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The Thunderous Sound of a Giant Falling to Earth: The Passing of Chinua Achebe

Today, millions of Africans around the globe are lamenting the loss of Chinua Achebe. I am one of them. There is something eerie that goes on in the soul of a (presumed) writer when a fellow leaves this realm. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like that intense emptiness that rushes over you while watching your best friend get into a moving van relocate across the country. You wonder how you’ll ever survive, but in time, you figure out how.

I was not an early fan of Achebe. My education was fiercely Eurocentric, and when I switched secondary schools in sixth form I was bombarded with unfamiliar (and admittedly, uncomfortable) Afrocentrism. In my literature and higher English classes we were being ask – or required, rather – to read works of authors who were not White, male and dead…and I resented it. I would have rebelled completely, but 30% of my grade rested on completing a 500 word essay on either the works of Okot p’Bitek (Song of Lawino), D T Niane (Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali) or Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart). I chose Song of Lawino, not because it was a literary masterpiece, but because it was the shortest book of the three. After all, what could a man who was neither dead nor White have to say of substance?

At prep time, the majority of the other literary nerds from the junior classes would gasp audibly and give each other shocked or amused glances, daring only for a moment to look up from their copies of Things Fall Apart. Talking at prep was forbidden.

“Things fall apart,” one of them would say.

“The center cannot hold,” the other would reply.

Ah. What inside joke was this? I wanted in. Achebe shamed me into a mental revolution and freed it with his simple but profound words. He left an indelible impact on me as a teen.

Achebe’s influence extends far beyond rectangular cement structures that house pupils in Africa or grandiose university lecture halls. His effect is felt even in hip hop, dating back to 1999 with The Roots entitling their fourth album with the same appellation of Achebe’s most renown work Things Fall Apart. One of my favorite songs on the album, also entitled Things Fall Apart/You Got Me, features Erykah Badu:

We knew from the start that things fall apart

And tend to shatter

She like that sh*t don’t matter

When I get home get at her…

I loved that verse because it was so gritty and real.

50chi It never occurred to me to wonder what Dr. Achebe thought about The Roots’ flagrant use of the title he’d coined 40 years before, but I do know he didn’t care for 50 Cents attempt to do the same in 2011. He sued the rapper/actor for plagiarism and won. Fiddy must have thought he was dealing with a small boy. He tried to settle out of court, offering the Chinua Achebe Foundation $1 million to use the title, but the Chinua Achebe Foundation turned down the offer.

“The novel with the said title was initially produced in 1958 (that is 17 years before rapper 50 Cent was born), [is] listed as the mostly read book in modern African literature, and won’t be sold for even $1 billion,” Achebe’s legal reps said.

I don’t know what words Achebe whispered to Fiddy, but before you could say “It’s your birthday!”, the title was changed to All Things Fall Apart. Hei!

You guys know that I am a bush girl masquerading as a learned lady. And it is for this reason that this will always remain my favorite memory of Chinua Achebe: Hardcore Literary Gangsta!

As the tributes pour in for Chinua Achebe he will be remembered for many things: For being a man of the people, an unflinching voice of truth, a brave and unapologetic witness to Africa’s greatness and condemner of the follies of its leaders – a roaring voice of the people.

Now that my grief has subsided in part, I can finally offer my sincere thanks to you, Chinua Achebe. Thank you for telling your stories – our stories – so beautifully and inspiring generations and generations yet to come to do the same.


This article has 11 comments

  1. gueststar

    I laughed at your comments about your Eurocentric education, as my own education was very Afrocentric ( a deliberate move by the government to move away from the Eurocentric education our parents received). In school we only focused on African writers, and my own parents were very adamant about us mostly reading African writers at home. This is to the point that when I started college in the US, and had to do English literature, I despised it all, and I had the same attitude (and I’ll admit, to a small extent, I still do). My feeling was that there’s really nothing of substance that a white american or european could write that I wanted to read. lol. We did do Chinua Achebe in high school, though Song of Lawino is a favorite of mine, and I love Okot p’ Bitek’s work. RIP Chinua.

  2. a

    (pours akpeteshie on the ground in tribute)

  3. soundofnew

    There are certain people you imagine would live forever because their impact on the world is so positive, so deep, so far-reaching. This just goes to show that death does come to EVERY man. Chinua Achebe will be sorely missed. We pray for more giants like him to emerge and take the reins.
    PS: Malaka you were supposed to be writing a book… *hint, hint*
    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld from Glo Mobile.

    • Malaka

      Exactly! It’s a sobering reminder that Death will come for us all, no matter how convinced we are of our own immortality.

      And your “hint” is noted. 🙂

  4. FredoGomez

    Indeed, a GIANT has fallen. Like the iroko trees he often referred to in his novels, Achebe will forever remain on the landscape of African literature. I studied Things Fall Apart and A Man of the People during my secondary school education in Ghana and his books set me on the path to seeking knowledge about and understanding African history, politics, and cultural all three of which Achebe masterfully wove into his story telling. The great man will sorely be missed.

  5. Sturmius

    The first time I heard about “Things Fall Apart” was in 2001, when I was in a Form One class in Tanzania. I admired brothers and sisters in form three who would come to the assembly to deliver a morning speech -which could not go without a starting phrase; “Umofia Kwenu?”…… It was from such inspirations, that my love for my African literature was born.
    To you Malaka, I have been reading most of your posts. Among many of your posts, My favorite one was that “Lazy African Intellectual Scum”. I believe and trust that you have been gifted with all what it takes to be a writer Africa is to be proud of. Please don’t delay in making this possible.

    R.I.P Achebe!

  6. Nana A

    Malaka, Sturmius has spoken! You have denied this great man the opportunity knowing your works. In the words of Sturmius “please don’t delay in making this possible”

    • Malaka

      Sturmius also thinks I wrote his favorite piece, “You Lazy Intellectual African Scum”. I didn’t write that. It was written by Field Ruwe.
      How can I compete with perfection?? But I hear you all. I really do.

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