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Achebe 10

We forget that our beloved African literary greats were once boys. Long before they conquered the colonialists and fought over big ideas, they quarreled over girls-related matters.

In 1952, girls from St. Teresa’s College performed a musical titled “Hiawatha” at University College (now University of Ibadan). Apparently some of the guys in the audience were not on their best behavior during the performance. Achebe’s response published in the literary magazine called The Bug, which he also edited, began a War of Letters that spanned about two years and that involved Soyinka and some guy named Sesay.

The polite and intellectual insults are hilarious. Achebe is no-nonsense as usual. Soyinka’s insults are witty, mean, but cute. By the way, who is this Sesay guy?

It’s hard to believe that these guys are just in their late teens/early twenties. They sound so smart and proper.



ACHEBE: The behavior of students during the performance of Hiawatha last Sunday was, quite frankly, disgraceful. Unintelligent and rude laughter, clapping and similar “pit” reactions are out of place in a University. They exasperate the few who are prepared to appreciate great works of art in a sober manner.

Those who cannot show proper response to art need not be blamed. But they should not disturb those who can. If a Shakespeare play is “caviare to the general” to them they should keep away from it. Fortunately, Film companies provide “slapstick” for their boisterous taste.

NB. I understand that King Kong will be shown this week.

Published in the November 1952 issue of Bug

SOYINKA: On Sunday 29th November, after the Musical Evening, Mr. Banbury asked if some of the Artistes who sang native songs would oblige him by repeating them at the Smoking Concert after Hall III’s formal dinner.

The Artistes consented. I should say, in view of the what happened, that they condescended. For on that night was enacted the most sordid and disgraceful scene in the annals of this College. For no reason at all—they couldn’t have been drunk with the tiny tots of beer—certain Isale-Eko type of Hooligans began to heckle the ladies before, during and after their songs.

And I must say right here that many gentlemen of Hall III disapprove of this behavior. One of them even took down names of the chief hecklers for future reference. I have this list, and any one who wants to know the real hoodlums of Hall III can inspect this list at my place.

To continue, these ladies, for no fault in the world, were deliberately molested and embarrassed. I don’t know what those fellows were doing, but I assure them that that isn’t exactly how well-bred people behave. I repeat, that is NOT how well-bred people behave. I end after the manner of Shakespeare:—

Oh Decency

Thou art locked in an iron chest

And Men have lost its key

Bear with me,

My heart lies in degradation

There with Third Hall

And I must pause till it comes

back to me.

Published in the December 1953 issue of Bug

SESAY (MONZI)—Wole’s letter in your last issue of the “Bug” calls for serious comments. I am not holding brief for those members of Hall III who out of sheer involuntary lightheartedness cried “opposed” in the usual manner, as the ladies entered into the hall that evening. To many of us their coming was a pleasant surprise; for although we had no previous knowledge of it their contribution to the entertainment program that night was first-class and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I can say here again that we are very grateful.

However in showing his resentment for what he called the “sordid behavior of hoodlums” and what not, I am afraid Wole himself has gone the “Isale-Eko” way which he condemned. But knowing Wole’s proclivities for histrionics I stop to wonder whether the “wole-in-the-mood” is a character to be taken seriously.

Personally I do not think that a stock joke in the Campus could have hurt so much as to warrant the use of terms like ill-bred, hooligan, etc. against fellow students. It is only fair for me to suggest that Wole’s scurrilous pen was inspired by a brand new “TAKONISM” that is yet to be classified and given a name. Otherwise the offense did not merit the torrent of invectives. That is even more so when it is realized that Wole himself was not present on the spot.

Of course no one would normally quarrel or bother about the right of mother-hen to defend her brood; but I want to stress that the use of BILLINGSGATE language in condemning an evil is itself an abomination. One expects that in an institution like this, decency both in words and actions should be the ideal. A cow is a good animal on the field but we turn her out of a garden.


Published in the January 1954 issue of Bug

SOYINKA: I wish to assure Mr. Sesay that as far as what he terms a “new brand of Takonism” is concerned, I am quite incorrigible. I was a runner-up in the selection of the “Gallant of the Year” and still intend to have a go at that title.

As for language, the whole question is whether the strength of my nib was too much for the offense. A matter of opinion, but one in which Sesay is absolutely disqualified to participate. What I mean is that it is only natural for a STINKINGRATE writer to detect BILLINGSGATE writing where it doesn’t exist.

Sesay would rather I used a euphemism for “hooligans.” Well, even hardened rogues hate to be called rogues, so, it is only natural that Sesay should object to being termed a hooligan. But frankly, until he said so, I didn’t know he was one of them.

Then there is Sesay’s lack of honesty. Contrary to his statement, I never once used the term “ILL-BRED” in what I wrote. But of course, writers like Monzi always manufacture statements to strengthen their non-existent arguments.

“A cow,” says Monzi, “is a useful animal…”Thanks for the compliment. But I will complete it this way—“…but a tse-tse fly is a nuisance both to the cow and to other human beings.”

“People—I beg you pardon—flies which buzz in glass houses…Complete that one.

Published in the January 1954 issue of Eagle.

Pulled from Bernth Lindfors’ Early Nigerian Literature.

Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

3 Responses to “Ibadan Days—Achebe, Soyinka, and Sesay Fighting Over Girls?” Subscribe

  1. Cap October 7, 2013 at 2:17 am #

    A curious man asks : was it that selfsame incident of ’52 that Sesay in ’54?


  1. Ten Things You Might Not Know About Chinua Achebe by Dave Agboola | ZODML | Blog - November 16, 2013

    […] published in the literary magazine called The Bug, which he also edited, launched a light-hearted war of letters that spanned about two years, which Soyinka and another fellow named Sesay participated in. And […]

  2. Top Ten Websites for African Literature and Writing - ZODML | Blog - October 2, 2014

    […] US-based PhD student Ainehi Edoro‘s site is home to vibrant original fiction and poetry from across the African continent, as well as book reviews, commentaries, and essays on African writing and literary culture  we especially love the historical tidbits, such as this one on Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe’s war of words. […]

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