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« Igbo Diaspora Most Wanted Man | Main | Middle East Crisis: Solutions and a Quick Synopsis et al »

August 01, 2006

Re: Thomas Osuji's "Revisiting Chinua Achebe's Okonkwo Character"

by Odo Akaji (United Kingdom) ---

What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires -- desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way. ~~~ Bertrand Russell

On reading Thomas Osuji’s version of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, one Chinua Achebecould not help but laugh out very loud at the gentleman’s attempt to present the Classics in a light that justifies his imagined totem of his archetypical Igbo. Thomas would have been excused if Achebe himself had not addressed some of the issues raised in his essay but it smacks of intellectual laziness for Thomas to be writing about “standing corrected by Achebe” when Achebe’s view can very easily be googled.

According to Achebe, Things Fall Apart was inspired by his indignation at books on Africa by non Africans such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson, which portrays an African who slavishly worships his white colonist boss, to the point of gladly being shot to death by him. In Things Fall Apart published in 1958, Achebe with a masterful stroke of his pen debunked the stereotype of Africa as an unseamed "primitive" land, i.e. Conrad’s "heart of darkness". He was able to show that African cultures varied among themselves and were capable of changing with time. Achebe not only succeeded in taking the Igbo cultural tradition to the outside world but also reminded the Igbo and indeed the other nations of Africa of their past and the values it contained. Isn’t it therefore an absurdity that an educated Igbo with PhD to boot is drawing the exact opposite conclusion from Achebe’s work almost half a century later!

Writes Thomas:

Okonkwo was an Igbo man per excellence. His problematic behavior was representative of problematic Igbo behavior patterns. (As noted, his personality and behavior reminds me of my grandfather’s indomitable character and behavior. I say this because I asked myself whether I am projecting, that is, seeing something in me that I do not like, dissociate from it, deny it and attribute it to other persons. I do not believe that I am externalizing anything in me. I understand the nature of the various ego defense mechanisms and how they work in people, and am mindful of employing any of them.) I think that Achebe meant for Okonkwo to represent the Igbo character. (Since Achebe is still alive, I stand to be corrected by him.) In as much as Okonkwo represents the Igbo character, what does he tell us about Igbos (sic)?

It is not difficult to see that Thomas is blinded in his fixation with his Igbo par excellence and truly has no regard to Achebe’s correction. Thomas is probably the only social scientist in the world who will base his qualitative research of forty million people on a sample of two: one a fictional Okonkwo and the second his late grandfather whom he never bothered to interview. In his presumptuous fashion he successfully excises Okonkwo from the overall setting and theme of the book. In the Things Fall Apart according to Thomas, Okonkwo is the only villager and there were no other titled men. Thomas doesn’t believe that same village could accommodate Okonkwo’s father and others who gave him various wise counsels at the right moments in his life. The young Achebe appreciated the controversy of the Ikemefune saga and tried to cushion the impact of his tragic ending by introducing him as “the ill-fated lad.” The titled elderly gentleman that admonished Okonkwo against having a hand in Ikemefune’s murder was not Thomas’ favourite Lagosians but also an Igbo from Okonkwo’s Umuofia. That Thomas chose to discard the rest of the clan, choosing rather to highlight Okonkwo’s indiscretions (for which he was severally sanctioned) is simply disingenuous.

I guess it was not convenient to consider all the checks and balances in the Umuofia traditional system. Thomas totally failed to mention the fact that Okonkwo’s so-called title did not confer any special immunity from the laws of the land. He was sanctioned for wife beating, banished for manslaughter and buried by foreigners for taking his own life.

Thomas, it is disappointing that you would use your own grandfather who sired your father to try and create the impression of sincerity. Unfortunately, there is no reason to think your grandfather was the stuff of fiction. I do not know any granny that would not report the physical abuse of his grandson by people who happen to be his teachers. Truth be told, it may well be the pain and trauma of these spankings in Igbo land that has put you off the Igbo. It could also be argued that the person allegedly jailed by your grandfather went through a trial unless you want to claim that your father was the king, judge and warder in Umuohiagu of the sixties. There was no account in the Things Fall Apart I read where Okonkwo jailed any fellow Umuofia citizen for any reason. True, he may have insulted an untitled man, but the fact that he was not applauded shows what his people thought of his poor choice of word. So Thomas may wish to find another fictional character for his late grandfather.

In the Things Fall Apart I read, Achebe demonstrated in Okonkwo that whilst the Igbo society would encourage and recognise individual achievement, it was not at the expense of law and order. There was no record of Okonkwo ever perverting the course of Umuofia justice. He fully submitted to the norms and ethos and was ready to bear the consequence of breaking the law. Even as a war commander there was always consensus. The only day Okonkwo went to war without a follower was the day he hanged himself. In the concluding part of the book the joke was on the white man pronouncing Igbo word badly and not the other way round. Read Achebe’s presentation at Odenigbo Owerri near Umuohiagu in 1999!

It is safe to conclude that Thomas and NOT the Igbos (sic) need healing. As a first step I suggest that Umunna in his neck of the wood get together and fund his trip to Umuohiagu. It will have a therapeutic effect as he encounters the new Owerri with concorde hotels, Control post and Ama JK far removed from his Lagos imagery of a primitive jungle. An Igbo that confesses to feeling like killing Igbo is crying for help and feeling suicidal. A stitch in time may save Thomas!


Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann, 1958.
Nnolim, Charles E. "Form and Function of Folk Tradition." Approaches To the African Novel: Essays in Analysis. London: Saros International, 1992.

Odo Akaji
United kingdom

Odo Akaji is the President of Igbo Heritage Foundation

Posted by Administrator at August 1, 2006 12:45 PM


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