CHINUA ACHEBE: THE MAN WHO CHANGED THE CONTEXT OF THE CONVERSATION

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“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”
– Chinua Achebe.

When you see a well-cleared road through the jungle, it is sometimes hard to imagine that once upon a time there was no road there, only trees and bush. To put it differently, when you see a jungle in front of you, it is sometimes hard to see a road whose past was a jungle. So stoic and self-justifying in its impenetrability that it would never have occurred to anybody that this jungle has no right to block our path; that anywhere we say “Let there be road”, there will be road; that it is not for the jungle to blind us to our possibilities, but for us to open the jungle up to our needs; that we have the right and the ability to choose and determine the range of our options by ourselves; that it is not the task of roadlessness to indoctrinate us from birth into the stupor of its own inevitability, but for us to be immune to the concept of “roadlessness”, and learn to see the obvious: it is man that defines himself.

But once in a while, a person comes alone, a special mind of deep intuition struck by an unaccountable thought. What if I am not who they say I am? What if I am something else? What if this jungle is not what we assume it is? What if it is a road dressed up with trees? What if that “mirror” they’ve placed in front of me is not a mirror, but a painting of what they want me to think I am? What if I now make my own mirror, with which my kind and I can see ourselves as we really are – what would I then see? What if the freedom they’ve given me is in truth a mental prison? What if the education they’ve brought to me is in truth a software of mind-control? What if?…

Once in a while, a person wakes up because the “What if?” moment has taken root in his consciousness. And, like a mustard seed, the “What if?” question will mature into a “Yes, indeed” answer in this person’s mind. And this person will become a leader. This person will part the red sea of somnambulism. This person will turn the mirror around. This person will change the context of the conversation. This man will open a road where others saw an impenetrable jungle. This person will rid the obvious of its garb of concealment, allowing it to arise in all its naturalness and normalcy, so intoxicatingly immediate, this simple truth: we are not who they say we are, we are who we know we are.

Pioneers and groundbreakers like this are very rare and far-between. But every once in a while, they step on the stage, to nudge the development of a people’s consciousness one step forward, creating new inner living spaces for the growth and flourishing of generations of consciousness.

Such a person is Chinua Achebe.

Many things fell apart when his first novel appeared; above all, the tight bind of redefinition wrapped around the thinking and perceiving faculty of the average colonised and educated African. It began to unravel, spearheading in its wake a generational surge for self-re-redefinition that did not stop with the generations that midwifed its birth, but has transplanted itself from generation to generation. Like every unravelling, it has been untidy. We know what we were. And we know what we aren’t. Armed with these pieces of the puzzle, we struggle to attain the living definition of the question: Who are we? A journey buffeted by the twin helpers of self-pride and self-criticism as we travel on along that road cleared through the jungle by vanguards such as the late and forever unforgotten Chinua Achebe.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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