Christopher Okigbo – Looking Back at His Short-lived Life and Taking Stock of His Poetic Legacy

By | February 5, 2018

Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo one of the earliest Nigerian poets, who within his short lifetime, for he died fighting for the independence of Biafra, established himself as a central figure in the development of modern African poetry,has remained one of the most important African poets to write in English. Generally acknowledged as a master poet in spite of a complexity drawn from obscure allusions and symbolism, he has even been named Africa’s finest poet and one of the major modernist writers of the twentieth century. “For while other poets wrote good poems,” Chinua Achebe observed.”Okigbo conjured up for us an amazing, haunting poetic firmament of a wild and violent beauty..”

His birth and early life

Okigbo was born on August 16, 1932, in the town of Ojolo, about ten miles from the city of Onitsha in Anambra State, to a father who was a teacher in Catholic missionary schools during the height of British colonial rule in Nigeria, Okigbo spent his early years moving from station to station along with his father. Despite the fact that his father was a devout Christian, Okigbo felt a special affinity to his maternal grandfather, Ijejiofor of the Oto family, who has always provided the priesthood to the shrine of the deity Idoto personified in the river Idoto that flowed through his village. Later in life, Okigbo came to believe that his grandfather’s soul was reincarnated in him.

His Educatiiobn at Umuahia and Ibadan

Okigbo graduated from Government College Umuahia two years after the noted Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, having earned himself a reputation as a voracious reader and a versatile athlete. The following year, he entered the University of Ibadan to study Medicine, but switching to Classics in his second year.. He also earned himself a reputation as a gifted pianist, accompanying Wole Soyinka in his first public appearance as a singer. It is believed that he wrote original music at that time, though none has survived.

His initial literary work and art

After graduating in 1956, he held a succession of jobs throughout the country. He worked at the Nigerian Tobacco Company, United Africa Company, the Fiditi Grammar School (where he taught Latin), and was Assistant Librarian at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where he helped found the African Authors Association.

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