Chinua Achebe Quotes 💬

Chinua Achebe’s numerous books and essays furnish a treasure trove of quotes that offer valuable insights into his thoughts on a wide range of subjects.

Chinua Achebe

Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic

Achebe’s quotes generally concern his feelings about art, politics, Igbo culture, racist literature, literary criticism, and a host of other issues that preoccupied him throughout his lifetime. He was a very exposed, learned, and wise individual with very insightful views about these subjects. Find here some of his more important quotes.

On Igbo Worldviews

When the Igbo encounter human conflict, their first impulse is not to determine who is right but quickly to restore harmony.

Education of the British Protected Child and other essays

Here Achebe explains an underlying philosophy behind the traditional Igbo judicial system- one that also arises out of their sense of community as opposed to Western individualism. Achebe himself demonstrates this in the domestic abuse case judged by the Egwugwu in ‘Things Fall Apart.’ The Egwugwu’s judgment reflects a desire to sustain peace and harmony between conflicting parties and did not entertain the thirst for blood or justice on the part of the belligerents. 

Marriage is tough; it is bigger than any man or woman. So, the Igbo do not ask you to meet it head-on with a placard, nor do they ask you to turn around and run away. They ask you to find a way to cope. Cowardice? You don’t know the Igbo.

Education of the British Protected Child

Here Achebe explains the Igbo penchant for difficult conflict resolution within the framework of mutual coexistence. This encouragement to “cope” in marriage can be contrasted with Western ideals where divorce is encouraged. Yet again, Achebe seems to be contrasting Igbo philosophy with that of the West, but without holding either of them as superior.

The Evil of Colonialism and Subjugation

In my view, it is a gross crime for anyone to impose himself on another, to seize his land and his history, and then compound this by making out that the victim is some kind of ward or minor requiring protection. It is too disingenuous.

Education of the British Protected Child

Chinua Achebe saw colonialism as a great evil. He saw it for what it was, a selfish resource-grabbing exercise rather than one arising out of any altruistic or noble intentions. Achebe’s ire was often drawn against those Western writers who perpetuated the idea that the Colonizers were motivated by some noble objective.

My father had a lot of praise for the missionaries and their message, and so have I. But I have also learned a little more scepticism about them than my father had any need for. Does it matter, I ask mysel, …

The Education of the British protected Child

Here Achebe explains the partial origin of his skepticism toward European missionaries. Yes, right now, they come bearing good tidings from God, but based on their history, it is perhaps fair to assume there is some hidden, sinister objective. In ‘Things Fall Apart,’ the missionaries served to divide Umuofia, weakening them and destroying their capacity to form a common front against the British colonizers.

Oppression renames its victims and brands them as a farmer brands his cattle with a common signature. It always aims to subvert the individual spirit and the humanity of the victim, and the victim will more or less struggle to remove oppression and be free.

Education of the British Protected Child

Here, writing within the context of the psychological distance created between the African and the African American, with one branded as a slave and the other savage, Achebe untangles one insidious quality of oppression- that of its capacity to re-define the identities of the oppressed in whichever way it chooses. This exercise can be so thoroughly successful that the oppressed would often lose sight of their true state and struggle to free themselves from their bondage. 

Telling the African Story

The telling of the story of black people in our time, and for a considerable period before, has been the self-appointed responsibility of white people, and they have mostly done it to suit a white purpose, naturally. That must change

Travelling White

Here we see one of the major motivations for Achebe’s writing and a key aspect of his campaigns within his capacity as a writer, critic, and educator. He believes that the task of telling the African story should be reclaimed from Westerners. The account of foreigners may suffer from either their lack of proper familiarity with the events, their insufficient understanding of the African man, or, like in the case of writers like Joseph Conrad, their prejudice against Africans. The African writer or storyteller is duty-bound to tell the African story from an insider and much fairer perspective. 

So much psychological, political, and economic interest is vested in the negative image. The reason is simple. If you are going to enslave or colonize somebody, you are not going to write a glowing report about him…

Travelling White

Here Achebe explains exactly why pre-colonial and colonialist literature about Africans presented Africans in a generally bad light. He makes the case that the European colonizers had to represent Africans as not only savages in need of European salvation but as evil people whose suffering or subjugation wouldn’t exactly be uncalled for or unjust. This will then justify colonialism.

Those who would canonize our past must serve also as the devil’s advocate, setting down beside the glories every inconvenient fact.

Politics and Political Literature (Hopes and Impediments)

Here Achebe criticizes Kenyan writer, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, for his one-sided account of how English came to replace his native Gikuyu in Kenya as the predominant language. Achebe found fault with Ngugi’s narrative that English was forcefully imposed on the Kenyans.

This was because there was more to the story that included a more peaceful and enthusiastic adoption process of the language on the part of Kenyans. Achebe’s point here is that Africans should hold themselves to high standards for truth in their campaign against colonialism and racism. Achebe himself followed this advice in his book, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ by portraying an Igbo society with both its good aspects and faults.

On the Role of Art

I agree of course about good art changing things. But it doesn’t go about it with the uncomplicated, linear equivalency of sympathetic magic that would send its practitioner scouring the forest for spotted leaves to cure a patient who has broken out in spots. That is not medicine but charlatanism.

Teaching Things Fall Apart.

Here Achebe is responding to charges that he did not seek to produce certain important outcomes in his books that should have advanced a pro-African narrative within the backdrop of a cultural war with racist Western literature. One prescription was that he ought to have allowed Okonkwo to succeed, to correct through art the evils of history.

But although Achebe conceded that literature ought to serve educative and corrective purposes in society, deifying or making perfect a symbol of colonial resistance like Okonkwo would have amounted to a historical inaccuracy and would have portended an outcome that was far from realistic. Okonkwo, with all his flaws simply could not survive in the face of the overwhelming power of the colonizing forces.

On Colonialist Critique

I should like to see the word “universal” banned altogether from discussions of African literature until such a time as people cease to use it as a synonym for the narrow, self-serving parochialism of Europe until their horizon extends to include all the world

Colonialist criticism

Achebe was often impatient with critics of African literature who expected it to conform to a standard for universality that was essentially Western rather than genuinely global. He saw in their demand an unwillingness to appreciate literary products coming outside the West on its terms. These critics pretend to demand that Africans write in a manner and style that is relatable to people around the world when what they mean is that these novels should be relatable to Westerners specifically. 


What was Chinua Achebe’s issue with colonialist criticism?

Chinua Achebe was against criticism of his work that expected it to conform to eurocentric standards rather than judge the work on its merit.

What did Chinua Achebe think of British colonialism?

For Chinua Achebe, Colonialism was a great evil perpetuated against Africans. He was even more irritated by attempts by the colonial masters to whitewash their exploitative and greedy enterprises as noble and necessary ventures.

What did Chinua Achebe criticize about Ngugi Wa Thiong’o?

Chinua Achebe was opposed to Ngugi’s idealized reconstruction of the history of the Gikuyu’s interactions with the British colonialists. Achebe saw Ngugi’s account of the supposed imposition of English on the Kenyan natives as largely untrue.

Israel Njoku
About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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