A Panegyric for Chinua Achebe on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday Bard College, November 3-4, 2000

Molefi Kete Asante

Published 1/26/2015

Mazi, may your legacy live forever!

We have come this far with the compass you set in your earliest writings.

And yet we are still on the edge of the forest, where some are so frightened by the possibilities of their own liberation, that they have fallen back on une revelation complexèe.

But Mazi, you have kept the direction straight to the center. No amount of gainsaying by the gainsayers can ever wrest from us the memory of your struggle and the presence of your spirit.

You remember the ancestors

You speak well of their memories and you do your service.

You have not defiled the temples of the African spirit

You have walked in the dens of wild animals and tamed them with your imagination.

What is a literary production, lines on a page, a book, a novel, a treatise, if it is not fixed to the great issues of the age. You have shown us that literature ought to be about transformation, massive transformation of the way we approach our existence.

We can say of you, as the old people said of Nefer Sheshem Ra, 4500 years ago:

You came from your village

You descended from your town

You have done justice

You have satisfied the elders,

You spoke truly and you did right,

You spoke fairly and you repeated fairly,

You seized the right moment,

So as to stand well with the people.

You judged between us so as to content us

You rescued the weak from the stronger

As much as was in your power.

You gave intellectual food to the mentally needy

And vibrant clothes to the morally naked.

But Mazi, most of all, you respected your father and pleased your mother!

Africa called you, and you bore its sounds, its radiant voice on your own shoulders, across the oceans of doubt, distrust, disease, and devilment. You taught us a lesson, and we have learned it well. We owe undue deference to no one. We neither seek it, nor give it, we live and let live.

The story is told that the gossipers talked at the well that Shaka would never be king but even as they gossiped he was entering the third year of his reign.

Whatever they say and however they say it, you have already been crowned king in our hearts. Mazi, let your life go on for many more years, and may your words speak to us from generation to generation.


NOTE: Chinua Achebe passed away on March 21, 2013 in Boston at the age of 82.

African symbol