I would say that the Igbo nation is ancient. It is rich in value, in history, in ethnology and in culture. The African people did not have much in terms of written tradition. They have a long term established oral tradition.
What the festival is all about.
So Chinua Achebe therefore becomes the first in the array of all authors with the book Things Fall Apart published in 1958 by Heinemann Publishers, to tell the story spoken without any interpreter, of whom we are – what we are; our essence, our ambition, our life style and that book comes within the context you might say, of modernity and antiquity.
Chinua Achebe sees in the British poet, John Yeats, the epitome of the drama that happened in Africa, in Nigeria on Igbo territory as a result of colonial incursion. Chinua Achebe therefore, reflected the verse â€˜the center cannot hold, things fall apart, mere anarchy be loosened upon the world.â€™
This is the background that drives us, Africans, intellectuals, Igbo people, 50 years after Things Fall Apart to reflect on the importance, on the various dimensions of this book in other words, â€˜Things Fall Apartâ€™ as literature, as culture, as history, as ethnography as jurisprudence and one notices that going through the entire work, he feels that essence.
That book has been so acknowledged by the entire world of literatureâ€¦ It is the first in the African Series, it has become a book upon which all of us know, even students of literature and English must pass the exams in secondary schools and this is the background of the first Igbo festival, which we now celebrate, not only in Enugu but in all the capital cities of the seven Igbo states, including Delta and Rivers state.
We desire by this first festival on Igbo civilization to share our values and history to share our hospitality with the large Nigerian audience, but above all, to engage the world with the Okonkwoâ€™s theatre.
The concept, those behind it
A group of Igbo scholars, historians, intellectuals have always nursed the desire to have a forum to share the various dimensions of Igbo culture. So Prof. Uzodinma Nwala formerly of the UNN, saw in Chinua Achebeâ€™s work a platform; Monsignor Okere Theophilus, president of the Whelan Research Institute, in Owerri, he joined in this vision.
So, we came together therefore, Catholic Institute for Development, Justice and Peace (CIDJAP), Conference of Democratic Scholars (CODES) Whelan Research Academy, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Izu Umunna, Igbo studies, USA; Ndigbo, Lagos, Aka lkenga, all of us came together to join in putting forward a celebration that would go through the entire Igbo state, media, classroom, making sure that 50 years of Things Fall Apart is a platform for launching a festival on Igbo civilization.
The CIDJAP here in Enugu is the organizer for the Enugu state event and government is expected to get involved so that the celebration can take place properly. In other words, the event is stakeholders-oriented, we want to make sure that our sons and daughters, whether they are politicians, church leaders, academics, traders, men and women, including the youth, all can come together to celebrate our culture.
We are focusing on artworks, visual arts, drama, poetry, songs, music, including masquerade, all these interlocking within a framework where the correct questions of governance, politics, social studies, history and of gender are asked and answered.
Benefits to South East, Nigeria and Africa
What we have is a national celebration and the rationality is a human quality. What we celebrate is writing, it is history; it is the past, present and future. It concerns men and women, it concerns home and abroad, it impacts on politicians and theoreticians. I can confirm that Achebeâ€™s Things Fall Apart is the best read book in the literature of many countries.
Chinua Achebeâ€™s book has been translated in over 10 million copies in over 50 languages. Therefore, the first festival of Igbo civilization with Chinua Achebeâ€™s Things Fall Apartâ€™s golden jubilee is one avenue to serve the Nigeria people, to bring together the Igbo nation and the world at large. We feel that Achebe himself, who came to Nigeria within the month of January, 2009 and who has been part of the event at the Ahajioku lecture and who spoke with proverbs and ridicules and a prize awardee of all levels, by his word of literature and arts, will be fulfilled.
We feel that the Igbo, through Achebe – their son, have spoken volumes and that is why we are staging this event this February in Enugu from 12 – 15th. We have involved everybody and the programme is elaborate, everybody interested in rationality, in what culture can do, in the beauty of music will learn a lot from this.
I do think that Igbo sons and daughters and actually all Africans in the Diaspora, who link Enugu with Nollywood will find in this event something of entertainment, of value, of ethnics, even of religion but above all, of meaning in life and that is what we want to achieve-to ensure that a meaning in life is being authenticated, auto-graphed, codified in writing; that oral literature becomes written literature and that our people can grow from there.
It is a big event and we do hope that many people will look into that as universal event, even though local in content.
Igbo culture within the context of European Christian influence
Let us start with looking at the word culture. Culture is the entire way of life of a people; culture is the language, religion, artifacts, habits, clothing, signs and symbols, dance and music.
When we say culture is the entire life of a people, we understand culture as a fundamental structure; every other thing comes under it. Culture is important, it is relevant; it transmits to us about the past, present and continuity in future.
Nonetheless, culture is not static, it is dynamic in the sense that with meeting points, interconnection with other people, pull and push of modernity and antiquity with invention and technology, culture progresses, gives us a vision, say all you want, acculturate them and build them up for transmission for another generation.
In essence therefore, the advent of Christian religion, European way of life, Islam, vandalism, technology, Asian philosophy into the arena of African culture brings with it the challenge of assimilation and of course, of rejection. What is valuable, we take and what is not valuable we leave until we find a middle course.
Christian religion came with a message of love, peace, faith and that message is carried by the vehicle of culture, which means a language, symbol, sign and so on. The Christian religion in its messaging interfaces rejection, reception.
For example the masquerade in the ambit of Christian religion is where God, who is a mystery, becomes human. When we talk about Jesus Christ the son of God, an African will understand him easier because an Igbo African knows that the masquerade is the mystery of the beyond, the underworld, the over world in the theatre of human performance and activity.
There is need therefore, in celebrating Igbo culture, religion, philosophy and presenting them as facts belonging to a people, independent or a newly received, perceived entrant, whether of colonization or western modernism or technology or Asian philosophy. Simply summarized, this first festival is an outreach to showcase that civilization actually exists in these areas; to showcase that within a global or sometimes oppressive ambience, we must stand as a people to say we are; not only as Igbo people, but even as Africans so that we can gain full respect, integrity and draw the line between the identity of different culture.
Only we, who are Igbo and Africans, can do that. Chinua Achebe did it. We share in that tradition to do it at our own time.
Culture as missing link in development
I would say that any development is the progression of culture not a missing link. The rationality of a people, action made up of family, made up of clans and villages is the foundation upon which development starts, what people live in place, they are challenged by nature, weather survival instincts and they give a response. That response is the response of human beings of that territory, who walk to survive.
You therefore, understand that development is the progression, the rational foundation upon which culture continues to enlarge and strengthens itself – inventions of technology, computer founded upon human brain, vehicle founded on the principle of movement.
What culture does is to stay at the level of nature and to nurture that level of existence. Invention and technology come as a response of human beings in a particular place to progress cultural impediments or cultural rationality.
In spite of its conservative nature, the attempt to look at culture as different from development is an antinomy, it is a contradiction. A people without a culture are a finished group. With no culture, you have no people, and where there is a culture are noble people.
When, how and where we lost our culture
Colonization, westernization, commercialization invaded the African territory without permission. The colonialists from Britain tried to make out of us British gentlemen and ladies. In doing so, they tried to replace our fundamental values like language and dressing mode and our way of life.
Their efforts took its toll on our psyche and in the way we look at ourselves. What they and we failed to understand is that there was bound to be conflict, and that we must strike a balance whereby we can respect their culture and they respect ours.
What we therefore want to achieve is an environment where we are masters of our lifestyle and at the same time, understand the lifestyle of others. It is foolery to desire to dream the dream of other people without knowing where we come from. People who do not look back to posterity cannot look forward to prosperity. It is the wisdom of my people-the Igbo people.