In Defence of Unoka -THINGS FALL APART

By Chris C. Adibe.
“Things Fall Apart”, the masterpiece in African literature authored by Chinualumogu Achebe has been acclaimed worldwide. It has continued to win laurels without stopping, making the novel to look as if it breathes, grows and reproduces. It is centred on Igbo culture with Okonkwo as the central character and hero. Okonkwo had inexhaustible energy. He was powerfully built and had great prowess in farming, hunting, wrestling and warfare. He, for all intents and purposes, became the defender of his people and their culture. He was therefore the acclaimed refuge of his people.
One of his most flamboyant achievements was his throwing of Amalinze the cat, and the indefatigable wrestling champion of the area but who was from another village. After throwing Amalinze, Okonwko’s popularity and fame blossomed.
On the other hand, his father Unoka was seen as a very weak and lazy man who was good for nothing except living the life of a loafer, playing his flute about instead of working hard in the farm or engaging in other rewarding enterprises to lift himself up in wealth. This made him to owe many debts and had no reasonable barn. On account of this, his son Okonkwo (a.k.a Ebubedike) hated and despised him. Even his wife was frequently angry with him for his purported weaknesses.
A critical analysis of the novel and its practical presentation in films clearly shows that Unoka should have been the character to earn the hero’s award in “Things Fall Apart”, and not Okonkwo. This is because, he was an embodiment of philosophy, and a great show businessman in the entertainment industry. These interplayed to make him a great family man who managed his family peacefully without bitterness and rancor. He was also accurately clairvoyant. He predicted Okonkwo’s successes in the wrestling duel between him and Amalinze. Unoka was also highly generous and kept open doors, sharing what he had with others.
Looking at Unoka’s wife, it can be clearly seen that Okonkwo took after his mother a stoutly built, energetic and hardworking woman. The fact that Unoka saw the traits in her and chose her for marriage was the genesis of Okonkwo’s success.
Anytime any member of his family got angry with him, he exercised equanimity and diplomatically pacified the aggrieved family member. Consider the morning that his wife  (in the film) was enraged with him and scolded him severely for playing flute early in the morning when other people were preparing to go to farm. He took the situation calmly and instead of firing back, he stood up and started to exhibit his new dancing steps for her to admire. On noticing that that could not pacify the infuriated woman, he took back his seat to play to her his new tunes from the flute. Rather than get appeased, the woman’s anger flared more outrageously and she snatched the flute away from him and threw the wooden pipe away. Undauntedly, Unoka picked up his flute, went to his wife and tried to embrace her, a move which the displeased woman rejected and shoved him off her. Then Unoka started to recount to her their years of courtship when he used the beautiful tunes from the “oja” to win her over and married her. Then Orjiugo smiled shyly and became sober. It was then that she responded to Unoka’s overtures and they embraced. Then she smiled away with the matter totally settled amicably. My reader will remember a similar situation between the great philosopher, Socrates, and his wife. It was said that when his wife nearly bagged him to death and saw that the man was not moved, she carried up a big bowl of water and emptied it on him. Then Socrates said, “yes I know that after the thunder comes the rain.” And the woman started crying.
Then came Unoka’s encounter with his creditor who came to retrieve his money from him. In his usual manner, Unoka took the situation calmly. He effectively addressed the inner person in his creditor and explained to him that he kept record of his indebtedness and how he had planned to pay all the debts starting with the huge ones first. He let the man know that what he owed him was insignificant compared to his other debts. He opined that it could not be that small amount that would prevent him from taking his proposed title and so should allow him to pay when he was ready. Although the man left not satisfied, Unoka was able to pacify him at least for the moment.
In yet another difficult encounter, his own son Okonkwo was hotly angry with him. The young man confronted and abused him thoroughly for his purported laziness which Okonkwo described as embarrassing and disgraceful to him. But rather than feel insulted, Unoka took time to explain to Okonkwo how the offensive flute had helped him in life. It was his earnings from fluting that helped him to woo his mother, establish the family and build the family house among other achievements. It was at this point that he predicted that through the power of the flute, Okonkwo would be able to throw Amalinze the cat, and become the greatest wrestler throughout the land. That he hoped to achieve this before he would  join his ancestors. Having said all this, he started to sing praises to Ebubedike accompanied with fluting. This made Okonkwo to become bloated and elated. He left his father a happy man.
Unoka’s prediction did come to pass. During the wrestling contest, Okonkwo requested his father to play the flute to charge, energise and boost his morale. So when the contest was at its highest and most critical peak and could have tilted against Okonkwo, Unoka came on hand with his inspiring tunes, Okonkwo’s morale was so boosted that he overpowered Amalinze and threw him with his back flat on the ground. With this success, Okonkwo’s fame spread like fire all over the land. So Okonkwo owes this act of bravery to Unoka. Unfortunately, Unoka the philosopher died. It was after his death that Okonkwo ran amuck and eventually ended up killing himself, thereby dying the death of a frustrated man. Probably if Unoka had been alive then, , he would have been able to use his diplomacy to control his son and make him live longer.
In modern times, those in the show biz are heroes in their own rights. Think about Zebrudaya, Pete Edochie, Baba Sala, Dan Maraya, etc. These are great achievers and heroes in their chosen careers and are highly revered in the society. When Giringory, Sam Loko Efe, Christy Essien and so on died, the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Dr. Goodluck Jonathan paid tribute to them in acknowledgement of their achievements. Unoka lived before his time. It is most likely, going by antecedents that if Unoka had lived and died in modern times, Nigeria and indeed the whole world would have mourned him the way Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Jim Reeves, Barry Whyte, Elvis Priestly and so on were mourned and celebrated. An Igbo adage goes thus, “the discarded basket is remembered only when there is some refuse of ash to clear away.” In the past (and to some extent presently) in Igboland, showmen and entertainers were appreciated only when there was occasion for them to add spice to life. Afterwards, they were discarded and loathed. Nobody desired the show carpet for any of his children or relation. Everybody liked entertainment but not the entertainer. They say, it is the house of the “efulefu” or loafer that the masquerade gongs are custodied. He stays back to observe the festival timings with the sounding of the gongs while others are away working hard in their farms.
Did you not hear the rumour that Fela, Charlie Boy, Okoro Junior and many others went into the show biz without the approval of their owners? But today, they are celebrities, achievers, and heroes. With the foregoing, it is hoped that both RATIAWU and PIMAN might be nursing the idea of post humours awards to Unoka as the hero in Things Fall Apart in his own right as a credible member of their constituency.
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