Authors: Chinua Achebe
Tags: #General, #History, #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs, #Africa
The Education of a British-Protected Child
Anthills of the Savannah
The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories
Things Fall Apart
No Longer at Ease
Chike and the River
A Man of the People
Arrow of God
Girls at War and Other Stories
Beware Soul Brother
Morning Yet on Creation Day
The Trouble with Nigeria
Home and Exile
Hopes and Impediments
How the Leopard Got His Claws
(with John Iroaganachi)
Winds of Change: Modern Short Stories from Black Africa
African Short Stories
(editor, with C. L. Innes)
(with Robert Lyons)
A PERSONAL HISTORY OF BIAFRA
THE PENGUIN PRESS
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First published in 2012 by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Chinua Achebe, 2012
All rights reserved
“1966,” “Benin Road,” “Penalty of Godhead,” “Generation Gap,” “Biafra, 1969,” “A Mother
in a Refugee Camp,” “The First Shot,” “Air Raid,” “Mango Seedling,” “We Laughed at
Him,” “Vultures,” and “After a War” from
by Chinua Achebe. Copyright © 1971, 1973, 2004 by Chinua Achebe. Used by permission
of Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
There was a country : a personal history of Biafra / Chinua Achebe.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Achebe, Chinua. 2. Authors, Nigerian—20th century—Biography. 3. Nigeria—History—Civil
War, 1967–1970—Personal narratives. I. Title.
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and the words are the author’s alone.
n Igbo proverb tells us that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat
him cannot say where he dried his body.
The rain that beat Africa began four to five hundred years ago, from the “discovery”
of Africa by Europe, through the transatlantic slave trade, to the Berlin Conference
of 1885. That controversial gathering of the world’s leading European powers precipitated
what we now call the Scramble for Africa, which created new boundaries that did violence
to Africa’s ancient societies and resulted in tension-prone modern states. It took
place without African consultation or representation, to say the least.
Great Britain was handed the area of West Africa that would later become Nigeria,
like a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party. It was one of the most populous
regions on the African continent, with over 250 ethnic groups and distinct languages.
The northern part of the country was the seat of several ancient kingdoms, such as
the Kanem-Bornu—which Shehu Usman dan Fodio and his jihadists absorbed into the Muslim
Fulani Empire. The Middle Belt of Nigeria was the locus of the glorious Nok Kingdom
and its world-renowned terra-cotta sculptures. The southern protectorate was home
to some of the region’s most sophisticated civilizations. In the west, the Oyo and
Ife kingdoms once strode majestically, and in the midwest the incomparable Benin Kingdom
elevated artistic distinction to a new level. Across the Niger River in the East,
the Calabar and the Nri kingdoms flourished. If the Berlin Conference sealed her fate,
then the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates inextricably complicated
Nigeria’s destiny. Animists, Muslims, and Christians alike were held together by a
delicate, some say artificial, lattice.
Britain’s indirect rule was a great success in northern and western Nigeria, where
affairs of state within this new dispensation continued as had been the case for centuries,
with one exception—there was a new sovereign, Great Britain, to whom all vassals pledged
fealty and into whose coffers all taxes were paid.
Indirect rule in Igbo land proved far more challenging to implement. Colonial rule
functioned through a newly created and incongruous establishment of “warrant chiefs”—a
deeply flawed arrangement that effectively confused and corrupted the Igbo democratic
Africa’s postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit
of ruling themselves. We have also had difficulty running the new systems foisted
upon us at the dawn of independence by our “colonial masters.” Because the West has
had a long but uneven engagement with the continent, it is imperative that it understand
what happened to Africa. It must also play a part in the solution. A meaningful solution
will require the goodwill and concerted efforts on the part of all those who share
the weight of Africa’s historical burden.
Most members of my generation, who were born before Nigeria’s independence, remember
a time when things were very different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and
progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal—natural resources, yes,
but even more so, human resources. But the Biafran war changed the course of Nigeria.
In my view it was a cataclysmic experience that changed the history of Africa.
There is some connection between the particular distress of war, the particular tension
of war, and the kind of literary response it inspires. I chose to express myself in
that period through poetry, as opposed to other genres.
My Biafran poems and other poetry are collected in two volumes—
Beware, Soul Brother, Poems
(which was published as
Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems
in America) in 1971 and
in 2004. As a group these poems tell the story of Biafra’s struggle and suffering.
I have made the conscious choice to juxtapose poetry and prose in this book to tell
complementary stories, in two art forms.
It is for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grandchildren, that
I feel it is important to tell Nigeria’s story, Biafra’s story, our story, my story.
I begin this story with my own coming of age in an earlier and, in some respects,
a more innocent time. I do this both to bring readers unfamiliar with this landscape
into it at a human level and to be open about some of the sources of my own perspective.