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Achebe and Friends at Umuahia

Achebe and Friends at Umuahia: The Making of a Literary Elite

Terri Ochiagha
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Achebe and Friends at Umuahia
    Book Description:

    This is the first in-depth scholarly study of the literary awakening of the young intellectuals who became known as Nigeria's "first-generation" writers in the post-colonial period. Terri Ochiagha's research focuses on Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Chike Momah, Christopher Okigbo and Chukwuemeka Ike, and also discusses the experiences of Gabriel Okara, Ken Saro-Wiwa and I.C. Aniebo, in the context of their education in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s at Government College, Umuahia. The author provides fresh perspectives on Postcolonial and World literary processes, colonial education in British Africa, literary representations of colonialism and Chinua Achebe's seminal position in African literature. She demonstrates how each of the writers used this very particular education to shape their own visions of the world in which they operated and examines the implications that this had for African literature as a whole. Supplementary material will be available on-line of some of the original sources. Terri Ochiagha holds one of the prestigious British Academy Newton International Fellowships (2014-16) hosted by the School of English, University of Sussex. She was previously a Senior Associate Member of St Antony's College, University of Oxford.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-465-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction: The Umuahian Connection
    (pp. 1-16)

    London, 17 July 1958. Chinua Achebe’s first novel,Things Fall Apart, bursts into the international literary scene. For many, this is the inaugural moment of modern African fiction. Indeed, a rich oral tradition had existed for eons, and African writers had published their work in the continent and beyond before that date. In Achebe’s own Nigeria, Amos Tutuola and Cyprian Ekwensi had recently received some degree of international attention. Their contemporaries, T.M. Aluko and Gabriel Okara had also published short stories and poems in the early to mid-fifties. Pita Nwana, D.O. Fagunwa, and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, among others, had penned...

  6. 1 Laying the Foundation: The Fisher Days, 1929–1939
    (pp. 19-44)

    In Chinua Achebe’sThings Fall Apart, the rulers of Mbanta give the missionaries ‘a real battlefield in which to show their victory’: the ‘evil forest’ in which the ‘potent fetishes of great medicine-men’¹ are dumped upon their death, and the final resting place of the victims of abominable diseases. The villagers expect the deities of the land to retaliate against the Christians’ disruptive presence. But the missionaries and their congregation flourish, bringing about a profound change in the historical and cultural order. This is a fictional story, but it bears a remarkable similitude to a key event in the history...

  7. 2 ‘The Eton of The East’: William Simpson and the Umuahian Renaissance
    (pp. 45-68)

    The Second World War catalyzed the Colonial Office’s decision to uphold socioeconomic development in Britain’s colonies and to eventually guide them towards ‘responsible self-government’.¹ Education was a key factor in these new plans.² The adaptationist outlook of previous decades, notorious for its ‘ excessive paternalism and lethargic conservatism’,³ gave way to ‘ an increasing emphasis on getting more students ”through to the top” of the educational ladder’.⁴ The Asquith Commission’s report, which gave the green light to the eventual establishment of university colleges in 1943, further strengthened these imperatives. In 1941, the Education Department decided to reopen the Umuahia Government...

  8. 3 Studying the Humanities at Government College, Umuahia
    (pp. 69-90)

    Government College, Umuahia recruited some of the very best pupils in Nigeria and the British Cameroons. Nevertheless, their European teachers were concerned about their fluency in English. In Eastern Nigerian primary schools, teaching took place mainly in the vernacular. Village boys barely spoke any English outside the school. Consequently, the authorities of the Umuahia Government College spent the first year after the relocation laying the ground for advanced instruction leading to the Cambridge School Certificate Examination. The learning objectives of the official English syllabus for 1943–44 were ‘to use the English language simply and soundly: get rid as far...

  9. 4 Young Political Renegades: Nationalist Undercurrents at Government College, Umuahia, 1944–1945
    (pp. 91-108)

    The above captures a minor but significant epiphany in Chinua Achebe’s colonial childhood – his first encounter with Nnamdi Azikiwe’s name in print. Achebe was six or seven years old at the time. Up until then, he had thought that ‘Azikiwe’ was composed of two names – the foreign Christian name Isaac and the Igbo surname Iwe. He had also been accustomed to Church Missionary Society wall hangings and not to secular almanacs like the one in which he saw Azikiwe’s name for the first time. But instead of proclaiming the subtext that he had so precociously deciphered in this first encounter...

  10. 5 ‘Something New in Ourselves’: First Literary Aspirations
    (pp. 109-122)

    The English classics were at the core of the Umuahian mindscape; a source of instruction, entertainment and intellectual elevation. Fueled by the Textbook Act and the literary demands and habits of the school’s English masters, Government College students became voracious readers. The authors of the books they devoured were remote and unattainable Englishmen, and it simply did not occur to the students to write for anything but academic reasons. This was not to last. Before long, the boys ‘experienced a first rate creative writer in action, sampled and cherished his creative output’.¹

    In early 1948 or thereabouts,² the school invited...

  11. 6 The Dangerous Potency of the Crossroads: Colonial Mimicry in Ike, Momah and Okigbo’s Reimagining of the Primus Inter Pares Years
    (pp. 123-144)

    Colonial acculturation in elite boarding schools has been the subject of the memoirs and school stories of a number of first-generation Nigerian writers, including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, T.M. Aluko, and the children’s literature writer Anezi Okoro.¹ However literary critics and cultural historians have remained remarkably quiet about the intricacies of these representations of colonial education, which reveal interesting insights into literary awakening, the making of colonial and postcolonial subjectivities in educational settings, the psychocultural tensions resulting from the simultaneous pull of indigenous and colonial/modern expectations, and the counter-discursive use of Western literary genres, formal elements, and conventions. This chapter...

  12. 7 An Uncertain Legacy: I.N.C. Aniebo and Ken Saro-Wiwa in the Umuahia of the 1950s
    (pp. 145-154)

    I began this book by signalling Chinua Achebe’s recognition of Principal Simpson’s role in setting off the fireworks of modern Nigerian literature. From Chapter 2 onwards, we saw Achebe, Ike, Momah, Amadi and Okigbo navigate the deceptively tranquil waters of Government College with Simpson at the helm. We are on the brink of fully decoding the Umuahian connection, but it is time for a well-deserved break. Let us visit the Umuahia of the 1950s and listen for echoes of the past.

    The year is 1954. Most of the 1940s writers are studying for – or about to earn – degrees from the...

  13. 8 The Will to Shine as One: Affiliation and Friendship beyond the College Walls
    (pp. 155-180)

    It is 23 May 2013. The tropical sunlight streams through the tinted windows of St Philip’s Church, Ogidi, illuminating the congregation’s colourful outfits and the tapestry’s vibrant hues. The church service is over and the rapt assembly listens to a succession of encomia. But for the centrally placed mahogany coffin, shining glossily with two white garlands atop, one could be forgiven for thinking that the occasion is a joyful thanksgiving rather than a funeral. In many ways, it is. After a fulfilled and fruitful life, Chinua Achebe has finally returned to the home of his ancestors. At exactly five minutes...

  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 181-190)
  15. Appendix 1: The Shining Ones: A Bibliography
    (pp. 191-194)
  16. Appendix 2: List of Supplementary Material and Sources available online
    (pp. 195-196)
  17. Index
    (pp. 197-202)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)