Achebe’s “The king is naked”

June 11, 2008 at 11:56 am 2 comments

I guess it all boils down to who you consider yourself to be. Or, as Micheal Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11) would say, on who your daddy is. I never considered myself as part of the people so the idea that the people considers me as one of its own never had much appeal. Which is why I don’t particularly jump up, as if somebody has shoved hot stuff under me, when the subject of “hizbu” is brought up. Even if the vulnerable among them break my heart as much as the next Ethiopian. Citizen of the world, is how I like seeing myself as. Or … another member of the human “go’T”. If you go bullying around, you won’t be my friend. Whatever name you go by, whichever country you vote in and whoever your daddy may be.

Individuals, I can stand. Individuals, I can even bear to be around. Maybe not for 24 hours but for a reasonablly long time. Hearing their woes, holding their hands, listening & understanding (judging, devising, psycho-analysing). Because individuals are just another me. They may look mighty and detasteful in groups, but alone, they are vulnerable & earthly — sometimes not even a match to the sister ;). (Yes, I’ve been told I can be a control-freak sometimes)

But groups…, groups make me feel sick. Because groups are usually stupid and illogical. Groups laugh at bad jokes, taunt the vulnerable and stand together no matter what. What’s worse: they take pride in it! Which is why get-togethers and meetings are the most agonizing moments of my life. Because I have to kiss them, ask after them and their family.

So yes.. this is another point Dostoevski, or atleast one of his characters from “The Brothers Karamazov”, and I don’t see eye to eye on.

This all doesn’t mean, ofcourse, that I won’t (theoretically, atleast) die for “the hizb” if need be and think “the hizb” knows best. I would & do all that, inspite of the silent hatred I harbor for them. And inspite of the silent hatred they would harbor for me when finding out this is what boils beneath the friendly abesheet exterior. And everybody harbors for everybody else when they aren’t standing together and referring to themselves as “egna”, like some member of the Moa Anbessa Yiddish clan ;)).

And, like all those in a love/hate relationship, or in a relationship (period!), nothing more I enjoy than talking and reading about the short-comings of these very “hizb” I would, theoretically, die for. And Chinua Achebe’s “A Man of the People”, is full of it.

Odili Samalu, the narrator, is a high school teacher and an ex-member of the P.O.P (People’s Organization Party), whose life completely changed after a reunion with his old teacher and Minister of Culture: Chief the Honorable M.A. Nanga. A man, Odili tells us, “who had used the people’s opposition (to white colonization) to enrich himself” and “is one of those who had started the country off down the slopes of inflation” yet is loved by the multitude so much they would “dance themsleves lame” every time he makes an appearance. For the next 150 pages, Odili (with his “sardonic sense of humor” and unruffled-by-illusion look, sometimes, at his own vanity too) shows us just how much the people deserve their government. The concluding paragraph says it all:

Overnight everyone began to shake their heads at the excesses of the last regime, at its graft, oppression and corrupt government: newspapers, the radio, the hitherto silent intellectuals and civil servants – everybody said what a terrible lot; and it became public opinion the next morning. And these were the same people that only the other day had owned a thousand names of adulation, whom praise-singers followed with song and talking-drum wherever they went. Chief Koko in particular became a thief and a murderer, while the people who had led him on – in my opinion the real culprits – took the legendary bath of the Hornbill and donned innocence.

“Koko has taken enough for the owner to see,” said my father to me. It was the day I had gone to visit Eunice and was telling him on my return how the girl had showed no interest in anything – including whether she stayed in jail or out of it. My father’s words struck me because they were the very same words the villagers of Anata had spoken of Josiah, the abominated trader. Only in their case the words had meaning. The owner was the village, and the village had a mind; it could say no to sacrilege. But in the affairs of the nation there was no owner, the laws of the village became powerless. Max was avenged not by the people’s collective will but by one solitary woman who loved him. Had his spirit waited for the people to demand redress it would have been waiting still, in the rain and out in the sun. But he was lucky. And I don’t mean it to shock or to sound clever. For I do honestly believe that in the fat-dripping, gummy, eat-and-let-eat regime just ended – a regime which inspired the common saying that a man could only be sure of what he had put away safely in his gut or, in language ever more suited to the times: “you chop, me self I chop, palaver finish”; a regime in which you saw a fellow cursed in the morning for stealing a blind man’s stick and later in the evening saw him again mounting the altar of the new shrine in the presence of all the people to whisper into of the ear of the chief celebrant – in such a regime, I say, you died a good death if your life had inspired someone to come forward and shoot your murderer in the chest – without asking to be paid. (149-150)

Read it when you get time. You will get a kick out of it. May even prove me wrong ;).


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Damte  |  June 22, 2008 at 6:40 am

    I don’t know how i missed this post. Maybe it was the sicko (is it sicko?) pic that misled me. yetabatu.

    I read this book a few years back (maybe in my teen years). It was a required reading for a certain class of a certain sister and I was/am sew-yaregew aykribign by nature. unfortunately, i don’t seem to remember much of it now… except that it was something about an election (or so I thot) and had a man speaking to people on the cover. And I also thought it was about South Africa. Don’t know what made me think that, could be because Achebe’s origins were nowhere in my dictionary back then. In retrospect, its a wonder i read it all.Already got a massive kick out of the last sentence on ur post tho. Intend to re-read the book with an adult-negn bAy frame of mind. but i had downed a few African books during that time and this post brought back some memories. Wede kum negeru sinamera, my interest in this post is two- three- or more- fold.

    1. African Books: an under-talked about breed amongst ‘igna’ Ethiopians. Tilobin, we seem to ignore those by default and menkelkel our way to books from far off lands like, yes, Russia. Maybe its because we don’t feel an affinity to African problems ferenji, the spirit of the lands vs Christianity, post-colonial corruption {which i am a bit [romantically] sentimental about} and some more ferenji) as we do with Russian problems (royalty, ikek-inducing poverty and hizbawee niqinaQEs or, bloodier-is-better, abyots. Think inat… which i loved, btw…sorry gwad spacefog. Pascha, Petrushka, Pavel…who wouldn’t love the suspense and confusion that is rampant in ur head before u realize that all these names have been referring to one character all along. Dittos to the Ethiopian who has mastered Russian kulmichas [and apparently felt comfortable enough to translate them too]). What are Russians writing about these days, btw?. But at any rate, my point is that maybe igna Ethiopians ought to maQnat our collective faces to African books some time soon. If I shall be forgiven for this opinion (again by spacefog and Abesheet), i think african books somehow pull off the task of “maStemar and MaQinat” in a way that most books might/should not. One reason behind my much-admired fiTnet in reading Amharic books is my ability to skip right through all the fat paragraphs where authors write their personal re’ioyete-alems beStory iyamekagnu, and try to accomplish the art of Timirtawee Tsihuf in the most nothing-to-do-with-the-story manner. In contrast, I think African writers weave their timirtawee, here-is-the-good-and-here-is-the-bad message [which is usually “fenji and the mi’irab alem brings u no good”] into their story in no uncertain terms and in a very everything-to-do-with-the-story manner. Not convinced?

    2. Achebe: I read ‘No Longer at Ease’ around the same time as ‘A man of the People’ although, again, i was in no way aware of this Achebe man. I then read ‘Things Fall Apart’ for 2 years in highshool in, get this, amharic class. I, like my classmates, was very baffled about why an amharic teacher would labor us through this gaGirtam book. lijinet new, forgive us… I know better now (and hopefully so do my classmates) and, re-reading the first few pages of ‘No Longer at Ease’ (which is a sequel to Things Fall Apart), came across a section that may be representative of what made this book appeal to my amharic teacher and won him much criticism amongst his students who were never afraid to maguremrem. Do these Umuofians remind anyone of a certain tribe of our own (hint: meskel)? here is a direct quote:

    “Those Umuofians (thats what they call themselves) who leave their home town to find work in towns all over Nigeria regard themselves as sojournors. They return to Umuoufia every two years or so to spend their leave. When they have saved up enough money, they ask their relations at home to find them a wife, or they build a zinc house on their family land. No matter where they are in Nigeria, they start a local branch of Umuofia Progressive Union.”

    my point: there is a simple way that these people write about the culture of their people (and accomplish the all illusive task of weaving it into their story) that we can probably appreciate and which makes us (or me) wish somebody would do the same with our culture neger.

    While i am on the subject: i recommend Grace Ogot’s ‘Land without Thunder’ (talk about astemaree…short stories… with cannibalism, witchcraft and the whole nine yards [perhaps of a jilted bride’s dress…also in the book), ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ (a series. A helpful customer’s
    review, if you need it).. the setinet of these books is pure coincidence.. not trying to maramed a set agenda. them good books… the latter is not even written by a woman (or an African).. To placate the potential wend mebt tekerakareewoch tho: ‘Weep Not, Child’ and ‘A meeting in the Dark’ by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

    3. Abesheet: “but groups, groups make me sick…. ask after them and their family”. Kisses all around for that excellent summary of a paragraph. Adelem in person, you can smell the yemotech-ayit stench that follows groups even in the cyber world (look to facebook for your misaLE needs). I am not even sure if i have your sympathy for the individual either. There is an optimal number for how many humans can function together at one time with grace, sine-sir’at and respectability and for me that number is not 2 and its not 5+. But weyolign, what to do with the friendly exterior that draws groups to the asmesay individual.

  • 2. sistu  |  June 22, 2008 at 6:43 am

    beSpacefog yesa’kut new yederesebign

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