Thursday, November 1, 2007

Things Fall Apart Reflection

Chinua Achbe’s Things Fall Apart is an African tale based on the lives of the Ibo peoples and the changes which come about in their villages, but more specifically for a bold man named Okonkwo. There are two definite sides visible in the text: the colonizing British and the already colonized Nigerians. The Africans clearly do not want to be colonized by the British, but the British apparently see things much differently, ultimately leading to major conflict.

In the village of Umuofia the people are well established and have their own accepted ways of life. They worship and fear many gods and spirits such as Agbala, Ani, Ekwensu, and Ogwugwu in addition to each inhabitant’s personal chi. The head god of all Ibo gods is Chukwu, who is believed to be their version of Jesus Christ. The priests and priestesses advise the people and take care of birth and death issues and everything else imaginable to simply appease the gods. There appear to be extremely high birth rates and infant mortality rates which are generally hard on the women, specifically Okonkwo’s third wife, Ekwefi. On average the men have approximately 15 to 20 children in a lifetime. The gods decide whether the children will survive or perish within the first six years of life. Ogwugwu is the evil spirit which the villagers consider to be the reason for so many of the children’s illnesses and deaths; it possesses them to be reborn to the same mother over and over again only to die young over and over again.

When Okonkwo unintentionally kills a young boy he, his three wives, and children are exiled for seven years to his motherland, Mbanta. Luckily he has a good friend back in Umuofia named Obierika who takes care of his yams after his compound there is burned to the ground. When Okonkwo and his family return from the exile, he comes to find things have changed considerably. The white man is no longer a leper named Amadi. The British have come to settle.

The imperial British first come to surrounding villages such as Abame. They shoot the villagers in the midst of participating in the local market completely catching them off guard. Okonkwo is severely angered by what he heard of this, but deems all those specific Nigerians to be fools for not having their guns and machetes on hand. Soon enough, the British make their way to Umuofia, first establishing a church. Ironically the people allow the church one plot of land—the Evil Forest. Their way of life is somewhat shifted when they come to realize this land is not so evil at all. A handful of the villagers decide to leave the clan when they see that the British peoples, especially the head of the church, Mr. Kiaga, are not dead within a week of its building. The things this handful once believed of spirits, gods, and evils were beginning to seem false and unnecessary. Mr. Kiaga and a man named Mr. Brown offer them religious enlightenment and instruction. They teach them the word of God, not of false the gods which were presently embodied in pieces of wood and stone. These villagers now know the Lord and his son who they refer to as Jesu Kristi.

Okonkwo and numerous stronger believers refuse to give in and accept the teachings of this Mr. Kiaga, Mr. Brown, or those of Mr. Brown’s successor, Reverend James Smith. There is soon continuous conflict because these Nigerians simply do not desire to have their values and beliefs tarnished by the white man’s religion. They neither know what Christianity is nor do they honestly care. I think this is still typical of older generations today. No elder wants his firm views to be threatened or changed just because another person claims it is right. I say, to each his own opinion, belief, and ideology.

It is such a travesty that the British were as ruthless as they were in coming and taking over the Ibo people who they feel are “primitive” and must be educated which the book later explains. These people already have set ways which clearly work for their culture. Why would the British want to come in and annihilate their heritage? Why would they try to eradicate their customs and their ways of life? Religious enlightenment is one thing. The instructors followed the ways of God unconditionally by treating their students humanely. But as far as the District Commissioner and the undesired court systems they organized in Nigeria, it’s just an abomination. I have no doubt in my mind that although the characters do not seem like they truly existed, the devastation of this situation is completely factual.

For centuries the dilemma has been Black versus White, so unfortunately this comes as no surprise. Things Fall Apart for the most part accurately presents the roots of this ongoing confrontation presented as the Ibos of Nigeria versus the power-hungry imperialist British.

1 comment:

Wendy Sumner-Winter said...

Things Fall Apart is my very favorite book. I absolutely love it.