Tracing Chinua Achebe’s Background: His Earliest Life and Education in Nigeria

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, best known for his first novel, Things fall apart which is the most widely read and discussed book in modern African literature, described its writing as an attempt to clarify the historical record by showing that Africans did not first hear about culture from Europeans, that their societies were not foolish but they had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty, they had poetry and above all, they had dignity.

Achebe’s novels, especially Things Fall Apart, who is now 50 years old, focus on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian and Western influences on it, and the clash of values ​​during and after the colonial era. the traumas of colonization and the passage to a troubled nation. Bridging the political and the literary together, it does not romanticize indigenous culture or apologize for the colonial.

Achebe, who, unlike his Kenyan counterpart Ngugi Wathiongo, wrote his novels in English, has championed the use of English, although it is the language of the colonizers, in African literature. Achebe’s keen ear for spoken language has made him one of the most esteemed African writers writing in English. His style draws heavily on Igbo oral tradition and combines simple storytelling with representations of popular stories, proverbs, and oratory.

Raised by Christian parents in the Igbo village of Ogidi in southern Nigeria, Achebe excelled in school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He then became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories that were published in campus publications.

After graduating, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, which led him to move to the metropolis of Lagos.

Achebe’s parents, Isaiah Okafo Achebe and Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam, converted to the Protestant Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Nigeria. The old Achebe being a teacher in a missionary school, he stopped practicing the religion of his ancestors, but he respected their traditions and sometimes incorporated elements of their rituals into his Christian practice.

Chinua’s unabridged name, Chinualumogu “May God fight in my name,” was a prayer for divine protection and stability. The Achebe family had five other surviving children, named in a similar amalgamation of traditional and English names: Frank Okwuofu, John Chukwuemeka Ifeanyichukwu, Zinobia Uzoma, Augustine Nduka, and Grace Nwanneka.

Chinua was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in the Igbo village of Ogidi in Nneobi on November 16, 1930. His parents instilled in him many of the values ​​of their traditional Igbo culture even though they were devout Protestant Evangelicals. He was later christened Albert, in honor of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Their parents, who were at a crossroads of traditional culture and Christian influence, had a significant impact on the children, especially in Chinualumogu. As a result, Achebe’s education spanned both worlds, the indigenous and the colonial.

After the birth of the youngest daughter, the family moved to their ancestral village of Ogidi, in what is now Anambra. state.

Storytelling was one of the pillars of the Igbo tradition and an integral part of the community. Therefore, Chinua’s mother and sister, Zinobia Uzoma, told him many stories as a child, from which he repeatedly asked for more. His education was further expanded by the collages his father hung on the walls of his house, as well as almanacs and numerous books, including a prose adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and an Igbo version of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Chinua also eagerly anticipated traditional village events, such as frequent costume ceremonies, which he later recreated in his novels and stories.

In 1936, Achebe entered St Philips Central School. Despite his protests, he spent a week in the religious class for young children, but was quickly transferred to a higher class when the school chaplain took note of his intelligence. He was said to have the best handwriting in class and the best reading skills. He also attended weekly Sunday school and special evangelical services that were held monthly, often taking his father’s bag with him. A controversy broke out in one of those sessions, when apostates from the new church challenged the catechist on the principles of Christianity. . Later, Achebe would include a similar scene in Things fall apart.

At the age of twelve, Achebe moved away from her family to the village of Nekede, four kilometers from Owerri, where she enrolled as a student at the Central School, where her older brother John taught. In Nekede, Achebe gained an appreciation for Mbari, a traditional art form that seeks to invoke the protection of the gods through symbolic sacrifices in the form of sculptures and collages. When it was time to switch to high school, in 1944, Achebe sat for entrance exams for both the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School High School in Onitsha and the even more prestigious government university in Umuahia. He was accepted to both, but ultimately opted for Government College in Umuahia. He received a coveted scholarship to Government College in Umuahia, where he studied alongside some of Nigeria’s future political and cultural leaders.

Modeled after the British public school and funded by the colonial administration, Government College was established in 1929 to educate the future elite of Nigeria. He maintained rigorous academic standards and was vigorously egalitarian, accepting children solely on the basis of their ability. The language spoken in the school was entirely English, not only to develop proficiency, but also to provide a common language for students of different Nigerian language groups. This was later described by Achebe as being ordered to “put aside their different mother tongues and communicate in the language of their colonizers.” The rule was strictly enforced, and Achebe recalls that her first punishment was asking another child to pass the soap to her in Igbo.

There, Achebe was double promoted in his freshman year, so he completed the first two years of studies in one, spending just four years in high school, rather than the standard five. Achebe, unfit for the school’s sports regimen, joined a group of six highly studious students. whose study habits were so intense that the principal prohibited reading textbooks from five to six in the afternoon (although other activities and other books were allowed).

Achebe began exploring the school’s “wonderful library” and discovered Booker T. Washington’s book. Up From Slavery, the autobiography of a former American slave. Although Achebe found him sad, but it showed him another dimension of reality. He also read classic novels, such as Gulliver’s Travels, David Copperfield , and Treasure Island along with tales of colonial extravagances like H. Rider Haggard Allan Quatermain and John Buchan Prester John . Achebe later recalled that, as a reader, he “sided with white characters against savages” and even developed a dislike for Africans. “The white man was good, reasonable, intelligent and brave. The savages who faced him were sinister and stupid or, at best, cunning. I hated their guts.”

In 1948, in preparation for independence, Nigeria’s first university, now the University of Ibadan, opened as an associate college of the University of London. Achebe scored so high on the entrance exam that he was admitted with a scholarship on the first admission of the university to study medicine. However, after a year of hard work, he decided that science was not for him and switched to English, history, and theology. However, because he changed fields, he lost his scholarship and had to pay his fees. He received a scholarship from the government and his family also donated money; his older brother, Agustín, even gave up money for a trip home from his job as a civil servant so Chinua could continue his studies. From its inception, the university had a strong English faculty and includes many famous writers among its students. These include Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, novelist Elechi Amadi, poet and playwright John Pepper Clark, poet Christopher Okigbo, and playwright and scholar Kole Omotoso.

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