There Was A Country by Chinua Achebe: My Review!

Why would I review an Author’s personal account of the realities of his time on a page that deals with fiction and development issues? Drawing from a background of literature and history, I believe that  the book ‘There was a Achebe_review1Country’ by Chinua Achebe gives deeper insight into the development of the country Nigeria. It gives relevance to the past and the future of our world perhaps projecting the need of a better perspective for younger generation trying to understand their root.

This book comes littered with thought provoking poems that gives the right ambience to the issues discussed. It speaks of an era when renowned authors responded to development issues using fiction writing that produced satiric works like ‘Before the Black out’ by Wole Soyinka and Man of the People by Chinua Achebe amongst others. It tells of the role of a writer in social and national development. Chinua Achebe emphasizes that ‘if a society is ill, the writer has a responsibility to point it out’. It highlights the political position of creative writing in the advancement of development in any era.

Beyond this, the book indeed has placed a moral lens on how we as young people view our history and our past leaders (villains and heroes alike). It helps one position the intentions of the many giant nations, especially the western nation in the development of Nigeria. It is here to help us look through our national pathologies and indeed unlearn things that will stop ugly history from repeating.

The Biafran war remains a very political issue; it is not spoken of without raising a tribal dust. Its realities are barelyBLM-Biafra-Flag-Waving-Large known to people like me who were born three or four decades ago. For most of us, Biafra was that war that failed to divide Nigeria; it’s when the people of Ibo descents wanted a country of their own. Not many of us have strived to understand clearly the roots of this desired separation. Perhaps it has been politically hidden in our education. As the Author clearly asked, ‘why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, fourty years after its end?’

Reading this book, momentarily estranged me from my generation and I kindled to the life and truth of the Author’s generation, it gave my life more depth, meaning and resonance. I understand the war began not just as a result of belligerency raised by some primitive Ibo tribe. It was not a war between progressive nationalist and retrogressive tribal bigots. By Achebe’s projections, it started with a military coup that was misconstrued and given a tribal colour, it was stirred by a pogrom committed severally against a group. It was fuelled by manifold rivalry allowed by a complacent government.

When you read of the Asaba and Calabar Massacre, amongst others followed by the many pogroms that preceded it in Nigeria, you may like myself be tempted to ask if an apology by the incumbent leaders at the time was enough? Did this belated apology change the fact that there was genocide in Biafra? Will it change the alterations their acts had done to the present day people and their families who as the children of yesterday watched their father and brother’s Chinua-Achebe10--AFP-bloods splashing on their faces and settling in violation on the earth?

I am not trying to raise a settled dust, No! The dusts are not settled! Again and again they rise with the tornadoes of many injustice and cycles of inter-ethnic and inter-religious killings littered all over Nigeria. They are there in the life and family of the many Ibo fathers, who were Biafran casualties, who wake up spontaneously angry, violent and abusive to wives and children for reasons they do not know. Perhaps they still duck under cover, hear the howls of pain, picture Biafran babies with washed out ribs and blown out bellies starved into submission in a landscape where the air is heavy with odours of blood. Hmmnn…to the children of yesterday, there is a cry for justice. To the children of today, there is a hunger for peace. But there will be no peace without justice.

Achebe’s personal accounts, gave an insight into the genesis of election rigging (another national cancer) as an eclectic seed of the West. The manipulations of the embittered British Colonists aided the transfer of power to the then most conservative elements in the country hence inspiring the perpetual death of faith in genuine democracy. The character of the independence given to the country Nigeria came with so much ease that one would wonder if it were not a Greek gift.

13201_biafrapound1_1_jpg52d5260fbadee7189d2c5a2cc71cdbe7This book showcased landmark events that could have catalyzed development in Africa. But rather our leaders compromised or altered them with mediocre thinking which enshrined our government. Perhaps we may need to ask what our acclaimed altruistic leaders had done with the ingenuity of the Biafran scientist and think-tanks who fourty decades ago, could pilot planes and generate technologies they used to fight their cause. These people survived for years refining their own oil and maintaining their vehicle with no western aid or resources. What happened to the indigenous skills of this group of people who did what the Europeans may have tagged impossible for Africa in that time? In three years of the war, necessity gave birth to great inventions which if integrated into national development could advance a nation and perhaps a continent. But alas, we buried them all, we buried true African independence with the memories of men and women en-masse that died for theirbook1 faith.

The late writer paid his last due by putting in our hands the gift of a little history book and now I can confidently say that ‘There was a Country’! I am always of the opinion that our African fathers failed us by their choices and decisions in a revolutionary era. Now I am tempted to say that my generation may be on the verge of failing our children by being complacent and not questioning many past and present conventions, for fear that we will raise another dust! But must Biafra come again?

 

 

 

 

By Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Models of Femininity in Africa’s Popular Fictions

imagesI would think of a woman’s body as a battle ground you know, but it’s not only her body, it’s her identity and her dignity. Writing this week’s column, I thought about what makes a female a woman.  I realize how many times I hear that word ‘…like a woman’. It’s either talk like a woman, sit like a woman, behave like a woman, dress like a woman… On and on it goes. I began reflecting through my first paragraph;

‘Woman! Thou art only a ribbon taken from a man’s chest. Your worth is in your dowry, your honour is in your virginity, your pride is making a man’s tummy quit rumbling with your sweet meal, and it is in sexually massaging his ego by giving freely of yourself. Your respect is in being called a wife. That is the story of your life and so has it been.’

To be a woman, you have to become an appendage to a man; this has been the predictions of our literatures from the times Things fell apart through to the days of the Lion and the Jewel. Even the Gods are not to blame for this as men alone told the stories. And what do you expect if our husband has gone mad again? He will write in a language of patriarchy, painting the world only in the colours of black or white. There is never a grey colour in between or any other colour.

This remains a burning issue in international development; gender equality! It has become an analytical category for virtually everyk3468324 development activity. We have made a gender case for domestic violence, for agriculture, for health and every other constraints of progressive development around the world. I know many development practitioners like Gloria Steinem, are feminist. They hope for a future where everyone’s individuality and dynamism has expression without discouraging the balance of human right. Thus we continue to appreciate studies that explore the constructions of femininity and masculinity to know precisely where to focus our interventions and alter some undesirable realities in our society.

In trying to bridge the gaps between fiction and development on the issue of gender constructions, I took a look at how femininity has been modelled in our works of fiction. Works of our renowned authors Ola Rotimi, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka amongst others were ??????????????????????????????????????explored. In their books grown women carried the pot on their heads as Obiageli in ‘Things fall apart’, twisted and untwisted their The Gods Are Not To Blame tnwaist with the smoothness of water snake like Sadiku in ‘The lion and the jewel’, competed and fought their sisters to own the man and capture his straying affection like Lizzy and Sikira of ‘our Husband has gone mad again’. Indeed, women in the era of these works were presented as having small brains, as tools of reproduction, they were possessions of a man, bought and sold by men, promoting polygamy, caressing the man’s ego and enhancing his social status. The characters of Sidi, Sadiku and Ailatu, showed that women helped men build their world. They were defined according to their responsive roles to a man and their domestic diligence. These women were always docile; rarely did they show excitement or speak from their depth to the audience in a voice that conflicts the constructions of femininity portrayed above. I have wondered why there was no woman that sometimes felt like screaming, that told her husband when she did or didn’t want sex. Was there none that sincerely got tired of her marriage sometimes? How about sharing pain and the joys of motherhood? Then I remembered that when men tell the story alone, history is altered.

Flora Nwapa’s ‘Efuru’ came into the literary stage capturing an exact voice for women, be it when they spoke of love, malice or anger. Then Buchi Emecheta was like a breath of fresh air. She brought to the scene a new model of femininity presenting women whose destination was Biafra, who could tell ‘the joy of motherhood’, who shared the pain in being ‘second class citizens’, who were working 11613648-african-womanhard to sustain themselves even though it meant increasing the value of the bride price. Feminine models who questioned conventions burst the scenes. ‘God when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody’s appendage?’ Nnu Ego cries out.  Emecheta’s belief in individuality of human beings showed in her feminist view that laces all her work.

Reading through some of them three decades after they were published, it echoes strongly the thoughts of more women in this generation than in the era it was written. I am tempted to say that most of Emecheta and Nwapa’s works were forecasting and portraying different models of femininity in the future. It is a future where most women like ‘Amaka’ in One is not Enough will express their frustrations and speak out precisely for what they want. ‘… I don’t want to be a wife anymore, a mistress yes, with a lover, yes of course, but not a wife. There is something in that word that does not suit me. As a wife, am never free. I am a shadow of myself. As a wife, am almost impotent. I am in prison, unable to advance in body and soul… I don’t want to go back to my ‘wifely’ days. No, I am through with husbands. I said farewell to husbands the first day I came to Lagos.’joysofmotherhood

But how have these models impacted the world of today’s woman? Does Buchi Emecheta’s work represent a certain calibre of women while the depictions of the male authors represent another? Do we have an eclectic combination of the above models in today’s woman? The latter may be the case as our women still set very high premium on children even where they reject the roofs of patriarchy looming over the marriage institution. Like Debbie, many are tired of playing the prescribed wifely role but may play it until they know the joy of motherhood. While morality hangs on conventions of the femininity of the past, it is not seen as a strong driving force for the choices that women make today. Motherhood remains a drive in the definitions and identities women give to them self. It creates the space they need to live a fulfilled life and often their agency is expressed strongly through it. Hence being a wife is still important and honourable but is less honourable than being a mother. That seems like the story of today’s woman.

400_F_42582281_ZUNp1Kbliek4wVQ5lOoVIw9WSABV14qQIt’s amazing how two roles a person plays can strongly define the dignity of an identity. In Flora Nwapa’s character ‘Efuru’, we see how all of her success collapses under the weight of not being a wife or a mother according to a divine order. While being a wife and a mother is a role females can choose to play, it has strongly defined the identity of every female making them worthy or unworthy. I would begin to wonder how happy a female can ever be if she were none, can she just be a woman without being a mother or a wife or does it make her less human? This is the burden of identity women carry through their lives as they live in societies that hold the values that the authors have portrayed in the literatures above. Maybe one radical act a female may adopt, is to claim ownership of her body and her identity, but it seems we were groomed from the cradle not to.

-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye