Country, a personal history of the Biafra.” has generated a lot comments both in agreement and in disagreement. The truth is the man wrote his personal opinion whether you agree or not.

But what is certain is that this book was written with pride not prejudice; pride about being an Igbo man and pain about the recollections of what his Igbo people suffered during the Biafran War; and not prejudice against any particular persons or ethnic group.  The tone and tenor of that work is vintage Achebe; he was never a timid writer, he calls it as he sees it.

“The Eagle on the Iroko” was an Ogidi man first; before we all knew him as the world’s master story teller, the renowned master wordsmith that reshaped the English language to accommodate Igbo voices and Ogidi concepts. Achebe is Ogidi man last; it is in Ogidi that his remains will be committed to mother earth.