“Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control; they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit – in state, in church, or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.” – Chinua Achebe
One of my favorite writers, Chinua Achebe, passed away a few days ago. I hadn’t written anything about this sad event yet because I’m finding it very difficult to put in words what I feel. There is a sense of personal loss. His passing really saddens me. It’s weird. I’ve never met the man. Our only interaction has been my reading his books, yet I feel like I’ve lost a friend.
Maybe it’s more like a mentor has died. Anthills of the Savannah put me on the road to becoming an African storyteller. Before that, I had seen writing only as a form of entertainment, but that novel made me see that good writing can change the way you think. It made me realize that Africa could be enough. It gave me a sense of responsibility towards my country, made me feel that not only was I a part of the problem, but that I could be a part of the solution too.
I’m going to have to leave it at that. I simply don’t have the words to fully express how much of an influence this man’s writing has had on me. So I leave you with his words, words that celebrate the role and power of the storyteller. If I ever do become a published novelist, I will owe a big part of my success to Mr. Achebe. Go well, sir. You made a proudly African writer out of me.
“To some of us the owner of the World has apportioned the gift to tell the fellows that the time to get up has finally come. To others, He gives the eagerness to rise when they hear the call; to rise with racing blood and put on the garbs of war and go to the boundary of their town to engage the invading enemy boldly in battle. And then there are those others whose part is to wait and when the struggle is ended, to take over and recount the story.
The sounding of the battle-drum is important; the fierce waging of the war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards – each is important in its own way. I tell you there is not one of them we could do without. But if you ask me which of them takes the eagle-feather, I will say boldly: the story. Do you hear me? Now, when I was younger, if you had asked me the same question, I would have replied without pause: the battle. But age gives to man some things with the right hand even as it takes away others with the left. The torrent of an old man’s water may no longer smash into the bole of the roadside tree a full stride away as it once did, but fall around his feet like a woman’s; but in return the eye of his mind is given wing to fly away beyond the familiar sights of the homestead…
So why do I say that the story is chief among his fellows? The same reason I think that our people sometimes will give the name Nkolika to their daughters – Recalling-Is-Greatest. Why? Because it is only the story that can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story, not the others, that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it we are blind.” – Anthills of the Savannah
His story will live on…