Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things Fall Apart: 1958-2008

I wanted very much to write a tribute to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, given that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Rightly, people around the world have celebrated the event.

Things Fall Apart is the most famous African novel, whose appeal, after fifty years, shows no sign of diminishing. In fact, its reputation continues to grow, with more translations coming out, symposia, critical works, and a never ending desire on the part of instructors to include it in their course offerings. Actually, only two days ago, on December 29, I received in the mail a parcel from Norton Publishers, which came as a complete surprise. It was a complimentary copy of a critical edition of Things Fall Apart, edited by Francis Abiola Irele. I was delighted and quite amazed that this gift should come just as I was getting ready to write my tribute to Things Fall Apart before the year ended.

Like all readers of this novel, I never get tired of reading it and never cease to discover new insights and meanings in it. I have been priviledged to teach this novel since the early seventies, with students from around the world. I am happy to have had the opportunity to write about it as well. One of the highlights of my work with this novel was participating in a reading series organized by the South Dakota Humanities Council, click here. The Council invited me in 1997 to write a study guide on this novel, which I later expanded and published, click here.

For me, one of the most intriguing and fascinating aspects of this novel is that though dealing with a particular period in the history of Igbo culture, it strikes a chord with African cultures across the continent, telling what can only be described as timeless truths. In terms of artistry, it is unmatched on the landscape of African writing. No wonder its appeal continues unabated, fifty years on.

When it first came out, Africa was mostly under colonial rule and in the throes of the struggle for independence. No wonder that Africans saw Okonkwo, the hero of the novel, as their hero. His struggle against European intervention in his community resonated with their own struggle.

With the passing of years, however, Africans are able to look more critically at Okonkwo and discover his weaknesses and negative traits. Feminist consciousness, for example, has helped sharpen our focus on those weaknesses. Most importantly, we feel secure enough to challenge Okonkwo without feeling we are undermining the nationalist sensibilities of the fifties.

In my own way, I have been fascinated by the marginal characters in Things Fall Apart, such as Unoka, trying to elevate them to a position of respectability I feel they have been unjustly denied. This may sound like an uphill task, but I am excited about it and I enjoy sharing with students this unconventional approach to the novel.

We are all grateful to Achebe for having produced this classic, which has established itself as the quintessential African novel, artistically wrought, foundational, and satisfying in all kinds of ways.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Workshop: "Culture, Globalization and Development"

The world is increasingly becoming a global village, but what is globalization? What are the cultural implications, challenges, and opportunities of globalization? In the emerging global village, with its complex cultural dynamics, what is development and who defines it? These are the key questions to be addressed in a workshop to be held at the Meeting Point Tanga, Tanzania, on July 4, 2009. Read here

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do You Have an Accent?

If you are like me, with deep roots in Africa, you probably have heard Americans say you have an accent. Read more about this here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

International Volunteer Day

December 5, 2008, was International Volunteer Day. I went to St. Paul, Minnesota, to attend a function organized by the Global Citizens Network, in commemoration of this important Day. I had known about the GCN for a few years, through visiting their website. I know, for example, about the work they are doing in several parts of Tanzania. Yet I had never met these people. I therefore looked forward to attending this event in St. Paul.

I was happy to meet the people who came to the event, including members of the Board of the GCN and volunteers. We discussed the concept of global citizenship: what does it mean to be a global citizen? Do we, as individuals, consider ourselves global citizens? I thought these were very meaningful questions, and we discussed them at length, exploring the challenges and opportunities of encountering other cultures, learning to understand them on their own terms, discovering the differences and, above all, learning that our own ways, perspectives and values are not the only valid ones. Accepting the differences and being comfortable in the knowledge that, despite those differences, we all share a common humanity, is part of being a global citizen. We exemplify our global citizenship by working with others as respectful and ethical agents of social change in our communities and around the world. Global citizenship entails acknowledging and accepting all human beings as citizens of the world we all live in.

It was wonderful to be with people who are so dedicated to doing positive things in the world, learning, sharing gifts and resources, and knowing that they, in turn, are enriched by their encounters and experiences with other people around the world.

Amidst the discussions and reflections, we watched slides showing GCN volunteers on building projects in Nepal and Kilomeni in Tanzania.