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Christina Hunt
Dr. Linda Null
English 4700
November 15, 2014

The Ruination of a Beautiful Culture

Thinking about colonialism is something that often brings about a sense of patriotism in
Americans. Our forefathers were a group of immigrants who came to the New Land in search of
freedoms not afforded them in their homeland. Those brave men brought over their traditions
and cultures and forged new lives and formed a new country. Those ideals of freedom is
something that has been cultivated in the heart of every red-blooded citizen of the United States
of America. Similarly, Europeans went out onto the African continent and spread their beliefs
and ways of life onto the indigenous tribes who lived there. The immediate effects of this
invasion is illustrated in Chinua Achebes novel, Things Fall Apart, and the long lasting effects
are seen in GraceLand, a novel by Chris Abani. In both instances, the authors show how instead
of bettering the Nigerians, colonialism ruined the beauty and culture that made them unique.
In the lecture on this topic, Bob Claugherty talks about the effects of colonialism. He says
that perhaps one of the most devastating is its passive attack on indigenous culture
(Claugherty). This is illustrated very well in both novels. The white man brought with him his
own ideals, his own language and his own culture, which in the eyes of the white man, were far
more superior to what already existed in Nigerian. They thought of the tribes as unwashed

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heathens who needed to be converted to Christianity so that their souls could be saved from
damnation. The colonizers came in, and immediately found the outcasts in the village. By
galvanizing those who were the most vulnerable and those who wanted to feel important, the
colonizers had some of the locals in hand to reinforce their message. It is usually the disgruntled
who convert the fastest, and when the white men came in, it was with a message that everyone is
equal in Gods eyes. To a culture where a man had to earn his place in society, this was music to
their ears. They would finally be equal to those who had power over them in society.
In Things Fall Apart, these first converts were the most devoted and zealous for those
reasons. While their culture was very different, and in the eyes of the colonizers, very brutal in
some instances, there was beauty and structure to it that was unique to the tribe. The Igbo had a
rich heritage that had lasted thousands of years, and with one fell swoop, the colonizers stripped
most of this away from them. Okonkwo could not bear this change, because he had spent his
entire life building up his reputation in his village, he had the place in society he had always
wanted, and once he returned from exile, he found that all he had been striving for had been for
naught. Once he realized that his village would not fight the colonizers, he killed himself rather
than change the way he believed. The final insult to his memory was the District Commissioners
thought that he would use Okonkwos pride and downfall as fodder for a book.
In GraceLand, Nigeria is completely unrecognizable from its incarnation in Things Fall
Apart. There is no sign of the indigenous Igbo tribe, except in the introduction to each chapter.
The explanation of the Kola nut ceremony and the recipes from Elvis mothers journal are all
that remains of the once proud tribe. There is still a whisper of the old ways in the superstitions
and some of the rituals and rites of passage that Elvis experienced, but it is just an afterthought.
Nigeria has become a shadow, completely converted to the Western version of itself, replete with

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American and European language, music, and movies, right down to the Westernized names.
Very few of the native Nigerians have become prosperous due to colonization. While the leaders
may have been Nigerian, all of their laws were Western. Gone are the simple and straightforward
ways of settling disputes, such as wrestling matches or the eye for an eye mentality that existed
in Okonkwos time. In Elvis time, it was dog eat dog, every man for himself and a police state
that had corrupt and malicious soldiers in place of councils.
In part of his lecture, Bob Claugherty talks about non-apologetic literature. He says that
African culture shouldnt have to apologize to European culture for offending its sensibilities. It
is the misunderstanding of Europeans that African society needed to be converted so that the
Christians could sleep better at night, knowing that the evils in Africa would be cured once they
became colonized by the white man and brought over to the right ways of thinking. Rather
than understand that the differences that humans have are what makes them beautiful, interesting
and unique, the colonizers only wanted what they felt was the best way of life, which was their
own beliefs. Achebe did not portray Okonkwo as a hero. In fact, he was shown to be a very
flawed man. He was impulsive, cruel and made very foolish decisions. However, this did not
make him a villain. He was just a normal human being who embraced his culture and wanted to
keep his way of life intact. Elvis was a typical teenaged boy who was looking for a better life for
himself. He also made mistakes. Unlike Okonkwo, however, Elvis wanted to embrace a new way
of life.
Colonialism can also be described as modernization. As time marches on, things will
always change because it is the nature of humans to evolve and adapt. Post colonialism is
defined as the social, political, economic, and cultural practices which arise in response and
resistance to colonialism. It is how the society reacts to the new way of life being forced on it by

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another culture. Some groups will embrace change, because their current way of life is
something they want to escape from. Those who have a deeply engrained sense of pride in their
heritage and background will do their best to hold onto their old ways of life. Eventually, they
either accept the change or die trying. The problem with the westernization of the indigenous
African tribes talked about in the novels of Achebe and Abani is that they both show how
Nigeria and in particular the Igbo tribe has been irrevocably altered from a unique and beautiful
culture into a nation full of political upheaval, poverty and disharmony. The old ways of the Igbo
may have seemed brutal to outsiders, but in reality, they craved peace. They embraced their
shared heritages and ways of life. It is the dissolution of their old ways that ruined a once proud
nation. This is the legacy that post colonialism left in Nigeria.

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Works Cited
Abani, Chris. GraceLand. London: Picador, 2005. paperback.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Random House, 1994. paperback.
Claugherty, Bob. Effects of Colonialism. 2014. Online Lecture. 15 November 2014.