Some fierce storms have come upon sacred land,
They march forth within wild winds and lightning.
They pass with the fury of urgency,
Laying to waste ancient trees and they test
Our peace with things we cannot understand,
Things we cannot say, things we cannot stand.
O sacred iroko, you did your best
In a world in cahoots with errancy.
Storm after storm, you were found still standing
Long after leaves and lizards fell to land.
You did not praise yourself, your works raised you
As beacon of excellence, a light true
To its origin, linguist of our tongue.
The final storm has passed, the night is long
For we miss the wisdom, we miss the dawn
With your voice in it (we are still forlorn,
Forlorn with the absence, forlorn with grief,
Angry at death; that ancient, spineless thief).
But we get the last laugh for we carry
The spark you left in us, we shall hurry
To spread it throughout the corners of this earth
Until feet tire and lungs run out of breath.
The Final Storm (A Dirge for Chinua Achebe) - Prince Mensah
Read More: Chinua Achebe, Prince Mensah
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When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."
Julius Caesar (II, ii, 30-31)
“Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.”
Thank you very, very much Prince Mensah, for this well-thought out and well – written poem in memory of Chinua Achebe. The words of this poem will reverberate for a very long time in my heart until my memory fails me and visions of earthly things grow dim. With your poem, you have touched a very sensitive part of me that have not been touched for quite some time now. I rest with the solemn confidence in the fact that, perhaps if I precede Prince Mensah in death, my death would be first etched on marble on OGOV by our very own Prince Mensah, and perhaps also by other OGOV members. No kidding. Let me thank you in advance, Prince.
Your poem has immortalized the exit of this great literary icon, a great son of Africa. It is no secret that the late Chinua Achebe was and will forever be my foremost mentor. I have made reference to him several points in my question and answer sections on OGOV. Indeed my delay in commenting on this poem is actually due to feeling of so much grief; my heart was weighed down in anguish over the death of this great man. My grief was as a result of the way I first heard of his death, not from the radio news or newspapers but from my nine years old son. My son came to my bedroom where I was reading “There Was a Country”, and said “Eheh - I saw this book that Daddy is reading and this man on the TV” (his very words) – but I never knew that it was indeed an Obituary commentary being broadcasted. It was later on when the news was all over the town that it dawned on me that my own son was the very harbinger of that sad news.
I have great respect and admiration for Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian author and towering man of letters whose internationally acclaimed fiction helped to revive African literature and to rewrite the story of a continent that had long been told by Western voices. He was indeed a trail blazer. Rest in peace, Chinua Achebe.
I am humbled by your kind words. I think we should not allow our great men to die before we eulogize them. I think we should write praise poetry for them while they live so they will get a foretaste of how they will be remembered.
I had an interesting conversation with a Nigerian friend of mine about Mr. Achebe. My friend, who was a neighbor of Achebe's while the latter lived in Nigeria, commented on how important proverbs are to prose. He said that while most literary works are all about knowledge/information/analysis, the works of transcendent writers like Achebe add wisdom as a tool of further comprehension. Proverbs expand the meaning of words with the colors of appropriate scenarios.
Achebe showed that Africans always have great stories to tell. As long as we narrate those stories just how we hear them, we shall make an indelible impact in the world. His works were applicable to all and sundry because of his attention to originality and identity.
Mr. Bobobee, it is my fervent prayer that the Lord's Second Coming will occur very soon, so that I can write praise poetry for you.
May we all be inspired and galvanized to great works by the life and times of Mr. Achebe.
Thanks, Prince. I completely agree with you that “we should not allow our great men to die before we eulogize them. I think we should write praise poetry for them while they live so they will get a foretaste of how they will be remembered.”
Thanks again, Prince for commenting on the judicious and effective use of proverbs in the literary works of the late literary legend, Chinua Achebe. Indeed, he would be mostly remembered for the prolific use of proverbs especially in his ground breaking debut novel “Things Fall Apart”
Proverbs are indeed a very essential part of African society, in the context of its traditional setting, literature and its culture in general. It was actually Achebe who first opened the eyes of the world to the effective use of proverbs the African way instead of the worn out and overused clichés passed on to us as proverbs in Western style education. The African type of proverbs are new struck and rich and aptly depicts its originality in terms of describing in vivid terms the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the African cosmology. Perhaps his proverbs would now resound more than ever, perhaps Chinua Achebe literary prowess was not only an eye-opener but may also continue to be a resourceful point of reference and wisdom even in death.
"... Proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten"
There is a saying in Igbo land that "when a proverb is used and explained to a man, that his mother's bride price was paid in vain." The mark of an elder in Igbo land is the ability to use proverbs dexterously in social conversations. A man who is not seasoned in the use of proverbs is seen as immature or foolish in talk. Proverbs are particularly useful because they are used to state the length and breadth of a matter in such a way that children and women are kept outside the loop, thus elders are able to freely converse in the presence of children and women without fear of letting too much out.
Palmoil is a very important staple used for cooking or even on its own for many purposes in the dietary life of the Igbo man. It is so important that there is hardly any food that palmoil does not feature as a part of the meal. Thus the use of the metaphor of proverbs, the oil with which elders eat words. The metaphor shows how important proverbs are in Igbo social discourse when we come to understand the important role of palmoil in the cooking and dietary culture.
Proverbs are a very important part of African oral culture, and therefore prominent in "Things Fall Apart."
(To be continued)
Proverbs are a very important part of African oral culture, and therefore prominent in “Things Fall Apart. “
Here are few sample proverbs and some questions. Proverbs are the glue that binds the whole book together, and their significance often spreads above and beyond their original context.
- p. 19. "A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness."
Okonkwo explaining why he has come to Nwakibie.
How does this sound in retrospect to Okonkwo's downfall?
- p. 21. "An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb."
Okonkwo remembering his own father. In context of a joke about someone who refused to honor his father’s shrine with a fowl.
Is there any fear in Okonkwo? Does he ignore his own proverbs?
- p. 21. "The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did." – Okonkwo, explaining his capacity for hard work before Nwakibie, his sons and neighbors.
What is the role of honor and praise in this novel? Is this a good or bad feature of a culture?
- p. 26. "Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble."
- Okonkwo's arrogance in calling Osugo a "woman" at the meeting of the people.
Is Okonkwo himself humble? Who is the most humble character in the book? What relationship does humble have with femininity and death?
- p.67. "The Earth cannot punish me for obeying her messenger."
"A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm. Okonkwo's role in Ikemefuna’s death.
What role does guilt and punishment play in this story? Can you relate this to Okonkwo's later crimes also?
- p. 125. "As the elders said, if one finger brought oil it soiled the others."
Obierika’s mourning over Okonkwo's exile, but his rationale that one could not ignore offenses against the earth.
How does this relate to Okonkwo's own family situation? To Africa and Europe as a whole?
- p. 151. "Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." Okonkwo's analysis of the conversion of his "degenerate and effeminate" son, Nwoye.
In final analysis, is there any irony in this quote? What does this say about Ibo civilization?
- p. 185. "A man danced so the drums were beaten for him." Rev. Smith’s intransigence and hostility towards anything traditional.
What does this say about cause and effect? Who is the cause or effect of the story - Okonkwo or the colonizers?
- p. 203. "Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then you know that something is after its life." Said at the meeting of Umuohia after the imprisonment of the six elders.
Who is doing the metaphorical jumping in this quote?
- p. 204. "Eneke the bird was asked why he was always on the wing and he replied: "Men have learned to shoot without missing their mark and I have learned to fly without perching on a twig."
How does this relate to Okonkwo's life? Is there any problematic assumption in this proverb?
Well, I guess the salient lessons to be learnt by Achebe's progeny continues forever. His books will sell more than ever before, just as Michael Jackson's and Whitney Houston's record sales sky-rocked after their demise. Chinua Achebe's books will forever be a resourcesful reference point for some of us who wish to emulate him and carve new nitches for ourselves in literary circles. Adieu Chinua, the Great Literary Icon.
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