By Abali Okoruku Abali
Professor Chinua Achebe’s pioneer books; “Things Fall Apart” and “Arrow of God”, are the most libelous books ever written against an indigenous Nigerian Community. I speak of Abam Community and no one needs be astonished. For decades Chinua Achebe through his books has been dehumanizing Abam people, portraying them as savages, cannibals, war mongers and plunderers. He denies them history of any form of civilization. It is precisely this image of Abam in Chinua Achebe ‘s books that made the Biafran authorities to make Abam community the first port of call for recruitment into their rag-tag army.
Dozens of young men in their prime, armed with matches, cutlasses bows and arrows were lured into make-shift Lorries and driven straight to the war fronts to fight Nigerian Soldiers armed to the teeth with automatic rifles and grenades and backed by armored vehicles. In his book, “There Was A Country; A Personal History of Biafra”, Chinua Achebe narrates how unarmed recruits stood behind the armed Biafran Soldiers waiting patiently to take up the gun of any slain soldier and continue the battle. What he does not tell his readers is that those unarmed young men queuing behind the armed Biafran Soldiers were Abam people lured into war they knew nothing about. Suffice it to say that less than one percent of them returned alive to tell the story. In Idima Abam in particular, an entire newly formed age grade was wiped out, leaving behind dozens of young widows of ages between 18 and 25 years.
The Nigerian Soldiers were also influenced by Chinua Achebe’s image of Abam people as deadly mercenaries. They began to search for the community. Several days after the Federal Military Government declared the Nigerian Civil War ended, a Nigerian military aircraft flew to the market square at Ozu Abam and dropped a bomb. Hundreds of innocent woman and children buying and selling were killed and others maimed for life. In chapter Fifteen of Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe begins by corrupting the name of Abam by adding the alphabet “e” as a suffix to make it “Abame”. But noone who knows Igboland very well is fooled by this grand swindle.
People know that Chinua Achebe is talking about Abam of present day Abia State of Nigeria. He narrates how the people of Abame killed a white man who lost his way and tied his bicycle on a tree so that it won’t escape to call the white man’s friends. Of course, they paid dearly for their crime as the ravaging colonial army wiped out the entire people. Thus, Uchendu, a character in the novel who was listening to the story as narrated by Obierika, another character, burst out; “Never kill a man who says nothing. Those men of Abame were fools”. But Chinua Achabe is merely setting the stage for what is to come. In his novel, Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe comes out bare-face. He uses the name Abam in his story.
In chapter two of the book, Chinua Achebe narrates how ”the hired soldiers of Abam used to strike in the dead of night, set fire to the houses and carry men, woman and children into slavery”. That is not the Abam where I grew up. It is either Chinua Achebe does not know the people he is describing or he is simply being mischievous. The truth is that Abam people are not and have never been plunderers contrary to the image Chinua Achebe creates of them. If they were, then Abam community would have been the most developed part of Igboland. The reason being that the history of the world is the history of plunderers being richer and more developed than the plundered.
But this not so in Igboland where Abam has remained one of the least developed communities. Yes, Abam people of old might have participated in inter communal wars just like other Igbo communities of old including Chinua Achebe’s Ogidi community. But to single them out as plunderers is unfair and a clear attempt to stigmatize a people. I doubt if Chinua Achebe ever visited Abam community throughout his lifetime. Yet, his larger than life image as an oracle of African culture makes it easy for people to swallow hook line and sinker whatever he says about African traditions and culture. Today, young educated sons and daughters of Abam have developed complex and are hardly proud of their community.
Some of them lack the courage to introduce themselves to others as indigenes or natives of Abam for fear of being made jest of. When you ask them where they come from, they will claim origin of neighbouring communities such as Ohafia, Abiriba or Arochukwu. All thanks to Chinua Achebe and his novels.
It is an irony that Chinua Achebe claims that Things Fall Apart is partly a reaction to Joseph Conrad’s false representatives of Africa in his Heart of Darkness, yet his own novels are doing the same injustice to the people of Abam.
Chinua Achebe through his novels wants the world to believe that African ancestors can still communicate with the living and vice Versa. Now he has become an ancestor I hope he can still read this piece. I seize this medium to inform him that Abam people wish him a happy ancestry. But they are not ruling out the possibility of a well deserved law suit against his estate for the damage his works are doing to their reputation.
Adieu, Eagle on the Iroko.
Abali .O. Abali, is from Idima Abam and wrote from Lagos. (firstname.lastname@example.org)