Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe

Western and European powers came to dominate life in the late-19th and early-20th century. These imperialist powers hoped to gain economic, and political powers through the use of others. They exerted their power and dominance to do so. With this power they could subdue and take over other countries. Although the right to do this can be argued heavily, it does not stray from the fact that sometimes it is alright to do. Displayed in Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, the introduction of the white missionaries brought new life into Africa. The white missionaries made changes and went against the religion of the Africans.

They did it in their own view of righteousness: once abandoned babies were saved and rejected outsiders became accepted. However, their methods sometimes were underhanded and cynical. The extent of the force that they showed became unnecessary and when the white settlers began to infringe on the rights and cultures of the Africans, it’s clear that there is a certain extent of which they could oppress them. Europe had the right to take over Africa if they were making changes that would have benefitted both the Igbo and the Europeans, but should only make changes if it does not infringe on another’s culture or religion.

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Christianity has taken its hold during the 19th century and has established itself as a world religion. However, it was not spread everywhere and it gave reason for imperialists and expansionists to go into other territories to convert “uncultured” people. Due to the strength that it possessed, the white settlers were able to do things knowing that they could be backed up by it. They had no real fear against the Africans because they knew that if they went to war, it would end in their victory. The events leading up to the death of Okonkwo demonstrated the struggles between the two cultures. With the power that they held, they felt that they could make changes and do things that would otherwise be seen as wrong by the clan.

“’The wavering converts drew inspiration and confidence from his unshakable faith. He ordered the outcasts to shave off their long, tangled hair. At first they were afraid they might die. ‘Unless you shave off the mark of your heathen belief I will not admit you into the church,’ said Mr. Kiaga. ‘You fear that you will die. Why should that be? How are you different from other men who shave their hair? The same God created you and them. But they have cast you out like lepers. It is against the will of God, who has promised everlasting life to all who believe in His holy name. The heathen say you will die if you do this or that, and you are afraid. They also said I would die if I built my church on this ground. Am I dead? They said I would die if I took care of twins. I am still alive. The heathen speak nothing but falsehood. Only the word of our God is true’” (157).

These outcasts, also known as Osu, carried the forbidden caste (their hair). They feared that if it were to be cut off, they would have died. However, Mr. Kiaga saw this as blasphemy. It wasn’t just an order to cut off their hair, it was an order to cut off their ties to their religion. Their hair represented the religion that they held and by cutting it off it showed their resistance to their faith. It also showed the defiance of the white men to the Igbo. Mr. Kiaga allowed these people into the church even though they were meant to be cast out from society. They were marked for a reason, but Mr. Kiaga refused to see this. Another act of defiance showed by the settlers is the church that they built. It was built on the grounds of the Forbidden Forest, and it was thought that they were going to die within four days. However, when this did not happen, it puzzled the Igbo, and caused them to question their own religion. The white settlers did things that the Africans thought were not right but some of the things that they did were right. Such as saving the babies and accepting the outcasts. Another thing that they did was build hospitals. “And so he built a school and a little hospital in Umuofia. He went from family to family begging people to send their children to his school” (181). The white settlers did many things to improve the life of Umuofia. They educated the Igbo people and the efforts shown by Mr. Brown showed some of the positive intentions of the white settlers. If a country has the power to do so, they can take over the country if they are backing it up with a good reason. The conversation between Mr. Brown and Akunna demonstrated their struggle to understand each other’s religion and how in some ways, they were similar.

“’Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person.’ ‘You should not think of Him as a person,’ said Mr. Brown. ‘it is because you do so that you imagine He must need helpers and the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created’” (180).

As they each tried to understand the other’s “God” it helped further explain some of the white settler’s intention and why they wanted to colonize Umuofia as well as the other villages. The queen of England, was the head of the Church, and the reason behind their motives. Colonization in earlier times, especially in Africa was a race. It was the “scramble for Africa” and every nation was trying to get a piece of land. The Igbo’s belief that God is a person baffled Mr. Brown because it conflicted on his views about what God was. He called them “false gods” which further explained why white settlers wanted to colonize the clan. The conflict between the two cultures gave reason for imperialism and if they understood the other’s culture it would’ve led to less conflict.

Colonialism can be taken to a certain point before it has gone astray. The white settlers’ first introduction was a big event. It resulted in the extinction in one of the villages, Abame. The miscommunication between the two was what led to the mass killing. Okwonko discussed with Obierika their thoughts on the colonialists. 

“Does the white man understand our custom about land?” “How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (176). 

They pointed out that the colonialists couldn’t possibly have understood their culture and customs without knowing their language. However, it was also mentioned that it was also the fault of the Africans who converted because they turned on their tribes. It showed how there were no clear distinctions between who the real bad guys were. However, this resulted in questioning their own culture. If their own brethren converted and said that the Igbo religion is flawed, how could they place the blame on them? The westerners’ entrance into Umuofia as well as Africa caused conflicts that made them question their own religion and culture. When colonialism has reached this extent, it brings into question whether the things that they were doing were righteous. The concluding statement of the novel also provided clear insight into the workings of a western settler’s view on the Africans. “He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger” (209). It showed the little knowledge that the westerners knew about the culture that that they were impeding on. They pushed their European values onto them whether or not they wanted them. The District Commissioner used a derogatory title to demonstrate the distinction that he had made between the Europeans and the Africans. However, what it truly revealed was how misguided he was. In his title he used the word “pacification” as if to say that they were bringing peace, but it was the colonialists that had caused them their problems. The views that the westerners had on the Africans was pejorative. The title of the proposed book established this notion. Their ignorance about the Igbo shows how he put in little thought about what he was talking about, and put more of his own thoughts, opinions, and views. Because they have this view on them, they feel that they have the right to rule over them. They possessed more power than the Africans, and used this to subject their influence on them. However, the thinking of the Igbo being lesser beings is what led to some unnecessary events. If they were seen as people also, they would have been treated fairly.

Attaining power is a wanted desire. Nationalism and imperialism gave nations the motive to do things, such as the things displayed in Things Fall Apart. Some of the things that were accomplished by the white settlers was because of the power that they possessed. The courage to do things, to feel that they were better, was backed up by this power. And if they used this power to help with, what they felt is a nation in trouble, then they had the right to do so. Power has changed the course of history and will always stay relevant. The Europeans felt the need to intervene when they saw twins being mutilated and people being made outcasts, however, they reached a certain point where they infringed on the Igbo culture. Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe, told the story of two differing cultures that clashed because of miscommunication. The miscommunications today between nations are the cause of wars. Even though we’ve advanced to the point that we can communicate to each other with the same language, miscommunication and misunderstanding results from differing culture.

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