Achebe not father of African literature, says Soyinka

Writers Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe

Soyinka says Achebe’s last book was a mistake.

Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, has given a rare portrayal of his late friend and respected novelist, Chinua Achebe, disputing an often referencing of Mr. Achebe as the father of African literature.

He also picked holes in Mr. Achebe’s last work, There Was a Country, which turned out the author’s most controversial.

In an extensive interview with news website, Saharareporters, Mr. Soyinka said while Mr. Acehbe’s place in history as a celebrated storyteller was “definitely assured”, referring to him as the father of African literature was either “literary ignorance” or “momentary exuberance to which we are all sometimes prone”.

“Those who seriously believe or promote this must be asked: have you the sheerest acquaintance with the literatures of other African nations, in both indigenous and adopted colonial languages?” he asked.

“What must the francophone, lusophone, Zulu, Xhosa, Ewe etc. etc. literary scholars and consumers think of those who persist in such a historic absurdity? It’s as ridiculous as calling WS father of contemporary African drama! Or Mazisi Kunene father of African epic poetry. Or Kofi Awoonor father of African poetry. Education is lacking in most of those who pontificate.”

Mr. Achebe’s funeral is scheduled for next week at his hometown in Anambra state amid controversies between his family, and associates over the involvement of the Nigerian government in the preparations for the event.

Mr. Soyinka said he had no opportunity to discuss Mr. Achebe’s last work, There Was a Country, with the author before he passed; but said he wished the book, which sparked controversy, was never written.

“Unfortunately, that chance of a last encounter was missed so I don’t really wish to comment on the work at this point,” Mr. Soyinka said of a planned meeting with the late novelist after the book’s release. “It is however a book I wish he had never written – that is, not in the way it was. There are statements in that work that I wish he had never made.”

Since its release, the book has drawn a series of critical reviews; and fueled an intense, mainly internet-centered row between the Igbo and the Yoruba over Mr. Achebe’s characterization of the Yoruba leader, Obafemi Awolowo, as amongst those who helped inflict mass deaths and suffering on the Igbos during Nigeria’s bloody civil war.

Mr. Soyinka admitted the Igbos were victims of genocide prior to the war; but said both sides committed atrocities during the war, in remarks that seemed amongst his most frank public impression of a former friend and colleague, and the war controversy.

He however said the Igbos must remember that they were not militarily prepared for the war, a point, he said, he raised with late Biafran leader, Odumegwu Ojukwu.

“The reading of most Igbo over what happened before the Civil War was indeed accurate – yes, there was only one word for it – genocide,” he said.

“Once the war began however, atrocities were committed by both sides, and the records are clear on that. The Igbo got the worst of it, however. That fact is indisputable. The Asaba massacre is well documented, name by victim name, and General Gowon visited personally to apologize to the leaders.

He denied there was a real conflict between himself and Mr. Achebe, J.P. Clark and Christopher Okigbo, fueled by the desire to dominate the rest in the writing art.


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  • yoruba

    Frankly speaking wole soyinka lack words… I put it Τo you that, what achebe wrote was the real actual fact of what really invaded therein (during the civil war)… Obafami was behind those genocide against igbos… If he should put it that achebe wasn’t the african litreture icon. Why didn’t he prove it when achebe was alive?… Shameless yorubas.

    • Jadesola Fakayode

      It is advisable that you do not start another “war” of words. I will cut and paste your words for you. These are your words” Obafami was behind those genocide against igbos…Why didn’t he prove it when achebe was alive?… Shameless yorubas…” So? I will advise you NOT to start another “war” of words. But if you need more education on the WHOLE Soyinka interview, please go and read it on the Sahara Reporter’s portal. That way you become more educated. In the past the average Yoruba person may shy away from open engagement of issues out of their sense of culture, family ethics, family values and virtues, family and personal decency, respect for others and their views, sense of civic duty to the larger society as taught by family, civility and just basic human culture. But that is often misinterpreted as what? -“cowardice” because we humans as humans have different readings of civility and family cultures-and this is normal in all human societies. But no more “shying away, not now will they shy away. We will put it right on the table and in your face if that is the language society understands. Okay? But I will not abuse you or the “igbos” as you have done in this post. But for the benefit of those who may read this and who are not frequent visitors to online portals, and who may leave with the wrong impression you are trying to create, I will advise on the following (i) Go and read the FULL interview in Sahara Reporters, (ii) DO NOT start another “war” of words. You need education before you talk. After READING THE FULL STORY IN SAHARA REPORTERS PLEASE BE HUMBLE ENOUGH TO COME BACK HERE TO PREMIUMTIMES PORTAL AND TELL US WHAT YOU READ THERE AND IF YOU WILL STILL MAINTAIN THIS SAME POSITION OR WORDS YOU JUST UTTERED. YOU DO NOT NEED TO EAT YOUR WORDS, BUT JUST BE INTELLECTUALLY HONEST ENOUGH TO TELL US WHAT YOU READ AND IF YOU WILL STILL MAINTAIN THE SAME POSITION YOU ARE MAINTAINING NOW.

      • Rico

        ‘Omoluabi’ that is what you are! you’ve just shown how civilized and matured you are as a Yorubaman, no name calling and no insultive language, that’s the reason the Yorubas are different, though they may not be the most successful ethnic group, but they are still known to be the most intelligent Black ethnic group on earth, i am so impressed that i quote you again ‘Yoruba person may shy away from open engagement of issues out of their sense of culture, family ethics, family values and virtues, family and personal decency, respect for others and their views, sense of civic duty to the larger society as taught by family, civility and just basic human culture’ The Yorubas still cherish their values till today, thanks for reminding us all.

      • bеfοrе I lοοκеd at thе draft 4 $4128, I havе faith that my sistеr was rеaliе briոgiոg hοmе mοոеy рarttimе frοm thеrе cοmрսtar.. thеrе aսոt startеd dοiոg this fοr lеss thaո 20 mοոths aոd a shοrt timе agο clеard thе mοrtgagе οո thеir рlacе aոd рսrchasеd Laոcia. wе lοοκеd hеrе,.,,…. Fℴx85.ℂℴm

  • Lanre

    Baba Kongi, e se jare. O ti pe ta ti n’ babo (We have been at this for a long time). Let me use this opportunity to congratulate you on the Awolowo Prize for Leadership. I am also happy that you are confirming that you wanted to discuss with your literary colleague on his last work which has set many Yorubas apart from their distant Igbo Neighbours. Before I see you again God willing, let me now ask: If you and your literary colleague you referred to are not the Father of African Literature, who then is? Abi? Shebi we have Father of European Literature (Jean Paul-Sartre, Abi is it Andre Gide or Albert Camus?) The Father of American Literature (Saul Bellow, abi na William Faulkner), Latin American Literature (Mario Vargas Llosa? Or Gabriel Marquez ou peut etre c’est Pablo Neruda). Prof. Please leave these idle minds discussing trite issues. Nice to read something frank from you again.

  • Imran

    I wonder why Mr Soyinka did not express his views earlier? say …. before Mr Achebe died.

    • Rico

      Have you ever wondered why Achebe never write / release ‘there was a country’ before Awolowo, Zik and Ojukwu died? Wole Soyinka is probably the only person alive now that can tell both sides of the story without being biased because history told us where he stood before and during the war.

  • GeorgeZ

    Great unbiased assessment interview by Professor Soyinka. It was vintage WS!

  • Kolabomi, A Nigerian!

    Achebe was majorly a poet, then a storyteller, Soyinka is more of a playwright and essayist, and also a poet. Their genres do often overlap. They are both great writers. But truth be told while Achebe appeals to the masses, Wole’s works are often lectureroom materials. Also, I read There Was A Country, and tho’ I believe it’s a good write-up and I feel repulsed at the atrocities committed by both parties but especially to the Igbos, but I could not help but feel disappointed by my idol Achebe for stooping to the lows of tribalism in the book. Justifying and making excuses for one side and in the same vein condemning the other smacks of partiality. And as Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie (another wonderful Nigerian writer) would say, Achebe should have shied away from “telling a single story” which tinted and tainted an otherwise moving narrative with the ugly stains of tribal sentiments. If we clamour against racism, let charity start from our house and let us take off our tribalism lenses, and then we have the moral right to speak against racists of the world. And please can an argument ever be intellectual in Naija without someone pulling the you-versus-us card? It’s becoming very childish and annoying. For I believe only when not just Igbos eulogise Achebe or Yorubas praise Soyinka would either really attain the place they’ve deserved amongst world’s greats! Still, no one really is the father of anything, some are just pioneers. My two-kobo piece!

    • Abuhanifah

      You have made my day. Wish to have more of you in this inept society of ours.

  • Paul

    Soyinka is only being envious, Achebe has been called the father of African Literature because his work is the most widely used and translated African novel. Things fall Apart was translated into 50 foreign languages of 50 countries which Soyinka work was unable to do. Achebe did not give himself the title. His works outsold and is currently outselling any other African work. Here in USA, I used his work during my last semester classes and so it is in various part of the world. I suggest that, Soyinka should work harder to take over from Achebe instead of criticizing him at death.

  • babansa

    The controvercial professor! Ca’nt you shut up and respect your age and the late gentleman? Do you want to be citized after you are dead? Shame on you!

  • Gani A.s

    Wole soyinka should not in any way, try to compare his works with that of late prof. Chinua achebe.chinua achebe is recognised world wide.

    • ‘move on’

      And Soyinka is not? He is a nobel laureate in this world for god’s sake

  • femio

    I am fed up of Igbos who have not moved on since the Civil war. The story the lead to the war began long before the war. It started with Nzeogwu’s coup of January 1966.

    The facts were

    1. The coup was executed and lead by mainly Persons and officers of the Nigerian army from
    Eastern Origin.
    2. The outcome of the coup was that influential characters from Northern Nigerian were killed.
    3. Some from the West like killed.
    4. Okotie-Eboh of Mid-West
    5. Really no one of significance from the East was killed.
    6. Obafemi Awolowo (of western origin) would have been killed if he was not at a prison were
    the coup plotters could not easily get to him.

    Given the above outcome how do you not expect the Northerners to feel aggrieved. That Yorubas (West) were aggrieved is still a miracle of that time. If there was no coup by Nzeogwu would there have been a civil war?

    Even after the Nzeogwu coup, the next Head of State was still of Eastern Nigerian origin in the person of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi. Had Ironsi firmly dealt with the coup plotters, would the
    Northern officers have felt so aggrieved to have done a coup? It is on record the Northerners (Northern Military Officers included) later felt the Ironsi was dragging his foot and they were not sure it was no influenced by the “coincidence” of Ironsi and Nzeogwu coming from the same part of the country. Ironsi should have dispensed justice to dis-abuse these insinuations and re-establish trust.

    I have a lot of respect Chinua Achebe for his literary works and skills and he is a Nigerian of great achievement but he should not have re-visited a dead and buried issue. Re-opening old wounds brings back much pain.

    Awolowo was not responsible for genocide against the Igbos. The reality is that Awolowo’s
    suggestion to stop the Nigerian Government from feeding the Biafran populace (dropping of food parcels and supplies ) to the Biafran side was a masterstroke that help to accelerate the end of the war.

    Which is better? A prolonged war in which more Biafrans died or one which rapidly concluded due to the adopted no “food & supplies policy” to enemy territory? Actually, Biafrans in captured
    grounds were fed and clothed though some may have been locked up in camps. Moreover, the head of state at the time General Gowon executed a “No Victor No Vanquish” policy that was designed to help heal the wounds on both sides of the war. Igbos have continued to see themselves as victims of the war. I disagree with that. War is a nasty game in which every body losses even the perceived victors. It is time to stop this blame game. Yorubas or the late
    Chief Awolowo was not responsible for any misery experienced by Igbos “Biafrans” during the civil war.

    Would the Biafrans aka Igbos have been better off going it alone? I ‘m not so sure. Contrary to popular misconception, “Oil” is not actually physically located in any of the Igbo areas so
    the prime beneficiary of the Oil money would not have been Biafrans but Nigerians.

    Did the Yorubas thwart the Biafran dream single-handedly? I doubt it. Once again, I reiterate that it is time for every one of us Nigerians to move on from the unfortunate episode in our history. The lesson in all this is that we need to respect and value each other more. The
    sum total of us all is definitely greater than our individual parts. One nation forever, Long live Nigeria.

  • amadi prince

    may his soul rest in peace

  • amadi prince

    the yorubas are not happy with the way wole soyinka is talking about the literture icon,wole soynka should mine his business,achebe is a great man,the books he wrote was like something ease,infact he is more than what he is,he is aman of honor

  • amadi prince

    let wole soynka go and sleep,why wole soynka is not happy,is becouse achebe was call the father of african literture,wole sorry you are lokey he not alive,that is why you are balbin go and sit down ok