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During the periods of colonialism in Africa, we find that African identity was determined and shaped by the powers of perception of the colonialist. Africans were primitive, their land was wild, the people were wild, and had never attempted to create civilization on their own and were naturally not in a position of doing so. However, the colonialists held to these views very fast so that they could have justifications for their actions, and the Africans which were their subjects internalized these perceptions because the powers of the colonizers over them was so evident or perceptible and also physically unavoidable.
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Chinua Achebe was among the first author who was able to completely overcome this philosophical and psychological suppression to assert or express a perception of the African History that greatly celebrated the traditions of Africans for their own sake. His intellect, which is what made his book a classic, is that he never lashed out against the colonialists, but instead he decided to form a tragedy that reflects the human condition. This book is mainly about the loss of African tradition. Nevertheless, we find that it is also about every father, who all through history is mourning the death of his lovely son to adulthood.
In ‘Things Fall Apart,’ Achebe recounts how the Africans were impacted by the British Colonialism, specifically the Igbo society and the Nigerians in general. The period of the text shows the extents from the late 1800s and the early contact days to extensive British colonization of the state. This book details the way a strange and foreign tradition or culture will disintegrate and destroy the traditions together with the values of a conquered group. However, in this particular case, we find that it will show the way the British Christian values will destroy the entrenched and traditional values of the people of Igbo society. The writer demonstrates how frequent an imperial power will forcefully impose its norms and values on the suppressed people, conceiving the conquered as the savage or evil ‘other’ whose cultural norms and values should be done away with.
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Nonetheless, we may believe that such a perception or justification was illustrated by the belief of the Bush Administration that the cultural norms and values of the Arab traditions in the Middle East should be repealed in favor of the superior Western norms and values. In the novel, the British colonizers believed that they were the ultimate gods and their culture was the strongest and the best, thus they attempted to forcefully impose it on the Africans. They tried as much as they could to see that the traditions of the Africans were destroyed completely and then replaced by theirs. This is not at all fair as there is no culture or tradition that is superior to thee other. Each and every community cherishes its own culture, and no one should try to change another’s. The colonizers thought that they were helping the Africans by changing their way of life but that is not the case as they negatively impacted the African continent by destroying the culture that its people had lived by and also that served as the guiding principles for a very long period of time. However, the writer does not paint either the Ibo all white or the British all Black. But instead, he tries to show that the norms, customs and values destroyed by the colonialists were not some evil or savage practices as they were depicted by them, but valid and valuable parts of the Igbo community making sense of their own world before things actually come to fall apart (Clarke 174).
In the first part of the story, the writer takes the reader through the everyday lives of the people of the Igbo community. The major purpose of Achebe doing this is to give the reader a clear picture of the changes that are to be expected. The writer here intends to describe the changes that the African traditions underwent. It is not until the second part of the story that the author introduces the reader to the European colonialists. Another main reason for Achebe having to wait until the second part before introducing the European colonialists was to wait and plunge the reader into the daily life of the people of the Igbo community, so that he or she could feel as though they were part of the society, then the writer shifts the story’s momentum.
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The second part of the story shows the effects that the societal and cultural changes had on the people of the Ibo community. Achebe tries to center the attention on the struggle between the people of Umuofia, which is the village from which Okonkwo comes and the European missionaries who were largely Christians. The European missionaries were successful in conquering or taking over the Umuofia village as well as transforming the once Igbo community into a Christian one (Emenyonu 86). This consequently makes Okonkwo to become so flustered and distressed with the result of his village and he ends up terminating his own dear life. Since the British brought trade into the Umuofia village, not all the indigenous people were united in opposing them as they has offered a new way of the villagers getting profits. With this opportunity that had presented itself to them, they were more than willing to accept the confines of the rules of the colonialists as they were not willing to let go the new trading community to fight for their freedom. This shows how the British were very intelligent in ensuring that their mission of changing the culture of the Africans is accomplished, or just trying to woo the Africans to their side without having to use much force.
The text portrays the falling apart of the stateless community of the Igbo population. This community has developed over several years and reflects its surrounding. It is the introduction of the colonialists which brings the disruption or interference. After several years of unaffected or undisturbed tribal existence, Okonkwo returns home after a period of just seven years of exile to find the whole village nearly unrecognizable. In the same way, his clan members appear to be unwilling to remember him. Instead, what was so much into the eyes and minds of the indigenous people was the new government and religion; they talked and never thought about anything else, and certainly about the return of Okonkwo (149). The whites have been very active in Nigeria for only a period of seven years and already the African traditions have been lost. This gives a clear picture of the absolute speed of the colonial project. It appears unavoidable or foreseeable that much indigenous heritage and tradition will be abolished, resulting in feelings of intense cultural dislocation, and identity loss.
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Yet despite these difficulties, the reader is not in a position of escaping the feeling that Chunua Achebe is not as prejudiced and bitter as he initially appears. He apparently does not oppose the learning about and discovery of the new cultures and religions. He represents a very strong argument in favor of the discussions a way towards understanding. The missionary Akunna and Mr. Brown, one of the community elders in the text usually spend much time in discussions, and even though none of them becomes successful in changing the other, they learnt more regarding their different traditions and beliefs.
Achebe gives us the values of the Igbo community, specifically the highest and the best example of their tradition, Okonkwo. The writer describes Okonkwo as a tall and well built and breathes strongly while sleeping that his wives together with children are able to hear him in their outhouses (3). His popularity is attributed to his solid achievements. Achievements like these reflect the ethical, cultural and social values of his people and not the ones of the colonialists. Whereas his type may appear like savage barbarians to the colonialists, we find that he has managed to achieve great things in accordance with the norms and measures of his people. He is recognized as a great wrestler, and also a wealthy farmer who has two barns filled with yams, and he also owns the two titles that he won from the courage and strength in the inter-tribal war (7-8). Okonkwo is the literary representation of Okonkwo of most of the major values and traditions of his people. He shows industry, material success, courage and dignity. This is not the usual image of the people of the Igbo community as perceived by the whites. The whites’ valuation of the norms and values of the Igbo people was Imperialistic and negative. One of the main points of Achebe is that the colonialists usually tend to consider the conquered people as lesser beings.
The effects of colonialism were very evident in the Ibo community. However, as the missionaries moved into the land of the natives, their traditions greatly changed. Examples of such changes were very evident in all aspects of the lives of the people of Igbo community; changes were also evident in their family life, religion, the dead and their children. Most of the people of the Igbo community were very distressed by the colonization of their community, but in the end they were absolutely unable to do anything that could see the reversing of the changes that had already happened in their community (Okpala 561). As the colonialists started to conquer the Igbo community, there were very few indigenous people who were against it; that is they believed that these people were just like the passing winds, and they could come and go, but they got it all wrong.
After a very short period after conquering, the whites started introducing their own religion. The introduced new religion was exactly opposite to what the natives were used to. Christianity was somewhat interesting to most of the natives and many of the natives decided to turn away from their relatives and everything so that they could become members of this new kind of lifestyle without having to look back. Before this, we find that the indigenous people had been very superstitious; however, as the newly adopted way of life flooded over the community, their original lifestyle started lessening as well as their beliefs in the several gods that they had initially believed in.
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Furthermore, as most of the native population ran to join the newly established religion, there were a lot of family bonds broken. Before the introduction of colonialism on the community, family was considered a very significant thing among the people. It was not usual that a man could just give out his son or daughter for any reason, but due to the coming of the missionaries and their teaching of new faith and lifestyle, most families found themselves being forced to give up their children, and even some men had to give up their loved wives. The newly adopted religion greatly impacted the way some traditions were carried out in the Igbo community. A good example would be when one of the new converts eliminated or killed the snake that was highly valued (Nwabueze 93).
I believe the major effect that conquest had on the people of the Igbo community was the manner in which their departed as well as the children were handled. In the traditional community, those who took away their own lives were dumped into the Evil Forest, similar to the young individuals who passed away while still at a very young age. As Christianity started growing, the newly converted people decided to pick the children who were being thrown into the Evil Forest and gave them shelter. In addition, most of those who had given birth to twins or even children who had died while still at very young age looked at the issue in a much different way or in a different perspective (Colonialism and Independence in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart 45). In general, the colonization of the Igbo community by the white people had some great effects in several different ways. Each of their lives’ aspects together with culture was swallowed by the belief systems of the English. Whether it was their children, their departed, family life or even their religion, the beliefs of the whites and systematic lifestyle took over the cultural beliefs and systems.
One may tend to think that the people of the Umuofia community’s social life were never impacted but it was as a result of the cultural conflict which came as a result of the coming of the missionaries. The native people of the Umuofia community had a standard hierarchy, whereby the father was the top; he was then followed by the wives and lastly children. The children respected and feared their parents, as well as the warriors. The effects of changes that were brought about by the colonialists are very evident currently among the African communities as children do not respect their parents. The culture of the Africans has been corrupted that is not recognized nowadays. The people of the present African continent do some things that even if their ancestors woke up today, they would wish to go back to the dead or where they came from as the things that are happening now can seriously surprise and scare them. This book by Chinua Achebe is a very important one and should be read by anyone who could be wishing to know why and how the indigenous African culture disappeared. I believe there are several problems that are currently facing the people of Africa that would otherwise have been escaped or avoided had their culture been preserved.
In the year 1958, this was actually a far-reaching message. After years of assumptions that the gods of the Whiteman was the real one, and that those that belonged to the Africans were primitive, Chinua Achebe reveals to us a character who emphatically denies that general perception, and who treasures and appreciates the African lifestyle since it is his own lifestyle, needing no more justification. How may a fire affect its environment? It might earnestly consume its energy or fuel in isolation, dying and not leaving anything more to burn. However, Achebe recommends an alternative. It may instead leap from one tree to another and rage across the region in a great celebration of the spirit of Africa, remembering all of her fore fathers together with all of her grandchildren. Therefore, even though the introduction of new culture into the African continent, particularly the Igbo community, its effects are also severe as the Africans have completely lost their dignity.
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