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Tracing Chinua Achebe’s Background – His Earliest Life and Schooling 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 his writing as an attempt to set the historical record straight by showing that Africans were not hearing about culture for the first time from Europeans, that their societies were not meaningless. but they had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty, that they had poetry and above all, they had dignity.
Achebe’s novels, especially Things Fall Apart, which 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. Achebe’s works portray the communities of Nigeria that pass through it. the traumas of colonization and the transition to a nation with problems. By combining the political and the literary, he neither romanticizes the culture of the indigenous people nor apologizes for the colonial.
Achebe, who unlike his Kenyan counterpart, Ngugi Wathiongo, wrote his novels in English, defended the use of English, even though it is the language of the colonizers, in African literature. Achebe’s keen ear for the spoken language made him one of the most esteemed African writers writing in English. His style relies heavily on the oral Igbo tradition, combining simple storytelling with depictions of folk 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 graduate studies. He then became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories that were published in campus publications.
After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, which made him move to the metropolis of Lagos.
Achebe’s parents, Isaiah Okafo Achebe and Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam, converted to the Protestant Church Mission Society (CMS) in Nigeria. The elder Achebe, being a teacher in a missionary school, stopped practicing the religion of his ancestors, but respected their traditions and sometimes incorporated elements of their rituals into his Christian practice.
Chinua’s unabbreviated 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 fusion 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 16 November 1930. His parents instilled in him many of the values of their traditional Igbo culture even though they were devout evangelical Protestants. Then they christened him Albert, in honor of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Their parents, located 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 covers 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. status
Storytelling has been one of the pillars of Igbo tradition and an integral part of the community. Chinua’s mother and sister, Zinobia Uzoma, told him many stories as a child, of which he repeatedly asked for more. His education was further enhanced by the collages his father hung on the walls of his home, 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 looked forward to the village’s traditional events, such as the frequent masquerade ceremonies, which he later recreated in his novels and short stories.
In 1936 Achebe entered St Philips’ Central School. Despite his protests, he spent a week in the religious class for young boys, but was quickly moved to a higher class when the school chaplain took note of his intelligence. He was said to have the best handwriting in the class and the best reading skills. He also attended Sunday school every week and special evangelical services held monthly, often carrying his father’s bag with him. A controversy broke out in one of these sessions, when the apostates of the new church challenged the catechist about the principles of Christianity. . Achebe would later include a similar scene Things fall apart.
At the age of twelve, Achebe moved from his family to the village of Nekede, four kilometers from Owerri, where he enrolled as a student at the Central School, where his 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 came time to switch secondary schools, in 1944, Achebe sat for entrance exams to both the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School in Onitsha and the even more prestigious Government College in Umuahia. He was accepted in both, but eventually opted for Umuahia Government College. He received a coveted scholarship to Umuahia Government College, where he studied alongside some of Nigeria’s future political and cultural leaders.
Modeled on the British public school and funded by the colonial administration, Government College had been established in 1929 to educate Nigeria’s future elite. He maintained rigorous academic standards and was vigorously egalitarian, accepting boys only 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 from different Nigerian language groups. This Achebe later described as being ordered to “set aside their different mother tongues and communicate in the language of their colonizers”. The rule was strictly enforced and Achebe recalls that his first punishment was for asking another boy to pass the soap in Igbo.
There, Achebe was promoted twice in his first year. Thus, he completed the first two years of study in one, spending only four years in high school, instead of the standard five. Achebe, being unsuitable for the school’s sports regime, joined a group of six extremely studious students. whose study habits were so intense that the principal forbade 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. Up From Slavery, the autobiography of a former American slave. Although it was sad for Achebe, it showed him another dimension of reality. He also read classic novels, such as Gulliver’s Travels, David Copperfield e The Treasure Island along with tales of colonial derring-do such as that of H. Rider Haggard Allan Quatermain and John Buchan’s Preste John . Achebe later recalled that as a reader he “sided with the white characters against the savages” and even developed a dislike for Africans. “The white man was good and reasonable and clever and brave. The savages arrayed against him were sinister and stupid or, at best, cunning. He hated his 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 such high marks in the entrance exam that he was admitted with a scholarship in the university’s first intake to study medicine. After a year of grueling work, however, 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 Augustine even gave up money for a trip home from his job as a civil servant so that Chinua could continue his studies. Since its inception, the university has had a strong English faculty and includes many famous writers among its alumni. These include Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, novelist Elechi Amadi, poet and playwright John Pepper Clark, poet Christopher Okigbo and playwright and academic Kole Omotoso.
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