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African Knowledges of Customary Justice: Chinua Achebe’s Writings

Thursday 7 October 2021, 16:00-17:30


Evelyn Nwachukwu Urama and Brendon Nicholls

Hosted on Zoom

Presentation 1, by Dr Evelyn Urama (Department of English and Literary Studies, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike, Ebonyi State, Nigeria & LUCAS/LAHRI Visiting Research Fellow, University of Leeds)

Africa formerly had organized cultural and leadership systems that promoted communal life where everyone was his brother’s keeper, as opposed to insecurity and violent killings Africa is known for these days. No crime went unpunished and no leader had arbitrary power to lord it over others, rather through dialogue and the rule of majority, power was determined. Colonialism brought tremendous misery; arbitral powers of colonial administrators were bestowed on warrant chiefs they appointed and it destroyed the egalitarian African society. Post-colonial leaders have emulated the ways of the colonial administrators and an increase in oppression, corruption, violence and terrorism has put Africa in a political quagmire. Through textual analysis and postcolonial theory, this study exposes Chinua Achebe’s ideas of customary justice practiced in pre-colonial Africa used for successful struggles against colonialism to prove that knowledge acquired from customary justice would be effective tools in combating insecurity today in Africa.

Presentation 2, by Dr Brendon Nicholls (School of English and Centre for African Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds)

Chinua Achebe is more usually associated in readers’ minds with things falling apart under colonial incursions than with things being made right via restorative, rehabilitative or adaptive justice. This paper reads Achebe’s novels Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, and his Collected Poems, for the workings of African customary and cosmological justice in Achebe’s literary texts. Following on from Achebe’s own espousal of dualism (“where one thing stands, another one stands beside it”), I argue that Achebe is occasionally less interested in ideas of individual rights and responsibility than he is in ideas of communal and ecological harmony. Moreover, Achebe’s own protagonists may either be sacrificed for over-compliant acts of faith, or may be encouraged to cheat the ancestors opportunistically, depending on what communal survival and ecological harmony dictate. Even cosmology, it seems, is adaptable to the necessity of ecological and social circumstance. The lesson of Achebe’s ideas of law and of faith, I conclude, are lessons for an ecological and socially harmonious jurisprudence for our own times.