By Cecilia Ologunagba
New York, Sept. 10, 2023
Prof. Micheal Ukah, a Nigerian Professor of Philosophy says the literary classic, Things Fall Apart, by Professor Chinua Achebe, has retained its value for over six decades because it taught African Americans to value their culture and tradition.
Ukah, who is a lecturer at the Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia and a visiting lecturer on Classics and African Thought at the New York University said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in New York.
Ukah spoke against the backdrop of the 65th anniversary of Things Fall Apart, which was first published in 1958, by William Heinemann, London.
“Things Fall Apart is evaluated as the pacesetter of the African novel.
“This is not because it was the first African literature or novel rather this is because of its literary genre, structure and uncommon dynamic style.
“The first time we got an African prose that brought out fully the import of African culture and tradition in a literary sense. Some scholars consider it a manga carta of African novels.
“For African Americans, it helps them to teach their children and posterity about where they came from.
“One feels less authentic if your origin or root is questioned.
“As this consciousness is created, it helps African-Americans to value their place of origin, culture and tradition,’’ he said.
According to him, African literature as a mirror of society has very far-reaching impact and implications, not just to the African Americans but to non-Africans as a whole.
“It shows non-African Americans that the black race has a root. Culture is so powerful and dynamic that, it not only defines you but confers dignity and authenticity on you,” he added.
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s debut novel, and his two other classics, Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease, are called the “African Trilogy” in literature and considered requisite reading for anyone choosing African literature as an area of specialisation.
According to him, Things Fall Apart is not just a novel, it is like a foundation for every other novel that will come after it.
“The interface between African culture and Western culture as well as its confluence was masterfully handled by the author, Chinua Achebe.
“In an unmistakable term, he narrated so vividly the literary psychology of the time. Other authors subsequently will be making copious references to it.
“As a foundational novel, it creates a solid base for a proper understanding of African culture and tradition as it extols African values.’’
The don said most of the issues raised by the novel are still very relevant today.
He said issues raised in the novel include the sacredness of human life and the value of respect for elders and titleholders and respect for laws and traditions.
Ukah cited when in the novel, Okonkwo (the tragic hero) breaks the week of peace and he was banished from the clan because he faulted the law.
“Diligence or hard work was equally a value that was expressed in the novel. You can recall that Okonkwo’s father Unoka, a pauper had no place among the elders and the title holders in the community.
“But then Okonkwo broke the jinx via diligence and became a noble in the society. So as indolence is discouraged, diligence is praised by the novel.
“African literature as a mirror of society has very far-reaching impact and implications, not just to the African Americans but to non-Africans as a whole. Much consciousness is created today about people’s origins or roots.
“This consciousness and awareness is fueled by the fact that Novels or literature like Things Fall Apart have awakened the psyche of the people, historically speaking,’’ he said.
The don, however, told NAN that the late Nigerian author should be immortalised, noting that the best way to immortalise a legend is to uphold his principles and philosophy.
“Chinua Achebe does not believe in art for art’s sake. He believes that the African writer cannot tell a story just for the sake of telling it, cannot afford to create just for the sake of creating.
“Artistic endeavor ought to be made to be relevant. Africans should be telling our stories and bringing out our rich cultural values. What is the thesis statement of Things Fall Apart?
“The colonisation of the Igbo people by the British Empire is a metaphor for the damaging effects of cultural imperialism and the loss of traditional values in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.”
“For future African writers who have been colonized and Europeanized, Things Fall Apart ought to be a constant reminder that Igbo culture is dynamic, functional and resilient,’ he said.
In addition, he said there should be academic chairs and endowments in tertiary institutions, saying black people all over the globe should not lose consciousness of their roots.
“African philosophy and thoughts/ culture should be included in the curriculum in our universities. Things Fall Apart of Chinua Achebe should be a recommended text for every student.
“What Achebe in Things Fall Apart is letting the world know in writing, is that there was a culture, there were intricate social and economic systems that existed before colonialism, that were disrupted by that process.
“This, for me, is to be sustained by current African literary giants. We can collectively immortalise him by insisting on telling our stories,’’ the don said.