“Achebe Lives on” one of the flouting banners at commemorative festivities in his home state of Anambra Eastern Nigeria reads. The same message that the late renowned Chinua Achebe might be physically dead but will live on in his books is re-echoed by Prof Ozodinma Nwala from the University of Nigeria, who says:
“We are not mourning Chinua Achebe, we are celebrating Chinua Achebe. From the 23rd, we wont see his body again but Chinua still lives in our hearts, in our civilization”
Prof Nwala is one of the thousands of mourners who include academics, former students, and well wishers around the world accompanying the remains of Achebe to his Ogidi village in Anambra State Nigeria where he will finally be laid to rest later today May 23rd 2013.
The week-long commemorative activities in Anambra State have been anything but mourning the passing of a great son of the soil. In typical Nigerian style, there has been a lot of drum playing, singing and dancing, poetry recitations and a look back at some of his legendary books including “Things Fall Apart” generally considered the first and greatest African novel.
Published in 1958, more than ten million copies have been sold worldwide and the book has also been translated into 50 languages. His other books include No Longer At Ease, Arrow of God, A man of the People and Anthills of the Savannah.
Achebe had a serious road accident in 1990 that paralyzed him from the waist downwards and confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He relocated to the USA where he could get better medical attention. Achebe died on March 22. He was 82 years old.
The BBCs Veronique Edwards met Achebe a couple of years ago for a brief interview about the legacy he will like to leave behind when he dies.
VE. How will you like to be remembered?
Achebe: As a story teller, teller of the story of my people and by my people I mean all of my people, everyone who reads my story wherever they might be as someone who did what he could to recover the story that belongs to me and to pass it on.
VE. Do you think you were a good story teller?
Achebe: Story tellers are sometimes boastful but it dosen’t really help. You have to leave others to assess that. I have enjoyed doing it, i have enjoyed the career, it is fulfilling, that is what providence apponted me to do and I have tried to do it.
VE: A lot of people are still astounded that despite your ghastly accident, you are still very very happy. People cannot understand why you have not been resentful and and how you have taken what happened to you with all the fortitude and grace. What has it been like to be in a wheelchair after being an abled person going about your business and this tragedy happened?
Achebe: You used a word which I find quite interesting, resentful; resentlful against who? That is what I will like to know. If someone says why me, my answer is why not you? Who else do you have in mind that it should be? Let me not take all the credit for all the good things you have said about me, I give that credit to other people, to my wife and to my children who have borne the brunt of my pain. It has never been my attitude that life should be merry and happy all the way . There is a lot of tragedy in my novels, that is because I am aware there is a lot of tragedy in the world and people encounter a fate they do not deserve all the time so why should I be different
VE. I must say now to people who cannot see you now that you look rather younger
Achebe. (laughing) I see, maybe I should recommend this to everybody
VE. And very happy, I have never seen you this cheerful. What is the secret?
Achebe. There is no secret. I think I am older too don’t forget. Everyday gives you more experience and if you are wise, you learn more. If you are limited in someways like I can’t get up and go, then you do what you can do. You dont sit down and cry because of things you cannot do.