The Village Mourners Association, By Wole Soyinka

Prof Wole Soyinka

Nigerians who are old enough will surely recall the source of the above title. For others, I ought to narrate its origin. Fortunately, early this year, I delivered a lecture at the University of Ibadan, where I made a passing reference to the true owners of that copyright. Here is the relevant section:

“At the passing of a short-lived dictator, his successor decreed two weeks of mourning, two weeks during which the nation went into a coma. Even the television and radio stations closed down – nothing but martial and funereal music was played, while churches and mosques took over the abandoned airwaves to drown the nation in suras and canticles of lachrymose outpouring. A very sharp group quickly formed something that was called the National Mourners Association – clever lot!  While the nation was quarantined and bogged down in the orgy of lamentation, they were touring the world, sponsored by government, to take the gospel of anguish to every corner of the world that boasted a Nigerian diplomatic mission.”

Yes, that was at the death of General Murtala Mohammed. But now, we turn to address the latest progenies of that association, operating in a different clime and context, but cacophonously enmeshed in variations on that ancient tune.

When that day comes that individuals encounter hostility over their sensibilities in dealing with loss in their own way, privately, away from public eye, with or without symbolic public gestures, then we are witnessing the end, not simply of plain civility, but of civilization, and the enthronement of Fascism. It is not the intolerance and excess of a moment’s excitation, but of a cultivated arrogance and will to imposition, one that attempts to dictate the private responses of others to shared events. Once again we are confronted with the Nigerian phenomenon of the egregious appropriation of what is not on offer and thus, is not subject to dispute. Where frustrated, these claimants reel out chapters from their Book of Imprecations.

Let it be stated here, for the avoidance of doubt, that I am a solid believer in the collective rites of Farewell. I believe in Ritual. Humanity is often assisted to reconcile with loss in a collective, and even spectacular mode. The choice to participate or not, however, belongs to each individual, including even those who arrogate to themselves the mission of imposing on others their own preferred mode of bidding farewell. These self-righteous clerics are dangerous beings, especially where they flaunt the credentials of secular learning and gather in caucuses of presumed Humanities. From the herd, the mindless Internet fiddlers for whom the landing of a planetary probe, or a medical breakthrough is simply distraction from fraudulent internet mailing, nothing less is expected. What menaces the collective health of society is when the deserving highs of intellectual application of the former, become indistinguishable from the loutish low of the latter.

I do not pander to the expectations of the sanctimonious. I can absent myself from any event, for reasons that are personal to me. I can absent myself as the result of a mundane domestic situation, as legitimately as from a visceral rejection of occupancy of the same space, at the same time, in the same cause, with certain other participants. I may absent myself for the very reason of my disdain for that breed which is certain to cavil at the very fact of my absence. Such specimens pollute the very space they claim to honour.  Sputter and rage they may, but even the most illustrious of that ilk cannot control that choice, neither will they be permitted free passage to encroach upon, and abuse the private spaces of human responsiveness.

I shall speak to them directly: your psychological profile is commonplace. It is not the honour to Chinua that agitates you, no, it is your own self-regarding that seeks to be reflected in the homage to a departed colleague. It does not take a psycho-analyst to recognize this phenomenon of greedy acquisitiveness, even of immaterial products.  Like emotional parasites, you feed off others, but you have never learnt to value what others give, or be thereby nourished.  I recognize you, atavistic minds – was it not your  type that once disseminated an unbelievably primitive accounting for Chinua Achebe’s motor accident? Here goes the story, for those who seek light relief from ponderous unctuousness:

What happened was that I found myself unable to return to Nigeria for a Colloquium in honour of Chinua’s sixtieth birthday.  My dramatic mind immediately scrambled for some striking manner of compensation. So I telephoned a business friend who had some agricultural connections in Delta State and told him: find the chunkiest, spotless ram in Delta State – all white or all black, but a thoroughbred of striking physique. Find a leather pouch, tie it to its neck with the following message and deliver it at the venue of the Colloquium. I no longer recall the exact dictated wording, nothing inspirational, just the usual felicitations and injunctions to turn that ram into asun for general feasting.

Those who attended the event will recall the grand entry of the gift – as reported by one and all, including the foreign visitors, and Chinua’s reported reaction, seated on the podium. He shook head and said, “Typical of Wole”. The ram was then led off to meet its destiny at the hands of the gathered. (As a side note, it was I who took a gift away from his seventieth at Bard University – a sobering flash of time past that resulted in my ELEGY FOR A NATION. I had that poem re-published to mark the day of his funeral.)

Our story is only beginning. On the way back from that celebration, Chinua had his accident and was flown to the United Kingdom. At the first opportunity, I made my way there and called up the High Commissioner, Dove-Edwin, who was certain to know the hospital location. It turned out that he also planned a visit that afternoon, and he agreed to give me a ride. We waited – I was joined by two others – waited, and waited, then a phone call came from him that the visit had been called off. The High Commissioner would explain why, on arrival – over a promised dinner, as compensation.

That explanation was this: Dove-Edwin had received communication that some of “Chinua’s people” – a university professor among them, who was named – had pronounced publicly that  “Chinua should have known better than to accept a spotless ram from his enemy” – yes, that was the word used – “enemy”.  I verified this report from various other sources. Later, an alternative diagnosis surfaced: “Chinua had been too long away from the chieftaincy politics of his hometown, otherwise he would have realized that the title that he took was coveted by some others – and these were deeply steeped in traditional psychic combat”.  In short, those rivals “did him in”.  Both diagnoses competed for dominance for a while, petering out eventually.

Before the promotion of that alternative cause-and-effect however, Dove-Edwin had re-scheduled, and we had a most bracing, optimistic afternoon with Chinua. Yes, our patient was eventually told the cause of the earlier postponement, and he had a good laugh. On my return to Nigeria, I could not wait to take the opportunity of a public lecture to invite all desperate enemies to please send me their rams of choice – spotless, spotted, piebald, striped or nondescript – so I could treat starving writers to free meals in my home for the rest of the year. And I promised to taste a piece of each ram before serving.

Yes, it is that same breed that continues to sow poison in the minds of the susceptible. Alas for you, it so happens that some of us insist on our own way of commemorating, of being there, even when absent.  You, by contrast were never there, however ostentatiously you position yourselves at the event, or at vicarious gatherings to denounce, attribute sinister motivations, and inseminate hate against those whom your pedestrian vision cannot see. Your very loudness proclaims your absence. You were always absent. You will always be absent. So, this communication is not really meant for you but for those potential almajiri – whose minds you corrupt daily with your jeremiads in that accomodating madrassa known as Internet. As a teacher, I lament your failure to use the opportunity of the passing of a revered writer to turn your younger generation in enlightened directions.  You have chosen instead to coarsen their sensibilities and breed in their minds misunderstanding, suspicion and above all – hate!

You will have understood by now how I have come to view you as no different from the homicidal clerics who arm youths with kerosene and match, cudgel and knife, a few Naira in their beggars’ bowls, and dispatch them to set fire to structures of comradely cohabitation, of reflection, of mind enlargement, and destroy communities of learning. Your gospel of separatism goes beyond the geographical – in which I have not the slightest interest! – but the humanistic. The difference is in the weapon – in  your case, poison, mind corrosion. The means – Internet, and its wide open, undiscriminating generosity. That is where you lay spores of poison, and doom future generations to a confinement of human relationships within the darkest corners of the mind.

You are beyond pity. Kindly absent your selves from my funeral, when that event finally intrudes.
Wole SOYINKA

This article was first published on Saharareporters


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  • collins

    What an inspirational article full of wisdom and moral vibrance. Wishing prof Wole loads of years and great health ahead.

  • Olayinka

    Prof. Wole Soyinka holds no prisoners. Intellectual piece confining hypocrites to the dustbin. They claim to love Chinua Achebe. I laugh in Swahili!

    • nnaneme iyoke

      When I read the articles lambasting my icon,mentor and in fact my god. I have always believe he will give them the village mourners their dose and truth I was not disappointed. If all Nigerians think and reason like Prof.,we would have move forward.

  • ayoola

    Quite an intresting piece. very typical of d prof.I wish you long life and in good health too.

  • Older and Wiser

    With all this bile and bad blood being disseminated by Wole
    Soyinka since the death of the man who regarded him as a friend till he closed
    his eyes in death, it has become necessary to question Wole motive. Obviously,
    he did not learn discretion from his departed “friend”. Somebody
    should please tell him that he belittles himself the more with each
    Achebe-related explosion. Why bother to explain why he did not attend Chinua
    Achebe’s funeral? How can anyone expect him to be able to attend after the most
    saddening interview he gave on the eve of Achebe’s funeral? Somebody should
    please, tell Wole Soyinka to shield his sword. Achebe has departed in a blaze
    of glory leaving him behind to wonder how it all happened. Moreover, this kind
    of bitterness is injurious to the health. By the way, did anybody miss Soyinka at Achebe’s funeral?

  • Cool

    Wole Soyinka should move on. Enough of this health-threatening bitterness. Achebe earned the global acclaim that attended his death, and there is nothing anyone can do to diminish it. Soyinka should stop raking up forgotten bear parlour gossips which by his own admission Chinua Achebe did not regard while he was alive, when they were brought to his notice. The question is: would Wole Soyinka had granted that nauseating interview or written this revolting article if Chinua Achebe was alive? The answer is a big NO. Although, he knew Achebe would probably had ignored him to give his attention to more weighty matters. I suspect, too, that he greatly valued what Achebe thought about him. The greatness of Achebe lies partly (only partly) in the fact despite being crippled by an accident for more than two decades, he remained relevant, spoke with such strong moral voice to condemn graft, misrulership and corrupted democracy; he did not to hobnob with corrupt politicians and public officers for some self-serving ends as some ‘literary giants’ are presently doing, but remained productive, self-reliant and free-minded, and never needed to become a “Govt House activist” and selective “moral crusader” like his “friends” who are now dancing on his grave now. ‘Please, make una commot make we see road’

    • justice

      Sir, did you read what the man wrote here? In what way had he in any part of this article diminish the person of Mazi Achebe? He has his reason(s) for not attending the funeral and its his prerogative. Enough of this Ibo vs Yoruba diatribe. It won’t do us any good.

      • Cool

        There is no ‘Igbo Vs Yoruba diatribe’ here. You are the one inventing it? And who, by the way, told you I am Igbo? Does it mean two individuals cannot disagree without dragging their tribes in? So, any disagreement with Soyinka must be because of tribe? Now, why is he raking up the issue of ‘ram and accident’ that happened in 1990 (which he had already sufficiently addressed in a Lecture in Ibadan more than twenty years ago) knowing fully well it would rankle his cohorts and generate bad blood – even after he himself had said that Achebe had dismissed it with a wave of the hand? Why rake up the delayed visit to Achebe’s London hospital bed, even after he eventually visited Achebe and had good a chat with him? He opens himself up to suspicions of his actual motive each he does this. He knows that Achebe made quite a number of needless enemies with his recent book who are waiting for the least opportunity to attack him, so why always exhume dead issues that inspire more insults to his so-called friend’s memory? And somebody he claims was his friend? At 79, WS should know better. He is just displaying the kind of temperament one expects from a primary school lad. He should learn to let go. We are tied of his occasional “cry-cry-baby” rants. Achebe is dead; anything he couldn’t muster the courage to say when he was alive, he should be silent about it forever. That is how brave men behave! Moreover, if somebody has accused him of not attending Achebe’s funeral, why go all this way just to reply to an individual he even lacked the courage to name?

        • OPA

          You certainly are of the Village mourners association. And it is exactly for the sake of your ilk that Soyinka needed to write this.

        • OJ

          Obvious you are a “powerful” member of dis village mourners association in WS. Certainly d message is for u. Your diatribe is needless, useless and so irrelevant to issues raised in d article.

    • Impulse400

      I don’t think you understood the article before making these your comments. You sound like the village mourner Wole Soyinka is describing. It is bitterness to you because it is a truth you pray will vanish.

      From the content of Chinua Achebe’s last book, he certainly did not want the likes of shameless parasites to attend his funeral. But they did, in their shameless multitude, for glitz and campaign. I watched that church service with painful disgust. I am glad Soyinka feels the same way.

      You may be right in your perception of what Chinua Achebe stood for, but you failed to get the warning in his last book. Personally, I feel our Government should have respected the Achebe’s privacy and permitted them to experience his funeral in their own way. But Government came and turned the solemn event into a Zoo.

      Wole has taken time, in his own way to state same, right from the beginning of this article. I trust his severity… if you still didn’t get the message while reading the entire article, just like you and Government missed it in Chinua Achebe’s book, he has summarized it in the final sentence.

      DON’T TURN HIS FUNERAL TO A ZOO.

  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    There is ONLY ONE WOLE SOYINKA. May the Almighty continue to bless him. WS went to jail in 1967 while trying to avoid the genocide. At the time his kinsmen, in cohort with the hausa-fulani murderers were baying for Igbo blood across the country. THESE ARE UNPLEASANT FACTS.
    WS IS A CLASS OF HIS OWN. A DIFFERENT SPECIE. May God bless him for the services to humanity.
    If Nigeria had listened to WS, there will never have been the civil war, rather the criminal named Gowon, clamped him in prison as he returned from Biafra on a peace mission. Poor WS didn’t realise that the north egged on by Awolowo has already decided on genocide, relying on foreign weapons that was denied Biafra.
    WS remains a strong voice of reason. Like Ojukwu, WS understands that peace is useless without social justice.

  • Lanre

    Wole Soyinka. I am proud of you and this your write-up. Knowing you from The Source, I am elated that you have journeyed into this “Madrasa” where the Internet “Alfas” that represent the nihilistic,narcissistic, irredentist movement in our social space have turned us into destitute harbingers clinging onto parochial patrimonies. They have corroded discourse, made a ridicule of objectivity and intellectual discourse and turned your friend into some sort of champion for their cause. And he acquiesced before he departed this world. The most painful part of the story. Kongi, thank you for this wonderful piece. I remember you from the Land of Oje, the land of your friend OBJ. (Femi Johnson). A great mind always captures the essence of the moment. Thank you Wole Soyinka.

    • Lere Shakunle

      The man died in him who keeps silent when he should speak. That’s the title of your famous prison-notes book whose contents came to the fore again in this piece. Great. However, sometimes silence is the best answer. Imagine if God has to be answering the critics, the heathens, the God-forsaken paradigms that claim to hold the key of the cosmos nurtured by the arrogance of ignorance of the limitations of the rational way with the world. That would have brought the Divine to the level that is human. Yes, God knows that in your stars you are above those shallow-hollow remarks about your absence at Achebe’s funeral. Yes, you ought to have mentioned that you are the FIRST beneficiary of the Grand Prize – The Obafemi Awolowo Prize – and that something happened before which Chinua Achebe did not settle before he left. To be honest, with all respect for Chinua Achebe, I was shocked by what he wrote about Awolowo in that his book. I didnt say a writer should be a philosopher but I expected some depth in those who voyage in the human psyche which is what the novel that is true to its name really is. And this being the case, I expected a writer to be a person who breaks bridges for were this not to be so, how could she or he claim to be the one who breaks down the spurious walls in which the small minds hole themselves. There is something incompatible in that piece he wrote about Awolowo and Achebe as a writer who should broaden the human conciousness by breaking walls, building bridges. In the event of your absence at the funeral, silence should have been the right answer – this being a different context – and this would have spoken louder than any voice, yes would have reached Mount Olympus – without a word that carries the world. All the same, what you wrote above could be taken to be farewell to a good friend. Lere Shakunle

      • Impulse400

        My condolence on your shock over Chinua Achebe’s convictions concerning Obafemi Awolowo. It is certainly difficult to bear witnessing something of value, such as an Idol, be shattered by bitter revelations. Sorry…

        But to Expect… you, expecting Chinua Achebe to conform to your false impression of depth…? (lol) You approached his work “There was a Country” with the Awo apologist impression that was taught to you, then it is your fault if Chinua Achebe failed to meet your expectations. That is your laziness. He gave you pointers in his book, through references, for you to do your research. You expect your lecturer to spoon feed you, is that how to broaden your mind…? You are reciting the fears Prof. Soyinka has for our generation, highlighted in this article.

        In all Prof. Achebe wrote about Chief Awolowo, did he lie against or slander your late sage…? Did he bear false witness against Pa Awo…? Please enumerate this Incompatible something. How can you tell a writer to be silent over an issue that bothers or concerns him…? I don’t get the contradiction. He should stop his work because it suits you not to confront his bitter opinions…? Self righteous man, you should have practiced your own code by choosing not to present your personal opinions here, also. D’uuh..!

        Now look at what you’ve done. You have used your own hand to classify yourself under Prof. Soyinka’s descriptions above. I won’t spoon feed you by quoting. Go back and read again.

        You see these two men, Chinua and Wole, they are the last Titans of a fading generation. I am glad you at least perceive their good friendship. However you certainly do not value them both. If your understanding of this article is “a farewell to a good friend” (LMAO) Mr. Shakunle, learn Reading and Comprehension in humility. From the title to the last sentence, it was a slap to your ilk. You display the same traits as the critics of Achebe’s book, who happen to be the main subject of the book and belong to the class of cretins Prof. Soyinka has written about.

        And here I am, watching in amusement as these two geniuses twist your minds, as you all strip yourselves bare, displaying your collective emptiness. One genius here with us, the other journeying the beyond.

        “You are beyond pity. Kindly absent your selves from my funeral, when that event finally intrudes”.

        —Wole SOYINKA

        Please do not misinterpret this to be his farewell to you. It is a warning to you and bad Government and Politicians and Sycophants and Elephants…(lololol)
        Sango or Sopona may bite you if you disobey.