Chukwuemeka Ike: An African literary giant with inspiring imprints on the sands of time.
Chukwuemeka Ike is a giant whose accomplishments are as numerous as his stature is tall. Born on 28th April 1931 into the royal family of Ndikelionwu in eastern Nigeria, Ike was one of the early adopters of Western education among his people. He attended renowned Nigerian elite schools, Government College Umuahia and the University of Ibadan.
Schooling alongside other great writers including Chinua Achebe and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Ike towered as a literary icon. His literary works, which span every aspect of human life, remain relevant through time.
A man of deep insight, Ike always warned against disunity exemplified by the core themes of sociocultural border bridging in Sunset at Dawn, Toads for Supper and The Bottled Leopard; growth and identity reformation in The Potter’s Wheel; and individual recognition and social inclusivity in Our Children are Coming. His two major characters in Toads for Supper (Amadi and Aduke) are symbolic of the detrimental effect of ethnic fanaticism.
Lovers Amadi and Aduke were respectively members of Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups in Nigeria. Conflicts between ethnic groups have remained common especially since the 1967 Nigerian-Biafran civil war. Thus, Amadi and Aduke faced discouragement by family members and society, as they tried to get married to each other. The negative influence led to their psychological breakdown, showing the harm of ethnicism legacy is further exemplified in his war novel, Sunset at Dawn. Despite experiencing the brutality of the Nigerian-Biafran civil war and its devastating effect on the then Biafrans, he neutrally captured the negative effects of ethnic fanaticism. Sunset at Dawn is part of a few fiction books on Nigerian-Biafran war that paints a neutral picture of the civil war. It indicted both warring factions as casualties.
The lives of Fatima and Halima – both Northern characters – expose the need for humans to let go of an attachment to their place of birth. Fatima and Halima embody cultural border bridging by embracing the Biafrans and finding home in a new space. In his personal life, Ike also bridged borders by marrying Adebimpe Olurinsola Ike, a Yoruba woman.
He believed that we should all build and maintain bridges that connect the human person to the other (no matter what this ‘other’ implies). In his life and works, Ike exemplified the possibility of creating a community where everyone lives according to their own rhythm, and yet respects the individual rhythms of others. You can find this in his ability to maintain peace and orderliness throughout his monarchy as the king of Ndikelionwu Kingdom from 2008-2020. No community tension or war was recorded during his reign.
Ike’s death on January 9, 2020 opens another page in the annals of his life. His works live on beyond his time on earth.
Ike’s voice continues to ring his legacy in the world especially in this era of increasing ‘other-rebellion’ that exists in the forms of xenophobia, insurgency, terrorism and global-green crisis. These messages, as well as the peaceful, philanthropic life he led, will keep on portraying him as a strong believer in common humanity.
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