KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
In lieu of a book review
Sunday 7th January 2007
The sun has set at noon
An elegy for Prof. Michael Chikelu Mbabuike
I got to know Prof. Michael Mbabuike twenty years ago, 1987 to be exact. Over the years, we became fairly acquainted, after I got to know that he was once a Latin teacher at that great school, my alma mater, C.K.C. Onitsha. But my reverence for him was special, and so for one reason. I also found out that he had once considered the priesthood and had indeed studied briefly at a seminary. This fact seemed to confirm, if not explain, his very reserved personality.
Also, as Prof. Mbabuike would tell me, my mother, who was like him also a teacher, was fondly remembered in his hometown, Nimo, where she had taught briefly in the 1950s. We also shared a dear common friend, Dr. Ozo Uketui. Indeed, it was Uketui who called to pass on the sad news that “Prof.” was no more. But above all, Mbabuike, who also went by the name Ogbuefi Ugonabo, was to me, always “Prof.” -- the ever-willing conversationalist, and repository of endless trivia about Nigerian nationalism.
Long before he was slowed down by a stroke, he was ubiquitous, gracing most Igbo and Nigerian community events in the New York Tri-State area to which he was invited. Years later, we were drawn closer when I discovered that we shared the love for poetry and were respectively engaged in different projects with the same publisher. His two published volumes remain part of my proud collection of anthologies by African poets. Regrettably, I did not get to review any of his work, before being drawn in to review and pay tribute to a man I respect so much. In lieu of a review of a book by or on Professor Mbabuike, I offer this piece.
It will fall on those who knew Prof. Mbabuike better than I to write his befitting eulogy. For me, it will suffice to simply pay tribute to this humble, yet motivational man, a true Africanist, and custodian of the Igbo norm and lore. Ogbuefi Ugonabo – ekenekwaa m! Ije oma! Chi dube gi!!!
From our long but intermittent interactions, which were more frequent in the eighties, before the demands of family and profession intruded, I gleaned some facts about Prof. Mbabuike. I hope the reader will forgive my rendering this tribute in the metered form that pleased the Prof most.
Prof. Mbabuike was a man of verses, of seasons, candor, and nobility. He was a man of quiet dignity and commanding personality; an educator, mentor, and compatriot.
Prof. Mbabuike was a man of vision; gifted and undimmed vision. The painter of eclectic portraits, those intercourse of words, coherent narratives and tidy summations. He was original as a person, but a beguiling writer, particularly gifted with meticulous pedantry.
Prof. Mbabuike was a custodian of deep and charming thoughts, assuaging instincts, conforming ideas, candor, and genuine bonhomie. Prof. Mbabuike’s life was full; sanguine, educative, inspiring and refreshing. It was life characterized by a singleness of purpose, creativity and wonderful sense of humor.
By choice, Prof. Mbabuike taught lads Latin and self-immersed in French savoir faire and American gravitas. Yet, like the nobles of yore, his greatest pedigree was homegrown -- the Igbo in him – that insuppressible panache and ebullience, which ran with unrepressed passion like the blue blood that streamed through his noble veins. Though he would hardly utter those words, he was from a royal stock.
Reading Prof. Mbabuike’s poems, one gleaned emotion, shared his nostalgia and pain of being stranded in exile and the excruciating pains of our diffused and continually varnishing Igbo cultural values.
I last saw Prof. Mbabuike on 16 July 2006, when he honored my invitation to attend the fundraising banquet of the CKC Onitsha Alumni Association in Woodbridge, New Jersey. I spoke to him some weeks later, when he called to tell me how impressed he was with the event, and interestingly, to thank me for inviting him, while prodding the Association not to relent its efforts. He also used the opportunity to plug a line on behalf of a friend and professional colleague in the Carolinas, who he wanted me to assist in securing the acceptance of a speaking invitation his university had extended to the head of my organization.
In reflection, I have wondered what tribute one can pay to a person who is so richly deserving. In the case of Prof. Mbabuike, I am reminded of those immortal words written in 1871 by Anthony Whitman, that, “it is native personality, and that alone, that endows a man to stand before presidents or generals, or in any distinguished collection, with aplomb – and not culture, or any knowledge or intellect whatever.” So, “native personality” it is.
In this context, I have wondered how best to honor this man beyond these feeble words I have written. It has occurred to me that his fellow African poets should eulogize this man. Since we cannot gather all of them or get them to send in their eulogies, I have taken the liberty of borrowing a line or a stanza from some of them and coupled them together in a joint tribute to a great and insightful poet, Prof. Michael Mbabuike. In tribute and respect, the end product appears below.
The Sun Has Set At Noon
Wole Soyinka: “Traveler, you must set forth at dawn.”
Dennis Brutus: “At noon we were heeling northward
And our shadow pointed to the sun.”
J. P. Clark: “What time of the night it is
I do not know.”
Oseloka Obaze: “Alas, the Sun has set at noon.”
Chris Okigbo: “The stars have departed.”
Gabriel Okara “And my blood ripples, turns torrent.”
G. Awoonor-Williams: “Death has made war upon our house.”
David Diop: “In spite of your songs of pride.”
Rem N. Umeasiegbu: “The ukoro is reserved exclusively
for announcing the death of prominent people.”
Kwesi Brew: “We have come to the crossroads.”
Donatus Nwoga: “My brother death has crushed my heart.”
“My brother has left me at crossroads.”
Arthur Northje: “My teachers are dead men.
I was too young to grasp their anxieties,
too nominal an exile.”
Okogbule Wonodi: “You have left us
in our season of drought.”
Bernard Dadie: “Dry your tears Africa.”
G. Casley-Hayford: “Yours is a glorious heritage.”
TM Aluko: “If one dies, can we not plant a seed
from which another will grow?”
Chinua Achebe: “Dead men do not require footpaths.
But we follow the practices of our fathers.”
Dennis Osadebay: “With spirit and undaunted heart.”
Oseloka Obaze: “Stand tall
and wrestle gluttony mother earth,
though our home be it.”
Michael Mbabuike: “Home is never too far away:
Its distance is never too much,
I shall, I must, One day be home”
Mr. Oseloka Obaze, an aspiring writer, is a founding member of the Kwenu.com Book Review Forum, which is dedicated to the promotion of books with Igbo and Afrocentric themes. He is also a supporting Member of the African Writers Endowment (AWE). From 1999 to 2005 he served on the editorial board of INYEAKA, the journal of Songhai Charities, Inc., a New Jersey community-based charity founded and run by Nigerians based in New York Tri-state area in the United States, first as its founding Publisher and later as the Editor-At-Large. He is also on the editorial board of The Amaka Gazette, the journal of the Christ the King College, Onitsha Alumni Association in America. His collection of poems, “Regarscent Past: A Collection of Poems” was among the top three finalists in the poetry category in the African Writers Endowment Publishing Grant Program for 2004. His novel, “Happy Eulogy” will be published in the spring of 2007. He reviews books and arts strictly as a hobby. © Copyright 7 January 2007.
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