‘The lasting and befitting honour that the Lions and the Lionesses of Africa can bestow on Chinua Achebe is to write their own history’
In paying tribute to Prof. Chinua Achebe, this great scholar, this outstanding writer, this inspiring philosopher and this true Son of Africa; let me briefly say the following:
‘The events which transpired five thousand years ago, or five years ago, or five minutes ago, have determined what will happen five minutes from now, five years from now or five thousand years from now. All history is current’, as that renowned African American historian Dr. John Hendrik Clarke observed.
In Africa when you look at the European slave trade, the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference through which Europe partitioned Africa for its own economic interests, or analysing the effects of 6th April 1652 in South Africa, the Union of South Africa Act 1909 and the Native Land Act 1913, if you are a thinker the above statement resonates with unassailable truth.
If you do not know where you came from, you do not really know where you are right now because as Cicero, the Roman philosopher wrote so many years ago, ‘To remain ignorant of things before you were born is to remain a child.’
That Africanist scholar, lawyer, political scientist and philosopher, Dr. Muziwakhe Lembede has reminded that, ‘One who wants to create a future must not forget the past.’
He was right. Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backwards. What I will never forget about Chinua Achebe, and is a challenge to me that I live to face without compromise, is when he says, ‘Until the lions have their own history, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunters.’
In Africa, so far the history of colonialism has glorified colonialists and completely ignored the holocaust of Africa’s people. History is important. It is current. It informs the present and inspires the future. People who are ignorant of their history have no past, present and future. The past has determined how the present must be handled and the future shaped.
The lasting and befitting honour that the Lions and the Lionesses of Africa can bestow on Chinua Achebe is to write their own history. This means that books such as The African Origin of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop, The Stolen Legacy by Dr. George G.M. James, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Dr. Walter Rodney and by many other writers, must be prescribed as school text books for this generation and generations to come to read and digest.
Our history shows that we (Africans) have been a politically naive people. We have trusted wrong people. We have bought fake goods from fake salesmen. We have allowed others with irreconcilable agendas from ours to cunningly use us for their own dubious agendas that have not taken us out of the economic quagmire of our colonial dispossession. A nation that neglects its history is building its present and future on sand.
A writer whose grandparents were slaves in America and had to secretly teach him how to read and write because the children of slaves were not allowed any such knowledge, affirms Prof. Chinua Achebe when he writes:
‘History is a clock that tells a people their historical time of the day. It is a compass that people use to locate themselves on the map of human geography. A people’s history tells them what they have been, where they are now....More importantly, where they still must go.’
Africans who do not want to tell and remember the history of this Continent as it happened are like a person who undertakes a journey without knowing where he or she is going. Reaching a wrong destination is reaching a wrong destiny that is often full of lions that are waiting to devour such naive persons.
May the spirit of Chinua Achebe abide forever in this magnificent Continent of Africa that produced the first human civilisation on this planet, educated Moses and protected Jesus Christ as a baby when Herod conspired to kill Him. This is an Africa which that renowned Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, described as “Africa semper aliquid novi!”
Africa’s past will remain mutilated, distorted, manipulated and falsified as long as the Lions and Lionesses of Africa do not take responsibility for writing its superfluously rich history. Prof. Chinua Achebe’s Challenge must be taken seriously, especially now that he is no more physically present in Africa. The Lions and Lionesses of Africa and in the Diaspora must research, write and read.
* Dr. Motsoko Pheko is author of several books such as Apartheid: the story of a dispossessed people, Towards Africa’s authentic liberation, African renaissance saved Christianity. His latest book is Rediscovering Africa and her spirituality.