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Okonkwo And Obierika Essay Contest

Perhaps you have heard of or even seen the Wikipedia ad campaign, Things Come Together, built around Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It is a short film created by Anakle, a digital agency in Lagos. I remember watching it over and over again on Instagram, relishing its richness. It isn’t every day that you find such ingenuity displayed on your screen in form of an advert.

Editi Effiong, director of the film and founder of Anakle, explains in a piece on Bella Naija that Things Come Together is a product of parody stories inspired by Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart,  and that it had been rejected by two Nigerian brands for a content marketing campaign. In a society where books are generally considered nerdy and uninteresting, what Anakle has done is to break the myth on books—something we very mch need in African literature.

Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart. Image source: Thenet.ng.

I was particularly fascinated that Okonkwo, the character played by the veteran actor Pete Edochie, was present in the story where a book about him was being discussed. The video brings history back to the present, a juxtaposition of what was and what is. The Okonkwo of the past would rather die than embrace Western education. But here, we have him sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher trained by the white man. Although like his old self, we find him quiet throughout the lesson, only nodding occasionally to his friend Obierika who answers all the questions. Back home, we find him asking Obierika how he is able to answer all the questions and Obierika reveals his big secret—Wikipedia.

The choice of characters is remarkable. No young people flipping iPhones and headsets—it’s after all an online ad—instead, we have elderly, traditional people seated in a classroom and seeking adult education. This sheds light on the purpose of the ad: knowledge is for all, free and accessible from anywhere in the world.

One would think: why Things Fall Apart? Aren’t there other contemporary Nigerian novels that could have suited same purpose? Apart from Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of Yellow Sun, what is the Nigerian film industry doing to tap into the abundant creativity of the country’s literature today? It begs the question: Is the nation’s reading populace stuck on Things Fall Apart? Chinua Achebe was a legend and his contribution to African literature is immeasurable, but could there not have been other recent book adapted to fit into the same message?

Things Come Together is surely a brilliant work. With the quote from William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming” and a question on multitheism, I am taken back to the classroom where my students admit that the only African novel they have read is Things Fall Apart. While I commend Anakle for bringing this interesting perspective onto the ad screen and doing it so creatively, I am concerned about what we are reading. Like Obierika, we should not forget, while visiting the past, to flourish in the present. Be aware, exude knowledge and be current. The film provides an extensive platform for the propagation of Nigerian literature. Writers and filmmakers alike need to tap into this. Otherwise, we keep having people mentioning Chinua Achebe as the only Nigerian author, even when they could just look it up on Wikipedia.

 

 

About the Author:

Jennifer Chinenye Emelife is co-founder and lead correspondent at Praxis Magazine for Arts and Literature.

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Summary: Chapter 20

Okonkwo has planned since his first year in exile to rebuild his compound on a larger scale. He also wants to take two more wives and get titles for his sons. He has managed to get over Nwoye’s disgraceful departure, but he still regrets that Ezinma is a girl. He asked that she wait to marry in Umuofia, after his exile, to which she consented. She even persuaded her sister, Obiageli, to do the same. Okonkwo hopes to attract interest when he returns with two beautiful, marriageable daughters.

However, Umuofia is much changed after seven years. The church has grown in strength and the white men subject the villagers to their judicial system and rules of government. They are harsh and arrogant, and Okonkwo cannot believe that his clan has not driven the white men and their church out. Sorrowfully, Obierika explains that the church has weakened the ties of kinship and that it is too late to drive the white men out. Many of the clansmen are now on the white man’s side. Okonkwo observes that the white man is very shrewd because he came in peace and appeared to have only benevolent interests in the Africans, who thus permitted him to stay. They discuss the story of Aneto, who was hanged by the government after he killed a man with whom he had a dispute. Aneto had been unsatisfied with the new court’s ruling on the dispute because it ignored custom. Obierika and Okonkwo conclude their discussion on a fatalistic note, sitting in silence together.

Summary: Chapter 21

Many people of Umuofia are not entirely unhappy with the white men’s influence on their community. They have set up trading posts, and money is flowing into the village. Mr. Brown, the white missionary, restrains his flock from antagonizing the clan. He and Akunna, one of the clan’s leaders, meet often to debate and discuss their respective religious views. Akunna explains that the clan also has just one god, Chukwu, who created the world and the other gods. Mr. Brown replies that there are no other gods. He points to a carving and states that it is not a god but a piece of wood. Akunna agrees that it is a piece of wood, but wood created by Chukwu. Neither converts the other, but each leaves with a greater understanding of the other’s faith.

Mr. Brown builds a hospital and a school. He begs the villagers to send their children to school and warns them that if they do not, strangers who can read and write will come to rule them. His arguments are fairly effective and his hospital wins praise for its treatments. When Okonkwo first returns to Umuofia, Mr. Brown goes to tell him that Nwoye is in a training college for teachers. Okonkwo chases him away with threats of violence. Not long afterward, Mr. Brown’s health begins to fail, and, sad, he leaves his flock.

Okonkwo’s daughters attract many suitors, but to his grave disappointment, his clan takes no particular interest in his return. The ozo initiation ceremony occurs only once in three years, meaning that he must wait two years to initiate his sons. He deeply regrets the changes in his once warlike people.

Analysis: Chapters 20–21

Okonkwo’s status as a warrior and farmer and his clan’s perception of him have changed since his exile. His increasing loss of power and prestige brings him great anxiety. Any remaining doubt that Okonkwo is slightly crazy is quelled when we learn that he has been fantasizing about, and seriously planning for, his triumphant return to his village since his departure. Okonkwo has great expectations for himself—in Chapter 20 we are told that, “he saw himself taking the highest title of the land.”