It is somewhat ironical that Professor Clifford Nelson-Fyle is best remembered and identified by the shortest literary work he ever produced. I refer to the Sierra Leone National Anthem.
It is revered and embraced by young and old alike because the history, ideals, hopes and fears as well as the determination and commitment of the entire nation is captured in those three edifying stanzas. Outside the corridors of academia and other literary circles few people realize what a prolific and accomplished author, educator, linguist and cultural thinker he was.
As a lexicographer and researcher, he co-authored the Krio-English dictionary acclaimed as the first standard dictionary of any Creole language world -wide. This socio-cultural trilogy “The Conquest of Freedom” sub-titled These Old Colomal Hills and “The Odyssey of a People” portrays his deep reverence for the timeless permanence of our nation and of those hills which have watched over its exuberant emergence from colonial rule into a regime of freedom, later degenerating into self-inflicted near disintegration.
And yet in the optimistic sprit of the National Anthem, Professor Fyle predicts in the Odyssey that the ruined people will pick up the broken pieces and rebuild, and a new country shall arise, a letter country, more able to control its own destiny, even as the hills watched over the old, which now has all but dis-appeared.
|Professor Clifford Nelson-Fyle
The most significant feature of the Anthem, however, is the unemotional but compelling portrayal of how ethnic strands are woven in to a single tapestry to constitute our national identity and image…Not just who or what we are but how we are perceived as a nation.
Clifford’s literary stature was too expansive to be contained within the confines of Sierra Leone’s educational environment. But when UNESCO engaged him for nearly two decades, we also benefited. As head of Literacy and Basic Education for Africa, he prepared and executed national education programs for African countries and published a forward-looking UNESCO volume on Education for African in the 21st century.
In this context, he has always advocated mother tongue education as a feature of effective literacy. Hopefully, Sierra Leone will soon be among the leaders in this endeavour.
Clifford was always very shy outwardly in appearance to strangers, but to those of us who knew him well, he was a regulated furnace…always ready to converse and never daunted by any task.
Of course, losing his first wife by death when they were both very young did little to help his shyness. That was when academia became his sweetheart in addition to his second marriage.
After that rehabilitation, he was always a bundle of fun to be with. As contemporary pupils in our secondary school days, we would indulge in what now appears to be the most abstruse arguments by which our minds were kept alert. Later, with Jock Shorunkeh-Sawyer and Cyril Foray (both also deceased) we were the only four Sierra Leoneans on Durham campus. The friendship we developed continued until their deaths but Clifford the incurable workaholic with the permanent magnetic smile spent his latter days in Sierra Leone in daily working contact with me. It was an experience of mush intellectual stimulation, and the best of clean, erudite, elegant humor with the occasional masculine punctuation.
Working in the constant company of his wife, I also came to admire his close association with family life. This was Clifford the man measureless and immeasurably affable.
It is not surprising that one so talented and patriotic should have captured in three poetic stanzas the proud history of a people, our due devotion to the ideals of freedom, unity & justice, and the resultant climate of peace which is a prerequisite for development.
It’s our National Anthem
If this National Anthem achieves nothing more than tuning our voices to sing from the same text in unison, Clifford Nelson Fyle would have made a memorable contribution to the unity and progress of our Nation. I pray that beyond our voices, our hearts and minds will be even more united.
May the librated soul of our distinguished compatriot find bliss in eternity.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.