Slice of Life 22:
A seed is placed in the black soil. Roots sprout and branch, stretching their limbs throughout the grit of the earthen encasement. The seed is nourished with the comfort of the soil and with the cries of sky. This is home. This is where he will bloom.
The world first heard the roar of Chinua Achebe’s words in 1958 with his work, Things Fall Apart. His words spun the tale of proud, “Okonkwo,” a Nigerian Titan who clung tightly to the rituals, customs, and values of his culture amid British colonialism in his homeland, Nigeria. Unable to adapt, the prideful Okonkwo’s life is thrown into turmoil through a series of rash, self-inflicted and external actions. Numerous works followed, including the much acclaimed, No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God. Achebe rewrote the history of a nation; A nation’s whose history was previously depicted only through Western literature. His voice shone like a sunbeam through the clouds, illuminating the truths of his people.
“There is that great proverb — that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. … Once I realized that, I had to be a writer. I had to be that historian,” he said.
“It’s not one man’s job. It’s not one person’s job. But it is something we have to do, so that the story of the hunt will also reflect the agony, the travail — the bravery, even, of the lions.”
His work left me with a greater sense of myself, culture, and purpose. His words depict the agony and struggle the native African people endured. The despair and suffering of a people whose language, religion, traditions, and very way of life were torn apart.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”
The falcon represents the people. The spherical gyre symbolizes the distraction and corruption of cultural values. The gyre can be visualized as the circling flight of the bird constantly widening until it has lost contact with the point, the center, to which it ought to be able to return. It symbolizes disunity. This appropriately describes the struggle of the African people to restore their rich culture and reconfirm their individual identity. The works of Chinua Achebe aide in the efforts to draw the, ‘falcon,’ home, back to its, ‘center,’ where it inheritably belongs. He introduced Native Africa to the world. His words resonate, echoing the importance of home, of one’s culture and beliefs, and how vital those aspects are in creating purpose and meaning to life.
The mark of a great writer can be measured on the impact his/ her words have on their reader, how well their words transcend limitations of race, creed, culture. Achebe words depict native tribes and countrymen of Nigeria, but build bridges communicating to all. He portrays with deafening precision the devastation and injustice impressed upon his people. People whom lived; ate distinct dishes of their mothers, sang songs of praise, songs of sorrow, practiced rituals of their grandfathers, and wore garbs representing generations. These elements were taken from them. Stolen. Stripped by the powers of British colonialism. Their purpose, their identity, their stories.
We write, depicting our own lives. We construct narratives; giving meaning to inanimate objects, a grandmother’s ring, a child’s blanket, a particular chair or location in our home, a family ritual at dinner. What is sacred? The homes we live in, the people we love, the communities in which we thrive and practice our faith and civility. These are our stories. We all have them.
Chinua Achebe is a dear author to me. He provides a glimpse into the power and potential of the destructive nature of man, as well as the resilience and strength of the human spirit. He helped remind me of the importance of the soil in which my own childhood memories were made. He reminds me of how connected our stories really are, regardless of our native land, or variances of beliefs and cultural practices.
We are all seeds, of the same grain, planted in unique plots of soil throughout the earth. We require the same richness of culture and shared, common values, to branch out and grow, to create our own stories, to flourish, to bloom.
RIP Chinua Achebe