Remembering Chinua Achebe through ‘Dead Men’s Path’

The story is a reminder to accept and embrace cultural differences

Achebe’s legend lives on through his writing.

Chinua Achebe was an exemplary Black writer best known for his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart. His short story “Dead Men’s Path” shouldn’t be missed.

Born in Nigeria when the country was still a colonial territory of the British Empire, Achebe’s experiences emphasized the need to make space for African voices speaking to African stories.

As a student, Achebe often read literary accounts of Africa written by Europeans, many of which he found appalling. He stood firm in his beliefs that the story Africans had to tell could not be told by anyone else, no matter how gifted or well-intentioned.

In “Dead Men’s Path," Achebe tells the story of Michael Obi, the freshly appointed headmaster of a school in the Ndume community. His job in the story is to “eradicate” beliefs held by the Ndume children by belittling and ridiculing their ancestors’ teaching.

Achebe’s ability to portray the differences between European and African values during post-colonial times is apparent early on in the story.

Michael Obi is simply “amazed” at a footpath that runs through the school grounds, connecting the village’s shrine and burial path. For the villagers, the path has symbolic meaning—the dead use it to depart, ancestors use it to visit, and it also represents children yet to be born.

To Michael Obi, the path is meaningless. He doesn’t understand nor care to learn about its significance to the villagers of Ndume. He goes so far as to close the path’s entryway, ignoring multiple warnings of misfortune from the villagers.

Two days after the closing off the sacred path, Obi wakes up to find the village’s normally beautiful allamanda and hibiscus hedges trampled and torn apart. A young woman in the community has also passed away during childbirth.

Obi’s white supervisor, a Government Education Officer, happens to be inspecting on this day, and consequently leaves a nasty report about his school. He condemns the so-called “tribal-war situation” developing between the school and the village, blaming Obi for the situation.

“Dead Men’s Path,” more than anything else, helps readers understand the importance of cultural diversity.

Being willing to learn about other cultures—which make our world so wonderfully diverse—helps dismantle personal stereotypes and biases within different groups.

Chinua Achebe is one of the many outstanding Black writers that society should celebrate and commemorate. His work is an always necessary reminder that learning about other cultures helps us understand how we are alike, but also helps us recognize that, when another culture is unlike our own, respect and compassion can still bring us together.

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