“The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”
This opening paragraph of VS Naipaul’s masterpiece “A Bend in the River” (1979) says everything about life and our world.
Though the novel is considered to be and imperial undertaking in the footsteps of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, it is a vivid work of imagination portraying the image of African country riddled by corruption. So many writers described the novel as revelation of the racist side of VS Naipaul. But his work nevertheless is filled with sentences and paragraphs describing a hopeless people whose every action compounded their hopeless situation.
Writers like Chinua Achebe used their works to show Africa had culture and it was not the primitive bush explorers told the world about. From the work of Naipaul, telling us about his own version of Africa, to the work of Achebe telling us that Africa that has great past, one can see attempts to tell the same stories from different perspectives. In fact, Achebe was of the profound opinion that “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”
These days it is usual to read and hear people complaining about how others are telling stories they don’t like; either in the form of a work of fiction or journalism. Screams like ‘they are not telling the truth about us’ are very common these days. But a reasonable person cannot expect others to voluntarily be his cheerers. Everyone has an issue that he is concerned about. All human beings will want to have advantages over other. In times of conflict or crisis; both violators and victims will want to tell a story that can attract sympathy to them. No one can willingly abandon his own cause to devote time and precious resources to other.
But why do stories matter? The way a story is told can change perspectives about an issue. In fact, the way a story is told can make a murderer to appear like a saint. That is how the world works. Early novels of Europeans and works of explorers on Africa always attract anger for their narrative of making the sacrifice of delving into the ‘heart of darkness’ on civilizing mission. Their descriptions were only of scary bush and ‘savage cultures.’ Moving forward to this age, there are always complaints about how the West controls which stories matter. Some are of the argument that by instituting prizes for literary works the views of some people of what makes a good story prevails upon us all.
There is agreement all the times that every person and people ought to develop their own voice – tell their own story. This can fill the world with voices and stories.
One of the ways of responding to ‘negative’ stories is by telling ‘positive’ stories. When some sections of international media were accused of giving priority to African stories around disaster and poverty, some responded with media that tell the stories of innovations and many other positive development taking place in Africa that the world is not noticing. American Nobel laurate Toni Morrison illustrated this by saying; “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Perhaps, with this in mind, one can speculate that after Chinua Achebe read all the early literary works that have no plot or characters he can recognize he decided to write his own stories, which he delightfully read.
Generally, colonialism always gets mixed interpretations. Some hold the view that it is good for the colonized, while others see it as mission solely to exploit. Early African writers responded to colonialism in some many ways. An example is Mongo Beti’s“Mission to Kala” which in so many ways explore the impact of colonialism on his native Cameroon. Colonialism is one of the major obsessions of African writers. When Africans want to tell their stories, they never wait or seek anyone’s permission to do so. They just write.
The world has always been full of conflicts in so many ways. Sometime the conflicts are conflicts of stories. If anyone is not happy with the story, the best thing to do is to write his own.