Writing the Struggle
No escape from the pain of the wound in our soul
It’s the Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, who aptly captures the identity confusion which plagues most blacks even years after Africa, as a whole, attained independence.
In his papers and writings presented over the years, Achebe argues that Africa still lives at the crossroads of cultures and that such a situation is dangerous for the continent and its peoples.
In his 1973 Named for Victoria, Queen of England speech titled ‘Living at the Cultural Crossroads’, Achebe says:
“We lived at the crossroads of cultures. We still do now today…” He adds: “But still the crossroads does have a certain dangerous potency; dangerous because a man might perish there wrestling with multiple-headed spirits, but also he might be lucky and return to his people with the boon of prophetic vision.”
In the same speech, he derides the fact that Africans are devoid of spiritual standings and that there are “evil forces and irrational passions prowling through Africa’s heart of darkness”.
“We know the racist mystique behind a lot of that stuff and should merely point out that those who prefer to see Africa in those lurid terms have not themselves demonstrated any clear superiority in sanity or more competence in coping with life,” he writes.
He also hits out at the double standards most Africans embark on, which show how confused and directionless they are. While they read the Bible and attend church, still they come back home to make offerings to other gods.
Achebe digs deep into his past as a child when he would be taken to church but later, he would drag his sister to a neighbour’s house for ‘heathen festivals’.
“Those idols and that food had a stronger pull on me in spite of my being such a thorough little Christian that often at Sunday services at the height of the grandeur of Te Deum Laudamus I would have dreams of mantle of gold falling on me while the choir of angels drowned our mortal song and the voice of God Himself thundering: ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am pleased’.
“Yes, despite those delusions of divine destiny, I was not past taking my little sister to our neighbour’s house when our parents were not looking and partaking of heathen festival meals. I never found their rice to have the flavour of idolatry. I was about 10 then. If anyone likes to believe that I was torn by spiritual agonies or stretched on the rack of ambivalence he certainly may suit himself. I do not remember any undue distress. What I do remember was a fascination for the ritual and the life of the other arm of the crossroads. And I believe two things were in my favour — that curiosity and the little distance becomes not a separation but a bringing together like the necessary backward step which a judicious viewer may take in order to see a canvas steadily and fully. . .”
In 1965, on ‘Revising the Colonialist Damage’, Achebe says he “would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them”.
He says: “Here, then, is an adequate revolution for me to espouse – to help my society regain its belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of the denigration and self-abasement. And it is essentially a question of education, in the best sense of that word. Here, I think, my aims and the deepest aspirations of my society meet. For no thinking African can escape the pain of the wound in our soul. . .”
In essence, this pain in the wound in our soul is caused by confusion which in most cases is self-inflicted.
Indeed, it is only Africans who can spend years and years writing or saying bad things about their governments and leaders but never spare a second to suggest a solution.
It is this loss of identity which causes opposition parties to disparage whatever a sitting government suggests even if it benefits the same people they purport to serve.
That loss of identity leads to lack of national agenda just like in the west where even when everybody knew that George W. Bush and Tony Blair had no evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, they stood behind their leaders in the destruction of Iraq.
By having split identities, Africa moves backwards when the rest if going forward. Africa takes a wrong turn when it gets to the crossroads.
There is, indeed, no escape from the pain in our souls. Look at Mali, Central African Republic, the DRC, and Mozambique. It’s the pain in our souls caused by lack of identity.