Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Okigbo’

Achebe44Three days ago was World Poetry Day. Two days ago, Chinua Achebe passed away. Today, I weep.

The only novel of his I have read is the world-acclaimed ‘Things Fall Apart’ but it was so impressive, I read it twice.  I also have read reviews of his last publication, ‘There was a Country’, which comes across as probably his most criticised work.

Achebe is popular as the Father of African literature in English language. When his death was announced, so many lovers of literature spent the day quoting witty and proverbial texts from any of his books that they had read. I simply tweeted ‘Chinua Achebe’.

On Wikipedia, you find this text that says: “Things Fall Apart went on to become one of the most important books in African literature. Selling over 8 million copies around the world, it was translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time.”

‘There was a Country’ seems to be a book that defends Biafra’s role in the 1960s Biafran war which the region fought against the rest of Nigeria, in search of secession.  The cruelty with which the war was won, where the nation starved the Biafra region of food and supplies, causing the death of about a million people, makes the war one to forget. Achebe was a Biafran and after that war, he withdrew from public service, constantly criticising successive Nigerian governments till his death. He turned down state awards in both 2005 and 2011, in a statement of defiance of governments that did little to care for the people. His whole life was a protest and it showed remarkably in his work, Things Fall Apart. Reviews of his other works suggest that in all of them, he was staunch in his protest, earlier of colonialism and later of corruption and graft in his native Nigeria. During the Biafran war, he wrote more poetry because that was more convenient and that was what he could squeeze his emotion and life into at the time.

Chinua is gone. Did we not know he would? We did. Because that is the end destined for us all. And even as we mourn his passing, we reflect on the life he lived among us and the contribution he made to African literature in English.  There is no voice louder than his on the work he chose for his life to do.  At 82, he had played his part.

Achebe was close to Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo (very good friends with Achebe’s son) with whom he stood in the Biafran war. You can read this reviewed poem of Okigbo’s here on this blog. Okigbo died as an early casualty of the Biafran war himself in 1967. Chinua wrote for Okigbo this poem I will like to leave us all with. Let Paradise keep you, Chinua.

WAKE FOR OKIGBO

For whom are we searching?
For whom are we searching?
For Okigbo we are searching!

Nzomalizo!
Has he gone for firewood, let him return.
Has he gone to fetch water, let him return.
Has he gone to the marketplace, let him return.
For Okigbo we are searching!
Nzomalizo!
For whom are we searching?
For whom are we searching?
For Okigbo we are searching!
Nzomalizo!

Has he gone for firewood, may Ugboko not take him.
Has he gone to the stream, may Iyi not swallow him!
Has he gone to the market, then keep from him you
Tumult of the marketplace!
Has he gone to battle,
Please Ogbonuke step aside for him!
For Okigbo we are searching!
Nzomalizo!

They bring home a dance, who is to dance it for us?
They bring home a war, who will fight it for us?
The one we call repeatedly,
there’s something he alone can do
It is Okigbo we are calling!
Nzomalizo!
Witness the dance, how it arrives
The war, how it has broken out
But the caller of the dance is nowhere to be found
The brave one in battle is nowhere in sight!
Do you not see now that whom we call again
And again, there is something he alone can do?
It is Okigbo we are calling!
Nzomalizo!

The dance ends abruptly
The spirit dancers fold their dance and depart in midday
Rain soaks the stalwart, soaks the two-sided drum!
The flute is broken that elevates the spirit
The music pot shattered that accompanies the leg in
its measure
Brave one of my blood!
Brave one of Igbo land!
Brave one in the middle of so much blood!
Owner of riches in the dwelling place of spirit
Okigbo is the one I am calling!
Nzomalizo!

In memory of the poet Christopher Okigbo (1932-1967)
Translated from the Igbo by Ifeanyi Menkit. Ref: Poetry Foundation Ghana.

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