The effects of colonialism are evident in the Igbo society. In his book, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe presents a transposition in the traditional African culture to that of the white man, and he takes time to compare the African culture to the Western one. He explains how the white man first arrived in Nigeria, and duped the people into bondage on the grounds of spreading Christianity. However, this was not the case as in the aftermath, the Nigerian people lost their beliefs, practices, and social structures, which were replaced by European ones. These changes were discernable in all aspects of the Igbo society, right from the Igbo religion, family life, children, and life in general. Okonkwo the main character goes to an extreme of hanging himself upon noticing that, as Africans, they had failed to stay true to their beliefs by not resisting the cause of the white man. This paper will provide insights into Achebe’s dialect of European colonization in the African setting.
Achebe writes this book mainly to highlight the culture of the African people, whose traditions he showcases (Bloom & Hobby, 2010). This is seen early in the book when he first presents the coming to Africa of the white man, whom he represents as colonists disguised as missionaries. The only way that colonization would happen was if the Europeans concealed themselves as good people in the eyes of strangers, Africans. When Okonkwo was exiled from Umuofia, his homeland, after committing banish- able crimes as a clan elder, he shifted with his family to Mbanta, his maternal homeland. When he arrived there, he was given a warm reception by his uncle and one thing he noticed was the settlement of white people in the region.
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Prior to this, the first signs of colonization had since come about when the first European were spotted riding a bicycle in Abante (Achebe, 2009). The elders consulted the oracle and were told that they should slay the white man. This is because he would be followed by others like him, who would change the inherent system of the African people there. The white man would destroy the clans and their family orientations. The clansmen took every word to the letter and killed the white man. Not long after having killed this particular white man, numerous other white men followed suit, and appeared in the land of the Abante people. All this were expressed by Obierika to Okonkwo while in Mbunta. He further tells Okonkwo that Abante is no more and that the white man, who the people in Mbunta think are good people are only disguising creatures.
After the white man had settled in Igbo land, one of the things that he embarked on doing was to change the belief of the common villager, who would have to accept his ideologies (Bloom & Hobby, 2010). To this end, he managed to influence the said villagers into converting to the set of beliefs that he, the white man, already subscribed to. With this influence, and so did things begin to fall apart. The structure of the family begun to crumble. Achebe describes how Okonkwo was so pissed about how people were blindly accepting the white man ideologies. He is further disappointed by his son Nkole for converting to Christianism.
The prior effects of colonization are seen after the entry of the six missionaries in Mbanta (Achebe, 2009). The missionaries were given a place to establish themselves. They are given a parcel land in Efulefu, an evil part of the forest filled with evil spirits. Thus, they assumed the evil spirits would take them away. However, nothing happened to them which made people believe that their gods possess extraordinary magic and power. Consequently, a lot of people changed their religion, believing the white man’s religion to be stronger than theirs (Bloom & Hobby, 2010). As such, with religion as the foothold, the white man was able to access and destabilize the Igbo structure of authority. This calculated move made it easy for foreign governments to establish themselves in Africa.
It was after the incident at Efulefu, when the White men were not punished by the evil spirits for his misdemeanor that disorder started to crop into the community there. With this, the foreign religion began to grow in this part of Africa, and multiple Africans were converted to Christianity. This made it difficult for law and order to be maintained amongst the people of Mbanta. What started as something small was by now full-blown, and had even started to bring about social conflict (Bloom & Hobby, 2010). The elders began instituting punishment through ostracizing people from the community. This was a way of trying to regain power and lead people in a traditional fashion. However, this did not change anything, but it instead created an atmosphere of lawlessness within the village.
Having served his seven years of exile, Okonkwo held a feast as a sign of gratitude to the people of Mbanta, and moved back to his village Umuofia. One day while recapping with Obiereka, back his village, the two both got to take notice of how the white man had fooled them into accepting his religion and how he consequently, had imposed his rules and form of government over them, the Igbo people (Achebe, 2009).
Achebe also presents another point from which to view the how the colonizers effected on the Igbo society, and this pertains to the matter of trade, which became more vibrant in Umuofia with the coming of the white man (Bloom & Hobby, 2010). This somewhat excited the community in Umuofia as the Whiteman had brought another way using which they could benefit. Within the confines of this trade, the white man established his own rules, which were to be followed. The rules reinforced the baseline of colonialism, which wanted to exert control over all spheres of African life.
Colonization affected African systems of governance, seeing as the policies of the white man often disregarded the authority of the African clan elders (Bloom & Hobby, 2010). This is so much such that a disbelieving Okonkwo gets disturbed. He cannot explain how successfully the white man had finally gotten to domineer over the African people. The effects the white man’s authority further bothered Okonkwo, and this was especially because his fellow elders seemed to not see whatever it is that was going on in their community (Achebe, 2009). Prior to these incidences, the elders had convened to discuss the doings of the missionaries. The incumbent missionary, Mr. Brown, was ill and had been forced to return to his homeland. He was a good man who respected the community and its culture. However, when Reverend Smith took over, there was a turn of events, as he was intolerant of the community’s traditions. He went to the extent of radicalizing Enoch, a Christian convert, to unmask the Egwugwu. In retribution, the community burnt down Enoch’s compound, together with the Christian Church.
The District Commissioner would then trick the nine elders, who also represented the nine tribes in Umuofia, Okonkwo amongst them, into convening at his headquarters (Achebe, 2009). After they had assembled, they were arrested for crimes they had apparently done, in the white man’s view. The community was forced to raise two hundred cowries to free the elders. Following their release, the District Commissioner then entrusted the care of the elders to the court messengers. Court messengers were puppets of white authority; well known for beating up people to help raise ransom from which they would receive their share.
Finally, when the elders were released, they assembled to discuss whatever it is that had happened. Just after they had gathered, court messengers were sent to disrupt their meeting. This further angered Okonkwo, and he beheaded one of them. When neither of the elders followed suit, Okonkwo knew that the general African populace had lost the battle against the white colonizers. These effects of colonization forced him not to bear the yoke anymore, and rather, he hanged himself.
Achebe, C. (2009). Things Fall Apart: Authoritative Text, Contexts and Criticism . W.W. Norton & Company
Bloom, H. & Hobby, B. (2010). Exploration & Colonization. InfoBase Publishing