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World Civilization II

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s first novel, tells the story of an Ibo village of the late 1800’s. It also tells about one of its great men, Okonkwo, who has achieved much in his life. He is a champion wrestler, a husband to three wives, a title-holder among his people, and a member of the select egwugwu. In this novel Achebe has been able to illuminate two emotionally incompatible facets of modern African life; the humiliations visited on Africans by colonialism, and the lasting effects of this imposed alien culture or what was left of colonial rule.

The ideological system of colonization has been a violent destructive force on the world, as we know it. Slavery, murder, violence, rape, and torture of non-European peoples was the cruel reality of colonization. European nations, with the motives of sheer greed, brought Africans into slavery. This hostile take over was rationalized through the racist ideology that native peoples were inferior savages.

In Things Fall Apart, we witnessed the destruction of a traditional native culture. More specifically we witnessed the weakening of Igbo spirituality, as well as the death of the tribe’s livelihood. The apparent cause can be found in a seemingly good intended mission acting as a gateway for the intrusion of a foreign government. Also it was its quest to conquer a self-sustaining, prosperous culture. Although the Igbo downfall was caused primarily by the invasion of Christian missionaries, their own religion played a significant role in allowing the initial infiltration of an alien religion. This was the final destruction of a once prosperous culture.

Igbo spirituality weakened in two waves. First, Christianity provided the answers that the inhabitants of Umuofia and Mbanta were seeking. Example:

Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat in his obi and mourned his friend’s calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. He remembered his wife’s twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? (TFA 125) .

This passage seems to indicate that there is a representative attitude of doubt within Umuofia. Customs such as throwing away twins and human sacrifice were troubling and no justification could be found within their own religious doctrine. The timeliness of Christianity allowed it to spread because it was the only available option to turn to. The villagers needed answers to explain the uncertainties they were feeling and Christianity was the only credible option. This attitude is again characterized by Nwoye while he is in Mbanta:

It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it . . . . The hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul – the question of the twins lying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul. (TFA 147)

The mission also gained respect and power by doing activities that were believed to bring certain death, as prescribed by Igbo spirituality.

The next day the crazy men actually began to clear part of the forest and to build their house. The inhabitants of Mbanta expected them all to be dead within four days. The First day passed and the second and the third and the fourth, and none of them died. Everyone was puzzled. And then it became known that the white man’s fetish had unbelievable power. (TFA 149)

Clearly this strengthened the credibility of the new white men and their religion.

It is critical to note here that only theories can be drawn regarding possible outcomes of Umuofia. On page 179-180 of Things Fall Apart, Mr. Brown explains that his mission is from England, the “head of the church.” History has shown us that governments tend to act as a business would. In other words, governments will always act in their self-interest. It is safe to assume that England wanted the mission where it was, and no matter what resistance Umuofia targeted toward the mission, they would have been met with greater resistance each time. The logical conclusion is that Umuofia is a victim in the truest sense of the word, and that any attempt to preserve their own way of life would not have been very successful.

The effects of colonialism did not end when African countries claimed independence from the colonizer. Cultures clashed and were changed forever. Colonialism, which brings new values, new beliefs, foreign languages, alien traditions cannot be shed like the skin of a snake and then tossed away and forgotten. Something is always left behind. To describe the lasting effects of an imposed alien culture I would use the term colonial residue. For example, this “residue” is evident when you take a look at some of the tribes these days and you see that the official language is still French or some other westernish language even though colonization in those parts does not exist. As it is not possible to completely eradicate Colonial residue, it is also not possible that the cultural traditions of Africa can fully be regained. Entire languages have been wiped out. Villages and ethnic groups have been destroyed. This destruction also caused ideas and some traditions to be lost. It is indisputable that the spirits of tradition have survived. Perhaps, there are ways of accessing the past in which the West is unaware.

In Conclusion, I feel that I have gained a more accurate concept of the history of the church’s involvement in the social and political transformation of Africa. More importantly though, I have seen the effects of greed and how it can infiltrate into nearly every aspect of our lives. It seems as though the key concept in this case is compromise. Even if the early missions were established in accordance to the doctrine they live by, it is obvious that there was a compromise of Christian ideals to further the success of the missions. In my opinion this is where the true spirituality of African Christianity dissipated, that is the love for God was replaced by the love for the mission. This is crucial for an accurate understanding of African history because it allows us to take a glimpse into the general motive of the colonizing forces: to expand at all cost, even that of spirituality and identity.

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