75 Notable Chinua Achebe Quotes


Today, we celebrate Professor Chinua Achebe’s  87 Posthumous birthday. Here are 75 Notable quotes from the widely considered Africa’s greatest storyteller.


  1. One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.
  2. Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.
  3. When a tradition gathers enough strength to go on for centuries, you don’t just turn it off one day.
  4. I tell my students, it’s not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What’s more difficult is to identify with someone you don’t see, who’s very far away, who’s a different colour, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.
  5. We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: ‘He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.’
  6. Every generation must recognize and embrace the task it is peculiarly designed by history and by providence to perform.
  7. When old people speak it is not because of the sweetness of words in our mouths; it is because we see something which you do not see.
  8. The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.
  9. When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.
  10. The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and Africans in very lurid terms. The reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery.
  11. People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that’s the time to do something about it, not when it’s around your neck.
  12. The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.
  13. We live in a society that is in transition from oral to written. There are oral stories that are still there, not exactly in their full magnificence, but still strong in their differentness from written stories. Each mode has its ways and methods and rules. They can reinforce each other; this is the advantage my generation as – we can bring to the written story something of that energy of the story told by word of mouth.
  14. Become familiar with your home, but know also about your neighbours. The young man who never went anywhere thinks his mother is the greatest cook.
  15. People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that’s the time to do something about it, not when it’s around your neck.
  16. The damage done in one year can sometimes take ten or twenty years to repair.
  17. Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away.
  18. The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity – that it’s this or maybe that – you have just one large statement; it is this.
  19. The problem with leaderless uprisings taking over is that you don’t always know what you get at the other end. If you are not careful you could replace a bad government with one much worse!
  20. A man who makes trouble for others is also making trouble for himself.
  21. I thought that Christianity was very a good and a very valuable thing for us. But after a while, I began to feel that the story that I was told about this religion wasn’t perhaps completely whole, that something was left out.
  22. Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.
  23. The most important thing about myself is that my life has been full of changes. Therefore, when I observe the world, I don’t expect to see it just like I was seeing the fellow who lives in the next room.
  24. Mosquito […] had asked Ear to marry him, whereupon Ear fell to the floor in uncontrollable laughter. “How much longer do you think you will live?” she asked. “You are already a skeleton.” Mosquito went away humiliated, and any time he passed her way he told Ear that he was still alive.
  25. Nigeria has had a complicated colonial history. My work has examined that part of our story extensively.
  26. Presidents do not go off on leave without telling the country.
  27. I think an artist, in my definition of that word, would not be someone who takes sides with the emperor against his powerless subjects. That’s different from prescribing a way in which a writer should write.
  28. What a country needs to do is be fair to all its citizens – whether people are of a different ethnicity or gender.
  29. People create stories create people; or rather stories create people create stories.
  30. The people you see in Nigeria today have always lived as neighbours in the same space for as long as we can remember. So it’s a matter of settling down, lowering the rhetoric, the level of hostility in the rhetoric is too high.
  31. The only thing we have learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.
  32. Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation.
  33. The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.
  34. When the British came to Ibo land, for instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, and defeated the men in pitched battles in different places, and set up their administrations, the men surrendered. And it was the women who led the first revolt.
  35. As long as one people sit on another and are deaf to their cry, so long will understanding and peace elude all of us.
  36. A functioning, robust democracy requires a healthy educated, participatory followership, and an educated, morally grounded leadership.
  37. Democracy is not something you put away for ten years, and then in the 11th year you wake up and start practising again. We have to begin to learn to rule ourselves again.
  38. When I began going to school and learned to read, I encountered stories of other people and other lands.
  39. Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.
  40. People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience.
  41. A man of worth never gets up to unsay what he said yesterday.
  42. They have not always elected the best leaders, particularly after a long period in which they have not used this facility of free election. You tend to lose the habit.
  43. A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness
  44. I liked Yeats! That wild Irishman. I really loved his love of language, his flow. His chaotic ideas seemed to me just the right thing for a poet. Passion! He was always on the right side. He may be wrongheaded, but his heart was always on the right side. He wrote beautiful poetry.
  45. Oh, the most important thing about myself is that my life has been full of changes. Therefore, when I observe the world, I don’t expect to see it just like I was seeing the fellow who lives in the next room.
  46. I was a supporter of the desire, in my section of Nigeria, to leave the federation because it was treated very badly with something that was called genocide in those days.
  47. If you only hear one side of the story, you have no understanding at all.
  48. Writing is like wrestling; you are wrestling with ideas and with the story. There is a lot of energy required. At the same time, it is exciting. So it is both difficult and easy. What you must accept is that your life is not going to be the same while you are writing. I have said in the kind of exaggerated manner of writers and prophets that writing, for me, is like receiving a term of imprisonment-you know that’s what you’re in for, for whatever time it takes.
  49. Stories serve the purpose of consolidating whatever gains people or their leaders have made or imagine they have made in their existing journey through the world.
  50. My parents were early converts to Christianity in my part of Nigeria. They were not just converts; my father was an evangelist, a religious teacher. He and my mother travelled for thirty-five years to different parts of Igboland, spreading the gospel.
  51. I’ve had trouble now and again in Nigeria because I have spoken up about the mistreatment of factions in the country because of difference in religion. These are things we should put behind us.
  52. When brothers fight to death a stranger inherit their father’s estate
  53. For people who are coming out of an oral tradition, it is very exciting to get into reading and writing and it is quite interesting how frequently people want to write their own story. Sometimes it is straight history – this is how we came about, how our town was created, a lot of that kind of effort, as soon as literacy came. The first thing you wanted to do was to put something down about who you are or how you are related to your neighbours. Then the next stage would be the stories, the cultural part of the story: this is the kind of world our ancestors made or aspired to.
  54. My position is that serious and good art has always existed to help, to serve, humanity. Not to indict. I don’t see how art can be called art if its purpose is to frustrate humanity.
  55. I’m a practised writer now. But when I began, I had no idea what this was going to be. I just knew that there was something inside me that wanted me to tell who I was, and that would have come out even if I didn’t want it.
  56. I think back to the old people I knew when I was growing up, and they always seemed larger than life.
  57. Once a novel gets going and I know it is viable, I don’t then worry about plot or themes. These things will come in almost automatically because the characters are now pulling the story.
  58. The relationship with my people, the Nigerian people, is very good. My relationship with the rulers has always been problematic.
  59. Many writers can’t make a living. So to be able to teach how to write is valuable to them. But I don’t really know about its value to the student. I don’t mean it’s useless. But I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to teach me how to write.
  60. I don’t care about age very much. I think back to the old people I knew when I was growing up, and they always seemed larger than life.
  61. Each of my books is different. Deliberately… I wanted to create my society, my people, in their fullness.
  62. An artist, in my understanding of the word, should side with the people against the Emperor that oppresses his or her people.
  63. I don’t care about age very much.
  64. There’s no lack of writers writing novels in America, about America. Therefore, it seems to me it would be wasteful for me to add to that huge number of people writing here when there are so few people writing about somewhere else.
  65. What I can say is that it was clear to many of us that an indigenous African literary renaissance was overdue. A major objective was to challenge stereotypes, myths, and the image of ourselves and our continent, and to recast them through stories- prose, poetry, essays, and books for our children. That was my overall goal.
  66. Americans, it seems to me, tend to protect their children from the harshness of life, in their interest.
  67. A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.
  68. In dealing with a man who thinks you are a fool, it is good sometimes to remind him that you know what he knows but has chosen to appear foolish for the sake of peace.
  69. A goat does not eat into a hen’s stomach no matter how friendly the two may be.
  70. There is that great proverb — that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
  71. People go to Africa and confirm what they already have in their heads and so they fail to see what is there in front of them. This is what people have come to expect. It is not viewed as a serious continent. Its a place of strange, bizarre and illogical things, where people don’t do what common sense demands.
  72. Man is sitting disconsolately on an anthill one morning. God asks him what the matter is and man replies that the soil is too swampy for the cultivation of the yams which God has directed him to grow. God tells him to bring in a blacksmith to dry the soil with his bellows. The contribution of humanity to this creation is so important. God could have made the world perfect if he had wanted. But he made it the way it is. So that there is a constant need for us to discuss and cooperate to make it more habitable, so the soil can yield, you see.
  73. Ogbuefi Ezedudu, who was the oldest man in the village, was telling two other men when they came to visit him that the punishment for breaking the Peace of Ani had become very mild in their clan. “It has not always been so,” he said. “My father told me that he had been told that in the past a man who broke the peace was dragged on the ground through the village until he died. but after a while, this custom was stopped because it spoiled the peace which it was meant to preserve.
  74. If you have leaders who are prepared to incite group against a group it is very easy to manufacture reasons and excuses.
  75. When a madman walks naked, it is his kinsmen who feel shame, not himself.
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Credits: AZ Quotes and BrainyQuotes

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