The Achebe experience: proverbs, the palm wine…

CHINUA ACHEBE is one of Africa’s foremost and best known writers. He was born on 16th November, 1930 in Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria, and, after graduating from University College, Ibadan, worked for a number of years as director of Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation before pursuing his writing career full time.
Moses Mubezi
Moses Mubezi

CHINUA ACHEBE is one of Africa’s foremost and best known writers. He was born on 16th November, 1930 in Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria, and, after graduating from University College, Ibadan, worked for a number of years as director of Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation before pursuing his writing career full time.

He is best known for Things Fall Apart, his first novel that sets a bench mark for African literature. No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God are some of his other well known novels. He was also a poet and published two collections of short stories. Chinua Achebe has been on the forefront of Africa’s literature, having inspired the African Writers’ Series. The Achebe experience stems from the writer himself who believed in the beauty of his people whom he wrote for and told their own story.

Chinua Achebe is the father of African Literature. It is not common to miss reading Achebe’s book for O’ and A’ Levels and tertiary institutions. I still believe that everybody needs to read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. As an educationist and Journalist Things Fall Apart is not only constructed to meet the standard level of English of all times but also a naturally told African story.

The beauty of Achebe’s stories is that he considers language to be the backbone of any appreciated culture. In all his novels, he pointed out the beauty of the Ibo language through the use of proverbs. He knows that proverbs are the palm wine with which food is eaten.

Proverbs are the most widespread form of oral literature compared to songs, recitations and all the narratives such as folk tales, fables, myths and legends. Proverbs are short expressions which contain wisdom, truth and moral lessons. The expressions are fixed, memorable and are handed down from generation to generation.

In the Ibo language, like any other language use proverbs says a lot about the speaker. Simple every day conversations generally make use of them to bring or illustrate the content of the conversation. We once observed that some books are to be swallowed and digested; now we look at how words can be eaten with palm wine. We see a lot of figurative language being used.

Imagery and symbolism are the strongest players. People who use proverbs draw their images and symbols from, for instance, plants and nature, people’s habits, customs, beliefs, social and political institutions. The strength of a proverb lies in the choice of words. The words are carefully chosen for their sound because of what they mean or what they suggest. Sometimes speakers use proverbs as a way of saying something gently in an indirect way.

African creative writers have made effective and extensive use of oral literature and they believe that when the truth is illusive, it is the proverbs we use to discover it. One cannot help but sometimes laugh after reading some Ibo proverbs which could be related to those in another language. If you have read any of Achebe’s books, you can now tell the novel where the proverb is used and the circumstances in which it is used.

Chinua Achebe is believed to be the man who brought Africa to the world. He is a towering figure in Nigeria and lives even beyond. Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, has referred to him as the writer in whose company the prison walls came down. He is a literary gem to live with us forever. May his soul rest in peace.

 

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