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Colonization is not my Friend

Last updated on February 27th, 2016 at 04:09 am

Colonization is not my Friend by Henry Haprov

      Chinua Achebe, born in Nigeria with the birth name of Albert Chinualumoga Achebe, was the son of Isaiah and Janet Achebe, both devout converts to the Protestant Church and teachers in a missionary school. Because his parents desired Chinua to have self-determination, he was brought up on both sides of Igbo life: the native Igbo culture and the foreign colonists’ culture instilled upon them. Later in life, Achebe, a graduate of University College of Ibadan, and author of numerous novels, short stories, and essays, writes about the effects of European colonization and imposition on the African Igbo culture as seen from the Igbo perspective in a book called Things Fall Apart. In this novel, the main character, Okonkwo, and his Igbo people, are subjected to British colonization through means of the protestant church and the British court and government system, which devour Igbo Culture.

      When the British arrive in Nigeria to imperialize the nation, they immediately employ the Protestant Church to impose Western culture on to Igbo culture. Before the missionaries arrive, the Igbo people have a deep belief in sacred animism and ancestral worship. Animism holds that all things, living and non-living, have a soul and spirit, are all worthy of existing, are equal, and that it was the duty of men to protect all of it. Of course, all of this changed when Christianity was adopted by some of the Igbo people. However, at first, the missionaries seemed harmless; preaching about a one true God with a son but no wife, and discounting all the minor Gods, brings only laughter to the Igbo clan. But then things began to change. When Nwoye, Okonkwo’s lazy son, who often questions Igbo culture, and other misfits begin to listen to the preaching and songs of the missionaries, they become captivated because of, “the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow…. The question of the twins crying… of Ikemefuna who was killed … He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul” (147). It is shown here that this new religion calls to people who have doubts about Igbo culture of feel ostracized and cast out. Nwoye disagrees with some of the Igbo beliefs such as the abandonment of twins and the killing of innocent people, such as Ikumefuna, only because the oracle says so. Nwoye feels isolated from other Igbos because he disagrees with some decisions that they have made. He finds an answer in the Protestant Church. The church does not allow meaningless killings, and accepts twins, efulefu (worthless title-less men), osu (outcasts), and people like Nwoye. However, this abandonment of Igbo beliefs in favor of colonizers’ religious beliefs is not good because it causes a split in Igbo culture. Most of the dissenters are from lower class and ranks in the Igbo tribe, which leave the upper-class, “worthy men,” like Okonkwo, without their prestige, respect, recognition, and power. When Okonkwo held a feast for his tribe in Mbanta after being exiled, one of the eldest members of the umunua says, “I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship… And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can leave his fathers and brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors… I fear for you” (167). The new effect of the protestant church is seen in this quote to be destroying the very principals of kinship that hold Igbo culture together. Ancestral worship, a prime component of Igbo culture, is thrown out the window when Igbo clansmen convert to Christianity. As stated by F. Abiola Irele in her work The Crisis of Cultural Memory in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, “We hardly need to ponder the cleavage between father and son to realize that it provides the most potent sign of the disintegration of Umuofia society, provoked by the introduction within it of the Christian religion” (Par. 12). The bonds between father and son, brother to brother, are being stripped away by the colonization of these Igbo clans, which takes away Igbo strength, power, and motivation.

      The implementation of the colonizers’ government and court systems brings about a strong negative impact on Igbo peoples as they attempt to westernize Igbo culture. The narrator of Things Fall Apart describes that the missionaries, “had built a court where the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance… The prison was full of men who had offended against the white man’s law. Some of these prisoners were men of title who should be above such mean occupation” (174-175). This scene indicates the intrusion of western law by European colonization without adherence whatsoever to previous indigenous Igbo customs. Before the British arrived, it was completely accepted for Igbo men to do many things that may not have been thought appropriate by the missionaries. These Igbo were being tried for crimes they did not believe deserved punishment, especially or “worthy men.” This total disregard for previous custom creates an imbalance in the Igbo social system. With their social system being completely suppressed and turned upside down, the colonizer’s have effectively stopped it from functioning properly, leaving many Igbo questioning and confused. Upon reflection on this topic, Lame Maalta Kanelemang, in her work of literary criticism called “Things Fall Apart: An Analysis of Pre and Post-Colonial Igbo Society, says, “This lack of consideration of the Igbo and their well-being from the Europeans further creates the drift that exists between the two cultures and drives them further apart from where they first started. It also raises the question of the intelligence of the white missionaries. How could a civilized and educated group of individuals who do not give themselves time to learn Igbo culture turn around and call Igbo uncivilized and uneducated?” (14). In this excerpt, the author takes the colonists’ argument that the Igbo people must be educated, Christianized, and give up their beliefs and turns it back on to the missionaries. It shows that the missionaries are being hypocritical with their teachings and could easily be in the Igbo’s position. When Okonkwo asks if the white men understand the Igbo custom about land, Okierika replies, “He says out customs are bad; and out own brothers who have taken up his religion also say our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when out own brothers have turned against us? … has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (176). This episode explains the intrusion of European colonization and its court system and how it turns Igbo brothers against each other, so that the non-Christian, last remaining pure Igbo culture side cannot fight back. The court, using tactics of bribery and job awards, used the old trick “divide and conquer”, in order to successfully implement its Christian values and European colonial message to tear Igbo culture apart.

      The impact of European colonization on the Igbo tribe in Nigeria due to the implementation of the protestant church and a government and court system effectively deteriorated the traditionalism, kinship bonds, and sacred beliefs of the Igbo Culture. Okonkwo, at the end of the novel, has been driven to cease his own life by hanging because he cannot handle the changes occurring in Igbo culture due to British colonization. It can be argued that Okonkwo represents the pure, traditional, and untouched Igbo culture. However, with his death, pure, traditional, and untouched Igbo Culture dies with him.

Work Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor, 1994. Print.

Irele, F. Abiola. “The Crisis of Cultural Memory in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” African    Studies Quarterly 4.3 (2000). Rpt. inContemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 278. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.

Kenalemang, Lame M. “Things Fall Apart: An Analysis of Pre and Post-Colonial Igbo Society.” Things Fall Apart: An Analysis (2013): 1-21. 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.