Tribute from Chimamanda Adichie

My friend Ike Anya called me in Lagos to tell me that Professor Afigbo had died. “I am standing on a London street and crying,” Ike said, “and I don’t know why I am crying.” I was not sure what to say to Ike.

I felt, first, a deep dismay, and then a strange suspension of feeling.  It was as if it was not just one man who had passed away, but an entire era that was slipping away. Growing up in Nsukka, my family lived at 305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue. My friend Ike Anya lived next door, at 307, and next to the Anya family, at 309, lived the Afigbo family. I remember the late Mrs. Afigbo, who I thought was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, with her large dreamy eyes and caramel skin. I remember the Afigbo children. I remember Professor Afigbo driving past on the street but I do not remember ever having a conversation with him – perhaps the occasional ‘uncle, good evening.’ Still, I came, as an adult, to know him through his work – the fiercely intelligent essays he wrote on Igbo and Nigerian history. 

To read his work was to feel that here was a man who believed what he was writing, who was emotionally invested, who was true. To read his work was to reclaim a kind of confidence about my past that my education had not given me. I have been meaning, in the past few years, to take out time and visit him and ask him questions and learn from him. It is too late now. He is gone. Professor Afigbo was part of a generation of academics, the real deals, who gave but did not often receive, who hoped but did not often see those hopes fulfilled. And yet he triumphed, by striding into the field of history and insisted on carving out a big slice for the Igbo, for Nigeria, for Africa. I feel grateful to him because his work emboldened my shaky grasp of my past. His book, ROPES OF SAND, is sitting on my shelf now. What an enduringly beautiful legacy to leave behind. May he rest in peace. May we be blessed with more like him.


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