Chinua practices, political system, as well as culture. The

Achebe, the author of the novel Things
Fall Apart once said “when a tradition gathers enough strength to go on for
centuries, you don’t just turn it off one day”. This quote is very useful for emphasizing
the constant cultural, religious, and political struggle presented between the
European missionaries and the Igbo Villagers of Nigeria, which was both
presented in Things Fall Apart and in
recorded history. Mr. Achebe uses this historical-fiction story to highlight
the effect and the drastic change that the people of Nigeria faced during the
Scramble for Africa, the period of colonization and establishment of European
dominance in Africa during the late 19th century. This interval of
European colonization in Africa drastically changed Igbo peoples’ religious
practices, political system, as well as culture. The author Chinua Achebe
demonstrates the effect of this rise of European imperialism in Africa in Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall
Apart centers itself on a
native African tribe called the Ibo. The novel’s protagonist, Okonkwo, is an
affluent and well-respected warrior in his village of Umuofia. He also was
regarded as an aggressive and exceptionally strong wrestler, giving himself the
title “the Cat,” since he had never fallen on his back during any fight.
(Achebe, p.3) He was very well-known for his personal achievements, given the
fact that his successes started from scratch, while the many accomplishments of
other people were inherited from their fathers. Okonkwo starting from scratch
was the result of his father’s, Unoka’s, debt and lack of consideration for his
descendants. “If any money came, and it seldom did, he immediately bought
gourds of palm wine, called round his neighbors and made merry.”(Achebe, p.4)
This resulted in hoards of debt which he couldn’t repay, leaving Okonkwo,
Unoka’s son, with nothing to start off from, once his father died. Because of
how highly esteemed he was, nine villages agreed that Okonkwo was best fit ” to
carry a message of war to their enemies unless they agreed to give up a young
man and a virgin to atone for Udo’s a villager’s wife” who was murdered.
(Achebe, p.27) This young man, turned in to the Umuofia village as
compensation, went by the name of Ikemefuna. As for Okonkwo, he “never showed
any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a
sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength. He therefore
treated Ikemefuna as he treated everyone else—with a heavy hand. But there was
no doubt that he liked the boy.” (Achebe, p.28) Ikemefuna was quickly
assimilated into Okonkwo’s family, calling him father, and bonding inseparably
with Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye. Eventually, Ikemefuna would end up in Okonkwo’s care
for three years. Throughout this time, Umuofia had its Week of Peace, a sacred
week regarded by the Ibo people, during which Okonkwo broke the peace by
lashing out at and beating one of his wives, Ojiugo, due to his greatly short
temper. (Achebe, pp. 29-31) No one had ever broken the peace during this week,
and this was his first offence, of the many he would soon commit, showing
neighbors and villagers his lack of considerence for the clan’s gods. During
these three years, the family also enjoyed the New Yam Festival, where Okonkwo
commits his second offence, by almost shooting his second wife, Ekwefi.
Nonetheless, given the very male-dominant society that the Ibo people resided
in, Okonkwo didn’t cause as much of a concern in the village, and townspeople
continued eating, celebrating, and wrestling to commemorate Ani, the earth
goddess. (Achebe, pp.39-51) Soon enough, Ikemefuna’s unfortunate fate had been
decided. One day, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, a village elder, visits Okonkwo to tell him
that the heads of the nine villages have decided to kill Ikemefuna. Ezeudu tells
him that he should take part in killing Ikemefuna, who was like a son to him.
(Achebe, p. 57) Given Okonkwo’s need to show his extreme manliness and
strength, he ignores what Ezeudu says, and he proceeds to take Ikemefuna back
to where he was from. Nwoye heard of this and was heartbroken to have such an
important person in his life leave, but he didn’t show these emotions to avoid
being beaten by his father. Later, on their way to his town, Ikemefuna, with
the dream of coming back to his family, is suddenly killed by the group he’s
with, Okonkwo included. (Achebe, pp.59-61) Okonkwo has greatly affected by
this, but he had to keep his composure tough and hard. His life seems to have become
a void until one of his friends, Obierika, talks with him, distracting him from
the current pain he was feeling. “Okonkwo was beginning to feel like his old
self again. All that he required was something to occupy his mind.” (Achebe,
p.69)  Yet, as Mr. Achebe has said before, “A man who makes trouble for
others is also making trouble for himself.” Okonkwo’s life not only does a 180
degree turn because of Ikemefuna’s death. In chapter 13, the old villager, Ezeudu,
is pronounced dead and the village warriors of all ages were going to gather
around to do warrior salutes with rifles and machetes, and drums thump
while the people dance. (Achebe, pp.121-123) 
Unfortunately, during the last warrior salute, Okonkwo’s gun explodes
and hit’s Ezeudu’s sixteen year old son, who was a clansman, which was a
criminal offence to the earth goddess. This would only be punished by exile for
seven years, which exactly what happened to Okonkwo and his wives and children.
They had to move to Okonkwo’s motherland,  Mbanta, and all of Okonkwo’s houses were
burned, animals were killed, and farm was destroyed. It was Umuofia’s way of “cleansing
the land which Okonkwo had polluted with the blood of a clansman.” (Achebe, pp.
124-125)  Luckily, he is welcomed with
open arms by his uncle, Uchendu, making his stay more bearable in Mbanta.
During his second year in Mbanta, Obierika visits Okonkwo, bringing him bags of
cowries that he obtained selling Okonkwo’s yams. They also discuss what’s happened
in the town of Abame. Where men described as “Albino” and “different” went to a
marketplace in Abame and killed its own villagers. “They must’ve used a
powerful medicine to make themselves invisible until the market was full. And
they began to shoot.” (Achebe, p.139) These men had practically cleared the
town of its people. Two more years later, Obierika pays Okonkwo another visit
in Mbanta, with news that the European missionaries, the white men who cleared
Abame of its villagers, had reached Umuofia. What motivated Obierika to pay him
a visit was the fact that he had seen Nwoye siding along with the missionaries,
surprised at how Nwoye didn’t claim to be Okonkwo’s son anymore (Achebe,
pp.143-144) Okonkwo already knew of this, since the missionaries had already
come to Mbanta, preaching their word of Christianity, and convincing the people
the that there was only one almighty God and the Holy Trinity, to which Nwoye
was intrigued. By chapter 17, the missionaries had already constructed a church
in Mbanta, showing the spread of this new and foreign thought, which Okonkwo
along with many other townspeople weren’t fond of. With time, this new
religious thought, though, was gaining popularity in these villages. By chapter
21, Okonkwo’s seven-year exile had already ended, and he was back to his town
of Umuofia, were the new religion had also started to spread.  People started learning how to read and write
in a missionary’s, Mr. Brown’s, school, where the people learned “the white
man’s knowledge.” (Achebe, p.179)  Even
if the villagers’ believes didn’t coincide with those of the missionaries,
there were always those, though, that tried having civilized discussions on
religion like Mr. Brown and Akuna, who had his child learn from missionaries.
Okonkwo is displeased at his comeback to Umuofia. “Umuofia did not appear to
have taken any special notice of the warrior’s return. The clan had undergone
such profound change during his exile that it was barely recognizable.”
(Achebe, p. 182) Okonkwo was witnessing the destruction of his city’s previous
traditions and beliefs, this was breaking him apart. (Achebe, p. 185) Unfortunately,
by the time he arrived to Umuofia, Mr. Brown, the benevolent missionary was
replaced by Reverend James Smith, who was the opposite of lenient. The next
major turning point in Things Fall Apart is
when Enoch, the son of a snake-priest who ate a sacred python, while walking
down a path occupied by egwugus, villagers  who dressed up as their village’s ancestral
spirit, boasted about how they weren’t allowed to touch a Christian. One of the
egwugus consequently stroke Enoch
with a cane, which caused him to fall down and tear off one of their masks. In
the Ibo peoples’ eyes, Enoch had killed an ancestral spirit, increasing the
tension between the cultural and political struggle of the missionaries and the
Ibo tribe. In return, the egwugus
burned down the church and Enoch’s compound. (Achebe, pp.186-188) The next
days, even more tensions increase as the
Europeans provoke and harass the six leaders of the Umuofian clan, cutting off
their hair and starving them, as well as making them pay a fine for being
released from the commissioners captivity.
After being released, the villagers and clansmen of Umuofia gather around
in the market place to have a meeting to discuss what they should do about
these rising tensions, when five court messengers approached them to stop the
meeting. With rage and a thirst for war, Okonkwo confronts the head master, to
which he loses his temper and cuts the messenger’s head off with his machete.
Seeing that the people let the other messengers escape and that they are
reluctant to go to war, Okonkwo leaves the meeting. (Achebe, 203-205) To
conclude, the District Commissioner comes to the meeting, asking for Okonkwo,
where he’s told that he isn’t in the meeting anymore. Obierika offers to take
him to Okonkwo’s compound where, shockingly, they find that Okonkwo has hung
himself; expressing the not so great fall of the strong protagonist.

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            In Things Fall
Apart, the historical event expressed through the tensions between the
villagers and the missionaries highlight the Scramble for Africa, in other
words the rise in European dominance and imperialism in the region, which
peaked in the late 1800s. One main factor for the emergence of this imperial
power was the competition for territory between Europe’s super powers: Britain,
Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. One of the antecedents
for this rise of European imperialism in Africa that marked the event’s
beginning, for example, was the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which was carried out
by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This prohibited slave trade within
Britain and Africa. As stated in “Wikipedia: Colonial Nigeria,” “Britain
subsequently lobbied other European powers to stop the slave trade as well…This
scenario provided an opportunity for naval expeditions and reconnaissance
throughout the region.” Now that these European powers weren’t able to rely as
much on slavery, they had to become more reliant on interactive commerce
between them and the natural, rich African continent, with which they had
already been interacting with before the 19th century. This
encouraged more commercial and political interaction with Africa, rather than
namely just importing and exporting slaves. Another antecedent to the Scramble
for Africa was the Second Industrial Revolution, which was marked by the late
1800s and the early 1900s. During this Second Industrial Revolution,
electricity boomed, and people would’ve imagined this to have become a really
good thing. For the most part it was, but according to “Africana Age: The
Colonization of Africa” by Ehiedu E. G. Iweribor, industrialization led to many
major social issues in Europe like “unemployment, poverty, homelessness, social
displacement from rural areas, and so on. These social problems developed
partly because not all people could be absorbed by the new capitalist
industries.” The way that this
problem was resolved was that the excess population
that couldn’t be “absorbed by the new capitalist industries” was taken
elsewhere to reside. To do this, their mother countries in Europe had to
acquire and establish colonies in places in Africa like Tunisia, Algeria,
Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, and Zimbabwe, among many more. The third factor that aided in the Scramble for Africa
was exploration. One example of this was Henry Morton Stanley. According to
“Events Leading
to the Scramble for Africa: Why Was Africa So Rapidly Colonized?,” he
“had crossed the continent and located the ‘missing’ Livingstone,” who was
David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer,  but he was mostly recognized for his
explorations done behalf of Belgium’s  King Leopold II. “Leopold hired Stanley to
obtain treaties with local chieftains along the course of the River Congo with
an eye to creating his own colony… Stanley’s work triggered a rush of European
explorers, such as Carl Peters, to do the same for various European countries.” This, yet again,
highlights the curiosity and especially the competitiveness of the European
powers to start spreading their political and commercial power throughout
Africa. This rise in European Imperialism was legitimized by the Belgian
Conference, also known as the Belgian West African Conference, which was held from
the November1884 to the February 1885. Out of this conference, came the Berlin
Act. As stated to “Africana Age: The Colonization of Africa” by Ehiedu E. G.
Iweribor the Berlin Act composed of  guidelines
to regulate the conduct of the European “inter-imperialist competition in
Africa.” In the Berlin Act, many articles dictated issues regarding annexation
and trade especially. Some of the Act’s articles included but weren’t limited
to: “The Principle of Notification (Notifying) other powers of a territorial
annexation, The Principle of Effective Occupation to validate the annexations,
Freedom of Trade in the Congo Basin, Freedom of Navigation on the Niger and
Congo Rivers, Freedom of Trade to all nations, Suppression of the Slave Trade
by land and sea.”( Ehiedu E. G. Iweribor, Africana Age: The Colonization of
Africa) What shows the extent of this European rule on Africa even more,
though, was the fact that while in the making of the Berlin Act, no native
African was prompted in the decision-making process. This demonstrates how
European imperialism was slowly constraining the African peoples’ rights, in
some ways.

This spread of European
Imperialism had many effects on both the African Society as well as one the
European inhabitants and missionaries. Once the Berlin Act had been established
and distributed across the African continent, a lot of confusion between the
two groups of people arose. As stated in Ehiedu E. G. Iweribor’s article
“Africana Age: The Colonization of Africa,” the Europeans’
imperialist ideas were very confronting, therefore Africans responded with
force, similar to how Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, portrays the villagers in his novel. The article
states, “The differential
interpretation of these treaties by the contending forces often led to conflict
between both parties and eventually to military encounters. For Europeans,
these treaties meant that Africans had signed away their sovereignties to
European powers; but for Africans, the treaties were merely diplomatic and
commercial friendship treaties.” When the Africans realized that the Europeans
wanted them to give up most of their commercial and economic rights, they
responded to this intrusion with militaristic force. Additionally, during the
spread of this European dominance, many missionaries also took this opportunity
to convert many people from their original native traditions, just like in Things Fall Apart, quickly assimilating
them into their religion of Christianity. Referring to “Wikipedia: Colonial
Nigeria,” the CMS, also known as the Church Missionary Society (founded in
1799), “initially promoted Africans to responsible positions in the mission
field; for instance, they appointed Samuel Ajayi
Crowther as the first Anglican
bishop of the Niger. Crowther, a liberated Yoruba slave, had been educated in
Sierra Leone and in Britain, where he was ordained before returning to his
homeland with the first group of CMS missionaries… In the long term, the
acceptance of Christianity by large numbers of Nigerians depended on the
various denominations adapting to local conditions.” In short words, the fact
that the Christian denominations were altered to fit local African customs,
allowed for more people to convert, proving as a very effective strategy for
assimilating a group who is very ethnically and culturally diverse from the
latter group. As many can imagine, The Scramble for Africa also affected the
European powers in a positive way seen as their economy boomed from exploiting
their developing territories. On the other, it is inevitable to avoid rivalry
and competitiveness between the different countries that were sharing Africa or
that want to conquer territories. For example as stated in “Scramble for
Africa: Italy” by Historical Boys’ Clothing, “Italy seized Libya after a brief
war with the Ottomans (1912). The Libyans resisted. Fighting broke out, but the
British brokered a truce after Italy joined the Allies in World War I (1915).
After the War, fighting broke out again leading to a prolonged colonial war.
Italy continued efforts to colonize Libya… The Italians seized control of the
coast cities, but have great difficulty maintaining control of the interior.
The Italians unified Tripolitania and Cyrenaica as the colony of Libya (1929).”
This competitiveness led to many battles over territories, no matter the size.
Another negative effect of the Scramble for Africa was that while many European
powers tried assimilating their African population into their culture, some
countries made that impossible for the people, namely the French. According to
Ehiedu E. G. Iweribor’s article “Africana Age: The Colonization of Africa,” the
French had established a very centralized administrative system. “Their
colonial ideology explicitly claimed that they were on a “civilizing
mission” to lift the benighted “natives” out of backwardness to
the new status of civilized French Africans.” It was their mission to
“civilize” the native Africans to following in their footsteps. To achieve
this, they tried assimilating the people by diffusing both cultures and
implementing and an impossible education for obtaining citizenship. For example, “potential citizens were supposed to speak
French fluently, to have served the French meritoriously, to have won an award,
and so on. If they achieved French citizenship, they would have French rights
and could only be tried by French courts… the French colonial doctrine and legal
practice whereby colonial ‘subjects’ could be tried by French administrative
officials or military commanders and sentenced to two years of forced labor
without due process.”  Additionally,
France would never provide the required education for citizenship for at least
the majority of its subjects, which made this assimilation “more of an
imperialist political and ideological posture than a serious political
objective.” This demonstrates how even in some societies where assimilation
would seem easy, some European countries made it impossible for its people to really
immerse themselves into the culture, which is what the spread of European
imperialism is partially about.

Regarding Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, his fictional town of
Umuofia had a lot in common with what happened with Nigeria and British rule in
the 19th century. According to “Encyclopedia Britannica: Nigeria as
a Colony,” On January 1, 1914 Sir Frederick Lugard, who was the high
commissioner of the Northern Nigeria Protectorate (Wikipedia, Colonial Nigeria),
requested for the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria and the Protectorate of
Southern Nigeria to become one and form the Colony of Nigeria with one
governor-general in the capital of Lagos, and “he set out the principles of the
administrative system subsequently institutionalized as ‘indirect rule.'” This
meant that local governments could be run by its original native chiefs, but
they would be “subject to the guidance of European officers.” They could keep
their traditional customs even though there was a very apparent divide in
culture between them and the British. This relates to Things Fall Apart, given how even though the town of Umuofia had
its six clan leaders, the commissioner who had sent the five messengers the day
of the meeting, had already established himself as of a higher authority, which
is what many officials did in the Scramble for Africa. Additionally, the
article states that many changes came along with British dominance. “Western
education, the English language,
and Christianity spread
during the period; new forms of money, transportation, and communication were
developed; and the Nigerian economy became based on the export of cash crops.
Areas with lucrative crops such as cacao and peanuts (groundnuts) profited,
while many people in different parts of the country had to migrate to work
elsewhere as tenant farmers or use their newly acquired education and skills to
work in cities as wage earners, traders, and artisans.” We can see this in Mr.
Achebe’s novel when the missionary, Mr. Brown, creates his own school, where
the townspeople and converts learn how to read and write as well obtain the
“knowledge of the white man.” Chinua Achebe connects the assimilation that
happed between the British and the Africans during the spread of European
imperialism in Africa to that Things Fall
Apart, which helps the novel have its element of historical fiction. Furthermore,
Okonkwo’s struggle and rage towards the fact that foreign peoples have come to
alter their culture and establish superiority among them can also relate to the
movement of Pan-Africanism—a worldwide intellectual movement that aims to
encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African
descent (Wikipedia, Pan-Africanism)— in Nigeria in the 1920s. “Encyclopedia
Britannica: Nigeria as a Colony,” states that in the early 1920’s “a number of
Nigerians joined other blacks in various parts of the world to embark on the
wider project of Pan-Africanism, which sought to liberate black people from
racism and European domination. In 1923 Herbert Macaulay… established the first
Nigerian political party… which successfully contested three Lagos seats in the
Legislative Council. Macaulay was despised by the British, but he came to be
regarded as the “father of modern Nigerian nationalism.'” This can demonstrate
the mindset of some of the villagers in Umuofia who felt offended and/or
disrespected by the intrusive power of the British. All in all, Things Fall Apart is an example of how
fiction can mix with African, namely Nigerian, history and still have an
extremely close connection.

In conclusion, Chinua
Achebe, the author of the novel Things
Fall Apart connects and highlights the constant cultural and political
struggle presented between the European missionaries and the indigenous peoples
of Nigeria, which was both presented in the novel itself and in recorded
history. Mr. Achebe uses this historical-fiction story to highlight the effect
and the drastic change that the people of Nigeria faced during the Scramble for
Africa, the period of colonization and establishment of European dominance in
Africa during the late 19th century. This interval of European
colonization in Africa drastically changed both the Africans and the European
powers, and it has also changed how they’ve functioned and interacted
throughout the years. The author Chinua Achebe demonstrates this effect of this
rise of European imperialism in Africa in Things
Fall Apart.


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