A titled Ibo chieftain himself, Achebe's novels focus on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of Western and traditional African values during and after the colonial era. His style relies heavily on the Ibo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory. He also published a number of short stories, children's books, and essay collections. From 2009 until his death, he served as a professor at Brown University in the United States.
Introduction to Colonialism :
Colonialism as defined by Oxford English Dictionary refers to “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically”. It is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous population. In his preface to Jürgen Osterhammel's Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, Roger Tignor says, "For Osterhammel, the essence of colonialism is the existence of colonies, which are by definition governed differently from other territories such as protectorates or informal spheres of influence." In the book, Osterhammel asks, "How can 'colonialism' be defined independently from 'colony?' He settles on a definition:“Colonialism is a relationship between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority and a minority of foreign invaders. The fundamental decisions affecting the lives of the colonized people are made and implemented by the colonial rulers in pursuit of interests that are often defined in a distant metropolis. Rejecting cultural compromises with the colonized population,the colonizers are convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule”
The European colonial period was the era from the 16th century to the mid-20th century when several European powers (particularly, but not exclusively, Portugal,Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and France) established colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Colonialism was always portrayed in the colonizing country as bringing benefits for the colony. They included: increased standard of living, benefits of Christianity, improved health and education, establishing law and order, etc. The sincerity with which and the extent to which these benefits were provided are often at the very least questionable. Also, many now-independent colonies have not yet recovered from the psychological trauma of colonialism.
Types of Colonialism : Historians often distinguish between two overlapping forms of colonialism:Settler colonialism involves large-scale immigration, often motivated by religious, political, or economic reasons as seen in America.Exploitation colonialism involves fewer colonists and focuses on access to resources for export. This category includes trading posts as well as larger colonies where colonists would constitute much of the political and economic administration, but would rely on indigenous resources for labour and material. This type of colonialism was practiced in Africa by the European colonial powers.
The Europeans held a Eurocentric view of the world; firmly believing European culture to be superior. Eurocentrism therefore perceives Europe as the core of civilisation and of humanity. Eurocentrism had racist tendencies which granted an inferior status to the non-whites. Fundamental to the Age of Imperialism was the “scramble for Africa” period of the 1880s to the 1890s. The Europeans became hungry for Africa's natural resources, resulting in their arrival into Africa as well as their hostile takeover of the land. During this period many European countries set colonies in Africa. One of the reasons that the Europeans had for colonising Africa was their claim to civilise the primitive African minds as a humanitarian act. Soon African states were dominated by European power be it economic, political or social.
Before Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart, all the novels that had been written about Africa and Africans were written by Europeans. Mostly, the European writings described Africans as uncivilised and uneducated persons. The Europeans, seeing that they thought of themselves as more advanced than Africans, were determined to help Africans shift from the old era into the modern era of civilisation and education.
Colonialism in ‘Things Fall Apart’ :
“ART is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.” - Chinua Achebe
The theme of Colonialism is predominantly visible in the novel. As Said quotes Gramsci’s ideas of Civil and Political society in his work ‘Orientalism’ , Colonialism in the novel works at two levels. The Civil society which includes ‘schools, families, and unions’ , the Political society includes ‘ state institutions ( the army, the police, the central bureaucracy) whose role in the polity is direct domination’ Said says that Culture operates under the civil society, where, the influence is through what Gramsci calls as ‘Consent’. In order to examine the two levels of colonialism, it is necessary to look into the pre-colonial Igbo society that Achebe portrays in his novel which was rich and serene.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyreThe falcon cannot hear the falconer;Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”“He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” (Achebe; Chapter 25 pg 187) It may be seen that European colonialism is something which is vile as it has totally destroyed the culture and traditions of a group of people which in turn destroyed their identity. However, in how Okonkwo and his tribesmen practice their tradition, it can be seen that colonialism also has good effects since it has stripped the rather inhumane and illogical practices of the people such as how they exalt cultural violence. This type of violence can be seen in certain practices they had like “ritual sacrifices, punishment for crimes, and other kinds of communal sanctioned violence” which is normal and accepted by the clan but is not entirely humane to the missionaries (Sickles,169). Of all the positive effects of colonialism as appearing in the novel and more than the economic progress it brings, it is the lessening of ignorance of the clan and the opening of the avenue for new knowledge and erasure of such violent cultural practices which is more poignant and more impacting.
“When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt”
In the household, the man was of supreme importance. The fame of a man depends on how many wives he has. In Okonkwo’s case , he was consider as a person of supreme power as he had acquired fame , titles and had married 3 wives and live with a family of 11 children
“Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children” (Achebe ;Chapter 2 pg12)
Achebe also makes the readers aware of the proverbs and the art of conversation in Ibo society. “Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten “ (Achebe ; Chapter 1, pg 6)
When Okoye pays Unoka a visit to ask him to settle his debt, and although Unoka is late with the payment, Okoye does not lash out at Unoka about his overdue debt. Rather, the neighbours share a kola nut, give thanks unto the ancestors and then go on to discuss the debt by speaking in proverbs . This maintains good relations between the two neighbours even though they are discussing such an issue that usually causes conflicts between people.
“As he broke the kola, Unoka prayed to their ancestors for life and health, and for protection against their enemies.” (Achebe ; chapter 1 pg 6) “The Oracle was called Agbala, and people came from far and near to consult it” (Achebe ; Chapter 3 pg 15 )
It is seen that Achebe timelessly uses proverbs in these novels both to preserve Ibo culture and language as well as to show their value not only to him, but to the entire Ibo community. Proverbs like “When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk” (Achebe; Chapter 2, pg 10) , “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing” (Achebe; Chapter 3, pg 19 ) , “An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb” (Achebe; Chapter 2 pg 19) shows the beliefs of the Ibo people and the richness of values that existed in the society.
As the novel progressed, the arrival of colonisers is seen through the image of Locusts in chapter 7, which descends in the village ,causing a devastating effect on the crops.
“Locusts are descending” was joyfully chanted everywhere, and men, women and children left their work or their play and ran into open to see the unfamiliar sight.” ( Achebe; Chapter 7 pg 50).
This foreshadows the arrival of the colonisers who like the locusts are “the harbingers sent to survey the land”. This establishes the theme of colonization. As the chapter moves on, it is seen that the Locusts “settles on every tree and on every blade of grass” breaking away the “Mighty tree branches”. The chapter is highly symbolic as it foresees the destruction brought about by the colonisers like the locusts.
When Mr. Brown was succeeded by Reverend James Smith, he brought in the distinction of Black and White. Black was seen as evil. This progresses to the level where oppression and subjugation is faced by the native through the form of religion and education. The leaders of the village including Okonkwo are imprisoned by the District Commissioner. After their return they gather for a meeting where , the first speaker laments the damage that the white man and his church have done to the clan and bewails the desecration of the gods and ancestral spirits.
The leader of the messenger of the white man orders the meeting to end. No sooner have the words left the messenger’s mouth, Okonkwo kills him with two strokes of his machete. A tumult rises in the crowd, but not the kind for which Okonkwo hopes: the villagers allow the messengers to escape and bring the meeting to a conclusion. Someone even asks why Okonkwo killed the messenger. Understanding that his clan will not go to war, Okonkwo wipes his machete free of blood and departs. At the end of the novel, the whole village has come under the subjugation of the white man and unable to live under the oppression, Okonkwo takes his own life.
“ The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting read” (Achebe ;Chapter 25 pg 187)
On the other hand, colonialism has also had its negative and appalling effects by how the missionaries and the European officers have completely stripped the identity of the tribe and more than forced them to accept the new teachings while eradicating the tribe's previous teachings with the argument that such things were not true. It is not a matter of whether such traditions are true or not—what matters is that a person practices ethical customs that does not strip away the basic human right of anybody. Ironically, while colonialism wanted to put forth new knowledge on “true” faith and eradicating unlawful customs, the nature of forcing the Christian faith towards people who are reluctant to accept them can also be judged as an unlawful act. Achebe’s novel seeks at least in part to provide an answer to such inaccurate stereotypes. Okonkwo is by no means perfect. One can argue that his tragedy is of his own making. One can also argue that his chi is to blame. But as a societal tragedy, Things Fall Apart obviously places no blame on the Ibo people for the colonialism to which they were subjected. At the same time, the traditional customs of the villagers are not glorified—they are often questioned or criticized. Achebe’s re-creation of the complexity of Okonkwo’s and Umuofia’s situations lends a fairness to his writing. At the same time, his critique of colonialism and of colonial literary representations comes across loud and clear. Without culture Igbo society is as good as dead, hence the significance of Okonkwo’s death in the end. Like Okonkwo the Igbo committed suicide by not being suspicious of the white missionary’s intentions in their land or questioning his presence. Works Cited : Primary Source :Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart. Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi, 2012. Print Secondary Source : 1. Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth, & Tiffin, Helen. The post-colonial studies reader. London: Taylor & Francis, 2003. Print.