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We should all be Storytellers

Depending on the mindset or interest of the reader, the idea presented by the bulk of this article could be considered already so archaic that there hardly could be anything done to effect any change about it. However, I don’t by any means buy that.
There is a perennial debate on the use of language in the Nigerian classrooms. I do not want to dwell too much on this but i will quickly like to ask both sides of the divide a few questions. Since we don’t have basic texts translated into our own languages, how do we compete globally if we decide to relegate the English language? Also, what is the hope of our core cultures and traditions if children are only proficient in English language?
There are writers who write in their native language, a good example being the prominent Kenyan writer—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. I remember reading a comment of Achebe in one of his interviews. He made a submission that the difference between himself and Ngugi as writers was the fact that while Ngugi believes it has to be writing in English or one’s native language, He (Achebe) believed one could decide to write in both. Achebe mixed both English and his native language, Igbo in a very fascinating manner. He appropriated the use of English language so well that the reader could sometimes be lost in between the lines with a feel of reading in the Igbo language.
For Achebe, I think English language is a weapon he had to master so as to achieve his dreams of telling African stories in his own unique way. There was no other way.
I am with Achebe on this one. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but a fine balance between the languages as one so desires. The children can learn both.
We find ourselves in an age in which globalization is driven by Science and Technology. English language is the fuel that drives this vehicle. This is a reality we must face.
In the past, there was the emergence of a crop of literary icons from Africa; such as Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka, Jomo Kenyatta and some others, who decided to challenge a certain tradition of the British writers writing about a mythical Africa. These African writers rose up to tell their own stories with the aim of creating a balance, at the very least or going head to head with the European writers for our right to write our own stories. Achebe spoke extensively about this in his apt and engaging book titled “Home and Exile”. To draw some excerpts from the book;

This was said about Africans by Elspeth Huxley in his book white man’s country; Perhaps it may be, as some doctors have suggested, that his brain is different: that it has a shorter growing period and possesses less well formed, less cunningly arranged cells than that of the Europeans-in other words, that there is a fundamental disparity between the capabilities of his brain and ours.

As mentioned by Achebe in his book, a British writer, Mr. Pedler wrote, “When Europeans talk of Africans buying a wife”. This particular one by Pedler lacks veracity and is also misleading. We don’t buy wives and the hypocrisy in that statement is loud and clear.
The aforementioned excerpts are statements made decades ago, so you can imagine my amusement when I got to America less than 3 yrs ago and found that certain condescending questions about Africa still thrived.
To mention a few examples; my Chinese friend said he thought Africa was just a country in a bush with no roads. A Caucasian asked me where I learned how to use computers or the one who was stupefied on hearing there are “African writers”. A black American once asked me if I learned how to speak good English in America.
In the eyes of some of those who ask these questions, one can see the spectacular naivety masquerading as innocence. In some others, one can see the feigned innocence laced with bigotry so thick. It seems to me that this singular stories written of Africa by the old British griots built a mansion of false and misguided impressions in the minds of people outside Africa and these impressions are being passed to subsequent generations.
Some would argue that my claims are banal or obsolete or I am being too sensitive, but we need to ask ourselves if these issues have become really obsolete. Should we really not bother about these “banal” topics? Is it that the Achebes and the Tutuolas didn’t do enough? Why am I still being asked such condescending questions Achebe was asked in 1967? These men could only do so much, what about us?
Should we continue to blame the iniquitous British colony and western media for painting Africa in any light they see fit?
This is the 21st century, the age of a beast called the internet. The beast that allows one to go on a trip to anywhere in the world without moving an inch physically. Why are we not telling our own stories to the world? This is our job and we can’t leave it to “the others”. Writing is not the only weapon that can be used to achieve the results I/we desire. The African musical industry and the Nollywood have also done incredible jobs in telling African stories but their efforts alone are clearly insufficient to propagate the accuracy of our stories to all parts of the world.
While I quite agree you can only do so much, people will believe what they want to believe. Yet, I believe playing a part by telling these stories will go a long way in sowing a seed of truth even in the most obstinate of outsiders.
If I, in all the glory of my demureness, with but a few years in the west under my belt often come face to face with these experiences, I wonder how many times Africans abroad are being asked laughable questions about Africa on a daily basis.
A friend of mine, a fellow Yoruba man, the other day told an American that the Yoruba language is a dialect, I had to stop him right there, scowled at him and quickly corrected him, that Yoruba is a language and not a dialect. Many a time, this is how we create false impressions in the minds of highly impressionable people. How can you properly and accurately tell a story you know nothing about?
One of my favorite African proverbs goes thus; “until Lions learn to speak, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunters”. In this article-‘the secret to a promising future’, I talked about the importance of having an identity, of knowing who you are and where you are coming from, the importance of telling your own story.
Shame tries to keep us mum, but we need to rise above shame and tell our stories. We can’t afford to leave it to “the others”, else, we should be ready to embrace the damaging distortions to our stories as well as the labels we face every day.
Continue to Rest in Peace Chinua Achebe – The master storyteller
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Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun (Adichie Chimamanda)

Nothing but respect for Adichie, she is a genius.

Half of a yellow sun is about the inferno of the Nigerian civil war; laced with a love story. A book every Nigerian should read. Adichie joined the list of prominent writers who did their part to keep Nigerian history alive in the heart of Nigerian readers since our government has decided to expunge history from the educational curriculum. For this, we are grateful. The book was properly written and intended for the African audience, albeit some debatable points. But then, like our elders say- until the lions present their own historian, the story of the hunt will only justify the hunter. So if anyone wants a debate, go ahead and write your own story or proceed to America and engage Adichie.

This is not a review so I would advise anyone interested in Half of a Yellow Sun to simply pick up the book and read. However I was particularly impressed with the laconic mention of the Asaba massacre using one of the caricatures named Alice. Olanna who is Igbo and also one of the main characters dated a northerner called Mohammed (Adichie showed us a northerner once loved an Igbo).
Like someone had said, she revealed her gift as a “perceptive observer of human behavior”.
How she was able to dovetail the civil war in this fictitious book is virtually unbelievable.

 

Americanah, however, is a book about race, immigration and the power of first love. The first few chapters made me nauseous when all she talked about was hair. I found it boring, and it reminded me of one of my exes who always talked about her hair and took it upon herself to educate me on the different types of hairs and wigs. I would pretend to be listening but in reality, it made me sick. It’s the same thing I felt in all chapters where the crux was hairs and saloons. As it went on, I started enjoying it. I could transport myself back to secondary school days and fit some of the stories into my life, I could easily represent some of the characters with my friends. A typical Nigerian secondary school, the kind of experience we all had.
In some chapters, I quickly boarded a boat of imaginations to the life in America, carefully and joyfully fitting some of the stories into my life and that of my friends in America.
The way some Nigerians in Diaspora turn to political commentators on Social media, knowingly or unknowingly comparing life in the west with life in Africa; their own way of killing the distance between home and Abroad, the urge to breach a certain gap, to fill a vacuum, to travel home-using the social media. The struggle of hanging on to that Nigerianness, pretending America cannot change you.
The way Africans suddenly realize they are blacks after landing at the American Airports. The unending discussion about racism, pretending to understand racism more than the black Americans, sitting in front of the television playing victims but would never go out to join in on protests. Everything was meticulously touched in this book.
Seeing your highs and lows written in a book; the lows you cannot talk about staring back at you with audacity—yes!….That is the kind of power the book wields.
But still something was wrong, I can’t really place it, perhaps the way it was written. I still do not think the book was intended for an African audience. Even though the book is majorly about Africans, one could argue it’s one of those books about Africans intended for the western audience (NOT POVERTY PORN). I didn’t have this feeling when I read “Half of a yellow sun” or when reading anything Chinua Achebe. But then, there is only one Chinua Achebe. Also, I think the power of first love demonstrated using the two protagonists, Ifemelu and Obinze was exaggerated. Sigh! I can’t even remember my first love. Exaggeration-they say, is a necessary recipe for good writing.
I also think Adichie should have mentioned the prejudice that exists between African Americans and Africans, she shied away from it. Even those who morph into Atheist after experiencing 24hrs of electricity and speedy internet in the west—sigh
Well done Adichie, your writing adroitness deserves a bow.

For anyone who is interested in an extensive review of Americanah, you can read (this)