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Tc Advcnturcs ol

Hucklcbcrry Finn
Tc Agc ol !nnoccncc
Aliccs Advcnturcs in
Vondcrland
All Quict on thc
Vcstcrn Front
As You Likc !t
Tc 8allad ol thc Sad
Cal
8cowull
8lack 8oy
Tc 8lucst yc
Tc Cantcrbury Talcs
Cat on a Hot Tin Rool
Tc Catchcr in thc Ryc
Catch22
Tc Chroniclcs ol
Narnia
Tc Color Purplc
Crimc and
Punishmcnt
Tc Cruciblc
arkncss at Noon
cath ol a Salcsman
Tc cath ol Artcmio
Cruz
on Quixotc
mcrsons ssays
mma
Fahrcnhcit 451
A Farcwcll to Arms
Frankcnstcin
Tc Grapcs ol Vrath
Grcat xpcctations
Tc Grcat Gatsby
Gullivcrs Travcls
Tc Handmaids Talc
Hcart ol arkncss
! Know Vhy thc
Cagcd 8ird Sings
Tc !liad
Janc yrc
Tc Joy Luck Club
Tc Junglc
Lord ol thc Flics
Tc Lord ol thc Rings
Lovc in thc Timc ol
Cholcra
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Qualitics
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Miss Lonclyhcarts
Mobyick
My ntonia
Nativc Son
Night
1984
Tc dysscy
cdipus Rcx
Tc ld Man and thc
Sca
n thc Road
nc Flcw vcr thc
Cuckoos Ncst
nc Hundrcd Ycars ol
Solitudc
Pcrsuasion
Portnoys Complaint
A Portrait ol thc Artist
as a Young Man
Pridc and Prcjudicc
Ragtimc
Tc Rcd 8adgc ol
Couragc
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Ancicnt Marincr
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Khayym
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Silas Marncr
Song ol Solomon
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Fury
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A Strcctcar Namcd
csirc
Sula
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A Talc ol Two Citics
Tc Tcmpcst
Tcir ycs Vcrc
Vatching God
Tings Fall Apart
To Kill a Mockingbird
Ulysscs
Vaiting lor Godot
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Vhitc Noisc
Vuthcring Hcights
Young Goodman
8rown
Blooms Modern Critical Interpretations
Blooms Modern Critical Interpretations
Chinua Achcbcs
Tings Fall Apart
New Edition
Edited and with an introduction by
Harold 8loom
Stcrling Prolcssor ol thc Humanitics
Yalc Univcrsity
Blooms Modern Critical Interpretations:
Chinua Achebes Things Fall ApartNew Edition
Copyright 2010 by !nlobasc Publishing
!ntroduction 2010 by Harold 8loom
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Chinua Achcbcs Things Fall Apart / cditcd and with an introduction by Harold
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p. cm.(8looms Modcrn Critical !ntcrprctations)
!ncludcs bibliographical rclcrcnccs and indcx.
!S8N 9781604135817 ((hardcovcr: alk. papcr): alk. papcr) 1. Achcbc, Chinua.
Things Fall Apart. 2. !gbo (Alrican pcoplc) in litcraturc. 3. Nigcria!n litcraturc.
!. 8loom, Harold.
PR9387.9.A3T523965 2009
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ditors Notc vii
!ntroduction 1
Harold Bloom
Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc: Rcprcscntations
ol Gcndcr and Tradition in Things Fall Apart 5
Kwadwo Osei-Nyame
Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu:
A cscriptivc Analysis ol thc Translation
ol Achcbcs Things Fall Apart into Zulu 23
D. N. Mkhize
Thc Plight ol A Hcro in Achcbcs Things Fall Apart 39
Patrick C. Nnoromele
Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law 51
Ravit Reichman
A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story: Silcncc, \iolcncc,
and Spccch in Chinua Achcbcs Things Fall Apart 69
Joseph R. Slaughter
Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc:
Global Scnsc and Local Mcaning in
Things Fall Apart and Ruins ol a Grcat Housc 99
Mac Fenwick
Contents
Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart 115
Oliver Lovesey
Thc cpiction ol Masculinity
in Classic Nigcrian Litcraturc 141
Frank Salamone
Problcmatizing Polygyny in thc Historical
Novcls ol Chinua Achcbc: Thc Rolc
ol thc Vcstcrn Fcminist Scholar 153
Andrea Powell Wolfe
Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings:
Narrativc Complcxity in Things Fall Apart 177
Carey Snyder
Chronology 197
Contributors 205
8ibliography 207
Acknowlcdgmcnts 213
!ndcx 215
Contents vi
vii
My introduction prophcsics canonical survival lor Things Fall Apart,
sincc its cloqucncc, compassion, and loving insight surpass thc post
colonial acadcmic idcology that currcntly ovcrvalucs Achcbcs bcst book
and lounds its judgmcnts on political grounds alonc. Somc ol thc cssays
ncccssarily includcd hcrc sccm to mc to praisc Things Fall Apart lor thc
wrong rcasons.
Kwadwo sciNyamc rclatcs thc cultural signicancc lound in thc nov
cl, altcr which . N. Mkhizc dcscribcs thc complcxity ol translating Tings
Fall Apart into Zulu, and thcn Patrick C. Nnoromclc illustratcs thc condition
ol Achcbcs hcro.
Ravit Rcichman sccs 8ritish law in Alrica as an imposition and a c
tion, whilc Joscph R. Slaughtcr invokcs thc incvitablc Franz Fanon to com
mcnt on thc phcnomcnon ol silcncc in Tings Fall Apart. Tcn Mac Fcnwick
sccs irony as a major rcsourcc lor postcolonial writing.
!n a comprchcnsivc and usclul cssay, livcr Lovcscy mcditatcs upon
thc rclation bctwccn history and ction in Achcbc, whilc Frank Salamonc
contributcs an inlormativc account ol thc rcprcscntation ol masculinity in
Nigcrian litcraturc.
Andrca Powcll Vollc ocrs a lcminist critiquc ol Nigcrian marriagc
customs, altcr which Carcy Snydcr rclrcshingly considcrs somc ol thc
limitations ol cthnography whcn conlrontcd by Achcbcs mastcry ol narra
tivc tcchniqucs.
Editors Note
1
cni xu~ ~cnvnvs THI NGS FALL APART
Things Fall Apart is a historical novcl, sct in thc 8ritish colony ol Nigcria at
about thc turn lrom thc ninctccnth into thc twcnticth ccntury. Sincc Chinua
Achcbc was born in 1930, hc gocs back a lull gcncration, to thc Nigcria ol
his parcnts. Thc storys lamous opcning cstablishcs a charactcristic tonality:
simplilication through intcnsity (a Ycatsian lormula):
konkwo was wcll known throughout thc ninc villagcs and
cvcn bcyond. His lamc rcstcd on solid pcrsonal achicvcmcnts. As
a young man ol cightccn hc had brought honor to his villagc by
throwing Amalinzc thc Cat. Amalinzc was thc grcat wrcstlcr who
lor scvcn ycars was unbcatcn, lrom Umuolia to Mbaino. Hc was
callcd thc Cat bccausc his back would ncvcr touch thc carth. !t was
this man that konkwo thrcw in a light which thc old mcn agrccd
was onc ol thc licrccst sincc thc loundcr ol thcir town cngagcd a
spirit ol thc wild lor scvcn days and scvcn nights.
Thc drums bcat and thc llutcs sang and thc spcctators hcld
thcir brcath. Amalinzc was a wily craltsman, but konkwo was
as slippcry as a lish in watcr. vcry ncrvc and cvcry musclc stood
out on thcir arms, on thcir backs and thcir thighs, and onc almost
hcard thcm strctching to brcaking point. !n thc cnd konkwo
thrcw thc Cat.
Now in carly middlc agc, konkwo is an angry man, a victim ol his
own impaticnt tcmpcramcnt, and ol his scnsc that hc had a bad lathcr. His
quitc likablc lathcr was a lailurc, in dcbt to cvcryonc, and konkwo himscll
HARL 8 L M
Introduction
Harold 8loom 2
is cnormously succcsslul, drivcn by thc lcar that hc also might lail, that hc
might bc mistakcn lor his lathcr. !t would not bc cxccssivc to rcgard konkwo
as a brutal pcrson, judgcd pragmatically, but that would bc mislcading: hc is
not brutal by naturc, but only by his compulsion not to rcpcat his lathcrs lilc. !
may bc a littlc prcmaturc in ruling thc critics (onc or two cxccptcd) rcprintcd
hcrc out ol court, but ! submit that konkwos apparcnt tragcdy is univcrsal,
dcspitc its Nigcrian circumstancing. !t isand this is Achcbcs strcngtha
univcrsal sorrow, and thcrclorc can only bc sccondarily illuminatcd by all
thc ordinanccs ol Multiculturalism, Alrican consciousncssraising, and
ncwmodc canonizcrs. This is a splcndidly traditional book, cdipal and
provcrbial, and owcs nothing to thc Four Horscmcn ol Rcscntmcnt: Fanon,
Foucault, crrida, and Lacan. !t is a timclcss book: il thc 8ritish Colonial
rcgimc had not drivcn konkwo to scllslaughtcr, thcn his own pcoplc
would havc donc thc job. 8ut that, ! would submit, most unlashionably, is
thc acsthctic valuc and spiritual mcaning ol Things Fall Apart. konkwo is
an !bo, and Achcbc writcs ol what hc knows. And yct konkwo could bc a
North Amcrican, a Spaniard, a Sicilian, an skimo. Thc cnd would bc thc
samc: hc would kill and thcn takc his own lilc.
! am awarc that such a judgmcnt would bc rcpudiatcd by all ol thc
cssayists collcctcd in this volumc, but Things Fall Apart will survivc its
idcological admircrs. !ts lirmly controllcd prosc, prolound compassion,
and loving insight into its pcoplc will not wcar out. Vhcthcr thc latc ol
konkwo constitutcs authcntic literary tragcdy, ! am unccrtain. Hc rcturns,
altcr a scvcnycar cxilc, to his own clan, and is lundamcntally unchangcd,
but 8ritish suprcmacy has changcd his pcoplc, particularly by convcrsion to
Christianity. Gricvcd, thc rcturning warrior mourns lor his lost world, and
thcn rcjoiccs in thc dcstruction ol thc Christian church. Humiliatcd by ill
trcatmcnt lrom thc 8ritish rcgimcs !bo mcsscngcrs, konkwo dcspairs ol thc
clans will to risc up against thc 8ritish, and angrily bchcads thc most abusivc
ol thc mcsscngcrs. Thc act is unrcllccting, and incvitablc, givcn konkwos
impulsivc naturc. !s it, or thc hcros subscqucnt suicidc, tragic:
You can arguc that thc cdipus ol Sophoclcs is also ovcrdctcrmincd by
his naturc, so that his killing ol his lathcr at thc crossroads is not primarily an
act ol thc will. And yct cdipus carns tragic staturc by his unrclcnting drivc
lor thc truth, his rclusal to lct anything block him lrom lull knowlcdgc. To bc
victimizcd by a blcnd ol tcmpcramcnt and circumstancc is also thc situation
ol konkwo. Yct what dcstroys him is his inability to acccpt changc. Sincc
thc changc is ignoblc, thc tragic argumcnt would bc that thc clan must light,
though pragmatically that would mcan suicidc lor thc community. konkwo,
as thc last warrior, hangs himscll bccausc thcrc is no way out ol his dilcmma.
Hc is not an intcllcctual qucstcr, likc cdipus, and thcrc is no cnigma lor
him to solvc.
!ntroduction 3
!t always hurts mc, rcrcading thc book, that Achcbc cannot allow
konkwo a hcroic dcath. 8ut acsthctically, that is anothcr mark ol Achcbcs
litcrary tack. Thcrc is no onc to light alongsidc konkwo, hc cnds as isolatcd
as Shakcspcarcs Coriolanus. !l Coriolanus is a tragcdy, thcn so is Things Fall
Apart. konkwo, likc thc Roman hcro, is csscntially a solitary, and at hcart
a pcrpctual child. His tragcdy stands apart lrom thc condition ol his pcoplc,
cvcn though it is gcncratcd by thcir pragmatic rclusal ol hcroic dcath. Thcir
rclusal grants him only his linal ollcncc against thc carth, and dcnics him
an !bo burial. This may not bc tragcdy, but thcrc is hcroic pathos in it, as
thcrc is in thc tcrriblc dcath ol Coriolanus, as hc crics out lor thc \olscians to
dcstroy him. Achcbcs motto is lrom Ycats, but it could also havc bccn lrom
Shakcspcarcs \olumnia, thc tcrriblc mothcr ol Coriolanus:
Angcrs my mcat. ! sup upon myscll
And so shall starvc with lccding.
5
Research in African Literatures, \olumc 30, Numbcr 2 (Summcr 1999): pp. 148164. Copyright
1999 Thc !ndiana Univcrsity Prcss.
KVAV S ! NYAM
Chinua Achebe Writing Culture:
Representations of Gender and Tradition
in Tings Fall Apart
Vhcrcvcr somcthing stands,
thcrc somcthing clsc will stand.
!gbo saying
Vhilc Achcbcs carly novcls havc bccn popularly rcccivcd lor thcir rcprc
scntation ol an carly Alrican nationalist tradition that rcpudiatcs impcrialist
and colonialist idcology, his countcrnarrativcs havc only bccn narrowly dis
cusscd lor thcir thcorctical spcculation on cultural and idcological produc
tion as a modc ol rcsistancc within thc nationalist tradition that thc tcxts so
cvidcntly cclcbratc. My cpigraph not only rccognizcs that thc dclinition ol
tradition in Achcbcs work hingcs upon idcological conllict, it commcnts
also on thc varying lorms ol consciousncss that arisc within discourscs ol
sclldclinition within !gbo traditional culturc. Morcovcr, it communicatcs
thc idca ol complcx rathcr than simplc rclationships bctwccn individuals and
groups in thc world ol Achcbcs lictional !gbo communitics.
Tis cssay intcnds an appropriation ol 8akhtins notion ol hctcro
glossia and dialogism in its cxploration ol somc conccrns rclcvant to thc
qucstion ol thc rcprcscntation ol idcology in Tings Fall Apart. 8akhtins no
tion ol dialogism vicws narrativc discourscs as lorms ol social cxchangc that
6 Kwadwo sciNyamc
locatc thc vcry basis ol individual and social bchaviour within conicting
worldvicws and dctcrminc thc vcry bascs ol idcological intcrrclations in
a manncr similar to that lound in Achcbcs narrativc. Novclistic discoursc
thus pcrlorms no longcr as |mcrc| inlormation, dircctions, rulcs, modcls,
but cnablcs us to locatc dialoguc in its morc immcdiatc idcological and po
litical contcxt (342). Haydcn Vhitc implics somcthing ol this immcdiacy ol
contcxt whcn hc suggcsts distinguishing bctwccn a discoursc that opcnly
adopts a pcrspcctivc that looks out on thc world and rcports it and onc that
makc|s| thc world spcak itscll and spcak itscll as a story (2).
Vriting storics that spcak lor thcmsclvcs is ccntral to Achcbcs novclis
tic agcnda. !n a lamous carly cssay, hc wrotc: ! would bc quitc satiscd il my
novcls . . . did no morc than tcach my rcadcrs that thcir past . . . was not onc
long night ol savagcry lrom which thc rst uropcans acting on Gods bc
hall dclivcrcd thcm (Morning Yct 45). Rcprcscnting an Alrican worldvicw
through narrativcs that spcak lor thcmsclvcs mcant that Achcbc would draw
upon !gbo oral traditions to narratc thc storics ol his communitics, whilc
bcaring in mind Richard 8aumans cxhortations that in utilizing oral tradi
tions to cngagc thc canons ol clitc Vcstcrn litcrary traditions and tcxts,
oral narrativc must not bc takcn mcrcly to bc thc rccction ol culturc or thc
cognitivc arcna lor sorting out thc logic ol cultural codcs in historical writ
ing: instcad, oral narrativcs must bc utilizcd contcxtually and cthnographi
cally, in ordcr to discovcr thc individual, social and cultural lactors that givc it
shapc and mcaning (2).
Challcnging and displacing thc narrativcs ol colonialist writcrs likc
Joycc Cary and Joscph Conrad mcant lor Achcbc thc appropriation ol cth
nographic modcs ol rcprcscntation to provc that thc communitics ol his Al
rican past wcrc ncithcr primitivc nor without history (Cliord 10). Jamcs
Cliord, borrowing lrom 8akhtin, argucs that sincc culturc is not a unicd
corpus ol symbols and mcanings that can bc dcnitivcly intcrprctcd, cth
nographic rcprcscntation must incorporatc a narratological dialogism that
rcvcals culturcs contcstcd, tcmporal, and cmcrgcnt naturc (19). As Gcorgc
Marcus also contcnds, this dialogical approach to cthnographic rcprcscnta
tion must bc bornc in mind by both outsidcrs likc Conrad and Cary writing
about thc thcr and insidcrs likc Achcbc writing about thcmsclvcs and
thcir own culturcs.
1
Hcnrictta Moorc, among anthropologists wclcoming thc
ncw dialogical cthnography ol Cliord and othcrs, agrccs with thcm on thc
usc ol ncw lorms ol writing such as thosc prcdicatcd on dialoguc, intcrtcx
tuality and hctcroglossia to unmask and displacc thc unitary authority ol thc
author (107).
Tings Fall Apart s lamous cnding dcscribcs thc istrict Commissioncrs
ycarning to writc thc story ol his colonizcd nativcs as a challcnging cthno
graphic projcct in a momcnt ol thc colonial cncountcr in Alrica. Having just
7 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
witncsscd thc dcath ol konkwo, onc ol thc grcatcst mcn ol Umuoa, thc
Commissioncr labricatcs an impcrialist narrativc and his colonial imagina
tion prcgurcs thc narration ol thc intcrcsting (149) story
|o|l this man who had killcd a mcsscngcr and hangcd himscll. . . .
nc could almost writc a wholc chaptcr on him. Pcrhaps not
a wholc chaptcr but a rcasonablc paragraph, at any ratc. Thcrc
was so much clsc to includc, and onc must bc lirm in cutting out
dctails. (149150)
His story is contcmplatcd as an cxtcnsion ol thc civilizational cntcrprisc ol
pacilying his primitivc Alrican tribcs (150). Howcvcr, thc passion thc
Commissioncr will dcvotc to his account is mcrcly a scductivc dcsirc lor
storytclling and a lunction ol |his own| dcsircs, purposcs, and constraints
(Chambcrs 4). His narrativc is alrcady displaccd as his intcrcsting story
has alrcady bccn anticipatcd by thc skcpticism ol Achcbcs insidcr nar
rativc. For Achcbc has alrcady writtcn back to contcst thc rcasonablc
paragraphing ol history by writcrs likc Cary and Johnson, outsidcrs who
dcvotcd thcir accounts to similar ambitious projccts as thc Commissioncrs.
Thc Commissioncrs potcntially scductivc story about onc ol thc most tragic
cvcnts in his administration is an almost impossiblc luturc projcct. His
highly controvcrsial and abrupt rcasonablc paragraph has alrcady lound
adcquatc rcprcscntation and spacc in thc cntirc cxchangcs among Umuoli
ans and bctwccn Umuolia and thc Christian missionarics and thc colonial
govcrnmcnt in Achcbcs narrativc.
As Chambcrs suggcsts lurthcr, sincc thcrc is a dircct rclationship
bctwccn storytclling and thc art ol govcrnmcnt, wc must contcxtualizc
storytclling as an cvcnt that presupposes a situation and mobilizcs social
rclationships so as to givc it a pcrlormativc lorcc (45, cmphasis addcd).
Achcbc, lollowing Fanon, locatcs !gbo socictics in thc liminal spacc ol his
tory in which thcy grapplc with thc impcrialist cndcavors ol colonial powcr
by tclling 8crnth Lindlors in an intcrvicw that it is in that zonc ol occult
instability whcrc thc pcoplc dwcll that thcir rcgcncrativc powcrs arc most
potcnt (Achcbc on Commitmcnt 16). Tc complicatcd occult zonc ol Al
rican and colonialist history and thc rcprcscntation ol thc idcologically rcal
and ctional dimcnsions ol that zonc is cncapsulatcd in thc Commissioncrs
cort both to rcprcscnt rcality and to ccnsor it.
Tis ncar appropriation ol a totalizing narrativc ol culturc nds an
othcr lorm ol cxprcssion in thc tradition and politics ol Tings Fall Apart.
Tc story rccnacts phascs ol thc prccolonial and colonial traditional ordcr
ol Alrican history by lcaturing thc bcginnings ol somc signicant momcnts
ol nationalist idcological criscs in thc communitics ol Umuoa and Mbanta.
8 Kwadwo sciNyamc
Masculinc traditions opcratc as lorms ol consciousncss that act lorcmostly to
lcgitimizc spccic idcals and valucs and to distributc and rcstrict authority
within Umuoa, onc ol thc most powcrlul ol !gbo communitics. Umuoa is
not only lcarcd by all its ncighbours, but is also powcrlul in war and magic
(8). Achcbc rclatcs thc rcasons bchind individual and communal criscs in a
socicty in which war hcrocs, titlcd and wcalthy subjccts, and othcr cclcbratcd
gurcs arc dominantly malc.
Umuoa is alrcady wcakcncd by intcrnal clcavagcs and it is only whcn
thc proccsscs ol cultural brcakdown intcnsily with thc arrival ol thc whitc
colonizcrs that bicrika, onc ol thc grcatcst mcn in thc socicty, arms how
thc clan can no longcr act likc onc and has lallcn apart (127). Tc story ol
konkwo and Umuoa at thc thrcshold ol historical transition may bc rcad
in thc rst instancc as thc narration ol an cpic Alrican masculinc nation
alist tradition.
2
Achcbcs tcxt links and idcntics powcr and authority with
masculinity. Umuoas masculinc traditions arc hcraldcd and cclcbratcd and
thc rcprcscntation ol masculinc idcology is progrcssivcly playcd out mainly
through thc rcprcscntation ol thc lcgcndary konkwo and his obscssivc pur
suit ol thc lullmcnt ol pcrsonal powcr and rccognition within thc clan. As a
young man, konkwo invcnts himscll and consolidatcs his position within
thc clan by ovcrthrowing Amalinzc thc Cat. Vith this lcat, konkwos lamc
had grown likc a bushrc in thc harmattan (3). konkwos victorious lcat
in thc lamous wrcstling match that bcgins thc story ol Umuoa is also onc
that thc old mcn (3) agrccd was onc ol thc most laudablc cxploits sincc
thc loundcr ol thcir town cngagcd a spirit ol thc wild lor scvcn days and
scvcn nights (3). Tc lcgitimation ol malcccntcrcd traditions in Umuoa
rcsonatcs in many ways with Raymond Villiamss vicw that dominant tradi
tions oltcn aspirc to an activc and continuous sclcction and rcsclcction and
a projcctcd rcality, with which wc havc to comc to tcrms on its tcrms, cvcn
though thosc tcrms arc always and must bc thc valuations, thc sclcctions and
omissions ol mcn (16).
From a vcry carly agc, konkwo is obscsscd with championing
his masculinity

|l|cst hc should bc lound to rcscmblc his lathcr. vcn as a littlc boy
hc had rcscntcd his lathcrs lailurc and wcakncss, and cvcn now hc
still rcmcmbcrcd how hc had sullcrcd whcn a playmatc had told
him that his lathcr was an agbala, that was how konkwo lirst
camc to know that agbala was not only anothcr namc lor a woman,
it could also mcan a man who had takcn no titlc. And so konkwo
was rulcd by onc passionto hatc cvcrything that his lathcr Unoka
had lovcd. nc ol thosc things was gcntlcncss and anothcr was
idlcncss. (10)
9 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
konkwos masculinity bccomcs a dclcnsivc rcsourcc and his adhcrcncc to
a masculinc philosophy will thcncclorth ordcr his world. !n articulating his
idcntity and justilying his actions, hc cultivatcs his masculinity as a dclcnsc
ol pcrsonal honor in thc lacc ol potcntially ovcrwhclming circumstanccs
in an antagonistic univcrsc. Thc obscssion with masculinity is an csscntial
shicld markcd also by thc cxccssivc indulgcnccs cxprcsscd in konkwos out
ragcous asscrtivcncss and his intcnsc rcpudiation ol ccrtain subjcctivc valucs
such as gcntlcncss and idlcncss. !n konkwos world, thc ignominious
prcdicamcnt ol his lathcr, Unoka, simultancously tormcnts and propcls him
towards achicving his highcst ambitions in lilc. konkwo is in a way lcd to
dclinc himscll and to apprchcnd his world negatively. 8y constructing his
idcntity and cmbcdding his actions in a pcrvcrsc scnsc in his rcbclliousncss
against cvcrything that his lathcr Unoka rcprcscnts, konkwo apprchcnds
his world pcssimistically. To a considcrablc dcgrcc, thcn, konkwos cos
mos is scllmadc and his idcntity dcpcnds cntircly on its crcator |himscll |
lor its conliguration (lncy 4).
Umuoas acknowlcdgmcnt ol konkwos spcctacularly masculinc lcat
cxists in potcntial opposition to othcr cvcnts and achicvcmcnts. Howcvcr,
Umuoas sclcctivc traditions and konkwos masculinist asscrtions con
vcrgc to marginalizc thc womcn, efulefus, osus, agbalas, and othcrs within
thc community. Umuoans havc a spccial word lor dispositions such as
gcntlcncss and idlcncss: thc !gbo word agbala is not only anothcr namc
lor womcn, it also rclcrs to wcak and lazy mcn such as konkwos lathcr,
Unoka. !n invcnting its traditions and linking konkwos lcats with thcm,
Umuoas authoritativc discoursc consciously omits othcr rcprcscntablc val
ucs and idcals and konkwos own cxclusion lrom his worldvicw ol, among
othcr things, gcntlcncss and idlcncss, is a position that Umuoas labri
catcd traditions sanction.
Howcvcr, as crck Vright obscrvcs rcgarding thc social ordcr in Umuo
a: konkwos impctuous, aggrcssivc individualism and thc bclicl bchind
itthat hc must wipc out his lathcrs mcmory by succccding in cvcrything
his lathcr has lailcd atarc out ol harmony with a socicty which is rcnowncd
lor its talcnt lor social compromisc and which judgcs a man according to his
worth, not that ol his lathcr (78). Furthcr, Vright contcnds that konkwos
cult ol virility, by mistaking thc naturc ol couragc and conlusing gcntlcncss
with wcakncss, upscts thc scxual cquilibrium that maintains a dclicatc balancc
bctwccn malc valucs and lcmalc and matcrnal oncs (78). Vc can agrcc with
Judith 8utlcr that limits arc always sct within thc tcrms ol a hcgcmonic cul
tural discoursc prcdicatcd on binary structurcs that distorts what is assumcd
to bc truc about thc lormation ol idcntity and subjcctivity and rcstricts thc
imaginablc and rcalizablc gcndcr congurations within culturc (9).
10 Kwadwo sciNyamc
Vith Villiams, too, wc can arguc that thc idcology ol culturc cstablishcs
a structurc ol lccling and thc sclcctivc tradition ol a dominant culturc whcn
wc tracc thc modcs by which konkwos adhcrcncc to ccrtain valucs and
idcals and Umuoas validation ol thcsc valucs convcrgc to gcncratc thc mas
culinc nationalist tradition rcprcscntcd by Tings Fall Apart. Simon Gikandi
has alrcady madc vcry strong points arguing that idcology as proccss and cri
tiquc, rathcr than product and dogma, is thc kcy to undcrstanding Achcbcs
narrativc stratcgics (12). !t is important, howcvcr, to add that Achcbcs story
dcpicts thc organization ol thc Umuoan community and its control ol au
thority within thc spccic contcxt ol a gcndcrcd idcology and politics.
3

Umuoas dominant traditions cxist in tcnsion with what Villiams
dcscribcs as rcsidual or oppositional traditions (41). Tings Fall Apart also
cxposcs thc limitations ol thc systcm ol valucs that thc phalloccntric tradi
tions ol Umuoa cndorsc by answcring to Chambcrss bclicl that mcaning
is not inhcrcnt in discoursc and its structurcs, but is contcxtual, a lunction ol
thc pragmatic situation in which thc discoursc occurs (3). Tc lunctioning
ol languagc in thc narrativc also supports Jonathan Cullcrs obscrvation that
what is involvcd in narrativc is an ccct, that a hicrarchical opposition, in
which onc tcrm is said to bc dcpcndcnt upon anothcr conccivcd as prior, is in
lact a rhctorical or mctaphysical imposition and thc hicrarchy could wcll bc
rcvcrscd (183). Languagc and provcrbs in Achcbcs narrativc providc signi
cantly adjustablc ordcrs ol intcrprctation and undcrscorc thc vicw ol Umuo
ans thcmsclvcs that |a|mong thc !bo thc art ol convcrsation is rcgardcd
vcry highly, and provcrbs |and othcr lorms ol languagc| arc thc palmoil with
which words arc catcn (5). Achcbc cxamincs thc ways in which languagc
lunctions in his community and thc mcans through which individuals articu
latc rcsistancc, cxposing cspccially thc aws within thc social ordcr that allow
lor an ambivalcnt approach to tradition and culturc.
icring scts ol valucs cxposc thc limits ol rcprcscntation and author
ity within Umuoa. Tc languagc ol rcprcscntation that ordcrs hicrarchy and
authority within Umuoa initially cngcndcrs, as 8arthcs would arguc, a kind
ol xcd idcological indcx lor thc rcgulation and distribution ol authority
within thc social ordcr. Howcvcr, as 8arthcs also contcnds, signs and sig
nications might bc invokcd in placc ol thc rcstrictivc indcx ol languagc
to rcordcr narrativc and to cnlorcc thc abolition ol thc limit, thc origin, thc
basis and thc prop ol tradition. Signs, thcn, providc thc mcans to cntcr into
thc limitlcss proccss ol cquivalcnccs and rcprcscntations that nothing will
cvcr stop, oricnt, x, or sanction (S/Z 40).
Umuoas traditions thus sustain a dicrcnt ordcr ol things and cnablc
divcrsc modcs ol scllconsciousncss and a skcptical rclativism that allows in
dividuals to look bcyond thc rigid hicrarchics ol a rcstrictivc social ordcr and
11 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
to rcdcnc thcir rolcs and positions within culturc. Achcbcs cssay on chi in
!gbo cosmology rcvcals thc cxiblc ordcr ol his socicty:
Sincc !gbo pcoplc did not construct a rigid and closcly argucd
systcm ol thought to cxplain thc univcrsc . . . anyonc sccking
an insight into thcir world must scck it along thcir own way.
(Morning Yct 94)
Achcbc dcmonstratcs that a sclcctivc appcal to tradition is wholly lcasiblc
within thc !gbo worldvicw. This accommodating spirit ol tradition cnablcs
individuals to appraisc thc limitations that arc sccn to inhcrc within thc
traditions ol Umuolia, making it possiblc to idcntily in Molly Hitcs lor
mulation thc lact that in a givcn socicty and historical pcriod, changcs,
cmphasis and valuc can articulatc thc othcr sidc ol a culturally mandatcd
story, cxposing thc limits it inscribcs in thc proccss ol allirming dominant
idcology (4).
How might wc pursuc lurthcr 8arthcss distinction bctwccn thc sta
blc indiccs and contradictory signs ol narrativc: !n thc story ol Umuoa,
8arthcss idcntication ol thc opcncndcdncss ol rcprcscntation is playcd out
at a lcvcl ol human intcraction whcrc thc contcst bctwccn Villiamss domi
nant and rcsidual traditions is also stagcd. A lascinating momcnt in thc
narrativc has koyc, onc ol thc most important mcn ol thc clan, a titlcd man,
also a musician but not a lailurc likc Unoka and a grcat talkcr (5), visit
his lricnd, Unoka, to rctricvc a dcbt owcd him. Altcr skirting around thc
subjcct lor a long timc (5), koyc nally asks Unoka to pay back thc moncy
owcd him. Unokas rcsponsc draws koycs attcntion to thc visual illustration
ol his dcbts to dicrcnt pcoplc:
ach group thcrc rcprcscnts a dcbt to somconc, and cach strokc is
onc hundrcd cowrics. . . . ! owc that man a thousand cowrics. 8ut
hc has not comc to wakc mc up in thc morning lor it. ! shall pay
you, but not today. ur cldcrs say that thc sun will shinc on thosc
who stand bclorc it shincs on thosc who knccl undcr it. ! shall pay
my big dcbts lirst. (6)
Ncgotiating his survival whilc trappcd by cconomic ncccssity, Unoka, com
pcllcd into bcing rcsourcclul, is also at his most articulatc. Unokas rcsponsc
touchcs on thc gcncral issuc ol survival within thc culturc. Achcbc sccms
conccrncd hcrc with raising thc qucstion ol survival. As hc told Fcroza Jus
sawalla in a rcccnt intcrvicw, his narrativcs dclinc thc rclationship bctwccn
storytclling, storytcllcrs, and survival: !t is important that thc storytcllcr
tclls thc story thc way hc sccs it, not thc way thc cmpcror wants it to bc told
12 Kwadwo sciNyamc
(81). Unokas rcsponsc is most signilicant lor its manipulation ol thc wisdom
implicit in thc languagc ol provcrbs as a stratcgy ol survival by dclcrring
thc dcbt hc owcs. Additionally, hc qucstions thc hicrarchy ol cmincncc and
authority that titlcd mcn likc koyc and konkwo rcprcscnt within Umuo
lia. Richard Pricbc rcmarks in rclcrcncc to thc tradition ol Umuolia that
provcrbs cncompass stratcgics lor individual cquity that arc antithctical to
thc closcd systcm ol prcnatal dcstiny wc lind in thc story (51).
Unoka opcratcs within thc cxiblc codcs ol his culturc and its dcni
tion ol rcality to qucstion thc intcrprctivc lorms that ordcr cxistcncc. Unokas
rcintcrprctation and rcconstruction ol thc rcal and thc important circum
vcnts thc signilying cconomy ol rcalism ol his culturc and hc nds a way to
invcnt a conccptual univcrsc whcrc thc rcdcnition and rcintcrprctation ol
rcality cnablc him to cmcrgc momcntarily within its traditions as a gurc ol
authority. As Vahnccma Lubiano notcs about thc social ordcr ol Umuoa,
charactcr is not a unicd and stablc idcntity but an ability to rcncgotiatc
thc tcrms ol somconc clscs pcrccption ol rcality or ol oncscll (198). Tc
cncountcr bctwccn koyc and Unoka rcvcals complcx lorms ol masculin
ity not ncccssarily ol thc ordcr rcprcscntcd by bicrika, konkwo, or othcr
grcat mcn, and thcsc lorms ol masculinity arc also asscrtcd. Margarct Turncr
argucs pcrsuasivcly rcgarding Unokas importancc within thc clan as a wholc
that Unoka |thc musician| is a lailurc in matcrial tcrms, but not il his staturc
is mcasurcd on a scalc onc might think is Achcbcs owncnsuring thc sur
vival ol thc culturc by rccording thc dccds ol past grcatncss and lcssons lor
continucd living (34).
iscussing thc usc ol Alrican litcraturc as a modc ol rcstoring valuc
within his traditional socicty, Achcbc obscrvcs that any prcscncc |within his
culturc| which is ignorcd, dcnigratcd, dcnicd acknowlcdgcmcnt may bc
comc a locus lor anxicty and disruption (Alrican Litcraturc 3). Although
Umuoas laws, customs, and thc proclamations ol its oraclcs communicatc
cocrcivc impulscs, individuals may also rcncgotiatc thcmsclvcs around thc
sacrosanct traditional valucs rcprcscntcd as incontrovcrtiblc and which arc
mcant both to cnsurc thc clans survival and to consolidatc its traditions. Tc
story ol biako, thc palm tappcr, illustratcs lurthcr thc powcr ol disruption
and rcsistancc. biakos intcrcsting story is almost scllcxplanatory:
biako has always bccn a strange onc, said Nwakibic. ! havc hcard
that many ycars ago whcn, whcn his lathcr had not bccn dcad vcry
long, hc had gonc to consult thc oraclc. Thc raclc said to him,
Your dcad lathcr wants you to sacrilicc a goat to him. o you
know what hc told thc raclc: Hc said, Ask my dcad lathcr il hc
cvcr had a lowl whcn hc was alivc. vcrybody laughcd hcartily. . . .
(15, cmphasis addcd)
13 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
Rctaining a stablc systcm ol valucs within Umuolias traditions is thrcat
cncd by such pcrsonal accounts as biakos. Umuolias consciousncss ol
itscll, which it articulatcs through anccstral vcncration, is challcngcd by
such marginal storics as biakos, which in thcir rcbclliousncss arc not
mcrcly obstructivc to thc pcrpctuation ol Umuolias traditions, but appraisc
thc rcstrictivcncss ol tradition in ways that mcn likc konkwo and wcalthy,
titlcd mcn likc Nwakibic cannot comprchcnd. !mplicd in Nwakibics dcrisivc
rclcrcncc to biakos strangc disposition is thc insinuation that biakos
position is ol littlc idcological signilicancc within thc rcspcctcd traditions ol
thc clan. Vithin thc highly idcological and cocrcivc ambicncc ol Umuolia,
howcvcr, storics likc biakos arc not mcrcly trivially subvcrsivc but arc ol
cmancipatory signilicancc. Charactcrizing thc idcological crisis within his
traditional socicty uncovcrs thc ambivalcnccs ol idcology in narrativc and
rcoricnts thc mcaning and import ol thc rclationships bctwccn Achcbcs
tcxts and thcir rcproduction ol historical narrativc.
4

Rcading thc othcr sidc ol Achcbcs !gboAlrican nationalist tradition
mcans altcrnating thc narrativc vicwpoint to radically translorm thc story
and its undcrlying assumptions. As Hitc argucs, thc cohcrcncc ol onc linc
ol narration rcsts on thc supprcssion ol any numbcr ol othcr sidcs. Furthcr,
shc adds, altcrnativc vcrsions . . . might givc thc samc scqucncc ol cvcnts an
cntircly dicrcnt sct ol cmphasis and valucs (4). 8y highlighting thcmcs and
charactcrs sccn convcntionally as pcriphcral, Achcbcs story transgrcsscs thc
pcrccption ol his writing as pcnctratingly masculinist.
5

Tc pcrsonal narrativcs ol marginalizcd individuals such as biako
and Unoka togcthcr with thosc ol womcn corrclatc thc narrativc as cncap
sulating a progrcssivcly consolidating lramcwork ol rcsistancc and survival.
Achcbc sccms intcrcstcd in conrming Foucaults intcrcsting obscrvation
that |w|hcrc thcrc is powcr, thcrc is rcsistancc, and yct, or rathcr conscqucnt
ly, this rcsistancc is ncvcr in a position ol cxtcriority in rclation to powcr
(History 95). Following Foucaults hypothcsis in Te Order of Tings, Achcbc
scts his tcxt within a rccxivc liminal phasc, or middlc rcgion, whcrc cul
turc is continuous and graduatcd and linkcd to |a| spacc constitutcd ancw
and at cach timc by thc driving lorcc ol timc (xxi). !ndccd, Achcbc himscll
proposcs an ordcr ol things not unrclatcd to Foucaults: |A|rt is what ! havc
choscn to call my Middlc Passagc. Hc adds lurthcr that il art is to bc ocrcd
as a cclcbration ol . . . rcality, it must involvc thc crcativc potcntial in all ol
us and a dcmonstration ol thc nccd to cxcrcisc this latcnt cncrgy again and
again (Alrican Litcraturc 3).
Achcbcs dilcmma in nding an appropriatcly dcmocratic mcans ol
rcprcscnting thc !gbo nationalist tradition hc narratcs is rcitcratcd in thc lol
lowing statcmcnt madc to Raoul Granqvist: !l you look carclully, thc womcn
wcrc ncvcr rcally dcaling alonc with issucs pcrtaining to womcn, thcy wcrc
14 Kwadwo sciNyamc
dcaling with issucs pcrtaining to socicty (Granqvist 18). Achcbc charactcr
izcs Umuoas womcn in thc joys and tribulations ol thcir mothcrhood and
sclccts spccic momcnts ol thcir livcs to rcprcscnt somc ol thc most mcan
inglul cultural and historical aspccts ol cxistcncc in !gbo communitics. Somc
agonizing momcnts that mcmbcrs ol konkwos houschold undcrgo com
municatc thc complications ol cxistcncc and rcvcal how thc lorccs disruptivc
ol lilc tic Umuoans to rituals and customs ccntral to thc traditions ol !gbo
culturc. Tc storics ol kwc, konkwos sccond wilc, and hcr daughtcr zin
ma arc vital to thc narrativcs cnactmcnt ol thc stratcgics ol survival within
Umuoas world. kwc has a spccial rclationship with zinma, an only
child and thc ccntrc ol hcr mothcrs world. \cry oltcn it was zinma who had
dccidcd what lood hcr mothcr should prcparc (55). Tc two womcn partially
dcny konkwo somc ol thc authority hc sccks to wicld ovcr thcm by conspir
ing to cnsurc that zinma cats cggs dcspitc konkwos thrcat to bcat kwc
il shc continucs to lct zinma havc thc dclicacy.
zinma is born an ogbanje (55), a child who cndlcssly appcars in hcr
mothcrs womb in a scqucncc ol birth and dcath and is probably dcstincd to
havc a short lilc. kwcs prcvious ninc childrcn had |all| dicd in inlancy,
usually bclorc thc agc ol thrcc (55) and kwc blamcs hcr own cvil chi who
dcnicd hcr childrcn (57). Tc story links thc two womcn to thc importancc
ol custom and ritual to dircct attcntion to thc importancc ol mothcrhood
and childbirth within an !gboAlrican lramcwork ol historical intcrprcta
tion. Tc cpic dimcnsions ol thc story arc rcgistcrcd symbolically but not lully
cxplorcd in thc tcmporary lcadcrship rolc that zinma holds in thc scarch lor
hcr iyi-uwa (57), which links hcr to thc spirit world. Tc iyi-uwa, il lound,
will cnd zinmas ogbanje cyclc and tcrminatc kwcs sucring.
Signicantly, womcn and childrcn rcturning lrom thc strcam (58) and
a wholc crowd (59) ol clan mcmbcrs lollow zinma who, unintimidatcd by
konkwos thrcatcning prcscncc, lcads thc community on a sort ol mcrrygo
round in thc scarch lor hcr iyi-uwa. Vhcn zinma nally discloscs thc sccrct
location ol thc iyi-uwa, its rctricval marks thc scvcrancc ol hcr links with thc
spirit world and thc mutual triumph ovcr dcath by zinma and kwc makcs
thc rclationship bctwccn thcm cvcn morc spccial, lor undcr thc circumstanccs
ol cvil dcstiny with which kwc sccms aictcd, mothcrs arc dcnicd thc joys
ol mothcrhood whilc childrcn arc not allowcd thc opportunity to grow up.
6

As Gracc kcrckc argucs in hcr pocm on childbirth, thc war ol childbirth is
thc gunght / ol womcn (23). Achcbc cxplorcs lurthcr in thc ogbanje story ol
zinma thc importancc ol human communal strugglcs within a gendered con
tcxt by making thc triumph ol thc two womcn an armation ol thc strcngth
ol thcir individual chi s. Tcir survival whcrc konkwo docs not cvcntually
survivc in thc clan lorcgrounds thc unwavcring dispositions that allow womcn
control ovcr thcir cxistcntial prcdicamcnts. Achcbcs tcxt, to usc ominick
15 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
LaCapras words, rcvcals how human cntitics may rcwork and at lcast par
tially work through . . . in critical |and| translormativc lashion thcir social
strugglcs (4). Tc inappropriatcncss ol thc colonial imagination ol primitivc
bchavior in traditional !gbo socicty is cxposcd by thc strcss on ritual and cus
tom within traditional culturc and thc dcmonstration ol thc powcr ol narrativc
to cducatc about history in ordcr to rclutc thc idca that traditional !gbo com
munitics wcrc victims ol circumstancc(s) whosc politics wcrc vcry largcly
onc ol drilt and whosc actions wcrc not controllcd by logic (8asdcn 9).
An cxtraordinary cpisodc in thc novcl has konkwo rcclining altcr an
cvcning mcal, whilc kwc and zinma and konkwos othcr wivcs and
thcir childrcn also cnjoy an cvcning ol storytclling. zinma is about to rclatc
how Tortoisc and Cat wcnt to wrcstlc Yams (71) whcn Chiclo, thc pricstcss
ol Agbala, intcrrupts konkwos houschold with thc mcssagc that Agbala,
thc dcity ol thc raclc ol thc Hills and thc Cavcs, wantcd to scc his daugh
tcr, zinma (72). konkwo is scvcrcly rcprimandcd by Chiclo lor protcsting
against zinma bcing takcn away and lor daring to spcak whcn a god spcaks
(72). kwc has hcr own cxchangcs with Chiclo, who is posscsscd by thc
spirit ol hcr god (71), whilc hcr voicc likc a sharp knilc cutting through thc
night (71) is as clcar as mctal (72):
! will comc with you too, kwcli said lirmly.
Tuliaa! thc prcistcss curscd, hcr voicc cracking likc thc angry
bark ol thundcr in thc dry scason.
How darc you, woman to go bclorc thc mighty Agbala ol your
own accord: 8cwarc woman lcst hc strikc you in his angcr. (72)
Vhcn Chiclo linally takcs thc crying zinma away, a strangc and suddcn
wcakncss (73) dcsccnds upon kwcli. kwcli bccomcs a hcn whosc only
chick has bccn carricd away (73). clying thc likclihood ol rctribution
lrom Agbala and with a curt rcply to konkwo whcn hc asks whcrc shc is
going, kwcli pursucs Chiclo on a circuitous journcy lrom Umuolia to what
turns out to bc Umuachi, thc larthcst villagc in thc clan (75) on a night
dcscribcd also as lull ol thick darkncss (73). !t is important to rccall thc
lcar that thc clan as a wholc has ol thc night and its darkncss: arkncss
hcld a vaguc tcrror lor thcsc pcoplc, cvcn thc bravcst among thcm (7). Thc
cxtrcmcly bold kwcli who lollows Chiclo is dctcrrcd ncithcr by thc lact
that on scvcral occasions hcr cycs wcrc usclcss in thc darkncss (74), nor
that shc hit hcr lclt loot against an outcroppcd root and tcrror scizcd hcr
(74), nor cvcn by hcr rcmcmbrancc ol a dark night likc this (74) whcn,
rcturning with hcr mothcr lrom thc strcam, thcy had sccn Ogbu-agali-odu,
onc ol thosc cvil csscnccs looscd upon thc world by thc potcnt mcdicincs
which thc tribc had madc in distant past against its cncmics but now had
16 Kwadwo sciNyamc
lorgottcn to control (74). kwcli rclivcs all thc tcrrors ol thc night and
cvcn rcmcmbcrs how on that occasion both shc and hcr mothcr had cxpcctcd
thc sinistcr light ol thc clans uncontrollcd mcdicinc to dcsccnd on thcm
and kill thcm (74), but shc pcrscvcrcs in lollowing Chiclo throughout.
Vc arc indccd rcmindcd ol thc momcnt whcn konkwos own wrcstling
lcat that cstablishcs his popularity with thc clan is comparcd to thc light
Umuolias lounding lathcr had with thc spirits ol thc wild (1).
Tc journcy with Chiclo intimatcs a positivc and cpic hcroic vcnturc
in which kwcs bravcry accords hcr an important status. Troughout thc
wholc traumatic journcy, kwcs lilc is cndangcrcd and thc particular thrcats
lor hcr arc intcnsicd by thc cvcrthrcatcning possibility ol cncountcring thc
itincrant spirits ol thc wild and also by thc possibility ol vcry scvcrc rctribu
tion lrom Agbala, who as Chiclo had warncd carlicr could strikc kwc.
8caring in mind thc scxual dicrcncc and gcndcrcd politics ol thc novcl that
arc articulatcd cspccially within thc ovcrt masculinist idcological lramcwork
that contcxtualizcs thc asscrtions ol konkwo and thc patriarchs ol Umuo
an socicty, wc must look bcyond thc surlacc intcrprctation ol thc cpisodc as
journcy and attcmpt a thcorctical rccction that cxtcnds thc surlacc mcaning
ol thc Chiclozinmakwc cncountcr to locatc it as an altcrnativc !gbo
nationalist tradition within which wc can construct a spccically lcmalc
ccntcrcd paradigm ol rcsistancc.
kwcs pursuit ol Chiclo actually disrcgards thc masculinc traditions
ol thc clan, lor Chiclo is mcrcly thc mcsscngcr ol Agbala, thc malc dcity
whom kwc dccs. kwcs dcancc ol Agbala constitutcs an important
statcmcnt on hcr challcngc ol Umuoas sacrosanct masculinc traditions.
kwc cngagcs in a transgrcssion ol Umuoas traditions and rcprcscnts what
8arbara 8abcock dcscribcs as a symbol ol ncgation. As 8abcock argucs, thc
transgrcssion ol tradition is attaincd through symbolic ncgation whcn thc
thinkingproccss lrccs itscll lrom thc limitations ol rcprcssion and cnrichcs
itscll so that its intcllcctual lunction obtains a rst dcgrcc ol indcpcndcncc
lrom thc rcsults ol rcprcssion and at thc samc timc lrom thc sway ol thc prcs
surc principlc ol tradition (30).
Tc cpic dimcnsions ol kwcs hcroic vcnturc arc also bcst apprcci
atcd in tcrms ol thc importancc ol thc journcy motil in traditional Alrican
mythology. As anicl Kuncncs rctclling ol thc journcy motil in traditional
mythological narrativcs rcvcals, onc ol thc most signicant thcmatic aspccts ol
thcsc journcys is thc dangcrs couragcous mothcrs cxpcricncc in thc attcmpt to
protcct thcir cndangcrcd childrcn.
7
Sccn also in thc light ol konkwos own
singular and spcctacular dclcat ol Amalinzc thc Cat in which konkwos lcat
is comparcd to thc battlc in which thc loundcr ol Umuoa cngagcd a spirit
ol thc wild lor scvcn days and scvcn nights (3), kwcs journcy through thc
darkncss in dcancc ol all thc wandcring malcvolcnt spirits whosc dcstructivc
17 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
powcr shc somchow cvadcs is ol loadcd thcorctical and idcological signi
cancc. Tc Chiclozinmakwc cncountcr touchcs also on crucial issucs
ol gcndcr and thc authority ol narrativc.
Although konkwos couragcous ovcrthrow ol Amalinzc cvokcs a
manncr ol association whcrcby Umuoa associatcs virtucs likc hcroism and
bravcry with him, thc kwc story also crcatcs proccsscs ol rcconstruction
through which wc associatc womcn with hcroic valucs. Vc may pondcr also
somc intcrcsting qucstions rcgarding thc particular dctails and circumstanccs
ol kwcs journcy. Vhy, lor instancc, docs konkwo not lollow Chiclo into
thc darkncss immediately with thc samc impulsivcncss and dcancc that
mark somc ol his morc audacious actions, but instcad allows a rcasonablc and
manly intcrval to pass bclorc going with his matchct to thc shrinc whcrc hc
thought thcy must bc (80): Vhy docs konkwo rcsign himscll so casily to
kwcs dccision to lollow Chiclo immediately into thc darkncss, in spitc ol
thc pricstcss admonition to kwc that Agbala might strikc |hcr| . . . in an
gcr (72), an cvcnt that is likcly to also acct konkwo and possibly his cntirc
houschold: And why docs konkwo only bcgin to lcaturc in thc wholc sccnc
whcn both kwc and zinma arc alrcady out ol any substantial dangcr: !n
his usual manncr ol conccaling his rcal thought and lcclings, konkwo had
lclt vcry anxious but did not show it (80) whcn kwc had lollowcd thc
pricstcss (80). May wc not suspcct that konkwo was lcss inclincd to bravc
all thc odds on this particular occasion:
cnitcly onc disccrns, whcn konkwo nally appcars with his ma
chctc in hand at thc cnd, that his own masculinity has bccn both litcrally and
symbolically violatcd, lor hc has alrcady bccn on scvcral lutilc trips to Chiclos
shrinc. As Carolc 8oycc avics commcnts rcgarding thc Chiclozinma
kwc cpisodc, konkwos machctc, thc symbol ol his malc aggrcssion, is
ol no usc at all in this contcxt (247). Vc might add, though, that thc vcry
prcscncc ol thc machctc and thc lact that konkwo arms himscll signily thc
rcal thrcat ol dangcr conlronting kwc as shc alonc bravcd thc darkncss.
Furthcr, konkwos cmasculation is not only lorcgroundcd, his vcry impotcnt
incursions into thc night and thc spirit world at thc timc whcn both zinma
and kwc arc most cndangcrcd prcgurc lor him a loss ol authority and a
dccpcr disillusionmcnt about his position within thc clan that hc is latcr on
to cxpcricncc.
!s it not ol somc signicancc to thc story ol Umuoa as a wholc that
barcly a day or two altcr thc Chiclokwczinma incidcnt has high
lightcd kwcs strcngth ol charactcr and at a timc whcn thc spirit(s) havc
again appcarcd lrom thc undcrworld (87), konkwo is lorccd into cxilc
altcr accidcntally shooting thc son ol thc dcad zcudu at thc lattcrs luncral:
May wc not rcad thc story ol thc thrcc womcn and thc displaccd konkwo
with all its insistcnt rcordcrings ol signications ol gcndcr and authority as
18 Kwadwo sciNyamc
bcing ol cardinal importancc to Achcbcs construction ol thc contcstcd na
turc ol powcr and authority within thc clan: Foucaults obscrvations on thc
crosion ol authority and idcntity arc instructivc hcrc. Foucault argucs that in
analyzing thc movc lrom wholcncss to disintcgration or lrom origination to
lragmcntation, it is no longcr a qucstion ol cstablishing thc placc ol an origi
nating subjcct but rathcr onc ol idcntilying thc modcs ol his lunctioning,
in particular, it is also a qucstion ol cstablishing and dcpriving thc subjcct ol
his rolc as originator, and ol analysing him as a variablc and complcx lunc
tion ol |thc| discoursc in which hc is implicatcd: (Author: 158).
!n rcading about thc lcarlcss kwc and cspccially altcr our lamiliarity
with hcr strugglc with zinma in thcir mutual triumph in thc war ol child
birth, thc narrativc lorcgrounds thc cmasculation ol konkwo at prcciscly
thc point whcrc it constructs altcrnativcly viablc signications around thc
womcn. 8oycc avics makcs thc vcry important obscrvation that thc Chiclo
zinma cpisodc rcads likc a supprcsscd largcr story circumscribcd by thc
locus on konkwos/mans strugglc with and lor his pcoplc (247). Howcvcr,
it is important to notc also that in a vcry signicant way, thc Chiclozinma
kwc cpisodc cvidcntly prcgurcs thc displaccmcnt ol konkwo and to a
largc dcgrcc masculinc authority within thc clan as a wholc.
8

thcr idcologically important qucstions support Ato Quaysons vicw ol
thc potcntial inhcrcnt in zinma and kwcs charactcrization lor subvcrt
ing thc patriarchal discoursc ol thc tcxt (131). Signicantly, zinma is about
to rclatc to kwc how Tortoisc and thc Cat wcnt on to wrcstlc against
Yams (71) whcn Chiclo intcrrupts thcm. A closc rcading ol thc unnishcd
talc in rclation to thc symbolic valuc attachcd to thc yam, thc most impor
tant crop within Umuoa, rcvcals signications associablc with zinma and
kwc and thc subvcrsivc potcntial cncodcd in thcir charactcrization.
konkwos attcmpt at a young agc at lcnding lor his lathcrs housc
(16) is madc morc dicult by thc lact that although his mothcr and sistcrs
workcd hard cnough, thcy |only| grcw womcns crops, likc cocoyams, bcans
and cassava (16). Sincc Yam, thc king ol crops, was a mans crop (16), thc
narrativc intimatcs that konkwos mothcr and his sistcrs can only makc a
minimal contribution to thcir own livcs, cspccially sincc, as lizabcth !sichci
argucs, within thc !gbo cconomy, yam, bcing ol suprcmc importancc, was
givcn ritual and symbolic cxprcssion in many arcas ol !gbo lilc (8). Vomcns
crops, such as cocoyam, arc sccmingly ol littlc importancc within Umuoas
culturc and in its political cconomy as a wholc. Achcbc himscll, howcvcr,
lurnishcs a dicrcnt account ol thc importancc ol womcn in thc cconomic
domain ol !gbo socicty and ol thc valuc ol putativcly female crops:
Mcn owncd thc yam, thc king ol crops, but yam was a monarch
morc visiblc in mctaphor than in rcality. !n traditional !gbo mcnu
19 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
this crop yam was catcn only oncc a day, in thc altcrnoon, morning
and cvcning mcals wcrc supplicd lrom womcns crops, cassava and
coco yam ctc. (Myth and Powcr 15)
As Gayatri Spivak cautions, idcntilying thc rcal rclationships bctwccn mar
ginality and valuc within culturc is complicatcd sincc thc symbolic sitcs ol
cxchangc ol valuc within thc socius ol culturc oltcn involvc allcctivc rcla
tions. Spivak argucs that thc socius as an affectively codcd sitc ol cxchangc
and surplus is whcrc marginality. . . a constantly changing sct ol rcprc
scntations, bccomcs codcd in thc currcncy ol equivalences ol knowlcdgc
(227, cmphascs addcd). !n thc contcxt ol thc gcndcr politics ol Things Fall
Apart, mcanings bccomc unstablc and cvcn thc powcrlul symbolic cconomy
within which yam is privilcgcd is thrcatcncd with disruption.
zinmas uncomplctcd lablc in which Yams arc wrcstlcd has thc domi
nancc ol yam, thc symbol ol authority and powcr within Umuoa, alrcady
undcr qucstion. !n 8arthcss vicw, thc tcxt bccomcs a contradiction in tcrms
and multiplcs . . . in its varicty and its plurality (S/Z 15). zinmas talc sup
plics a contrastivc paradigm lor qucstioning not only konkwos authority
but also thc masculinc traditions ol thc clan as a wholc. !ndccd, thc multiplc
congurations ol masculinc idcology, thc authority and suprcmacy ol thc laws
ol thc clan, and thc importancc ol male gods likc Agbala, whosc mcsscngcr
Chiclo thc couragcous kwc pursucs on that mcmorablc night and whosc
authority kwc actually challcngcs, all havc thc vcry grounds ol thcir au
thority undcr qucstion. Attcntion to thc discourscs ol lolklorc and indccd
mothcrlorc within Umuoa opcn up possibilitics lor rcncgotiating rcality and
idcntity within thc clan.
Achcbcs lolktalcs lorm part ol thc !gbo cthnotcxt, or discursivc scg
mcnts that bclong to thc vast corpus ol Alrican traditional oral matcrial
(Zabus 20). As lorms ol thc cthnotcxt, lablcs, lolktalcs, provcrbs, myths,
and othcr lorms ol indigcnous wisdom providc modcs ol intcrprctation that
discursivcly cngagc thc ordcr ol traditional socicty and lorm part ol what
Foucault in Te Archaeology of Knowledge has callcd discursivc lormations.
Charactcrs ability to rcintcrprct various discourscs cmpowcrs thcm to in
tcrprct cach discoursc bcyond somcthing othcr than what it actually says
(116, 118). !n thc world ol lablcs, as in thc rcal world ol Umuoa, spcakcrs
can thcrclorc cmbracc a plurality ol mcanings (116, 118).
!n Umuoas world, thc authoritativc discourscs ol konkwo and thc
patriarchs ol Umuoa would not thcrclorc bc unchallcngcd. !ndigcnous lolk
wisdom, to borrow an cxprcssion lrom 8arthcs, would savc thc tcxt (and
thc world) lrom rcpctition. Subscqucntly, as 8arthcs argucs in yct anothcr
contcxt, wc arc lcd into an cndlcssly important proccss ol intcrprctation and
rcintcrprctation whcrc thc invinciblc imagc ol closcd worlds ol mcaning
20 Kwadwo sciNyamc
arc both contcstablc and translormablc. All rst rcadings cithcr ol word or ol
tcxt thcmsclvcs bccomc indcnitc and transgrcssivc. Vc visualizc in 8arthcss
social utopia a complcx arcna lor idcological ncgotiation whcrc thc tcxt pro
vidcs not thc transparcncy ol social rclations but rathcr thc spacc in which
no onc languagc has a hold ovcr any othcr, in which all languagcs circulatc
lrccly (From Vork 80).
zinmas unnishcd talc ol Tortoisc and Cat vcrsus Yams cncodcs
signicant possibilitics lor undoing thc hicrarchics ol powcr and authority
within a tradition whcrc masculinc authority is supplantcd by lcmalc insights
and indigcnous lolk wisdom acquircs not only subvcrsivc and rcsidual but
cvcn dominant potcntial. Vc arc back thcn to Villiamss lormulations on
dominant and rcsidual and cmcrgcnt culturcs and to Villiamss conviction
that wc havc to rccognizc thc altcrnativc mcanings and valucs, thc altcrna
tivc opinions and attitudcs, cvcn somc altcrnativc scnscs ol thc world, which
can bc accommodatcd and tolcratcd within a particular ccctivc and dom
inant culturc (39). Achcbcs narrativc takcs Villiamss argumcnts bcyond
accommodation as it cvaluatcs thc crisis ol masculinc authority within tra
ditional !gbo culturc. !n commcnting on socictal politics whilc mastcrlully
contcmplating thc limitations ol cocrcivc masculinc traditions in a socicty
whcrc knowlcdgc ol traditional lorc and thc appropriation ol thc cthnotcxt
lacilitatc thc continual rcdcnition ol rolcs and statuscs, Achcbc dramatizcs
thc intcrnal tribulations ol thc clan.
No:vs
1. Scc Marcus lor a lurthcr discussion and also acknowlcdgmcnt ol thc
limitations ol thc projcct ol dialogical rcprcscntation, among othcr issucs.
2. Traorc providcs a brilliant cxploration ol thc novcl as cpic in his Matrical
Approachcs.
3. Rcprcscntativc studics on Achcbc, such as by !nncs and Lindlors, Carroll,
and !nncs havc ignorcd this issuc. Thc most probing analysis ol thc idcology ol
gcndcr so lar is Quaysons Rcalism, Criticism, and thc isguiscs ol 8oth. Scc also
Jcyilo lor a bricl but incisivc corrclation ol thc politics ol gcndcr in Things Fall Apart
with widcr issucs ol gcndcr criticism in postcolonial Alrican litcraturc.
4. 8cnnctts Tcxts in History is a lruitlul polcmic on thc idcological
dctcrminations ol tcxts in historical narrativc.
5. Stratton makcs this argumcnt. Scc csp. hcr chaptcr How Could Things
Fall Apart lor Vhom Thcy Vcrc Not Togcthcr:
6. kcrckcs intcrcsting articlc, Thc 8irth ol Song, comparcs childbirth in
!gbo socicty and thc honor attachcd to it to thc bringing homc ol human hcads in
war by mcn.
7. Scc Kuncnc. !t makcs littlc dillcrcncc hcrc that thc gcndcrrcvcrsal in
Kuncncs talcs makcs thc cndangcrcd childrcn mostly malcs.
8. This rclatcs also to thc ncw dispcnsations stimulatcd by colonialism such as
thc risc ol a ncw social class ol efulefus, agbalas, osus, and thosc whom thc clan has
21 Chinua Achcbc Vriting Culturc
hithcrto marginalizcd. Vhilc thc clan as a wholc cxpcricnccs disunity, konkwos
pcrsonal narrativc is also thus only a subtcxt ol thc nationalist crisis in Umuolia.
Vovxs Ci :vb
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8cnnctt, Tony. Tcxts in History: Thc ctcrminations ol Rcadings and Thcir Tcxts. Post-
Structuralism and the Question of History. d. crck Attridgc, Gcoll 8cnnington, and
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23
South African Journal of African Languages/Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Afrikatale, \olumc
20, Numbcr 2 (2000): pp. 194204. Copyright 2000 Thc Univcrsity ol Port lizabcth,
cpartmcnt ol Alrican Languagcs.
. N. MKH! Z
Te Portrayal of Igbo Culture in Zulu:
A Descriptive Analysis of the Translation
of Achebes Tings Fall Apart into Zulu
Things Fall Apart (Achcbc, 1958) is a classic in Alrican litcraturc writtcn
in nglish, and is now almost synonymous with thc Alrican Vritcrs Scrics,
togcthcr with thc othcr two tcxts which lorm a trilogy, No Longer at Ease
(1960) and Arrow of God (1964). This articlc aims at analysing thc manncr
in which !gbo culturc as rcllcctcd in administrativc and rcligious tcrms in
Things Fall Apart, thc sourcc tcxt (ST), has bccn translcrrcd to Kwafa Gula
Linamasi (Msimang, 1995), thc targct tcxt (TT). !n accomplishing this, a
dcscriptivc comparativc analysis is carricd out in which thc translators strat
cgics arc invcstigatcd. Thc analysis rcvcals that thc translator uscd mainly
translcrcncc and cultural substitution as stratcgics. Thc conclusion drawn
lollowing this analysis is that in translating !gbo culturc thc translator
adoptcd ncithcr a sourcc tcxtoricntcd nor a targct tcxtoricntcd approach,
but a compromisc.
Introduction
!n this articlc thc rcscarchcr cxplorcs thc manncr in which !gbo culturc,
spccilically administrativc and rcligious tcrms, has bccn dcalt with in thc
TT. This is accomplishcd by dcscribing and analysing stratcgics cmploycd
by thc translator in translcrring thc abovcmcntioncd cultural clcmcnts to
thc TT. Sincc thc locus is on thc translation ol culturc, it is appropriatc to
24 . N. Mkhizc
start oll by dclining culturc. Thc translation scholar, Ncwmark (1988:94),
vicws culturc as a way ol lilc and its manilcstations that arc pcculiar to a
community that uscs a particular languagc as its mcans ol cxprcssion.
Ncwmarks (1988) dcnition implics that culturc rcccts thc way in
which a particular cultural group pcrccivcs and intcrprcts mcaning. Tis im
plication highlights thc lact that dicrcnt cultural groups do not ncccssarily
attach thc samc mcaning to rcality. ach constructs its own way ol cxprcssing
its valucs and bclicls. Tomasclli (1985), a distinguishcd scholar on cultural is
sucs in thc mcdia, agrccs with this opinion. Tomasclli (1985:8) rcgards culturc
as thc proccss which inlorms thc way mcanings and dcnitions arc socially
constructcd by social actors thcmsclvcs. Ncwmarks and Tomascllis vicws ol
culturc indicatc that cultural dicrcnccs and similaritics bctwccn dicrcnt
cultural groups nccd to bc takcn into account in ordcr to attain a mcaninglul
undcrstanding ol dicrcnt groups.
!n translation thc rccognition ol dicrcnt culturcs is vcry important bc
causc it lacilitatcs a bcttcr undcrstanding ol a translation and its original.
Tcrclorc, translation should not only bc about translcrring mcssagcs lrom
onc languagc to anothcr, but it should also involvc translcrring ccrtain cul
tural clcmcnts lrom sourcc languagc (SL) to targct languagc (TL). Tis is
lurthcr conrmcd by 8assnctt and Lclcvcrc (1990:4) who rcgard culturc as
thc unit ol translation, and not thc word or cvcn thc tcxt.
Mkhizc (1998:5), in hcr study on thc translcrcncc ol thc !gbo culturc
to Zulu, obscrvcs that thc analysis ol thc ST and thc TT shows that thc
cultural backgrounds ol thcsc tcxts arc dicrcnt. Tc ST, lor cxamplc, is sct
in 1958 in Vcstcrn Nigcria, and it is about !gbo pcoplc and thcir culturc.
!n contrast, thc TT was translatcd in 1995 lor a Zulu rcadcrship which
has its own culturc. bviously, cultural dicrcnccs bctwccn thc ST and
thc TT posc scrious challcngcs to thc translator. Tc translator has thc
task ol making choiccs and dccisions conccrning various proccdurcs and
stratcgics to bc cmploycd in making thc translation mcaninglul and ac
ccssiblc to thc Zulu rcadcrship. Tis articlc thcrclorc cxamincs thc way in
which thc translator mct thc challcngc rcgarding thc choicc ol stratcgics
implcmcntcd in handling !gbo culturc as rccctcd in administrativc and
rcligious tcrms.
8clorc wc procccd with thc discussion, it is important to cxplain that
thc ST is writtcn in thc !gbo idiom. !n his cssay Tc Alrica Vritcr and thc
nglish Languagc Achcbc (1975:62) cxplains that
thc nglish languagc will bc ablc to carry thc wcight ol my
Alrican cxpcricncc. 8ut it will havc to bc a ncw nglish, still in
lull communion with its anccstral homc but altcrcd to suit its ncw
Alrican surroundings.
25 Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu
This discussion also rcgards nglish as a vchiclc uscd to convcy ccrtain clc
mcnts ol !gbo culturc, and in this casc administrativc and rcligious tcrms.
Thus thc qucstion ol dcaling with nglish pcr sc as a mcdium is irrclcvant
lor thc purposcs ol this articlc. Rathcr, our conccrn is to invcstigatc thc
mcdiation ol !gbo culturc into thc TT in so lar as it is prcscntcd in non
nglish nglish. Howcvcr, bclorc thc analysis is conductcd, thc thcorctical
background and lramcwork within which thc translation is carricd out is
briclly discusscd.
Theoretical framework
cscriptivc translation thcorists, likc 8assncttMcGuirc (1980), Toury
(1980), Hcrmans (1985), Lambcrt and \an Gorp (1985) and Lclcvcrc (1992)
amongst othcrs, suggcst that thc sociocultural contcxt in which translations
takc placc should bc considcrcd in thc study ol translations. Thcy arguc
that translations arc ncvcr produccd in a vacuum, but thcy arc a part ol a
largcr systcm and thcrclorc should bc dcscribcd in tcrms ol thc targct systcm
(Lambcrt and \an Gorp, 1985:44). This approach is in contrast with thc
approach ol carlicr translation thcorists who bclicvcd in thc abstract idcal
ol cxact cquivalcncc bctwccn ST and TT. Catlord (1965:2) illustratcs this
idcal conccpt ol cquivalcncc whcn hc dclincs translation as thc rcplaccmcnt
ol tcxtual matcrial in onc languagc (SL) by cquivalcnt tcxtual matcrial in
anothcr languagc.
According to dcscriptivc translation thcorists, translations can ncvcr bc
cxact cquivalcnts ol thcir originals bccausc cvcry translation involvcs a ccrtain
amount ol manipulation lor a ccrtain purposc (Hcrmans, 1985:13). Tis vicw
mcans that cquivalcncc is not an abstract thcorctical conccpt, but is simply
sccn as thc cxisting rclationship bctwccn two tcxts. Tcrclorc, this approach
mcans that studics ol translations should not bc prcscriptivc, but dcscrip
tivc, targctoricntcd, lunctional and systcmatic (Hcrmans, 1985:10). !n othcr
words, thc dcscription ol a translation should also takc into account othcr
lactors accting it. Toury (1995:52) cmphasiscs this widcr approach towards
translation in thc lollowing rcmarks:
translatorship amounts lirst and lorcmost to bcing ablc to play a
social rolc. i.c., to lullil a lunction allottcd by a community . . . in
a way which is dccmcd appropriatc in its own tcrms ol rclcrcncc.
Thc acquisition ol a sct ol norms lor manocuvring bctwccn all
lactors which may constrain it, is thcrclorc a prcrcquisitc lor
bccoming a translator within a cultural cnvironmcnt.
!n ordcr to account lor this broadcr dcscriptivc translation ol thc TT prop
crly and systcmatically, Toury proposcs that thc translation critic cstablishcs
26 . N. Mkhizc
translational norms which hc rcgards as guiding principlcs which dillcr
lrom onc cultural group to anothcr. Toury (1995:54) asscrts that thc
norms thcmsclvcs lorm a gradcd continuum along thc scalc: somc arc
strongcr, and hcncc morc rulclikc, othcrs arc wcakcr, and hcncc almost
idiosyncratic.
According to Toury (1995:5658) thcrc arc thrcc kinds ol norms in
translation that can bc distinguishcd, namcly prcliminary, opcrational and
initial norms. Hc statcs that prcliminary norms dcal with lactors that dctcr
minc thc sclcction ol tcxts lor translation as wcll as thc ovcrall translation
stratcgy uscd. pcrational norms dctcrminc thc actual dccisions madc in thc
translating proccss itscll. Such dccisions may includc stratcgics likc addition,
omission, substitution, ctc. Rcgarding initial norms, Toury argucs that thcsc
norms indicatc thc translators choicc bctwccn a sourccoricntcd or a targct
oricntcd approach. !n thc lormcr thc translator subjccts himscll/hcrscll to
thc tcxtual structurc and norms ol thc ST, whcrcas in thc lattcr thc translator
cxprcsscs thc litcrary and cultural norms ol thc targct rcadcrship. Howcvcr,
it is important to notc that thcrc is no clcarcut distinction bctwccn thc two
approachcs, translators may dccidc to adopt an approach which is situatcd
at somc point bctwccn thcsc two cxtrcmcs, dcpcnding on what thcy want
to achicvc.
!n this discussion, lor instancc, thc rcscarchcr discovcrcd that thc rst
unanalytical rcading ol thc TT givcs thc imprcssion that thc TT is sourcc
oricntcd. Howcvcr, closc rcading provcs this imprcssion wrong bccausc it
shows that thc tcxt is both sourccoricntcd and targctoricntcd. Tc rcason
lor thc rst imprcssion is that thc translator translcrrcd a lot ol !gbo words
unchangcd to thc TT. Anothcr rcason is that thc translator rctaincd most
!gbo idioms and cxprcssions in thc TT by litcral translation. cspitc thcsc
obscrvations, thc rcscarchcr also discovcrcd that thc TT is targctoricntcd as
wcll. Tc targctoricntation is rccctcd in thc usc ol TT cultural tcrms and
cxprcssions in thc TT. Tc translator accomplishcs this by using mainly thc
cultural substitution stratcgy in translating ccrtain ST cultural clcmcnts and
in this articlc this will bc shown by analysing spccically administrativc and
rcligious tcrms.
!n thc light ol thc discussion in thc abovc paragraph, wc can thcrclorc
say that thc translators initial norm is ncithcr solcly sourcctcxt nor solcly
targcttcxt oricntcd sincc hc subjccts himscll to linguistic and cultural norms
ol both thc ST and thc TT. Likc thc initial norm, thc translators opcrational
norms i.c. thc dominant usc ol translcrcncc and cultural substitution stratc
gics, lurthcr conrms thc translators willingncss to accommodatc thc systcms
ol both thc ST and thc TT. Considcring both systcms is important bccausc
cach tcxt is cmbcddcd in its own systcm which imposcs ccrtain constraints
upon it. Lambcrt and \an Gorp (1985:44) put it in this way:
27 Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu
Thc targct systcm nccd not bc rcstrictcd to thc litcrary systcm ol
thc targct culturc, sincc translations ol litcrary works may also
lunction outsidc litcraturc, within a translational systcm. !n most
cascs, howcvcr, thc targct systcm will bc part ol thc litcrary systcm
ol thc targct culturc, or at lcast ovcrlap with it. Thc cxact rclations
bctwccn thc litcrary systcms ol thc targct and thc sourcc culturcs
havc to bc cxamincd, which is prcciscly thc aim ol our schcmc.
8oth sourcc (litcrary) systcm and targct (litcrary) systcm arc opcn
systcms which intcract with othcr systcms.
!n this articlc thc rcscarchcr dcscribcs, comparcs and analyscs thc lin
guistic, litcrary and cultural systcms ol both tcxts. According to dcscriptivc
translation thcorists such a comparativc analysis should bc prcccdcd by thc
cstablishmcnt ol a tcrtium comparationis. Toury (1995:80) dcncs a tcrtium
comparationis as an intcrmcdiary conccpt which scrvcs as thc invariant ol
thc comparison. !n short, this mcans that in carrying out a comparison thc
rcscarchcr nccds to cstablish spccic clcmcnts ol thc ST and thc TT to bc
comparcd bccausc an cxhaustivc analysis ol cvcry tcxtual problcm is not lca
siblc (Lambcrt and \an Gorp, 1985:49). Tis is thc rcason why two cultural
clcmcnts namcly, administrativc and rcligious tcrms havc bccn idcnticd to
scrvc as tcrtium comparationis bctwccn thc ST and thc TT. !n thc lollowing
scction thcsc tcrms will thcrclorc bc uscd to illustratc thc way in which !gbo
culturc was handlcd in thc translation.
Administrative terms
Usually, administrativc tcrms uscd in a country arc a rcllcction ol how a
nation is administcrcd and govcrncd. Administrativc tcrms may, lor instancc,
indicatc that a nation is organiscd in a traditional or modcrn way. Furthcr
morc, thcy may bc transparcnt or opaquc (Ncwmark, 1988:99). 8y trans
parcnt wc mcan thosc tcrms whosc mcaning is casily dctcctablc. !n contrast,
opaquc tcrms rclcr to thosc tcrms whosc mcaning is not dctcctablc on thc
surlacc. !t is obvious thcrclorc that il tcrms arc not transparcnt thc trans
lator laccs a scrious challcngc in making tcrms acccssiblc and mcaninglul
to thc targct rcadcrship. vcn in cascs whcrc tcrms sccm to bc transparcnt
thc translator still has to makc thcir mcaning rclcvant and comprchcnsiblc
to thc targct rcadcrship. A common stratcgy uscd by translators to dcal with
this problcm is translation by cultural substitution. According to 8akcr
(1992:31), this stratcgy involvcs rcplacing a culturcspccilic itcm with an
itcm which docs not havc thc samc propositional mcaning but which is likcly
to havc a similar impact on thc targct rcadcr. Thc main advantagc ol using
this stratcgy is that it givcs TT rcadcrs a lamiliar conccpt with which thcy
can idcntily.
28 . N. Mkhizc
!n this discussion tcrms which indicatc thc administration ol thc tra
ditional !gbo socicty includc thc lollowing: cldcrs, titlcd mcn, cgwugwu,
istrict Commissioncr and kotma. Tis articlc invcstigatcs how Msimang
(1995) translatcd thcsc tcrms. !n thc ST it appcars that cldcrs arc thc most
important rcprcscntativcs ol authority in running thc !gbo socicty. Vhcn
thcrc arc scrious mattcrs to bc discusscd and rcsolvcd cldcrs takc an activc
and indispcnsablc part. Tc activc participation ol cldcrs in thc aairs ol thc
!gbo community is illustratcd, lor cxamplc, by thc scttlcmcnt ol a crucial dis
putc bctwccn thc !gbos and thc Mbainos (Achcbc, 1958:9). Anothcr instancc
which shows thc activc rolc ol cldcrs in thc community livcs ol thc !gbos is
lound whcrc cldcrs pay a nc to thc istrict Commissioncr in ordcr to avoid
war with thc 8ritish (Achcbc, 1958:139). !n thc light ol thcsc cvcnts it is
obvious that cldcrs lorm an incxtricablc part ol administrativc structurc ol
thc !gbo socicty.
!n translating thc word cldcrs, thc word indicating thc sociopolitical
structurc ol thc !gbos, Msimang sccms to prclcr to usc thc words izingwcvu
(lit. pcoplc with irongrcy hair) (1995:10, 12, 4041 and 138), abadala (lit.
thc old oncs) (1995:40) and thc phrasc abanumzanc ascbckhulilc (lit. mcn
who havc grown old) (1995:80) intcrchangcably. Tc translation ol cldcrs as
abanumzanc ascbckhulilc or abadala is litcral in thc scnsc that it providcs thc
surlacc mcaning ol thc words sincc abadala and abanumzanc ascbckhulilc
mcan cldcrs in Zulu. !t is noticcablc that Msimang uscs thc phrasc abanum
zanc ascbckhulilc and thc word abadala only oncc in thc translation, othcr
wisc hc uscs thc word izingwcvu as alrcady indicatcd. Tc possiblc rcason lor
thc avoidancc ol thc phrasc and word could bc that hc nds thcm litcral and
thus not appcaling in a litcrary work.
n thc othcr hand, izingwcvu, thc word which sccms to bc thc trans
lators lavouritc bccausc ol its lrcqucncy, is artistically litcrary bccausc it is
a hlonipha, i.c. a cuphcmistic word rclcrring to old pcoplc with grcy hair.
Gcncrally, a pcrson with grcy hair is symbolic ol cxpcricncc and maturity.
Although in Zulu thc word izingwcvu is not uscd with spccic rclcrcncc to
administration, it is, howcvcr, implicd in thc scnsc that, traditionally, mcn
who participatcd in thc administration ol thc nation wcrc thosc who had
gonc through various stagcs, likc ghting in wars as young mcn and thcn cs
tablishing big lamilics as adults. Most ol thosc mcn wcrc known as izinduna
(ncarly litcrally translatcd as captains) and hcadmcn (8ryant, 1967:461). 8ry
ant (1967:461) also cxplains that izinduna and hcadmcn lunctioncd as mcm
bcrs ol thc Council and cxccutivc bodics. Vhat is ol intcrcst hcrc is that most
ol thosc mcn wcrc cldcrs. So, by translating thc ST word cldcrs as izingwcvu,
Msimang givcs thc targct rcadcrship a picturc ol thc kind ol pcoplc who wcrc
rcsponsiblc lor thc running ol !gbo socicty. Tis typc ol cultural substitution
29 Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu
thcrclorc makcs thc tcxt acccssiblc to thc ncw rcadcrship. Tc lollowing cx
tracts show thc translation ol thc word:
Thc missionarics spcnt thcir lirst lour or livc nights in thc markct
placc, and wcnt into thc villagc in thc morning to prcach thc
gospcl. Thcy askcd who thc king was, but thc villagcrs told thcm
that thcrc was no king. Vc havc mcn ol high titlc and thc chicl
pricsts and thc cldcrs, thcy said (Achcbc, 1958:105).
Abalundisi bahlala cnkundlcni yascndakini kwazc kwaphcla
izinsuku czinc noma czinhlanu. Kwakuthi njalo ckuscni bavukclc
cmzini bayoshumaycla ivangcli. 8abclikc babuzc ukuthi inkosi
cbusa lcso silunda ngubani. !zakhamuzi zona zaziphcndula
ngokuthi azinayo inkosi. Sincziqonga zamadoda ayizihlabani,
bcsc kuba yizanusi, nczingwcvu (Msimang: 1995:138).
Anothcr important administrativc structurc amongst thc !gbos consti
tutcd titlcd mcn. According to nuh (1992:41), titlctaking in !gbo was thc
highcst lorm ol cxccllcncc which was acknowlcdgcd by giving titlcd mcn
authority to participatc activcly in thc govcrnancc ol thc community. !n lact,
titlcd mcn wcrc rcgardcd as thc judiciary ol thc traditional !gbo community.
!n Zulu culturc somc ol thc mcn who wcrc also mcmbcrs ol thc Council,
a body rcsponsiblc lor thc running ol thc aairs ol thc nation, worc hcad
rings known as ongiyanc or izicoco. Hcadring wcaring, likc !gbo titlctaking,
was rcgardcd as thc highcst lorm ol achicvcmcnt in thc Zulu culturc. Fuzc
(1979:27) cxplains that hcadrings wcrc worn by mcn who had gonc to war
and had distinguishcd thcmsclvcs as cxccllcnt warriors. As mcmbcrs ol thc
Council, it is clcar that hcadring wcaring mcn occupicd scnior positions and
pcrlormcd administrativc dutics similar to titlcd mcn in thc !gbo culturc.
8ccausc ol thc similarity ol position and duty bctwccn !gbo titlctaking and
Zulu hcadring wcaring, Msimang lound it appropriatc to translatc thc phrasc
titlctaking as indoda csithungc isicoco (lit. A man who has scwn a hcadring)
(1995:67) and Laba ascbcthungc ongiyanc (lit. Tosc who havc scwn a hcad
ring) (1995:80).
!n addition to thc abovcmcntioncd translations, Msimang also uscs thc
phrasc amadoda ayizihlabani (lit. mcn who distinguish thcmsclvcs) as thc
translation ol titlcd mcn. Tis translation may bc rcgardcd as Msimangs
stratcgy ol cmphasizing distinction and cxccllcncc as prcrcquisitcs lor hcad
ring wcaring, likc it is thc casc with titlctaking in thc !gbo culturc. Cultural
substitutcs such as thcsc arc signicant in thc tcxt bccausc thcy hclp thc Zulu
rcadcrship undcrstand thc institution ol !gbo titlctaking bcttcr sincc thcy arc
30 . N. Mkhizc
givcn an cxamplc lrom thcir own cultural practicc. !n thc lollowing cxtracts
wc nd anothcr cxamplc in which cultural substitution was uscd:
Thc titlcd mcn and cldcrs sat on thcir stools waiting lor thc trial
to bcgin (Achcbc, 1958:62).
Laba ascbcthungc ongiyanc, kanyc nabanumzanc ascbckhulilc
bona babchlczi czihlahvcni zabo, bclindclc ukuba ukuthcthwa
kwamacala kuqalc (Msimang, 1995:80).
Tc administrativc structurc ol thc !gbos also consists ol pcoplc known
as cgwugwu. nuh (1992:42) cxplains that cgwugwu wcrc part ol Tc Mas
qucradc . . . a social but sccrct association . . . a closcd association surroundcd
by mystcrious bclicls and activitics, with a rcstrictcd mcmbcrship only to
malcs initiatcd into it. Hc also points out that cgwugwu, likc othcr masqucr
adc mcmbcrs, lunctioncd as mcans ol social control, compclling individuals
in thc socicty to comply with traditional standards and way ol lilc, as wcll as
guarding community propcrty against intrudcrs (1992:42). From thc lorcgo
ing cxplanation it is clcar that cgwugwu wcrc working in closc coopcration
with policy makcrs, likc cldcrs and titlcd mcn. Tcy wcrc in lact an cxtcnsion
ol thc judiciary, thc cxccutivc arm ol !gbo law and norms. !n thc ST, Achcbc
makcs mcntion ol cgwugwu a numbcr ol timcs. !n all instanccs cgwugwu
arc involvcd in somc administrativc lunction, such as thc rcsolution ol dis
putcs. For cxamplc, in Achcbc (1958:6466) thc disputc bctwccn Mgbalo
and Uzowulu which is thrcatcning thc pcacc and unity amongst thc !gbos is
scttlcd by thc cgwugwu.
!nstcad ol translating thc word cgwugwu, which likc cldcrs and titlcd
mcn illustratcs thc administration ol !gbos, Msimang translcrs thc word un
changcd throughout thc tcxt. Howcvcr, in cnsuring that thc targct rcadcrship
undcrstands thc mcaning ol cgwugwu, hc supplics rcadcrs with thc mcaning
ol thc word in thc glossary. Translcrcncc, according to Ncwmark (1988:81),
is thc proccss ol translcrring an SL word to a TL tcxt unchangcd. Such a
word thcn bccomcs a loan in thc TT. Tc lollowing cxtracts illustratc how
cgwugwu appcars as loan word in thc TT:
So ! havc brought thc mattcr to thc lathcrs ol thc clan. My casc
is linishcd. ! salutc you. Your words arc good, said thc lcadcr ol
thc cgwugwu. Lct us hcar dukwc. His words may also bc good
(Achcbc, 1958:64).
Yingalokho ngithi lolu daba angizolwcthula kobaba bcsizwc.
Udaba lwami luphclcla lapho. Nina bakomkhulu! Mahlc amagama
31 Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu
akho, sckusho umholi wawocgwugwu. Akc sizwc kudokwc.
Mhlawumbc nayc unamazwi amahlc (Msimang, 1995:84).
Thc rcason lor thc translcrcncc ol thc word cgwugwu could bc that thc
translator could not lind a Zulu cultural substitution lor this word sincc
thcrc is no institution likc thc Masqucradc ol which cgwugwu is a mcmbcr.
!t is dillicult to say whcthcr thc translcrcncc obscurcs thc undcrstanding ol
thc tcxt or not. !n thc vicw ol thc rcscarchcr thc translcrcncc ol cgwugwu
hclpcd thc translator to prcscnt this structurc to thc targct rcadcrship with
out mcdiation which might havc brought about somc conlusion or changc
in mcaning.
Altcr thc arrival ol thc nglish in !gboland thc abovcmcntioncd ad
ministrativc structurcs wcrc supprcsscd and rcplaccd with ncw wcstcrn oncs.
Tc major wcstcrn administrativc structurc was hcadcd by thc istrict Com
missioncr who rulcd !gboland on bchall ol thc quccn ol ngland. !nncs and
Lindlors (1978:3) cxplain that istrict Commissioncrs wcrc thc imposcd
8ritish rulcrs who dividcd !gboland into various tcrritorics and thcn rulcd it
according to thc 8ritish rulc. !n thc ST, Achcbc rclcrs to thc istrict Commis
sioncr a numbcr ol timcs. !n all instanccs thc istrict Commissioncr shows
how thc 8ritish undcrmincd thc traditional !gbo administrativc structurcs.
Tc Frcnch scholar, Mannoni (1956:108) ascribcs this lorm ol bchaviour to
thc colonial tradition ol lacking awarcncss ol thc world ol othcrs, a world in
which thcrs havc to bc rcspcctcd.
!n translating thc tcrm istrict Commissioncr, Msimang uscs thc
word uNdabazabantu (1995:165). Tis word can bc considcrcd as a cultural
substitutc in thc scnsc that in South Alrica, likc in !gboland, thc 8ritish
govcrnmcnt and othcr colonial govcrnmcnts dividcd South Alrica into dil
lcrcnt districts and thcn cach district had its own administrativc occrs who
bccamc commonly known as uNdabazabantu by thc nativc pcoplc. Tc his
torical and political similaritics bctwccn !gbo and South Alrica makcs thc
tcrm uNdabazabantu acccssiblc to thc targct rcadcrship, and thc targct rcad
crship casily rclatcs to this tcrm. Tc lollowing cxtracts providc cxamplcs ol
thc translation:
And so thc six mcn wcnt to scc thc istrict Commissioncr, armcd
with thcir matchcts. Thcy did not carry guns, lor that would bc
unsccmly. Thcy wcrc lcd into thc courthousc whcrc thc istrict
Commissioncr sat. (Achcbc, 1958:137)
Ncbala amadoda ayisithupha ahamba ayobonana noNdabazabantu
wcsilunda, chlomc ngocclcmba. Nokho aycngaziphcthc izibhamu,
ngoba lokho kwakungckc kwcmukclckc kahlc. 8angcniswa cndlini
32 . N. Mkhizc
ycnkantolo lapho uNdabazabantu aychlczi khona (Msimang,
1995:178).
!n addition to thc abovcmcntioncd administrativc structurc, thc 8rit
ish govcrnmcnt also rccruitcd non!gbo Alrican pcoplc who wcrc known as
kotma to assist thcm in ruling !gbo pcoplc. Kotma lunctioncd as court mcs
scngcrs as wcll as prison wardcrs. Achcbc mcntions thc word kotma quitc a
lcw timcs. !n all instanccs kotma scrvcd a particular administrativc lunction
on bchall ol thc istrict Commissioncr. For cxamplc, thcy imprisoncd mcn
who had molcstcd Christians and scrvcd as prison wardcrs as wcll (Achcbc,
1958:123). Such activitics madc thcm vcry unpopular amongst !gbo pcoplc.
!n thc translation Msimang rctains this word throughout thc tcxt as a loan
word. As with cgwugwu, hc also providcs thc mcaning ol kotma in thc glos
sary so as to cnsurc that thc Zulu rcadcrship undcrstands thc word. A possiblc
rcason lor thc translcrcncc ol kotma could bc that Msimang lclt that in ordcr
to prcscrvc thc ncgativc attitudc which thc !gbo pcoplc had towards kotma,
thc word had to bc rctaincd. Anothcr possiblc rcason could bc that Msimang
thought that thc usc ol a dicrcnt word othcr than kotma would probably
compromisc thc mcaning by bcing lcss ncgativc and thus lail to convcy thc
original intcndcd ncgativc mcaning.
Tc ncgativc attitudc ol !gbos towards kotma is also highlightcd by thc
nicknamc Ashy8uttocks (Achcbc, 1958:123) which thcy gavc to kotma. Al
though this nicknamc basically dcscribcs thc ashcolourcd shorts which wcrc
worn by thcsc pcoplc, it ncvcrthclcss shows disrcspcct and contcmpt bccausc
kotma did not approvc ol it. bviously, !gbos uscd it to humiliatc thcm. !n an
attcmpt to capturc thc samc spirit ol thc ST, Msimang translatcs this word
as oZinqczinomlotho (lit. pcoplc with ashy buttocks) (1995:178). Tc intcn
tion ol this litcral translation appcars to bc that thc translator wants thc Zulu
rcadcrship to rclatc to kotma in thc samc ncgativc way as thc ST rcadcrship.
Tc lollowing cxtracts illustratc instanccs whcrc thc word is uscd:

Thcsc court mcsscngcrs wcrc grcatly hatcd in Umuolia bccausc
thcy wcrc lorcigncrs and also arrogant and highhandcd. Thcy wcrc
callcd kotma, and bccausc ol thcir ashcolourcd shorts thcy carncd
thc additional namc ol Ashy8uttocks (Achcbc, 1958:123).
Lczi zithunywa zcnkantolo zazinyamanambana kubantu basc
Umuolia. Phcla zazithi ingani zingabantu bczizwc bcsc zibuyc
zcdclcla luthi zizikhukhumcza. Zazibizwa ngokuthi zingo
kotma, kanti luthi ngcnxa yokugqoka izikhindi czilana nomlotha
ngokwcbala, zabuyc zaqanjwa igama clithi ngoZinqczinomlotha
(Msimang, 1995:178).
33 Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu
Thc abovc discussion on thc translation ol tcrms dcscribing administrativc
structurcs in traditional !gbo community in thc ST, shows that thc trans
lator uscd dillcrcnt translation stratcgics to achicvc dillcrcnt purposcs. A
stratcgy such as translcrcncc or loan words, hclp thc translator to prcscrvc
and prcscnt traditional !gbo administrativc tcrms as thcy wcrc in thc tradi
tional !gbo community. !n addition, thc usc ol cultural substitutcs lacilitatcs
thc acccssibility and cnhanccs thc mcaninglulncss ol thc tcrms. Thc ncxt
scction invcstigatcs thc translation ol !gbo rcligious tcrms.
Religious terms
Thc rcligion ol thc traditional !gbo socicty is bascd on thc bclicl ol thc
cxistcncc ol Chukwu, thc Suprcmc 8cing who is rcsponsiblc lor thc crcation
ol thc world and cvcrything in it. According to Njoku (1978:8), traditional
!gbo socicty bclicvc that Chukwu has no cqual, but hc had onc grcat cncmy
callcd kwcsi or cvil. !n thc ST, Achcbc maintains thc conccpt ol thc
suprcmacy ol Chukwu as wcll as thc word Chukwu itscll throughout thc
tcxt. This could probably bc rcgardcd as a way ol prcscnting thc !gbo rcli
gion lrom an !gbo pcrspcctivc as wcll as showing thc world that !gbos wcrc
rcligious pcoplc. Likc Achcbc, Msimang also translcrs thc word Chukwu
unchangcd throughout thc translation dcspitc thc lact that thcrc was room
to lind an cquivalcnt in Zulu cosmology, likc thc word Mvclinqqangi, a tra
ditional Zulu word lor God. 8y not changing thc word Chukwu, Msimang,
likc Achcbc, wants his rcadcrship to undcrstand God lrom an !gbo rcligious
point ol vicw. Thc lollowing cxtracts show both thc original and thc transla
tion ol thc word Chukwu.
Vc also bclicvc in Him and call Him Chukwu. Hc madc all
thc world and othcr gods. Thcrc arc no othcr gods, said Mr
8rown. Chukwu is thc only God and all othcrs arc lalsc (Achcbc,
1958:126127).
Nathi siyakholwa kulowo Nkulunkulu luthi simbiza ngokuthi
nguChukwu. Vadala umhlaba wonkc kanyc nabanyc onkulunkul.
Abckho abanyc onkulunkulu, kwclulcka uMnu. 8rown. UChukwu
nguyc kuphcla uNkulunkulu. Laba abanyc ngonkulunkulu
bamanga ngothi lwabo (Msimang, 1995:164).
!n addition to Chukwu, traditional !gbos also bclicvc in gods or dcitics
who assist God. Tcy bclicvc that dcitics play an intcrmcdiary rolc and scrvc
as divinc rcprcscntativcs (nuh, 1992:13). !t is this bclicl in othcr gods that
brought !gbos in conict with 8ritish missionarics who did not makc any
cort to cxaminc thc traditional !gbo bclicls and rclatc thcm to Vcstcrn
34 . N. Mkhizc
monothcism (Njoku, 1984:18). Somc ol thc dcitics which !gbos bclicvc in in
cludc thc goddcss ol thc carth (Achcbc, 1958:26), thc goddcss ol thc sky and
thc goddcss ol thc thundcrbolt, Amadiora (Achcbc, 1958:102). According to
nuh (1992:24), thc goddcss ol thc carth is a givcr ol lcrtility to mcn, ani
mals and crops. Tc rcligious signicancc ol this goddcss is also highlightcd
by thc cclcbration ol thc Ncw Yam whcrcby !gbos ocr ncw yams to thc god
dcss ol thc carth and anccstral spirits (Achcbc, 1958:26).
!n Zulu culturc, likc in !gbo culturc, thcrc is also a goddcss ol thc
carth. Shc is known as Nomkhubulwanc. Likc thc !gbo goddcss ol thc
carth, Nomkhubulwanc is rcgardcd as thc goddcss ol rain and lcrtility.
Again, likc thc !gbo Ncw Yam lcast, thc lcast ol Nomkhubulwanc is also
charactcriscd by thc sacricc ol lood to this goddcss. Cultural similaritics
bctwccn thc !gbo goddcss ol thc carth and Nomkhubulwanc, as wcll as
thc lcasts cxplain why Msimang translatcd thc !gbo goddcss ol thc carth
as Nomkhubulwanc. !n actual lact, this cultural substitutc stratcgy can bc
considcrcd as Msimangs cort to cnsurc that thc ncw rcadcrship rclatcs
mcaninglully to thc tcxt.
Vhcrcas Achcbc (1958) mcntions thc goddcss ol thc carth morc than
oncc, hc mcntions thc othcr goddcsscs (thc goddcss ol thc sky and thc god
dcss ol thc thundcrbolt) only oncc in thc ST. Tc rcason lor this, according
to Njoku (1978:7), is that thc most important ol all thc dcitics in rcligious
and social lilc ol thc pcoplc is Ala, thc arth city. bviously, thc god
dcss ol thc carth was hcld in highcr cstccm than thc othcr goddcsscs. !n his
translation ol thc lcss signicant goddcsscs, Msimang uscs thc word isithixo.
!sithixo rclcrs to a god and it is dcrivcd lrom Tixo, a Xhosa Christian coin
agc lor Qamata, a traditional Xhosa namc lor God. Although Xhosas do
not bclicvc in polythcism, thc coinagc ol isithixo (lit. a god) hclps to accom
modatc thc cxistcncc ol othcr gods which wcrc also worshippcd. Tc contact
bctwccn Zulus and Xhosas has rcsultcd in thc usc ol thc word isithixo by
Zulus as wcll. So, by translating thc two goddcsscs as isithixo scsibhakabhaka
and isithixo sczulu nokuduma rcspcctivcly, Msimang (1995:135) acculturatcd
thcsc culturcspccic itcms ol thc ST.
!n illustrating thc conccpt ol dcitics lurthcr, Achcbc also talks about thc
importancc ol thc raclc in thc livcs ol !gbos. !n thc !gbo culturc an oraclc
is undcrstood as onc ol Chukwus goddcsscs who plays somc rolc in thc livcs
ol thc !gbos. For cxamplc, bclorc going to war !gbos arc cxpcctcd to consult
with thc raclc ol thc Hills and thc Cavcs as this would cnsurc thcm suc
ccss (Achcbc, 1958:9). Tc raclc plcads to Chukwu on thcir bchall. !n his
translation Msimang (1995:10) translatcs thc raclc ol thc Hills and thc
Cavcs as uSomlomo kaMvclingqangi. USomlomo is a Zulu word uscd to
rclcr to somconc who spcaks on bchall ol somconc clsc, lor instancc, a Spcak
cr ol Parliamcnt is also known as uSomlomo wcphalamcntc. !n contrast,
35 Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu
uMvclingqangi, as alrcady mcntioncd, is a traditional Zulu word lor God. n
this basis wc can dcducc that thc phrasc uSomlomo kaMvclinqgangi hclps
thc Zulu rcadcrs to rclatc mcaninglully to thc conccpt ol thc raclc. !t is
also intcrcsting to notc that thc translation, uSomlomo kaMvclingqangi, is
Msimangs own crcation. 8y mcans ol this collocation hc probably wants to
cnsurc that thc Zulu rcadcrship undcrstands that thc raclc ol thc Hills and
thc Cavcs was Chukwus mcsscngcr.
Tc discussion ol !gbo rcligion would bc incomplctc without mcntion
ing a chi or pcrsonal spirit. Achcbc (1975:93) cxplains a pcrsons chi as his
spirit bcing complcmcnting his tcrrcstrial human bcing: lor nothing can
stand alonc, thcrc must always bc anothcr thing standing bcsidc it. Achcbcs
cxplanation indicatcs that a chi is an intcgral part ol traditional !gbo rcligion
as !gbos pcrccivc it as thc guardian ol cach and cvcry pcrson. !n lact, thcy
bclicvc that a pcrsons chi is rcsponsiblc lor his/hcr lortuncs as wcll as mislor
tuncs (Achcbc, 1958:92). Tc lollowing cxtracts show cxamplcs in which thc
word chi has bccn uscd in thc ST:
At an carly agc hc (konkwo) had achicvcd lamc as thc grcatcst
wrcstlcr in all thc land. That was not luck. At thc most onc could
say that his chi or pcrsonal god was good. 8ut thc !bo pcoplc
havc a provcrb that whcn a man says ycs vcry strongly, so his chi
says ycs also. konkwo said ycs vcry strongly: so his chi agrccd
(Achcbc, 1958:19).
Clcarly, his (konkwos) pcrsonal god or chi was not mcant lor grcat
things. A man could not risc bcyond thc dcstiny ol his chi. Thc saying
ol thc cldcrs was not tructhat il a man said yca his chi also allirmcd.
Hcrc was a man whosc chi said nay dcspitc his own allirmation (Achcbc,
1958:92).
!n translating thc word chi, Msimang supplics rcadcrs with a Zulu
cultural substitutc namcly idlozi (1995:2223). Likc a chi, idlozi in thc
Zulu culturc is bclicvcd to bc a guardian spirit (okc ct al., 1990:161).
Howcvcr, idlozi is not only a pcrsonal spirit as is thc casc with a chi in !gbo
culturc, idlozi is also collcctivc in thc scnsc that onc spirit looks altcr thc
cntirc lamily, that is why thcrc is a provcrb which says Akudlozi lingayi
ckhaya (lit. No spirit lails to go homc). cspitc this dicrcncc though, thc
targct rcadcrship should nd thc translation ol a chi as idlozi mcaninglul
and acccptablc sincc idlozi is a wcllknown conccpt in thc Zulu rcligious
systcm.
Although Msimang substitutcs a chi with idlozi as alrcady indicatcd, it
is important to notc that hc rctains thc word chi on only onc occasion. Tis
happcns whcn hc translatcs thc lollowing !gbo idiom:
36 . N. Mkhizc
Thc saying ol thc cldcrs was not truc that il a man said yca his chi
also allirmcd. Hcrc was a man whosc chi said nay dcspitc his own
allirmation (Achcbc, 1958:92).
!zwi labadala lalingakhulumi iqiniso nxa lithi uma umuntu cthi
ycbo, ncchi yakhc iyamvumcla. !ngani nansi indoda okuthi lapho
ivuma kodwa ichi yayo ibc ilandula (Msimang, 1995:121).
Thc rcason lor thc translcrcncc ol thc word chi in this instancc is not clcar
considcring thc lact that Msimang uscs thc word idlozi throughout thc tcxt.
Howcvcr, thc rcscarchcr spcculatcs that thc inconsistcnt translation ol a chi
in this casc is mcant to kccp thc !gbo idiom intact sincc it cmbodics thc
traditional !gbo rcligion which thc translator also wants to prcscnt lrom an
!gbo pcrspcctivc.
Tc cxamination ol thc rcligious tcrms discusscd abovc illustratcs clcarly
that Msimang has takcn thc cultural contcxts ol both thc ST and thc TT
into considcration. Tis is shown, lor instancc, by thc usc ol thc original rc
ligious tcrms ol thc ST, such as Chukwu, as wcll as thc substitution ol ccr
tain rcligious tcrms with Zulu cquivalcnts, likc Nomkhubulwanc and idlozi.
Furthcrmorc, thc crcation ol thc collocation uSomlomo kaMvclinqgangi also
cnsurcs that thc ncw rcadcrship undcrstands thc conccpt ol thc raclc bcttcr.
From thcsc obscrvations, it is obvious that Msimang trics to accommodatc
both culturcs.
Conclusion
Thc aim ol this articlc was to analysc thc manncr in which !gbo culturc
as rcllcctcd in administrativc and rcligious tcrms in Things Fall Apart was
translcrrcd to thc Zulu translation. Thc dcscriptivc comparativc analysis
rcvcals that thc translator implcmcntcd a varicty ol stratcgics such as litcral
translation, translcrcncc and cultural substitution. !t is concludcd that thc
dominant usc ol translcrcncc and cultural substitution as stratcgics is an
indication that thc translator wantcd to accommodatc both sourcc languagc
and targct languagc culturcs. For cxamplc, thc translcrcncc ol Chukwu,
cgwugwu, kotma and othcr !gbo words was aimcd at cxposing thc targct
rcadcrship to !gbo cultural clcmcnts without any mcdiation which might
changc thc intcndcd original mcaning. !n kccping with this intcntion, thc
translator also providcd thc targct rcadcrship with a glossary whcrc !gbo
words and conccpts arc cxplaincd. bviously, Msimang wantcd to cnsurc
that Zulu rcadcrs arc cxposcd to !gbo culturc as it is rcllcctcd in thc ST.
!n an attcmpt to accommodatc thc targct languagc culturc thc translator
optcd lor cultural substitution. Tis stratcgy cnablcd him to mcct thc cultural
norms ol thc targct rcadcrship, thus making thc TT culturally acccssiblc to
37 Thc Portrayal ol !gbo Culturc in Zulu
thc Zulu rcadcrship. Tc substitution ol tcrms likc chi with idlozi, thc god
dcss ol thc carth with Nomkhubulwanc, cldcrs with izingwcvu and istrict
Commissioncr with Ndabazabantu assists Zulu rcadcrs to rclatc mcaning
lully to thc tcxt as wcll as undcrstand thc tcxt in tcrms ol thcir own targct
languagc systcm.
Tc analysis ol somc ol thc abovcmcntioncd tcrms also showcd somc
inconsistcncy. Howcvcr, it was obscrvcd that, in ccrtain instanccs, inconsis
tcncy was uscd to achicvc ccrtain purposcs. For cxamplc, thc lrcqucnt usc
ol izingwcvu, a cuphcmistic (hlonipha) word lor cldcrs, as opposcd to thc
rarc usc ol abanumzanc ascbckhulilc and abadala, both litcral translations
lor cldcrs, indicatcs that thc translator wants to makc thc TT as artistic and
appcaling as possiblc sincc thc tcxt is litcrary. Ncvcrthclcss, thcrc wcrc also
ccrtain cascs whcrc it was dicult to nd a valid rcason lor inconsistcncy. For
instancc, thc translation ol titlcd man (or mcn) as indoda csithungc isicoco
or Laba ascbcthungc ongiyanc intcrchangcably docs not sccm to havc any
signicancc bccausc thcsc phrascs arc synonymous.
n thc wholc, thc manncr in which Msimang dcalt with !gbo culturc as
cmbodicd in administrativc and rcligious tcrms shows that hc wantcd to rcach
a compromisc bctwccn thc ST and TT culturcs. As a rcsult, thc translation is
ncithcr solcly sourcc tcxtoricntcd nor solcly targct tcxtoricntcd. Finally, thc
rcscarchcr rccommcnds that a similar invcstigation bc conductcd rcgarding
thc manncr in which thc samc tcrms as wcll as othcr cultural clcmcnts havc
bccn dcalt with in othcr translations ol Achcbcs Tings Fall Apart, c.g. Dilo di
Maseke (Monyaisc, 1991) a Sctswana translation, Lwadilikudonga (8ongcla,
1993) a Xhosa translation and thcn thc Northcrn Sotho Diwele Makgolela
(Scrudu, 1993). Such invcstigation may bring Alricans togcthcr by promot
ing crosscultural undcrstanding and tolcrancc amongst thcmsclvcs.
Vovxs Ci :vb
Achcbc, C. 1958. Things Fall Apart. London: Hcincmann.
Achcbc, C. 1975. Chi in !gbo Cosmology in Morning Yet on Creation Day. London:
Hcincmann, 93103.
Achcbc, C. 1975. Thc Alrican Vritcr and thc nglish Languagc in Morning Yet on Creation
Day. London: Hcincmann, 5562.
8akcr, M. 1992. In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation. London: Routlcdgc.
8assncttMcGuirc, S. 1980. Translation Studies. London: Mctcun.
8assnctt, S. & Lclcvcrc, A. 1990. Translation, History, and Culture. London and Ncw York:
Pintcr Publishcrs.
8ongcla, K.S. 1993. Lwadilik donga. Houghton: Hcincmann.
8ryant, A.T. 1967. The Zulu People As They were before the White Man came. Pictcrmaritizburg:
Shutcr and Shootcr.
Catlord, J. 1965. A Linguistic Theory of Translation. xlord: xlord Univcrsity Prcss.
38 . N. Mkhizc
okc, C M., Malcolm, .M., & Sikakana, J.M.A. 1990. English-Zulu, Zulu-English
Dictionary. Johanncsburg: Vitwatcrsrand Univcrsity Prcss.
Fuzc, M. M. 1979. The Black People and Whence they Came. Pictcrmaritzburg: Univcrsity ol
Natal Prcss.
Hcrmans, T. (cd) 1985. The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation.
London: Croom Hchn.
!nncs, C. L. and Lindlors, 8. 1978. Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. Vashington, .C.:
Thrcc Contincnts Prcss.
Lambcrt, J. and \an Gorp, H. 1985. n cscribing Translations. !n Hcrmans, T. 1985.
The Manipulation Of Literature: Studies In Literary Translation. London: Croom Hclm,
4253.
Lclcvcrc, A. 1992. Translating Literature: Practice and Theory in a Comparative Literature
Context. Ncw York: Thc Modcrn Languagc Association ol Amcrica.
Mannoni, . 1956. Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. London: Mcthucn.
Mkhizc, .N. 1998. Cross-cultural Transference: A Descriptive Analysis of Achebes Things
Fall Apart into Zulu. Unpublishcd MA disscrtation, Johanncsburg: Univcrsity ol thc
Vitwatcrsrand.
Monyaisc, .P.S. 1991. Dilo di masoke. Houghton: Hcincmann Publishcrs Southcrn Alrica.
Msimang, C. T 1995. Kwafa Gula Linamasi. Johanncsburg: Hcincmann.
Ncwmark, P. 1988. A Textbook of Translation. London: Prcnticc Hall.
Ncwmark, P. 1991. About Translation. Clcvcdon: Multilingual Mattcr.
Nida, . A. & Tabcr, C. 1969. The theory and the practice of translation. Lcidcn: 8rill.
Njoku, J. . . 1978. A Dictionary of Igbo Names, Culture and Proverbs. Vashington, .C.:
Univcrsity Prcss ol Amcrica.
Njoku, 8. C. 1984. The Four Novels of Chinua Achebe: A Critical Study. Ncw York: Pctcr
Lang.
nuh, C. . 1992. Christianity and the Igbo Rites of Passage. Ncw York: Pctcr Lang.
Scrudu, M.S. Di wele Makgolela. Houghton: HcincmannCcntaur.
Tomasclli, K. 1985. Contemporary Cultural Studies Unit. urban: Univcrsity ol Natal.
Toury, G. 1980. In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tcl Aviv: Thc Portcr !nstitutc lor Poctics
and Scmiotics, Tcl Aviv Univcrsity.
Toury, G. 1995. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amstcrdam: John 8cnjamins.
39
College Literature, \olumc 27, Numbcr 2 (Spring 2000): pp. 146156. Copyright 2000
Patrick C. Nnoromclc.
PAT R! CK C. NNRML
Te Plight of A Hero in Achebes
Tings Fall Apart
1

Although Things Fall Apart rcmains thc most widcly rcad Alrican novcl,
thc lailurc ol its hcro continucs to gcncratc haunting qucstions in thc minds
ol somc ol its rcadcrs, cspccially among thosc who sccm to idcntily with thc
hcros tragcdy. Ccntral to this discomlort is thc qucstion: why did Achcbc
choosc as his hcro an aspiring but brutal young man who ultimatcly took
his own lilc: Thc author himscll acknowlcdgcs that hc has bccn askcd this
qucstion in onc lorm or anothcr by a ccrtain kind ol rcadcr lor thirty ycars
(Lindlors 1991, 22).
2
According to Achcbc, thcsc rcadcrs wantcd to know
why hc allowcd a just causc to stumblc and lall: Vhy did hc lct konkwo
(thc hcro ol thc novcl) lail:
Scvcral commcntators havc argucd that konkwos lailurc is duc to
his individual charactcr wcakncsscs. Many blamc it on thc lragmcntation
ol thc Umuoa socicty and thc dcstruction ol its cultural valucs by thc co
lonial powcrs. Yct othcrs strcss both.
3
Tcrc is no doubt that thcsc things
playcd a rolc in thc sucring mind ol thc hcro, but to arguc that thcy arc thc
rcason lor his lailurc is, in my opinion, too limitcd. Hcncc, ! want to arguc,
contrary to popular vicws, that konkwos downlall is not ncccssarily duc
to wcakncsscs in charactcr or dcpartcd Alrican glorics but rathcr is a lunc
tion ol hcroism in thc cultural bclicl systcms ol thc !gbos. As khamalc
aptly notcd, pcrhaps things bcgin to lall apart in this nincvillagc Umuoa
40 Patrick C. Nnoromclc
clan long bclorc a uropcan colonialist missionary culturc inscrts itscll thcrc
(khamalc 1995, 134).
Tings Fall Apart is not a novcl without a cultural contcxt. !t is a tcxt
rootcd in thc social customs, traditions, and cultural milicu ol a pcoplc. Tc
charactcrs and thcir actions arc bcttcr undcrstood whcn thcy arc cxamincd in
that light. To do othcrwisc not only dcnics thc novcl a lull mcasurc ol apprc
ciation, it also rcndcrs vaguc and imprccisc thc signicancc ol ccrtain cvcnts,
actions, and actors in thc story.
Vhat wc havc in this novcl is a vivid picturc ol thc !gbo socicty at thc
cnd ol thc ninctccnth ccntury. Achcbc dcscribcd lor thc world thc positivc
as wcll as thc ncgativc aspccts ol thc !gbo pcoplc. Hc discusscd thc !gbos
social customs, thcir political structurcs, rcligions, cvcn scasonal lcstivals and
ccrcmonics. Hc providcd thc picturc without any attcmpt to romanticizc or
scntimcntalizc it. As hc said in anothcr occasion, thc charactcrs arc normal
pcoplc and thcir cvcnts arc rcal human cvcnts (Lindlors 1991, 21).
4
Achcbc
told thc story as it is.
Tc lact ol his account is that thc !gbo clan (ol which ! am a mcmbcr)
is a group ol Alrican pcoplc with a complcx, vigorous, and scllsucicnt
way ol lilc. Prior to thc invasion ol thcir land and thc cclipsc ol thcir cul
turc by lorcign powcrs, thcy wcrc undisturbcd by thc prcscnt, and thcy had
no nostalgia lor thc past. !n thc novcl, Achcbc portraycd a pcoplc who arc
now caught bctwccn two conicting culturcs. n thc onc hand, thcrc is thc
traditional way ol lilc pulling on thc Umuoa pcoplc and onc mans strugglc
to maintain that cultural intcgrity against an ovcrwhclming lorcc ol thc co
lonial impcrialism. n thc othcr hand, wc havc thc uropcan stylc which, as
prcscntcd, sccms to rcprcscnt thc luturc, a ncw community ol thc socallcd
civilizcd world. !t now appcars this Alrican man, konkwo, and thc cntirc
socicty ol Umuoa must makc a choicc bctwccn thc old and thc ncwil thcy
havc thc powcr. Tc dcsirc to bccomc a mcmbcr ol uropcanstylc socicty
has its attraction. For onc, it is convcycd to thc Umuoa pcoplc, including
konkwo, as a mcans ol cnjoying thc spoils ol twcnticthccntury civilization.
8ut konkwo rcluscd to cndorsc thc appcal. Hc rccognizcd that acccpting
thc invitation is donc at thc cxpcnsc ol thc things that compriscd his idcntity
and dcncd his valucs.
So whcn somc mcmbcrs ol thc Umuoa community unwittingly ac
ccptcd thc invitation and cndorscd a strangc laith, things lcll apart lor thc
!gbo pcoplc in Achcbcs novcl. Umuoas intcgratcd, organic community was
irrcparably lracturcd. Tcir gods wcrc blasphcmcd and thcir hcro disablcd.
Tcir customs wcrc dcsccratcd and shattcrcd. Tc pcoplc wcrc dividcd or put
asundcr. Tc 8ritish istrict Commissioncr took chargc and controllcd thc
pcoplc. So wc havc what sccms likc a total imposition ol onc cultural, social,
and political structurc upon anothcr. Tc hcro ol thc novcl lound himscll
41 Thc Plight ol A Hcro
plungcd into disastcr. Hc had to kill himscll. bicrika, onc ol thc charactcrs
in thc novcl, cxprcsscd it this way: Tat man |konkwo| was onc ol thc
grcatcst mcn in Umuoa. You drovc him to kill himscll: and now hc will bc
buricd likc a dog (1996, 147). Tis was a tragic act, lcading to thc cxaccr
bating qucstion ol why did Achcbc lct thc hcro lail cspccially among thosc
who havc cxpcricnccd or conlrontcd thc harsh lacc ol colonialism. Howcvcr,
konkwos calamitous act was not uncxpcctcd. All that happcncd to him
and thc lact that hc had to takc his own lilc wcrc primarily thc lunction ol
thc !gbos conccption ol a hcro and, pcrhaps, thc rilt within thc clan brought
about by lorcign domination.
A hcro, in thc !gbo cultural bclicl systcm, is onc with grcat couragc
and strcngth to work against dcstabilizing lorccs ol his community, somconc
who accts, in a spccial way, thc dcstinics ol othcrs by pursuing his own. Hc
is a man notcd lor spccial achicvcmcnts. His lilc is dcncd by ambivalcncc,
bccausc his actions must stand in sharp contrast to ordinary bchavior. So a
hcro is not madc in isolation, rathcr hc is a product ol thc social matrix within
which hc opcratcs. Tc pcrsons dctcrmination to pursuc his individual intcr
cst concomitantly with that ol thc socicty is a constant sourcc ol dynamic
tcnsions bccausc his obligations to his socicty can bccomc an impcdimcnt to
his individual qucst lor lamc and rcputation. Howcvcr, this impcdimcnt must
bc ovcrcomc il hc is to bc a hcro. Paradoxically, a hcro bccomcs both thc dis
rupting and intcgrating principlcs ol thc community. konkwo, thc ccntral
charactcr in Tings Fall Apart, is thc cpitomc ol this complcx conccpt and thc
pcrsonication ol thc cultural ambiguity ol thc !gbo pcoplc.
!n Tings Fall Apart, Achcbc madc it clcar that konkwos singlc passion
was to bccomc onc ol thc lords ol thc clan (1996, 92). According to Achcbc,
it was konkwos lilcspring. konkwo wantcd to bc a hcro. Unlortunatcly,
thc road to hcroism in thc !gbos bclicl systcm is chronically lraught with dil
cultics ol varying dcgrccs.
Tc rst challcngc konkwo was cxpcctcd to ovcrcomc was his lathcrs
rcputationin this casc his lathcr had nonc. Howcvcr, hc was dctcrmincd to
succccd in whatcvcr rcspcct his lathcr had lailcd, knowing lull wcll that among
his pcoplc a man was judgcd according to his worth and not according to
thc worth ol his lathcr (1996, 6)a juxtaposition ol opposing claims about
which thc narrator (quitc undcrstandably) madc no attcmpt to rcconcilc.
5
His
lathcr, Unoka, cnjoycd gcntlcncss and idlcncss. Hc was lazy and improvidcnt
and was quitc incapablc ol thinking about tomorrow (3). Unoka was said
to rcjoicc in song, dancc, and drinking ol palmwinc as his way ol avoiding
rcsponsibility. !n lact, hc prclcrrcd thcsc things to tcnding his yamcld. Hc
was a man without titlc in thc villagc ol Umuoa, and hc could not cndurc
thc sight ol blood (8). 8iologically, hc was a malc, but among thc !gbo, hc was
ncvcr a man. So pcoplc laughcd at him. !n ordcr to bccomc a hcro, konkwo
42 Patrick C. Nnoromclc
lclt hc must ovcrcomc this public cstimation ol his lathcr. At thc outsct ol thc
novcl, Achcbc madc thc lollowing rcmarks about konkwo: His lamc rcstcd
on solid pcrsonal achicvcmcnts. Hc had no paticncc with unsucccsslul mcn
(3). His wholc lilc was dominatcd by lcar, thc lcar ol lailurc and ol wcakncss
(9). So konkwo hatcd what his lathcr was and bccamc thc oppositc.
Not only is a hcro cxpcctcd to ovcrcomc thc rcputation ol his lathcr,
hc is also cxpcctcd to surpass thc rcputations ol his pccrs. !n othcr words, hc
must outpcrlorm pcoplc in his agc group or thosc hc grcw up with. Among
thc !gbos good cort is rcspcctcd, but achicvcmcnt was rcvcrcd (1996, 6).
konkwo must achicvc concrctc things to bc a hcro and hc did. Hcrc is
Achcbcs account ol his achicvcmcnt:
!l cvcr a man dcscrvcd his succcss, that man was konkwo. At an
carly agc, hc had achicvcd lamc as thc grcatcst wrcstlcr in all thc
land. That was not luck. At thc most, onc could say that his chi
or pcrsonal god was good. 8ut thc !gbo pcoplc havc a provcrb that
whcn a man says ycs, his chi says ycs also. konkwo said ycs vcry
strongly: so his chi agrccd. And not only his chi, but his clan too,
bccausc it judgcd a man by thc work ol his hands. That was why
konkwo had bccn choscn by thc ninc villagcs to carry a mcssagc
ol war to thcir cncmics unlcss thcy agrcc to givc up a young man
and a virgin to atonc lor thc murdcr ol Udos wilc. (Achcbc 1996,
1920)
konkwos accomplishmcnts in Umuoa carncd him thc rcspcct and
honor ol thc cldcrs and thc pcoplc. Hc dclcatcd Amalinzc thc Cat and was
proclaimcd thc grcatcst wrcstlcr in Umuoa and Mbaino. Hc dcmonstratcd
cxccptional skills as a warrior ol thc clan by bringing homc vc hcads dur
ing intcrtribal conicts. Achcbc portraycd him as a man with incrcdiblc
prowcss and passion to conqucr and subduc his cncmics (1996, 6). Hc was
a succcsslul larmcr and marricd thrcc wivcsclcar cvidcncc among thc !g
bos ol a strong and wcalthy man. Tc ultimatum ol war that hc dclivcrcd
to thc cncmy ol Umuoa yicldcd immcdiatc rcsults. Achcbc wrotc: Vhcn
konkwo ol Umuoa arrivcd at Mbaino as thc proud and impcrious cmis
sary ol war, hc was trcatcd with grcat honor and rcspcct, and two days latcr
hc rcturncd homc with a lad ol ltccn and a young virgin. Tc lads namc
was !kcmcluna, whosc sad story is still told in Umuoa unto this day (9).
konkwo startcd with nothing, but through hard work and dctcrmination
hc bccamc succcsslul.
Anothcr barricr onc is cxpcctcd to ovcrcomc in thc qucst lor hcroism
is thc pcrsons obligation to thc socicty, which, ol coursc, may advcrscly al
lcct his individual qucst lor rcputation. Tc naturc ol thc dynamic tcnsions
43 Thc Plight ol A Hcro
this can crcatc was cvidcnt in konkwos lilcstylc. Pcrhaps this accounts lor
thc rcason somc intcrprctcrs ol Tings Fall Apart think that Achcbc paints a
paradoxical portrait ol a protagonist who is both a typical !gbo man as wcll as
an individual (Lindlors 1991, 17).
6

Among thc !gbos, a pcrsons obligation to thc socicty calls lor coopcra
tion. !t calls lor submission to thc counscl ol cldcrs, thc prcccpts, and laws ol
thc land, which arc cstablishcd lor thc good ol thc socicty. ! think thc most
dicult aspcct ol it all is thc subordination ol oncs own intcrcst to that ol thc
group or socicty. konkwo had a scrupulous dcsirc to lulll his obligation to
thc socicty, but hc oltcn rcalizcd that it only brought him to a crossroad ol
conicting loyaltics. A typical cxamplc ol this happcncd on thc night whcn
thc Pricstcss ol Agbala camc to takc zinma, konkwos daughtcr, lor Ag
balas blcssing. !n spitc ol his incxorablc commitmcnt to support and dclcnd
thc laws ol thc land, konkwo lclt thc natural pull to rcsist cstablishcd social
ordcr. Hc was cxprcssivcly unapproving ol thc untimcly visit by thc Pricstcss.
Hc pcrccivcd hcr arrival as an intrusion to his lamilys domcstic lilc. Howcvcr,
his insistcnt but unsucccsslul protcstations only clicitcd a scrcam lrom thc
Pricstcss ol Agbala, who warncd: 8cwarc, konkwo! 8cwarc ol cxchanging
words with Agbala. ocs a man spcak whcn a god spcaks: 8cwarc! (Achcbc
1996, 96). Albcit, thc Pricstcss took zinma to thc raclc ol thc Hills and
Cavcs and rcturncd hcr salcly to konkwos lamily thc lollowing day. 8ut wc
lcarncd lrom thc narrator that konkwo was noticcably worricd, and won
dcrcd about thcsc conicting loyaltics.
vcn bicrika, who sccmcd to disapprovc ol konkwos commitmcnt
to thc ccntral doctrincs ol his culturc, obscrvcd and agonizcd ovcr thc lack ol
cquilibrium bctwccn thc pull ol privatc valucs and public cxpcctations. Tc
lorcc ol this pull is succinctly capturcd in thc lollowing passagc:
Hc rcmcmbcrcd his wilcs twin childrcn, whom hc had thrown
away. Vhat crimc had thcy committcd: Thc arth had dccrccd
that thcy wcrc an ollcnsc on thc land and must bc dcstroycd. And
il thc clan did not cxact punishmcnt lor an ollcnsc against thc
grcat goddcss, hcr wrath was looscd on all thc land and not just on
thc ollcndcr. As thc cldcrs said, il onc lingcr brought oil it soilcd
thc othcrs. (Achcbc 1996, 88)
bicrika, likc konkwo, lclt thc cndcmic tcnsions ol conllicting cultural
valucsthc inccssant discord bctwccn public loyalty to thc goddcss ol thc
clan and privatc loyalty to thc lamily. 8ut thc dillcrcncc bctwccn konkwo
and bicrika was, konkwo was a man ol lcw words. Hc allowcd his
actions to spcak lor him. Howcvcr, thc cumulativc cllccts ol all thcsc things
lcd to his cvcntual suicidc. This is thc kind ol dilcmma onc conlronts on thc
44 Patrick C. Nnoromclc
road to hcroism and it can bc ovcrwhclming. A hcro, in konkwos world,
must lacc (it sccms) a constant strilc bctwccn two scts ol valucs, thc socictal
and thc pcrsonal, but hc ncvcr can lind thc cquilibrium. !t is, thcrclorc, not
a surprisc to scc konkwo takc his own lilc. ! bclicvc this was prcciscly
what Sarr obscrvcd whcn hc critically rcmarkcd that at timcs thc rcadcr
ol Achcbcs novcl is laccd with contradictions. !bo socicty hc addcd, is
lull ol contradictions. !t is a malcdominatcd socicty, in which thc chicl
goddcss is lcmalc and in which provcrbial wisdom maintains Mothcr is
suprcmca sustaincd duality in bclicl systcms common to much ol Alrica
(1993, 349).
7
Ccntral to this obscrvation is thc lact that thc !gbo community
is a socicty that is at oncc communal and individualistic. Such a worldvicw
or ambiguous valuc systcm rcvcals, Sarr propcrly concludcd, thc dilcmma
that shapcs and dcstroys thc lilc ol konkwo (349).
Although konkwo cxprcsscd rigidity and incxibility in his lilc,
Achcbc told us that down in his hcart konkwo was not a crucl man. !
bclicvc thc most charitablc way to undcrstand this is by looking bricy at
dicrcnt manilcstations ol konkwos csotcric lilc. For cxamplc, whcn hc
violatcd thc pcacc wcck by bcating his youngcst wilc, which was an ocnsc to
thc goddcss, konkwo agrccd to makc ocrings as dcmandcd by thc custom
ol Umuoa. !n lact, hc ocrcd an additional pot ol palmwinc, which was a
distinct indication ol gcnuinc rcpcntancc and coopcration lor thc good ol thc
community. Achcbc had zcani say to konkwo:
You know as wcll as ! do that our lorclathcrs ordaincd that bclorc
wc plant any crops in thc carth wc should obscrvc a wcck in which
a man docs not say a harsh word to his ncighbors. Vc livc in pcacc
with our lcllows to honor our grcat goddcss ol thc carth without
whosc blcssing our crops will not grow. You havc committcd a grcat
cvil. |As konkwo hcard this| Hc brought down his stall hcavily on
thc lloor. Your wilc was at lault, but cvcn il you camc into your bi
and lound hcr lovcr on top ol hcr, you would still havc committcd
a grcat cvil to bcat hcr. |As soon as konkwo hcard this| His stall
camc down again. Thc cvil you havc donc can ruin thc wholc clan.
Thc carth goddcss whom you havc insultcd may rclusc to givc us
hcr incrcasc, and wc shall all pcrish. His tonc now changcd lrom
angcr to command. You will bring to thc shrinc ol Am tomorrow
onc shcgoat, onc hcn, a lcngth ol cloth and a hundrcd cowrics. Hc
rosc and lclt thc hut. (Achcbc 1996, 22)
konkwo madc thc sacriliccs to thc carth goddcss.
!n anothcr occasion, wc lcarn that konkwo brcathcd a hcavy sigh ol
rclicl whcn hc lound out that his wilc kwc was unharmcd altcr hc had
45 Thc Plight ol A Hcro
rcd at hcr in a t ol ragc. Tus, wc obscrvc within somc ol thcsc occasional
ashcs ol cruclty a rarc manilcstation ol tcndcrncss. Similarly, on thc night
whcn thc pricstcss ol Agbala carricd kwcs daughtcr o to thc raclc ol
thc Hills and Cavcs lor thc young girl to pay homagc to hcr god, kwc lol
lowcd in tcrror lor hcr child. Cognizant ol his wilcs statc ol tcrror, konkwo
joincd kwc to providc rcassurancc. Vhcn kwc noticcd konkwos
prcscncc, Tcars ol gratitudc llcd hcr cycs (Achcbc 1996, 106). As both ol
thcm waitcd outsidc thcir homc in thc dawn, Achcbc said, kwc rcmcm
bcrcd thc gcncrous lovc with which konkwo had takcn hcr at thc momcnt
shc bccamc his wilc. Pcrhaps konkwo was not a crucl man. For thcsc oc
casional cpisodcs arc sccmingly indications ol a kindhcartcd man.
Paradoxically, konkwo would ncvcr achicvc hcroism among thc !gbos
il hc totally subordinatcd his intcrcst to that ol thc socicty at largc. Hcncc, it
was incumbcnt on him to cxhibit othcr qualitics that might bc pcrccivcd as
a thrcat to social ordcr. And hc did pouncc on pcoplc quitc oltcn (Achcbc
1996, 3). As Achcbc said, konkwo madc pcoplc wondcr whcthcr hc rcspcct
cd thc gods ol thc clan. Hc was popularly callcd thc Roaring Flamc (108).
konkwo was not thc man to stop bcating somcbody hallway through, not
cvcn lor lcar ol a goddcss (21). !n his culturc, a man who was unablc to
rulc his own lamily was not considcrcd a rcal man, not to mcntion a hcro.
So konkwo rulcd his houschold with a hcavy hand (9) and madc pcoplc
alraid ol him. A hcro should bc impcrvious to cmotions. Tc narrator told
us that konkwo cxprcsscd no cmotion, cxccpt angcr. Hc was stoical to thc
harsh rcalitics ol lilc and appcarcd immunc to problcms. Tis is thc lilc ol a
hcro, a scllmadc man. Somctimcs konkwo actcd as il hc was answcrablc to
no onc, and at othcr timcs hc was thc oppositc. bicrika (konkwos closcst
lricnd) pointcd to this cultural ambiguity in thc systcm whcn hc sought (as
hc always did) a compromisc lrom konkwo bctwccn conicting loyaltics.
8ut konkwo rcspondcd impaticntly, Tc arth (goddcss) cannot punish
mc lor obcying hcr mcsscngcr (47). !t would sccm, lor thc !gbos, a hcro must
lcad a lilc ol scllcontradiction, and konkwo was onc primary cxamplc.
!t is, thcrclorc, not surprising why contcmporary commcntators likc Vas
scrman and Purdon contcndcd that konkwo rcprcscnts a typc ol sclsh
individualism that is in csscncc a thrcat to !bo notions ol clan, and culturc
(1993, 327).
!n thc opcning lincs ol chaptcr scvcn, thc narrator said, it sccmcd thc
cldcrs ol Umuoa had lorgottcn !kcmcluna (thc lad who was cntrustcd
to konkwos carc) but not thc oraclc. For thrcc ycars !kcmcluna livcd in
konkwos houschold. Hc was wholly absorbcd into thc lamily and kon
kwo bccamc lond ol him. Suddcnly, thc announccmcnt camc lrom thc raclc
that !kcmcluna must bc killcd according to thc tradition ol Umuoa. Tc boy
at this point rcgardcd konkwo as a lathcr. So, gbuc zcudu spccically
46 Patrick C. Nnoromclc
warncd konkwo to stay at homc. Tc raclc ol thc Hills and thc Cavcs has
pronounccd it. Tcy will takc him (!kcmcluna) outsidc Umuoa as it is thc
custom, and kill him thcrc. 8ut ! warn you to havc nothing to do with it. Hc
calls you lathcr (Achcbc 1996, 40).
Tc cultural practicc was that whcn thc gods or goddcsscs dcmandcd
anyonc lor sacricc, thc lamily must bc cxcludcd bccausc thc Umuoa pcoplc
bclicvcd that thc cmotional attachmcnt thc lamily might havc lor that in
dividual would intcrlcrc with thc proccss or thc obligation to cxccutc thc
dcmands ol thc raclc. Hcncc, gbuc zcudu sought lor at lcast a pas
sivc compromisc lrom konkwo. Sincc konkwos passion was to bc a hcro,
hc lclt his manlincss might bc callcd into qucstion, thcrclorc, hc dccd his
lricnds admonition and accompanicd thc proccssion into thc lorcst.
Vhat happcncd ncxt would bc uscd in thc novcl partly lor thc downlall
ol konkwo. !kcmcluna had to dic. Tc valucs ol thc wholc clan ol Umuoa
would bc tcstcd, il not lorcvcr, by this journcy in which !kcmcluna would bc
killcd. Achcbc cxplaincd thc cpisodc in thcsc words:
As thc man who had clcarcd his throat drcw up and raiscd his
machct, konkwo lookcd away. Hc hcard thc blow. Thc pot (ol
palmwinc) lcll and brokc in thc sand. Hc hcard !kcmcluna cry,
My lathcr, thcy havc killcd mc! as hc ran towards him. azcd with
lcar, konkwo drcw his matchct and cut him down. Hc was alraid
ol bcing thought weak. (Achcbc 1996, 43, cmphasis is minc).
Tc dcath ol !kcmcluna invokcd varying or contrasting cmotional rcac
tions lrom both konkwo and Nwoyc (konkwos son) which dramatizcs
what konkwo apprchcndcd as a dichotomy bctwccn strcngth and gcntlc
ncss. Achcbc said, as soon as his lathcr walkcd in, that night, Nwoyc kncw
that !kcmcluna |somconc hc had comc to know and trcat as a lricnd| had
bccn killcd, and somcthing sccmcd to givc way insidc him, likc thc snapping
ol a tightcncd bow. Hc did not cry. . . . Hc just hung limp (1996, 43). Nwoyc
would havc lovcd to cry, but couldnt, bccausc konkwo had tricd to raisc
him up likc himscll. !n konkwos world, rcal mcn do not show ccminatc
cmotion. Crying is not a masculinc attributc.
!n Chaptcr ight, wc arc told that konkwo himscll could not slccp. Hc
was distraught and dccply acctcd by thc dcath ol !kcmcluna and his sons
rcaction to it. As Achcbc told us, konkwo was not a man ol many words
(somcthing traditionally vicwcd as a masculinc quality in thc Umuoas bclicl
systcm), so hc bottlcd his lcclings within his hcart. For two wholc days hc atc
nothing as hc strugglcd to crasc thc mcmory ol killing a child who callcd him
lathcr. !t was thc cumulativc cccts ol thcsc things, including thc impact thc
dcath ol !kcmcluna had on his son that pavcd thc way to konkwos cvcntual
47 Thc Plight ol A Hcro
suicidc. 8ut thc dcath ol !kcmcluna had no immcdiatc impact on thc Umuo
a pcoplc. !t was, howcvcr, dcnitcly an apocalyptic stcp towards things that
wcrc yct to comc.
Latcr at thc luncral ol gbuc zcudu, konkwos gun accidcntally
dischargcd and killcd thc son ol zcudu. vcn though this was an accidcnt, it
was vicwcd as an abomination in thc land, lor undcr no circumstanccs would
somconc kill a clansman. konkwo and lamily had to cc thc land bclorc thc
cock crowcd. Tcy lound rclugc in his mothcrs villagc, Mbanta. Hc and his
lamily cndurcd scvcn ycars in cxilc. !n thc mcantimc, ocrings wcrc madc in
konkwos compound, altcr thcir dcparturc, to clcansc thc land and placatc
thc gods. konkwo saw this sojourn to Mbanta as a training cxpcricncc in
thc wildcrncss. Vhilc hc was in thc villagc, hc lound out that thc Mbanta
clan was allowing missionarics to cstablish Christian churchcs and makc con
vcrts cspccially among thc untouchablc. Hc saw how thc missionarics dccd
thc powcr ol thc local gods. His son, Nwoyc, who sucrcd lrom inncr turmoil
as a rcsult ol thc dcath ol !kcmcluna,
8
dccidcd to attcnd thc mission school.
Hc lclt his lathcrs housc and joincd thc Christian church. Tis was thc straw
that brokc thc camcls back. konkwo was lurious and disappointcd. Hc tricd
unsucccsslully to gct thc Mbanta clan to chasc thc missionarics out. Vhcn
thcy couldnt gct thc missionarics out, konkwo sighcd hcavily and longcd
lor his lathcrs land, whcrc according to him, mcn wcrc mcn, bold, and war
likc (Achcbc 1996, 141).
Vhcn hc nally rcturncd to his lathcrland, littlc did hc know that thc
missionarics had pcnctratcd his lathcrs land too and madc convcrts ol dicr
cnt catcgorics ol Umuoa clan, ranging lrom thc lowborn and thc outcast
to thc mcn ol titlc and staturc. Tcy also cstablishcd whitc govcrnmcnt with
a courthousc whcrc thc istrict Commissioncr judgcd cascs in ignorancc
(Achcbc 1996, 123). bicrika cxplaincd it this way: Tc whitc man is vcry
clcvcr. Hc camc quictly and pcaccablc with his rcligion. Vc wcrc amuscd at
his loolishncss and allowcd him to stay. Now hc has put a knilc on thc things
that hcld us togcthcr and wc havc lallcn apart (125). Fallcn apart indccd!
konkwos rcturn to his nativc land was not as mcmorablc as hc had wishcd
(129). Hc ncvcr rcccivcd thc hcros wclcomc hc drcamcd ol. Hc rcturncd to a
dicrcnt Umuoa lrom thc onc hc had known. !n thc prcscnt Umuoa, mcn
|havc| unaccountably bccomc solt likc womcn (129). Hc wantcd to ght, but
bicrika said to him: !t is alrcady too latc. . . . ur own mcn and our sons
havc joincd thc ranks ol thc strangcrs. Tcy havc joincd his rcligion and thcy
hclp to uphold his govcrnmcnt. . . . How do you think wc can ght whcn our
own brothcrs havc turncd against us: (124).
konkwo lclt and killcd himscll, not bccausc ol charactcr wcakncss, or
thc dcpartcd Alrican glorics. Rathcr, it was thc incvitablc conscqucncc ol thc
!gbos complcx conccpt ol a hcro. As Sarma kccnly pointcd out:
48 Patrick C. Nnoromclc
nc cannot somchow lay thc blamc on konkwo. His action at
thc cnd, hasty though it was, was quitc in accordancc with thc
traditional valucs. !t was an act ol conviction, almost rcligious,
and thc cnd vindicatcd thc charactcr ol konkwo, who cmcrgcs
as thc lonc rcprcscntativc ol thc !gbo valuc systcm whilc thc cntirc
community lay around him in a shamblcs. (Sarma 1993, 69)
konkwo, who had a rcsolutc hungcr to bccomc a hcro, was not alraid
ol thc lorccs that surroundcd him. Howcvcr, hc was so ovcrwhclmcd by thc
cumulativc cccts ol his cxpcricnccs on thc road to hcroism that hc lclt thc
only thing lclt to do was to commit suicidc. konkwo had to maintain his
intcgrity as a hcro. Tc truth ol this prolound, but ambivalcnt, act is rccctcd
in thc !gbo provcrb that says: Tc thought that lcd a man to truncatc his
own cxistcncc was not conccivcd in a day. !t was not just onc singlc thing or
cvcnt that lorccd konkwo to kill himscll. His suicidal act was an ultimatc
cxprcssion ol thc compound cccts ol his own cxpcricnccs in his uninching
dcsirc to bccomc a hcro. konkwo was a hcro. Hcncc, hc had to dcpart lrom
thc battlccld as onc. A hcro would rathcr dic than bc capturcd and/or hu
miliatcd by thc cncmy. konkwos dcath chcatcd his cncmics, thc uropcan
colonizcrs, ol thcir rcvcngc. 8ut to thc Umuoa pcoplc, it was unambiguously
imprintcd in thcir minds that thcrc had bccn an irrcvcrsiblc brcak with thc
past. Umuoa would ncvcr again bc what it was.
Contrary to thc chargc that thc author ol thc novcl allowcd konkwo
to stumblc and lall, Achcbc did not causc thc hcros downlall. Hc was not
rcsponsiblc lor konkwos tragcdy. Achcbc saw his rolc as that ol a ncutral
narrator. Tus, hc prcscntcd, in a noncommittal lashion, thc tcnsions and
conicts bctwccn traditional valucs and alicn culturc, thc privatc scll and
public man and thcir attcndant conscqucnccs in a prccolonial socicty.
No:vs
1. Spccial thanks to all my collcagucs and studcnts in thc Honors Program
whosc thoughtlul qucstions stimulatcd and sustaincd my intcrcst in writing this
articlc. ! am also gratclul to thc lollowing rcvicwcrs, Michacl H. 8right, Ronald
J. Mcsscrich, and Salomc C. Nnoromclc whosc valuablc suggcstions and usclul
criticisms hclpcd shapcd this cssay.
2. Achcbc did rcspond to thc qucstion (without sullicicnt claboration) by
saying: thc conccpts ol succcss and lailurc as commonly uscd in this conncction arc
inadcquatc. id konkwo lail: !n a ccrtain scnsc, hc did, obviously. 8ut hc also lclt
bchind a story strong cnough to makc thosc who hcar it . . .wish dcvoutly that things
had gonc dillcrcntly lor him (Achcbc 1991, 2223).
3. For this and othcr contcmporary intcrprctations ol thc novcl, scc Lott and
Lott (1993). This volumc contains an cxtcnsivc bibliographic cssay on Things Fall
Apart. Scc also Mcougall (1986, 2433).
49 Thc Plight ol A Hcro
4. Thc charactcrs in this novcl, including thc gods or divinitics, anccstors,
and thc cvcnts, arc actual rcprcscntations ol thc !gbo pcoplc and thcir cultural bclicl
systcms.
5. Among thc Umuolia pcoplc, a hcro is cxpcctcd to ovcrcomc thc rcputation
ol his lathcr. Yct thc socicty maintains that onc is not judgcd by thc worth ol oncs
lathcr. This is a contradiction, an unrcsolvcd discrcpancy so indicativc ol thc !gbo
traditional valucs. Achcbc madc no cllort to rcconcilc or cxtract a truc vcrsion lrom
thcsc conl licting accounts, bccausc hc was writing lrom thc standpoint ol a ncutral
narrator.
6. Scc also cvi (1993, 7986).
7. Scc, lor instancc, Adams (1982).
8. Nwoyc could not cxprcss his cmotion as lclt, bccausc his lathcr, konkwo,
rcacting to his own lathcrs cllcminacy, had taught Nwoyc to bclicvc that thc
cxprcssion ol cllcminatc cmotion was a sign ol wcakncss. Thus, Nwoyc tricd to
bottlc his lcclings in his hcart. Thc unavoidablc conscqucncc ol this was thc dcspair
and inncr turmoil hc sullcrcd in his lilc.
Vovxs Ci :vb
Achcbc, Chinua. 1991. Tcaching Things Fall Apart. !n Approaches to Teaching Achebes Things
Fall Apart, cd. 8crnth Lindlors. Ncw York: Thc Modcrn Languagc Association ol
Amcrica.
. 1996. Things Fall Apart. Portsmouth: Hcincmann.
Adams, Monni. 1982. Designs for Living: Symbolic Communication in African Art. Cambridgc:
Harvard Univcrsity, Carpcntcr Ccntcr lor thc Arts.
cvi, N. Rama. 1993. Prcand PostColonial Socicty in Achcbcs Novcls. !n Indian
Response to African Writing, ed. A. Ramakrishna Rao and C. R. \iswcswara Rao. Ncw
clhi: Prcstigc 8ooks.
Lindlors, 8crnth, cd. 1991. Approaches to Teaching Achebes Things Fall Apart. Ncw York: Thc
Modcrn Languagc Association ol Amcrica.
Lott, John, and Sandra Lott. 1993. Approachcs to Things Fall Apart. !n Global Perspectives
on Teaching Literature, cd. Sandra Vard Lott, Maurccn S. G. Hawkins, and Norman
McMillan. Urbana: National Council ol Tcachcrs ol nglish.
Mcougall, Russcll. 1986. konkwos Valk: Thc Chorcography ol Things Falling Apart.
World Literature Written in English. 26.1: 2433.
khamalc, !malcdia. 1995. Gcncalogical ctcrminism in Achcbcs Things Fall Apart. !n
Genealogy and Literature. d. Lcc Quinby. Minncapolis: Univcrsity ol Minncsota
Prcss.
Sarr, Ndiawar. 1993. Thc Ccntcr Holds: Thc Rcsilicncc ol !bo Culturc in Things Fall Apart.
!n Global Perspectives on Teaching Literature, cd. Sandra Vard Lott, Maurccn S. G.
Hawkins, and Norman McMillan. Urbana, !llinois: National Council ol Tcachcrs ol
nglish.
Sarma, S. Krishna. 1993. konkwo and His Chi. !n Indian Response to African Writing, cd.
A. Ramakrishna Rao and C. R. \iswcswara Rao. Ncw clhi: Prcstigc 8ooks.
Vasscrman, Julian, and Liam . Purdon. 1993. !l thc Shoc Fits: Tcaching Beowulf with
Achcbcs Things Fall Apart. !n Global Perspectives on Teaching Literature, cd. Sandra
Vard Lott, Maurccn S. G. Hawkins, and Norma McMillan. Urbana, !llinois:
National Council ol Tcachcrs ol nglish.
51
ARIEL, \olumc 35, Numbcrs 12 (JanuaryApril 2004): pp. 81100. Copyright 2004
Univcrsity ol Calgary, cpartmcnt ol nglish.
RA\ ! T R! CHMAN
Undignied Details:
Te Colonial Subject of Law
A lcgal world is built only to thc cxtcnt that thcrc arc commitmcnts
that placc bodics on thc linc . . . thc intcrprctivc commitmcnts ol
ollicials arc rcalizcd, indccd, in thc llcsh.
Robcrt Covcr \iolcncc and thc Vord (208)
At thc cnd ol Chinua Achcbcs novcl, Things Fall Apart, rcadcrs lind thc
narrativc abandoncd and rcplaccd with anothcr story. Thc novcl tclls thc
story ol konkwo, a man lrom thc Nigcrian tribc ol Umuolia who, dcspitc
a dcstitutc upbringing, bccomcs onc ol thc most powcrlul lcadcrs ol his clan.
Achcbcs protagonist, howcvcr, is anything but an cndcaring hcro. Hauntcd
by thc mcmory ol his poor and haplcss lathcr, konkwo bccomcs a proud,
shorttcmpcrcd man, who bcats his wivcs and trcats thosc around him with a
hardcdgcd lack ol sympathy. Thc novcl concludcs with thc arrival ol Chris
tian missionarics lrom ngland, who convcrt mcmbcrs ol konkwos clan,
cstablish a church, and cvcntually sct up a court. Following an altcrcation
with thc pricst and somc ol thc churchs convcrts, konkwo and livc othcr
mcn arc arrcstcd and bcatcn. Altcr thcir rclcasc, thc clan calls a mccting,
which is intcrruptcd by thc guards who had carlicr imprisoncd and bcatcn
thc mcn. This intrusion provcs morc than konkwo can bcar: ovcrcomc
with humiliation and ragc, hc conlronts onc ol thc guards and kills him.
52 Ravit Rcichman
Tc chaptcr that lollows this cpisodc shilts lrom konkwos point ol
vicw to that ol thc unnamcd istrict Commissioncr, who comcs to thc villagc
in scarch ol thc guards murdcrcr and is lcd by thc clansmcn to a trcc lrom
which konkwos body hangs. Tc tragcdy ol his suicidc would sccm to bc a
natural placc lor Achcbcs novcl to cnd. !nstcad, Tings Fall Apart concludcs
with thc bcginning ol anothcr story, which announccs itscll in thc omniscicnt
narrators shilt in locus lrom konkwo to thc istrict Commissioncr. Rc
lraming konkwos narrativc lrom within thc Commissioncrs pcrspcctivc,
thc narrator concludcs thc story lrom thc subjcct position ol a man who
knows nothing ol konkwo savc thc scant lacts ol thc mcsscngcrs murdcr
and thc murdcrcrs suicidc. As thc ncwly anointcd protagonist lcavcs dccp in
thought about how thc dcad mans story might cntcr thc widcr colonial pic
turc, Achcbcs titlc and thc novcls cpigraph lrom Ycats pocm Tc Sccond
Comingthings lall apart, thc ccntcr cannot holdacquircs ncw lorcc,
incctcd with thc straincd powcr rclations ol colonialism. !n thcsc momcnts,
thc man wc had takcn to bc thc novcls ccntral gurc is undonc, and bccomcs
littlc morc than a small, anonymous part in a vcry dicrcnt story:
Thc Commissioncr wcnt away, taking thrcc or lour ol thc soldicrs
with him. !n thc many ycars in which hc had toilcd to bring
civilization to dillcrcnt parts ol Alrica hc had lcarncd a numbcr ol
things. nc ol thcm was that a istrict Commissioncr must ncvcr
attcnd to such undignilicd dctails as cutting a hangcd man lrom
thc trcc. Such attcntion would givc thc nativcs a poor opinion ol
him. !n thc book which hc planncd to writc hc would strcss that
point. As hc walkcd back to thc court hc thought about that book.
vcry day brought him somc ncw matcrial. Thc story ol this man
who had killcd a mcsscngcr and hangcd himscll would makc
intcrcsting rcading. nc could almost writc a wholc chaptcr on
him. Pcrhaps not a wholc chaptcr but a rcasonablc paragraph, at
any ratc. Thcrc was so much clsc to includc, and onc must bc lirm
in cutting dctails. Hc had alrcady choscn thc titlc ol thc book,
altcr much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the
Lower Niger. (208208)
Tc hcart ol Achcbcs novclkonkwos storyturns out to bc a mi
nor narrativc within a largcr onc, rcduccd to a lootnotc in thc mastcr colonial
narrativc rcprcscntcd by Te Pacication of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower
Niger. Tc tragcdy that Achcbcs novcl rccords, thcn, is thc proccss by which
konkwos narrativc rcccdcs into thc background ol anothcr, bccoming an
undignicd dctail that thosc in powcr would do bcst to ignorc. konkwos
53 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
suicidc is rcduccd to matcrial lor thc Commissioncrs story, thc scalc ol his
lilc cut down to thc sizc ol a chaptcr, cvcn a rcasonablc paragraph.
! bcgin with Achcbcs novcl not to makc a claim about its placc within
thc largcr contcxt ol Alrican litcraturc. ! invokc it, rathcr, to introducc and
animatc thc tcrms ol this cssays considcration ol 8ritish colonial law as it
was practiccd in Nigcria. \icwcd lrom thc positions ol both lcgal and litcr
ary scholarship, Tings Fall Apart providcs us with an occasion to rccct on
thc rclationship bctwccn nativc and colonial law, and to do so in narrato
logical tcrms. As Achcbcs novcl suggcsts, this rclationship unlolds through
a doublccdgcd proccss ol shortcning and lcngthcning: thc condcnsing and
shrinking ol onc story and thc simultancous cxpansion ol anothcr, morc cpic
narrativc. Tc combincd lorcc ol thcsc translormations, ! will arguc, is accom
panicd by a dramatic shilt in rcgistcr, onc that rcndcrs thc colonizcd subjcct
anonymous. Morcovcr, ! will go on to arguc that this caccmcnt ol idcntity
lays thc loundation lor individual storics to do thc work ol documcntation.
!n this cssay, ! cxaminc thc mcans through which colonial law translormcd
thc storics ol singular subjccts within thc lcgal lramcwork, cnlisting thcm,
through an cditorial proccss, in thc projcct ol documcntation and thc rclatcd
task ol claborating a narrativc ol colonial justicc.
Achcbcs cnding, to bc surc, opcns up a rangc ol intcrprctivc possibili
tics, positingamong othcr thingsthc indclibility ol nativc storics, which
pcrsist in spitc ol colonial attcmpts to quash thcm. Along such lincs, kon
kwos suicidc might bc graspcd as an act ol dcanccan cmphatic rclusal
to bc cooptcd by thc Commissioncr and his soldicrs. My own locus hcrc,
howcvcr, bcgins by approaching thc novcls conclusion as a dcpiction ol how
colonial tcxts, writtcn by morc powcrlul authors, rcplaccd nativc storics. To
suggcst as much, howcvcr, is to ocr only a partial vicw ol thc grounds that
makc possiblc such a rcplaccmcnt. For thc novcls closing paragraphs rclatc
not only what happcns to konkwos story, but also where this translorma
tion occurs: As hc walkcd back to thc court hc thought about that book. Tc
placc whcrc things lall apart turns out to bc a location bctwccn two positions,
bctwccn konkwos hangcd body in thc villagc ol !gucdo and thc 8ritish
colonial court. !t is hcrc, in thc movcmcnt lrom onc to thc othcron subtlc
but unmistakably lcgal tcrrainthat thc book that promiscs to incorporatc
konkwos lilc in thc lorm ol a rcasonablc paragraph takcs shapc in thc is
trict Commissioncrs imagination. Tcrc is somcthing in thc transition lrom
villagc to courta movcmcnt towards thc lawthat makcs it possiblc lor thc
istrict Commissioncr to conccivc ol his book. !n prcscnting Te Pacication
of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger as thc last word on konkwos lilc,
Tings Fall Apart gcsturcs towards thc lorcc that tcxtualization cxcrts in a
colonial lramcwork, projccting its asyctunwrittcn coda not simply as nar
rativc, but as writtcn tcxt. Crucially, howcvcr, this shilt to writing occurs not
54 Ravit Rcichman
simply through thc act ol inscription, but through thc cditorial work that
prcccdcs it. nc must bc rm in cutting dctails, cditing out minutiac that
dctract lrom thc largcr issucs in thc study ol pacication.
Tc sccmingly cthical tcrms in which thc Commissioncr justics cut
ting thc dctails ol his volumc arc cxposcd as prctcnsc whcn wc considcr a
dicrcnt kind ol cutting that hc rcluscs to do: namcly, thc act ol cutting down
konkwos body lrom thc trcc: a istrict Commissioncr must ncvcr attcnd
to such undignicd dctails as cutting a hangcd man lrom thc trcc. Tis litcral
body may wcll havc ocrcd an occasion lor compassion, a chancc lor 8ritish
administration to dcmonstratc its humanc trcatmcnt ol its colonizcd subjccts.
Tc Commissioncr rcjccts this possibility, howcvcr, in lavor ol a morc pcda
gogical aim: Such attcntion would givc thc nativcs a poor opinion ol him. !n
thc book which hc planncd to writc hc would strcss that point. Tc radically
dicrcnt objccts ol this cutting undcrscorc thc injusticc in thcir bcing rclatcd
at all. Simply statcd, it is morally rcpugnant to cquatc thc task ol cutting down
a hangcd body with thc labor ol cutting thc dctails ol a lilc lrom a story that
would purport to cxplain it. Tcsc cuttings may indccd strikc an important
contrast, but thcy arc trcatcd with cqual stcadlastncss by thc Commissioncr
in his dctcrmination to strcss that point ol not cutting down thc dcad man,
as wcll as in his rccction that onc must bc rm in cutting dctails.
Tc Commissioncrs sti rcsolvc conrms Valtcr 8cnjamins lamous
asscrtion in Tcscs on thc Philosophy ol History that thcrc is no docu
mcnt ol civilization which is not at thc samc timc a documcnt ol barbarism
(256). Vhat cmcrgcs as cspccially salicnt hcrc is not simply thc rclationship
bctwccn barbarism and writing but morc spccically, thc brutality ol docu
mcntation, thc proccss through which a body ol work, a story, an individual
lilc must pass in ordcr to bc rccognizcdand rccordcdas a documcnt. !t is
not just thc tcxt that produccs violcncc, in othcr words, but a spccic kind ol
tcxt: onc that tcstics to, documcnts, and cstablishcs lacts. Tc trajcctory by
which this violcncc cxcrts itscllthc clcmcnt that makcs it violcnt, in othcr
wordsis anothcr mattcr. !t is violcnt, ultimatcly, bccausc it caccs. Tc story
ol an individual bccomcs an cxamplc, a dctail in a largcr story ol administra
tivc succcss in colonial Alrica.
!t is important, morcovcr, that this transition is not onc ol outright clim
ination but ol comprcssion: thc rcduction ol a lilc, and thc narrativc dcpicting
that lilc, into a chaptcr or a paragraph. Tis proccss suggcsts thc subtlc com
plcxity with which law, history and narrativc wcrc wovcn togcthcr in colonial
Alricaa subtlcty oltcn ovcrlookcd whcn colonialism is imagincd primarily
as a systcm that rulcd out compcting indigcnous lcgal practiccs. ! am not
suggcsting hcrc that 8ritish colonial policics did not cradicatc nativc lorms
ol justicc, thcy did. ! am proposing, rathcr, that a critical cvaluation ol colo
nialisms dcvclopmcnt dcmands morc spccicity than gcncral dcscriptions ol
55 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
political powcr dynamics admit. !n particular, it is this work ol comprcssion,
and thc rcdaction it cnablcsthc ability to lilt a compact story lrom onc con
tcxt and cmbcd it in anothcrthat is a ccntral mcchanism by which colonial
law litcrally ovcrwritcs nativc law. ! would likc to suggcst how this happcns
through an analysis ol an cxcmplary opinion lrom colonial Nigcria, Lewis v.
Bankole. Momcntarily, ! will bc cxamining this highly signicant casc, which
was among thc rst to considcr thc qucstion ol propcrty rights within thc
contcxt ol 8ritish colonial Alrica. ! want rst, howcvcr, to situatc this casc in
its colonial contcxt by sctting out somc basic lcaturcs ol thc 8ritish trcatmcnt
ol Alrican customary law. As ! will cxplain, colonial law rcduccd and rccast
cxisting indigcnous narrativcs and practiccs ol law with a vicw to crcating a
morc just socicty, onc modclcd upon 8ritish jurisprudcncc.
I.
Thc application ol 8ritish law in Alrica was hcraldcd as onc ol nglands
most valuablc contributions to its colonics, promising to institutc a lcgacy
ol rcason and tolcrancc in a contcxt that thc 8ritish saw as uttcrly chaotic.
vcn as thc colonial cra wancd and its critics bccamc morc numcrous, thc
scntimcnt pcrsistcd that common laws inllucncc in thc colonics had bccn,
on thc wholc, a positivc onc. As onc lcgal scholar notcd in thc Journal of
African Law at thc dawn ol many Alrican nations indcpcndcncc, 8ritish
administration in ovcrscas countrics has conlcrrcd no grcatcr bcnclit than
nglish law and justicc (RobcrtsVray 66). Undcrwriting this conviction
was thc longhcld vicw ol thc 8ritish judgc and, by cxtcnsion, thc systcm hc
rcprcscntcd, as a prcscrvcr and protcctor ol Alrican socicty. A colonial judgc
in Nigcria vicwcd his courts particular duty in this way:

! rcgard this court in its cquity jurisdiction as in somc mcasurc by
virtuc ol thc jurisdiction scctions ol thc Suprcmc Court rdinancc
thc kccpcr ol thc conscicncc ol nativc communitics in rcgard to
thc absolutc cnlorccmcnt ol allcgcd nativc customs. (Ajayi 104)
Tc salutary appraisal ol wcstcrn jurisprudcncc in colonial Alrica rc
cctcd thc laws purportcd pluralism in intcgrating nativc custom with im
portcd nglish law. Such intcgration, howcvcr, was idcalistic at bcst: in rcality,
lcgal issucs wcrc addrcsscd through parallcl lcgal systcms, that ol nglish
administcrcd courts and ol thc Nativc Courts, which wcrc prcsidcd ovcr by
local chicls. !l a casc could not bc scttlcd in a Nativc Court ol Appcal, it was
brought bclorc a supcrior (Magistratcs or Suprcmc) Court. 8ritish ocials
in thcsc courts wcrc instructcd to apply nativc or customary law to colo
nial subjccts, providcd that this law mct thc rcquircmcnts ol thc Rcpugnancy
Clausc, which cxcludcd practiccs that wcrc anathcma to justicc, cquity, and
56 Ravit Rcichman
good conscicncc (RobcrtsVray 77). !n thcory, this intcgration was mcant
to tolcratc and prcscrvc cxisting Alrican traditions by applying law in its
local contcxt. !n practicc, thc conucncc ol thcsc two lcgal systcms oltcn rc
sultcd in misrcading and lragmcntation, as magistratcs and judgcs lrcqucntly
misundcrstood, and conscqucntly misapplicd, nativc law. Tc rcsult was a
systcm chokcd with conlusion, in which 8ritish ocials tcndcd to construc
indigcnous practiccs according to thcir own assumptions and prioritics. Not
surprisingly, Alrican customs oltcn did not mcct thc rcpugnancy tcst, and
thosc that did wcrc lrcqucntly misundcrstood by magistratcs and judgcs, who
intcrprctcd cxccptional customs as lcgal practiccs.
!ronically, thc rcpugnancy doctrinc lormalizcd a haphazard cditorial
proccss, cmbcdding thc acccptablc clcmcnts ol nativc custom into colonial
law through an irrcgular mcthod ol incongrucnt dccisions. !n thcir ncw im
pcrial contcxt, thcsc traditions acquircd a tcxtual and political stability that
rcinlorccd thc aims ol cmpirc rathcr than sustaining a local past. Lcgal schol
ar Pctcr Fitzpatrick argucs:
Thc potcnt implication ol thc rcpugnancy clausc is that thc
nativc docs not havc a distinct and intcgral projcct sincc, with
thc rcpugnancy clausc, a part ol thc rcsidcnt culturc can bc
dcnicd hcrc and a part thcrc without any harm to a signilicant
labric ol cxistcncc. Such an ultimatc ncgation by impcrialism
was proloundly idcntilicd by Fanon as thc lragmcntation ol a lilc
oncc livcd and thc conscqucnt rigidilication ol thc lragmcnts, thc
dynamic ol which is now cxtcrnal to thcm. (110)
Tc diculty ol dctcrmining customary law, morcovcr, was compound
cd by thc lact that this law was rootcd in oral tradition, it was, quitc litcrally,
unrcadablc. !t is with this illcgibility in mind, pcrhaps, that 8ritish adminis
trators institutcd thc practicc ol having nativc cxpcrt witncsscs tcstily to thc
cxistcncc ol thcir own lawstcstimonics which subscqucntly would bc rc
cordcd and intcgratcd into thc common law doctrinc ol stare decisis, thc prac
ticc ol rclying on past prcccdcnts. Sincc stare decisis was not part ol nativc law,
thc assumption that prcccdcnts cxistcd and could bc wovcn handily into thc
labric ol customary law changcd this law bcyond rccognition, oltcn turning a
misinlormcd intcrprctation ol custom into a binding dccision. 8y rccording
dccisions in this way, 8ritish lcgal administrators cstablishcd a body ol prcc
cdcnt, turning local law into somcthing akin to nglish casc law. Prcccdcnts
wcrc invokcd and dcbatcd not only in 8ritish courts, but also in indigcnous
oncs, whcrc actors somctimcs lramcd thcir argumcnts against thc backdrop
ol thcir undcrstanding ol how mattcrs would bc handlcd in colonial courts
(Mann and Robcrts 14). Tc insistcncc also crcatcd, in lcgal practicc and
57 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
lcgal writing, a historya juridical lincagc through which thc past could bc
traccd and lollowcd. Conloundcd by this complcx nctwork ol intcntions and
circumstanccsthc ambiguous intcrlacc bctwccn thc two lcgal rcgimcsad
ministrators, judgcs, plaintis and dclcndants oltcn misscd cach othcr in thc
dim light at thc intcrscction ol nglish and customary law.
As a way ol mastcring thc potcntial unccrtainty that could arisc, colonial
administrators drcw hcavily on thc work ol anthropologists. ! will arguc that
thc court in Lewis v. Bankole, in calling cxpcrt witncsscs to tcstily to nativc
practiccs, conductcd itscll in thc manncr ol an invcstigativc anthropologist.
!t is a wclldocumcntcd lact that anthropologists wcrc anything but lorcign
bodics in colonial lcgal policics, an involvcmcnt that rcsonatcs throughout
Tings Fall Apart in thc omniscicnt narrators voicc, which oltcn sounds curi
ously likc that ol a lay anthropologist. 8ritish administration ol Alrica had a
history ol drawing upon anthropological rcscarch, which was sccn as objcctivc,
thorough, and unhampcrcd by idcology. !t thus bccamc a critical and tting
ally in jurists corts to cxport 8ritish law to Alrica. As onc writcr wistlully
put it, it is hcrc that thc work ol thc anthropologist is ol such grcat valuc, hc
has thc timc to obscrvc, hc has no work which has to bc donc in a statcd timc,
in lact hc has no axc to grind cxccpt to obtain thc inlormation hc dcsircs
(Robcrts 50). Such scntimcnt was not uncommon in thc dcvclopmcnt ol co
lonial law and administration, lcnding its architccts an cvcnhandcd tonc that
was thc bcnchmark ol ccctivc lawmaking and ocring a studious, scrupu
lous promisc ol impartiality strippcd ol idcological undcrpinnings.
For thcir part, anthropologists wcrc in no hurry to dismiss such praisc.
vcn thosc critical ol colonial practiccs wcrc quick to dclcnd thcir mcrits and
ovcrall good intcntionsas did dwin Smith, Prcsidcnt in 1937 ol thc Royal
Anthropological !nstitutc. Smith writcs apologctically in his introduction to
a slim volumc cntitlcd Tangled Justice, !n throwing doubt upon thc wisdom
ol somc ol thc laws which havc bccn put in lorcc in Alrica onc is not impugn
ing thc motivc, nor qucstioning thc ability, ol thc mcn rcsponsiblc. Tc idcal
ol justicc and good govcrnmcnt is thc guiding star ol 8ritish administration
(Robcrts 2). Prcsumably part ol thc justicc and good govcrnmcnt to which
Smith rclcrs is not unrclatcd to its rcliancc on thc ndings ol his own disci
plinc, which dclivcrcd critical cvaluations with thc rcassurancc ol thcir objcc
tivity, lcnding intcllcctual and cultural substancc to colonial lcgal policics.
II.
Thc landmark casc ol Lewis v. Bankole was dccidcd in thc Colony ol Lagos
in 1909. Thc plaintills in Lewis claimcd joint owncrship rights to thc prop
crty in qucstion, an arca ol land rclcrrcd to as Mabinuoris Compound, in
ordcr to cstablish thcsc rights, thcy sought a dcclaration that thc land was
lamily propcrtywhich cannot bc sold according to customary lawrathcr
58 Ravit Rcichman
than privatc propcrty, which, in accordancc with nglish common law,
can bc translcrrcd through thc salc ol land. Vith this indigcnous conccpt
ol inhcritancc at stakc, thc casc gocs back not to thc onsct ol thc lamilys
troublcs, but to thc bcginning ol thc lamily itscll:

Chicl Mabinuori dicd in 1874, lcaving a lamily ol twclvc childrcn,
thc cldcst ol whom was a daughtcr . . . !n 1905 an action was
brought by ccrtain ol Mabinuoris grandchildrcn . . . against ccrtain
ol thc occupants ol thc lamily compound who wcrc daughtcrs ol
Mabinuori and childrcn ol a dcccascd youngcr son. Thc claim
was lor a dcclaration (1) that thc plaintills wcrc cntitlcd, as
grandchildrcn ol Mabinuori, in conjunction with thc dclcndants,
to thc lamily compound, and (2) that thc lamily compound was thc
lamily propcrty ol Mabinuori dcccascd. (Lewis v. Bankole 81)
!n thc ycars lcading up to thc dccision, Mabinuoris Compound had bc
comc a sourcc ol tcnsion bctwccn thc childrcn ol Mabinuoris oldcst son, Fag
bcmi, and Mabinuoris surviving daughtcrs. Altcr Fagbcmis dcath in 1881,
his son 8cnjamin awodu took ovcr thc managcmcnt ol thc propcrty, altcr
his dcath in 1900, his brothcr Jamcs awodu, onc ol thc plaintis, succccdcd
as hcad ol thc lamily. uring this timc, thc managcmcnt ol thc landand
spccically, thc two shops that had bccn built on that landwas takcn ovcr
by thc dclcndants, Mabinuoris daughtcrs, who assumcd rcsponsibility lor
lcasing thc shops and collccting thc rcnts. Tc daughtcrs rclations with Jamcs
awodu dctcrioratcd, howcvcr, lollowing his objcction to his aunts dcalings
with a uropcan rm. Asscrting his position as hcad ol thc lamily by patri
lincal dcsccnt, awodu and scvcral othcr grandchildrcn ol Mabinuori initi
atcd procccdings to cstablish lcgal cntitlcmcnt, togcthcr with thc daughtcrs
ol Mabinuori, to thc lamily compound, a block ol land on thc north sidc ol
8ishop Strcct bctwccn thc Marina and 8road Strcct in Lagos.
Lewis v. Bankole was onc ol thc rst cascs in which nativc law, and spc
cically thc notion ol lamily propcrty, was thc govcrning principlc. Acting
Chicl Justicc Spccd dcclarcd in thc initial procccdings in 1908 that pcrhaps
lor thc rst timc thc Court is askcd to makc a dcnitc pronounccmcnt on thc
vcxcd qucstion ol thc tcnurc ol what is known as lamily propcrty by nativc
customary law, and thc principlcs upon which that law should bc cnlorccd
(Lewis v. Bankole 82). Spccd ultimatcly rulcd lor thc dclcndants, arguing that
thc plaintis had rcccivcd cnough inhcritancc lrom Mabinuori to disqualily
thcm lrom lurthcr rights ovcr thc lamilys land. Six months latcr, howcvcr,
his dccision was ovcrturncd by thc Full Court, which rcmittcd thc casc to thc
ivisional Court with two instructions: thc Court was to dctcrminc which
59 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
nativc law or custom applicd in thc situation, and was to rcconsidcr thc casc
in light ol that nding.
Tc task ol rcsponding to thc ivisional Courts rcqucst amountcd to
morc than simply idcntilying thc guiding principlcs ol nativc propcrty law,
sincc colonial lcgal doctrinc considcrcd nativc law to bc a qucstion ol cvidcncc
rathcr than law. As onc judgc put it in a latcr casc, rcvcrsing thc dccision ol
a lowcr court: Tc lcarncd Judgc appcars to havc rclcrrcd to it as though it
wcrc a lcgal tcxtbook ol such authority as would warrant its citation in Court,
which it ccrtainly is not, lor native law and custom is a matter of evidence and
not of law (Belio Adedibu v. Gbadamosi and Sanusi 192). To attain lcgal sta
tus within a colonial court, in othcr words, nativc law had to bc provcn, not
mcrcly prcscntcd. As ! havc alrcady mcntioncd, thc busincss ol cstablishing
this prool oltcn involvcd authoritics, such as local chicls or individuals with
cxpcrtisc in nativc traditions, who wcrc callcd as witncsscs to cstablish thc
law. !n kccping with this practicc, thc Court in Lewis dccidcd to conduct a
trial within a trial, consulting cxpcrts ol indigcnous law in ordcr to rccon
struct thc casc along customary lincs. Tc story ol this pcrlormancc, which
comcs at thc conclusion ol scvcral lcngthy and oltcn convolutcd cxplanations
ol thc casc, ultimatcly lunctions as thc turning point in thc lcgal procccding,
and was vicwcd by thc Court as thc kcy to thc lcgal riddlc that had bccn
troubling Mabinuoris lamily lor ycars.
To cstablish which nativc law applicd in Lewis, thc ivisional Court
summoncd a group ol Lagos chicls to simulatc a scrics ol dccisions rclating to
thc casc. Tc chicls, as cxpcrt witncsscs, wcrc placcd undcr oath and prcscntcd
with a numbcr ol situations involving thc vital clcmcnts ol thc casc bclorc thc
Court. Tc Court, in othcr words, did not prcscnt its cxpcrt witncsscs with
thc casc itscll, but rathcr with a hypothctical rangc ol sccnarios, dcsigncd to
cxtract thc appropriatc rulc without divulging thc cascs actual dctails. For
cach sccnario, thc chicls gavc thcir rulings, somc concurrcd, othcrs dicrcd
lrom cach othcr. !n thc cnd, thc Court sccmcd to wcigh only thosc rulings
backcd by conscnsus, thc dicrcnccs among thc chicls wcrc clidcd, and thc
Court rulcd that thc land should bc dividcd among thc lamily mcmbcrs.
Tc proccdurc appcarcd rcasonablc cnough. !n ordcr to asccrtain thc
rclcvant customary law, 8ritish judgcs turncd to nativc judgcs to scc what
thcir dccision would look likc in a nativc court, thcrcby gaining a scnsc ol
which prcccdcnt would opcratc in thc cascs particular circumstanccs. Vhat
thcy crcatcd, howcvcr, was an illusion ol prcccdcnt, in which thc Lagos chicls
dclivcrcd opinions without binding powcr, pcrlormingrathcr than handing
downa scrics ol dccisions without lorcc on thcir own tcrms. Tcir rulings
could only acquirc judicial powcr within thc ivisional Courts articulation
and intcrprctation, which procccdcd as though it had uncovcrcd thc undcrly
ing prcccdcnt rathcr than a rangc ol possiblc approachcs to thc casc.
60 Ravit Rcichman
Givcn thc lcgal rcasons lor rclying upon cxpcrt witncsscs, it is striking
that what thc Court in Lewis v. Bankole lound cspccially praiscworthy in thc
chicls tcstimonics was not thcir impartiality or judiciousncss, but thcir pol
ishcd prcscntation. Vriting lor thc Court, Chicl Justicc sbornc cxprcsscd
his approval ol thc witncsscs not only bccausc thcir high social status promiscd
accuracy and truth, but also bccausc thcy conductcd thcmsclvcs appropriatcly.
! havc no rcason to doubt thc corrcctncss ol thc chicl s |sic| pronounccmcnt
ol thc customs which cxist in Lagos at thc prcscnt day, hc notcs. Morcovcr,
! was much imprcsscd with thc lair and busincsslikc mcthods which thcy
said thcy would havc adoptcd il thc casc had bccn bclorc thcm lor dccision
(Lewis v. Bankole 101). sbornc rcsponds, in othcr words, not only to thc
contcnt, but also to thc lorm ol thcir tcstimonics, a lorm that suggcsts somc
thing othcr than anthropological or lcgal objcctivity and rcasscrts thc courts
dramaticand thus subjcctivcproduction ol prcccdcnt and law. Unlikc an
anthropologist, what hc notcs is not thc chicls cultural or lcgal dicrcnccs,
but rathcr a prcscntation that hc rccognizcs as his own: a similarity so striking
and imprcssivc that it conlcrs lcgitimacy upon thc chicls pronounccmcnts.
sborncs account ol thc chicls conduct lcavcs onc with littlc scnsc ol how a
court in Alrica lookcd, or ol how awkward and chaotic it oltcn was. 8ut givcn
how dccply hc is struck by thc chicls lair and busincsslikc mcthods, onc
might wcll imaginc that somcthing considcrably dicrcnt was oltcn thc casc.
Along such lincs, onc might cntcrtain a lar lcss ordcrly sccnario, in which
two lcgal worlds with littlc in common wcrc lorccd into jarring collision,
making any judgc rclicvcd to discovcr thc uncxpcctcd similarity rathcr than
stumbling ovcr dicrcnccs. nc obscrvcr in 1937 notcd thc surrcal naturc ol
thc pcrlormancc that was colonial justicc:
Thc ncwcomcr to Alrica visiting thc Courts ol Law in dillcrcnt
parts ol thc country lor thc lirst timc vicws with astonishmcnt
thc sccnc bclorc him. Thc prcsiding magistratc or Judgc. n
spccial occasions in his ollicial robcs ol scarlct, scatcd with nativc
asscssorscounscl in thcir robcs and thc prisoncr in thc dock
thc crowd ol spcctators kcpt back by nativc policc in unilorm. A
rcpctition ol an nglish sccnc in Alrican surroundings, oltcn ol a
primitivc naturc. Thc wholc atmosphcrc is obviously unsuitcd to
thc Alrican mcntality. As hc listcns to thc procccdings hc rcaliscs
that no primitivc or cvcn partly cducatcd nativc can hopc to
undcrstand thc workings ol 8ritish justicc. Thc Court proccdurc is
not undcrstood by thc prisoncr. !l hc is guilty and wishcd to admit
it, hc is oltcn told to plcad not guilty. !l hc dcsircs to cxplain hc is
told hc must rcmain silcnt. (Robcrts 6566)
61 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
Tc sccnc comcs closcr to a pcrlormancconc that appcars cithcr as
drama, comcdy, cvcn mystcrythan it docs to a straightlorward lcgal pro
cccding. Tc chicls spccch acts havc nonc ol thc powcr associatcd with thc
pcrlormativc uttcranccs ol spccchact thcory. !n this particular colonial con
tcxt, thcn, thc sccmingly pcrlormativc bccomcs mcrcly pcrlormancc. Tc ap
parcntly juridical languagc ol thc chicls is draincd ol its productivc capacity
to bring a lcgal world into bcing: thcir lcgal pronounccmcnts cxcrt no lorcc
in and ol thcmsclvcs, but instcad arc wholly dcpcndcnt upon thc largcr powcr
structurcs ol colonial administration. 8y dcpicting thc colonial courtroom as
a play ol costumcs, stagc dircctions, and lincs spokcn without knowlcdgc or
conviction, thc rclationship bctwccn pcrlormancc and law bccomcs dcscrip
tivc rathcr than normativc, and cstranging rathcr than illuminating.
Tc strangcncss is amplicd, too, by thc lact that not only thc prcscncc,
but also thc words ol thosc on thc stand wcrc oltcn placcd in a dicrcnt
contcxt. Tus wc nd that thc chicls judgmcnts, which clscwhcrc would havc
bccn thc law itscll, bccomc part ol a story that thc colonial court tclls about
nativc lawa story that is rcduccd and subjcctcd to intcrprctation, and nally
to thc dccision ol anothcr court. Tc two worlds sccm out ol joint with cach
othcran awkwardncss to which thc court rcsponds by noting thc chicls
cxcmplary, nglishlikc conduct.
Tc judgc in Lewis v. Bankole adds a proccdural conccrn to his imprcs
sions, howcvcr, by calling attcntion to a morc dircctly lcgal mattcr in thc casc:
thc qucstion ol whcthcr Mabinuoris land can bc translcrrcd to nonlamily
mcmbcrs. vcn as hc acccpts thc chicls conclusion that thc land can bc par
titioncd and that powcr ovcr it can rcsidc with thc lamily matriarch, Justicc
sbornc takcs issuc with thc opinion that thc land can ncvcr bc sold:
Thcrc is onc othcr point to which ! must alludc, and that is whcthcr
by nativc customary law thc lamily housc can bc lct or sold. According
to thc Lagos chicls, thc prcscnt custom is that it can bc lct with thc
conscnt ol all thc branchcs ol thc lamily, but cannot bc sold. Thc
idca ol alicnation ol land was undoubtcdly lorcign to nativc idcas in
oldcn days, but has crcpt in as a rcsult ol thc contact with uropcan
notions, and dccds in nglish lorm arc now in common usc. Thcrc
is no proposal lor a salc bclorc mc, so it is not ncccssary lor mc now
to dccidc whcthcr or no a nativc custom which prcvcnts alicnation
is contrary to scction 19 |containing thc rcpugnancy clausc| ol thc
Suprcmc Court rdinancc. 8ut ! am clcarly ol opinion that dcspitc
thc custom, this Court has powcr to ordcr thc salc ol thc lamily
propcrty, including thc lamily housc, in any causc whcrc it considcrs
that such a salc would bc advantagcous to thc lamily, or thc propcrty
is incapablc ol partition. (Lewis v. Bankole 104105)
62 Ravit Rcichman
!n dclcrring to thc cxpcrt witncsscs whilc simultancously asscrting thc
courts powcr ovcr thcm, sbornc gcsturcs towards thc limits ol customary
law. Tc Lagos chicls may bc lamiliar with currcnt local practiccs rcgarding
land tcnurc, but thc ultimatc authority on thc issuc rcmains thc colonial judgc.
His statcmcnt, ironically, bcars a hypothctical or conditional incctionif a
salc wcrc proposcd, then thc Court would ordcr a salcsimilar to that in thc
chicls tcstimonics. Tcrc is, howcvcr, onc crucial dicrcncc: whilc it may not
bc possiblc lor sbornc to rulc on thc salc ol propcrty in this particular in
stancc, hc undcrscorcs his courts binding authority to dctcrminc such issucs
in thc luturc. !n harncssing thc powcr ol this hypothctical modc, sbornc
turns his gazc towards thc luturc: to thc courts cxpandcd jurisdiction and
with it, to thc prospcct ol 8ritish owncrship along 8ritish lincs. Tc status ol
thc past in Lewis v. Bankole is anothcr mattcr, and ! turn now to thc Courts
itcration ol law and historya rclationship that ! will suggcst has as much
to do with historical timc as it docs with thc timc it takcs lor thc opinion to
tcll its litigants storics.
III.
Thc story ol Mabinuoris Compound bcgins with thc initial procccdings in
1905 and cnds with thc 1909 vcrdict. Thc opinion is unusually long, owing
to thc lact that thc casc was hcard by a numbcr ol dillcrcnt courts. My cita
tions in this cssay havc bccn drawn lrom thc linal phasc ol this lcngthy pro
cccding, which cmbcds thc opinions ol lowcr courts in lraming its dccision.
To bc surc, thc gcncalogy ol Lewis v. Bankole is a complicatcd onc, spanning
scvcral gcncrations and a vast numbcr ol childrcn and grandchildrcn. As il
cnacting thc lamily rcpctition ol succcssivc gcncrations, cach court rccords
its own vcrsion ol cvcnts and prcscnts thcm at thc ncxt appcllatc lcvcl, crc
ating a conlusing narrativc that procccds in lits and starts, rcpcating itscll
in spitc ol thc lact that thc story might wcll havc bccn summarizcd morc
succinctly. Lewis v. Bankole rchcarscs thcsc dctails a pcrplcxing numbcr ol
timcs and in cxhaustivc dctail, summarizing thc issucs at stakc and trac
ing thcir cvolution again and again, as il thc court sullcrcd lrom a kind ol
narrativc rcpctition compulsion. nacting thc vcry rcpctition that writing
cnablcs, thc opinions rcitcrativc prosc oltcn sccms to bc a dcspcratc attcmpt
to gain mastcry ovcr a story, thc complcxity ol which thrcatcns to ovcr
whclm cvcn thc stcadicst hand.
Tc lcngth and rcpctition ol thc story, its appcal to thc distant past, lcnds
thc opinion a rcsonant litcrarincss, imbucd with cchocs ol anothcr cndlcss
trial: Jarndycc and Jarndycc ol Bleak House (1853). ickcnss scarccrow ol a
suit (14), without origin or cndpoint, has grown to such labyrinthinc pro
portions in thc novcl that no man alivc knows what it mcans (14). 8ut thc
rcsonancc ol this lamous litcrary trial, in all its humor, lutility, and absurdity,
63 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
is lramcd in Lewis v. Bankole by a drastically dicrcnt contcxt than that ol
\ictorian London. To rcad it historically is thus to politicizc its rhctoric,
and to undcrstand that its lcngth, unlikc Jarndycc and Jarndycc, bcspcaks not
only laws lutility. !t also undcrlincs thc strugglc to cstablish thc lcgitimacy
ol 8ritish rulc.
Tc proccss ol lcgitimation sct in motion by Lewis v. Bankole marks thc
opinions critical dicrcncc lrom thc twists and turns ol ickcns. Rathcr than
cxtcnding ctcrnally into both past and luturc, thc casc workcd to incorporatc
a prccolonial past into thc labric ol colonial law, lcnding thc lattcr an ap
pcarancc ol having cvolvcd naturally lrom thc laws ol thc land that prcccdcd
it. Colonial lcgal administrators wcrc thus ablc to writc into cxistcncc a long
standing rclationship with nativc law, crcating a history in which 8ritish prcs
cncc was an intcgral part. For cvcn as colonialisms supportcrs oltcn justicd
its law through thc 8ritish intcgration ol nativc customs, this justication did
not makc thc practicc lcgitimatc. Rathcr, it in lact riskcd undcrscoring just
how constructcd and potcntially illcgitimatc such stratcgics in lact wcrc. Tc
rcpctition in Lewis v. Bankole, likc that ol writtcn opinions and printcd pagcs
morc gcncrally, thus bccomcs a way to crcatc lcgitimacy whcrc nonc had cx
istcd bclorc. As Hannah Arcndt rcminds us:

Powcr nccds no justilication, bcing inhcrcnt in thc vcry cxistcncc
ol political communitics, what it docs nccd is lcgitimacy . . .
Lcgitimacy, whcn challcngcd, bascs itscll on an appcal to thc past,
whilc justilication rclatcs to an cnd that lics in thc luturc. (52)
Tc idcologics bchind colonialism and colonial law had alrcady laid thc
justication lor thc colonial lcgal cntcrprisc. Tis justication was part ol thc
proccss ol imagining a luturc, onc that would rcalizc thc Commissioncrs book
in Tings Fall Apart, and that would posit a narrativcand with it, a world
in which colony and mctropolc balanccd cach othcr in a civilizcd, lruitlul
cocxistcncc. Vhat rcmaincd to bc providcd, howcvcr, was thc lcgitimacy lor
this work, by which ! mcanlollowing Arcndts rcasoningthc crcation ol a
conncction bctwccn thc colonial prcscnt and thc prccolonial past.
Tc narrativc structurc ol 8ritish colonial law, which ocrcd occasions
lor tclling old storics in thcir prcscnt colonial contcxt, aordcd just such an
opportunity lor lcgitimacy. !t did so by suggcsting, through a proccss that
wovc togcthcr colonial wclt and nativc warp, that colonial law was part ol
thc story lrom thc bcginning, and thus that thc lcgal narrativc had cvolvcd
through its whccls and cogs. Picrrc 8ourdicu, in Tc Forcc ol Law, suggcsts
that this historical ccct issucs lrom lcgal languagc at its most lundamcntal.
Juridical languagc, hc obscrvcs, rcvcals with complctc clarity thc appro-
priation eect inscribcd in thc logic ol thc juridical clds opcration. Such
64 Ravit Rcichman
languagc combincs clcmcnts takcn dircctly lrom thc common languagc and
clcmcnts lorcign to its systcm (819).
!n colonial Alrica, juridical languagc joincd lorccs with thc particulari
tics ol nglish common lawmost notably, its doctrinc ol stare decisisto
appropriatc not only a normativc univcrsc, but also to crcatc a scnsc ol his
torical incvitability. Piycl Haldar thus rcmarks that by incorporating local
practiccs into a systcm ol prcccdcnt, colonial jurists positcd nglish history
as thc rcgnant paradigm:
Thc legis non scripta that lorms thc basis ol thc doctrinc ol stare
decisis marks thc common law systcm as bcing spccilically and
pcculiarly nglish. !t is lor thc nglish and, abovc all, it dcrivcs
dircctly lrom thc nglish sincc an immcmorial timc. . . . !t is a law
which, sincc bclorc thc bcginning ol lcgal mcmory, has dcvclopcd
with thc slow accrctions ol wisdom that cvolvc lrom thc spirit ol
nglish cxistcncc. (450)
Tc act ol asscrting nglish history as Alrican history, morcovcr, rcin
lorccd thc scnsc that colonialism did not simply rcdccm nativc subjccts, but
activcly constitutcd thcm. As Pctcr Fitzpatrick concludcs, thc dcvclopmcnt ol
colonial law mcant that |t|hc colonizcd arc rclcgatcd to a timclcss past with
out a dynamic, to a stagc ol progrcssion lrom which thcy arc at bcst rcmotcly
rcdccmablc and only il thcy arc brought into History by thc activc principlc
cmbodicd in thc uropcan. !t was in thc application ol this principlc that thc
uropcan crcatcd thc nativc and thc nativc law and custom against which its
own idcntity and law continuc to bc crcatcd (110).
Furthcrmorc, thc act ol rcpctition itscll had thc ccct ol making somc
thing rcal: a story rcpcatcd oltcn cnough cvcntually bccomcs thc story, thc
ocial vcrsion ol cvcnts. Tc lact that lcgal dccisions wcrc no longcr lclt
to an oral tradition, but wcrc printcd and publishcd, only accclcratcd this
proccss ol rcpctition: a dccision disscminatcd as tcxt gcncratcs an innitc
possibility ol rcpctition. Martin Chanock aptly notcs, Vriting is thc tool
ol administration (303). Yct thc potcntial mastcry that a tcxts circulation
makcs possiblc also illuminatcs thc possibility that this ocial vcrsion is,
at bcst, prccariousand at worst, illcgitimatc. Vriting and rcpctition, ! am
suggcsting, do not makc somcthing rcal, but rathcr producc thc eect ol
this rcalan illusion ol pcrmancncc and with it, a scnsc (rathcr than a guar
antcc) that justicc has bccn donc. ach rcpctition thus crcatcs thc possibili
tyand thc dcsirclor administrativc mastcry, and simultancously subvcrts
it with thc prospcct ol mastcrys impossibility, and ol thc tcnuous hold ol
8ritish administration.
65 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
IV.
Robcrt Covcr imagincs law as at oncc structural and tcmporal: lor him, law
was a way to imaginc how things might bc dillcrcnt in thc luturc, but not
ncccssarily how thcy might have been different in thc past. Covcr writcs,
Law may bc vicwcd as a systcm ol tcnsion or a bridgc linking a
conccpt ol a rcality to an imagincd altcrnativcthat is, a conncctivc
bctwccn two statcs ol allairs, both ol which can bc rcprcscntcd in
thcir signilicancc only through thc dcvicc ol narrativc. (Nomos
and Narrativc 101)
!n thc contcxt ol colonial practicc, howcvcr, Covcrs bridgc takcs on a
dicrcnt lorm, onc thrcatcning to bucklc undcr thc wcight ol politics and
history. !n colonics, law bccamc morc than a bridgc to thc luturc: it bccamc a
way to thc past, it not only rcduccd storics to a managcablc sizc, but torc thcm
out ol contcxt and rccast thcm in ncw, morc politically and lcgally convcnicnt
tcrms. !t cxtcndcd this ncw contcxt into a narrativc that cxtcndcd thc rcachcs
ol colonialism wcll into historyand thus, into lcgitimacy. Sccn in this light,
thc gaps that colonial ocials pcrccivcd wcnt bcyond thosc qucstions lor
which, in thcir cycs, customary law had no answcrs. Tc gaps thcy pcrccivcd,
and thosc that wcrc llcd by rcpctition and publication, wcrc thosc ol thcir
own abscncc.
Colonial lcgal practicc gavc both a history to thc mctropolc and a lan
guagc: through thc work ol rcduction and lcngthy rcpctition, it translatcd
customary law into thc languagc ol nglish law. And in thc proccss, it ush
crcd in a lcgacy, a claim to owncrship, that was morc crcativc labor than it
was historicalor, lor that mattcr, anthropologicallact. !n making scnsc ol
colonial jurisprudcncc, thcn, to spcak ol thc story ol law would bc to ocr a
thin dcscription ol lcgal practiccs in Alrica. To dcscribc it as such is to distort
thc way in which thc practicc ol colonial law turncd nativc law into storics
prcciscly in ordcr to dissolvc thcir status as lawto intcrprct thcsc storics in
ordcr to translorm thcm into somcthing clsc: to rccast thc disparatc voiccs ol
thc Lagos chicls into a unilorm body ol law, or thc novcl Tings Fall Apart,
into thc book Te Pacication of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. To
bc surc, konkwo and thc Lagos chicls still lorm part ol thc colonial narra
tivcpcrhaps not a wholc chaptcr but a rcasonablc paragraph, at any ratc.
Vhcn thcsc paragraphs wcrc spun out into narrativcs, subjccts ol colonialism
could bc imagincd as such not simply bccausc thcy wcrc undcr a 8ritish rulc
ol law, but bccausc this law madc thcm subjccts ol much largcr storicsand
thus, subjcct to storics.
66 Ravit Rcichman
Vovxs Ci :vb
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1991.
Haldar, Piycl. Folk Undcrstanding: !n thc Shadow ol thc Common Law. Rcv. ol In the
Shadow of Marriage: Gender and Justice in an African Community, by Anna M. .
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67 Undignilicd ctails: Thc Colonial Subjcct ol Law
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Macmillan, 1937.
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J S P H R . S L AUGHT R
A Mouth with Which to Tell the Story:
Silence, Violence, and Speech in Chinua Achebes
Tings Fall Apart
Vc arc not so black (in thc Nigcr) as thcy havc paintcd us, writcs
Gcorgc Goldic, hcad ol thc 8ritish owncd Royal Nigcr Company, in a lcttcr
datcd Novcmbcr 13, 1897 (quotcd in Flint, 105). Goldics missivc to John
Holt, an cconomic archrival and a man with compcting tradc intcrcsts
through thc Livcrpool bascd Alrican Association, hclps to closc thc dcal
lor a unilication ol trading partncrs that has bccn thc subjcct ol scmisccrct
ncgotiations during thc last lcw months ol 1887. Taking cxccption to rcccnt
rcports issuing lrom thc Alrican Association and dclivcrcd to thc 8ritish
Forcign llicc, Goldics lcttcr proposcs to cnd thc bad prcss through an
amalgamation ol thc various trading companics. Goldic imagincs that thc
climination ol markct compctition lor thc rcsourccs ol thc Nigcr and thc
Nigcr clta would bcnclit thc companics in a numbcr ol ways: 1) with thc
cnd ol provincial cconomic intcrcst, thc prolits ol thc trading conccrns in
rclation to thc untappcd potcntial ol thc arca would incrcasc, 2) thc potcn
tially damaging rcports ol thc Royal Nigcr Companys cxploitativc lorms
ol production and its unlair trading practiccs might bc quictcd, and 3) thc
amalgamation would postponc, il not complctcly stavc oll, discovcry ol thc
Companys lailurc to comply with its Royal Chartcr by not having cstablishcd
an cllcctivc systcm ol govcrnancc and administrativc inlrastructurc on thc
70 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
Nigcr, which riskcd royal displcasurc and thc rcvocation ol thc Companys
chartcr.
!n his lcttcr, Goldic addrcsscs thc subjcct ol thc Livcrpool rcports by
cxplicitly challcnging thc rcprcscntation ol thcir substancc: Tcy say that
wc havc bccn aggrcssivc and pushing! ! do not admit aggrcssion. (105). Tc
ambiguity ol thc signicancc ol thc aggrcssionwhcthcr it rclcrs domcsti
cally to thc chargcs ol monopolizing tcndcncics or to somc morc humanitar
ian notion ol unlair labor practiccs rctains its rhctorical tanglc throughout
his sardonic cxposition: 8ut, il truc |that wc havc bccn aggrcssivc|, so much
thc bcttcr lor thcm whcn thcy bccomc our partncrs, our Coircctors, and
our corulcrs.
Thcy will rcchristcn aggrcssion, thcy will call it laudablc cncrgy,
and thcy will cmulatc us in its display (105).
!n his lcttcr to thc Alrican Association, Goldics wit in dcscribing his
cntcrpriscs commcrcial dcmcanor as not so black suggcsts, bcyond its
obvious racist implications, that thc rcprcscntations ol his actions arc at
lcast as important to his projcct as thc actual naturc ol his dcalings. Thc
rcst ol his rcsponsc procccds to lorcground clcarly a sccmingly pcdcstrian
point, that a colonial/impcrial drcssing up ol thc public languagc can mask
an idcntilicd malignancy. Thc capitalizcd strcss on thc commcrcial promo
tion ol his luturc partncrs to Coircctors, whilc thc impcrial corulcrs
rcmains uncapitalizcd, typographically suggcsts that thc appcal ol corporatc
amalgamation lics in its cconomic rathcr than its burcaucratic and civiliz
ing aspccts. This sort ol rhctorical slcight ol hand is, ol coursc, not pcculiar
to Goldic and his prospcctivc partncrs.
Tzvctan Todorov idcntics this samc syncrctic movc as part and parccl
ol Spains carlicr conqucst ol thc !ndics, and thus as a paradigm lor sub
scqucnt uropcan incursions into othcr parts ol thc world. Todorovs com
mcnts on thc \alladolid controvcrsy ol 1571 that prccipitatcd thc drawing up
ol royal ordinanccs dirccting thc modc ol Spanish conqucst in 1573namcly,
that iscovcrics arc not to bc callcd conqucsts, and that prcachcrs should
ask lor thcir |thc nativcs| childrcn undcr thc prctcxt ol tcaching thcm and
kccping thcm as hostagcs such that by thcsc and othcr mcans arc thc !ndi
ans to bc pacicd and indoctrinatcdundcrscorc thc rcgal dircctncss ol thc
tcxt: it is not conqucsts that arc to bc banishcd, but thc word conquest; paci
cation is nothing but anothcr word to dcsignatc thc samc things, but lct
us not supposc that this linguistic conccrn is a lutilc onc. Subscqucntly, onc
is to act under cover ol commcrcc, by manifesting lovc, and without showing
grccd (his italics, 174). Todorovs argumcnt suggcsts that lraming dicrcntly
thc languagc ol conqucst accts not only a rhctorical covcr lor a potcntially
71 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
immoral projcct, but that a shilt in rcprcscntational pcrspcctivc will also pro
ducc an impcrial approach with a manilcstly dicrcnt appcarancc.
Tc rhctoric ol thc Spanish royal ordinanccs again nds its purposc in
Gcorgc Goldics original pctition on bchall ol thc National Alrican Com
pany, which was grantcd its Royal Chartcr on July 10, 1886. Tc languagc ol
thc pctition is rcpcatcd as prcambular matcrial to thc actual chartcr: whcrcas
thc Pctition lurthcr statcs that thc condition ol thc nativcs inhabiting thc
alorcsaid tcrritorics would bc matcrially improvcd, and thc dcvclopmcnt ol
such tcrritorics and thosc contiguous thcrcto, and thc civilization ol thcir
pcoplcs would bc grcatly advanccd . . . (rcprintcd in Flint, 331). Tc ma
tcrial improvcmcnt and thc advanccmcnt ol civilization alludcd to in thc
opcning scctions ol thc chartcr lalls out ol thc actual articulations ol rights
and rcsponsibilitics royally grantcd to thc Company in thc subscqucnt tcxt.
Howcvcr, thc rhctorical prctcxt ol cconomic improvcmcnt and humanitarian
advanccmcnt continucs to occupy a privilcgcd placc in thc communications
bctwccn ngland and thc tcrritorics as thc intcrcsts movc lrom commcrcial
to impcrial. Tus, in a lcttcr lrom thc 8ritish Forcign cc to Major C. M.
Macdonald datcd April 18, 1891, thc 8ritish Sccrctary dcscribcs thc goals
ol thc administration in thc southcrn il Rivcrs Protcctoratc: ! am to ob
scrvc that your objcct should bc, by dcvcloping lcgitimatc tradc, by promot
ing civilization, by inducing thc nativcs to rclinquish inhuman and barbarous
customs, and by gradually abolishing slavcry, to pavc thc way lor placing thc
tcrritorics ovcr which Hcr Majcstys protcction is and may bc cxtcndcd di
rcctly undcr 8ritish rulc(rcprintcd in Ncwbury, 263). !t is this languagcol
cconomics, pacication, and civilizationthat Achcbc ironizcs in 1958 at thc
closc ol Tings Fall Apart whcrc, altcr thc hcro konkwo has hung himscll in
dcspair, thc 8ritish colonial occrs intcrior monologuc occupics thc novcls
nal words:
!n thc many ycars in which hc had toilcd to bring civilization to
thc dillcrcnt parts ol Alrica hc had lcarnt a numbcr ol things. nc
ol thcm was that a istrict Commissioncr must ncvcr attcnd to
such undignilicd dctails as cutting down a hangcd man lrom thc
trcc. Such attcntion would givc thc nativcs a poor opinion ol him.
!n thc book, which hc planncd to writc, hc would strcss that point.
As hc walkcd back to thc court hc thought about that book. vcry
day brought him somc ncw matcrial. Thc story ol this man who
had killcd a mcsscngcr and hangcd himscll would makc intcrcsting
rcading. nc could almost writc a wholc chaptcr on him. Pcrhaps
not a wholc chaptcr but a rcasonablc paragraph, at any ratc. Thcrc
was so much clsc to includc, and onc must bc lirm in cutting out
dctails. Hc had alrcady choscn thc titlc ol thc book, altcr much
72 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
thought: The Pacif ication of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger
(147148).
Thc closing sccnc ol thc novcl allcgorizcs thc production ol colonial and
commcrcial knowlcdgc that ! will cxaminc in grcatcr dctail throughout this
cssay. !n thc istrict Commissioncrs writings thc lilc ol thc hcro, whosc
trials, troublcs, and joys havc mattcrcd lor thc last 147 pagcs, will, at bcst,
bccomc lor colonial olliccrs and armchair impcrial lanatics a short cxcm
plum in thc 8luc 8ooks ol 8ritish history.
Most ol thc writing about thc Nigcr tcrritorics in thc latc 19th and carly
20th ccnturics was produccd by thc colonial powcrs. an !zcvbayc cxplains
that Tc colonial administrations accumulatcd such a mass ol inlormation
in thcir intclligcncc rcports and othcr cld studics ol thc dicrcnt cthnic
groups that many ol thcsc documcnts continuc to scrvc scholars as impor
tant historical sourccs (46). nc might qucstion thc simultancous ovcr and
undcrvaluing ol thc tcrm important, givcn that administrativc rcports wcrc,
pcrhaps, thc major 8ritish import and that thcy wcrc vcry oltcn condcntial.
!zcvbayc concludcs that whilc thcsc sourccs sccmcd adcquatc to thc 8ritish
administration, thcy did not appcar to havc hclpcd thc colonial administra
tors to a sympathctic undcrstanding ol ccrtain nativc institutions (46).
As part ol thc corpus ol privatc and pcrsonal corrcspondcncc that lcd to
thc protcctionist amalgamation ol trading intcrcsts on thc Nigcr and in thc
southcrn oil statcs, Goldics lcttcr to Hunt candidly rccasts chargcs ol violat
ing nativc institutions that had bccn lcvclcd against his own company by im
puting thcm to thc thrcat ol a 8ritish govcrnmcnt takcovcr ol all conccrncd
tcrritorics. Tus, Goldic attcmpts to unily his compctition against thc unprol
itablc and impracticablc possibility ol a nationalizcd nglish colonialism by
appcaling to a scnsc ol progrcss and cconomic pragmatism that will not want
to losc prccious rcsourccs to a ctitious and prcmaturc dcvclopmcnt(Flint
105).Tc thrcat that ocial impcrialism sccms to posc to thc commcrcial
intcrcsts ol privatc cntcrprisc suggcsts that, at lcast in thc casc ol Nigcria,
cvolutionary and dcvclopmcntal rhctoric may ambiguously undcrpin both
cconomic and civilizing cndcavors.
To this point ! havc tablcd somc ol thc conccpts that will rcappcar
throughout this cssay: notions ol languagc (and particularly writing) as a tool
in thc rcprcscntation and lunction ol colonial/impcrial projccts, idcas ol c
tion and dcvclopmcnt, and in particular a rclationship that rccognizcs thc
rhctoric ol dcvclopmcnt, or at lcast prcmaturc dcvclopmcnt, as ctitious.
Tcsc, pcrhaps, parallcl, though ! want to bc suggcstivc rathcr than strict
about this, thc postcolonial silcncc, violcncc, and spccch in thc titlc ol this
cssay. As a way to link (and unlink) thcsc tcnuous rclationships, ! will nish
sctting thc tablc by turning to commcnts Achcbc makcs in his cssays that
73 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
t morc comlortably with litcrary notions ol ction and dcvclopmcnt. !n
Colonialist Criticism, Achcbc dircctly addrcsscs what hc calls bigbrothcr
arrogancc in much Vcstcrn litcrary scholarship on Alrica. Tc lattcrday
colonialist critic, Achcbc argucs, sccs thc Alrican writcr as a somcwhat un
nishcd uropcan who with paticnt guidancc will grow up onc day and writc
likc cvcry othcr uropcan, but mcanwhilc must bc humblc, must lcarn all
hc can and whilc at it givc duc crcdit to his tcachcrs in thc lorm ol cithcr
dircct praisc or, cvcn bcttcr sincc praisc somctimcs gocs bad and bccomcs
cmbarrassing, manilcst scllcontcmpt (Hopes 69). !t is pcrhaps cnough hcrc
to suggcst thc pcrvasivcncss ol thcsc idcas by rcminding thc rcadcr ol an
oltquotcd statcmcnt, and onc that Achcbc himscll rclcrs to, by which thc
missionary and humanitarian Albcrt Schwcitzcr cxplaincd his mcdical work
in Alrica: Tc Alrican is indccd my brothcr, but my junior brothcr (69).
Tc apparcntly alluring notion ol cvolutionary cultural and social dcvclop
mcnt, thc rclationship ol a youngcr brothcr to an cldcr, is hcrc idcnticd by
Achcbc as onc which has migratcd into thc languagc and thcorics ol litcrary
criticism. Tat is, thc samc organic thcorics ol dcvclopmcnt that undcrpinncd
a uropcan colonialism makc an appcarancc in thc litcrary critical languagc
that still tcnds to locatc thc Alrican novcl at a stagc ol immaturity in rcla
tion to writing in thc Vcst.
Vhat lollows in this cssay is an cxamination not ol a dctailcd rclation
ship bctwccn any particular gcnrc ol colonial writing and thc production ol
colonial knowlcdgc but rathcr a broadcr attcmpt to contcxtualizc Tings Fall
Apart in a cld ol colonial discoursc. ! claim, in somc scnsc, that rcaction to
thc novcl, and thc various gcncric labcls it has clicitcd lrom wcstcrn critics,
can bcst bc cxplaincd by rccognizing its implicit rclationships to thc rangc ol
writing that mcant to rcprcscnt thc Nigcr rcgion and thc cxpcricnccs ol its
inhabitants. Tc cxamplcs ol thc various typcs ol writing produccd during
thc commcrcial and colonial pcriods ol Nigcrias history arc mcant, thcn, to
bc illustrativc, pcrhaps cvcn paradigmatic, but by no mcans cxhaustivc ol thc
lull complcx ol writings. Ultimatcly, ! am arguing that whcn Tings Fall Apart
is rcad in rclation to thcsc various modcs ol colonial writing, thc novclistic
tcchniqucs and thcmcs can bc rccognizcd as at oncc allcgorizcd and cxplicit
rcsponscs, cvcn antidotcs, to thc impcrial lorms ol tcxtual knowing. Grouping
thc widc rangc ol writings that ! will look at in onc cssay might sccm carclcss
(and ccrtainly cach ol thc modcs dcscrvcs its own trcatmcnt), but as avid
Spun cxplains in his book on colonialist journalism, Colonial discoursc is
not a mattcr ol a givcn idcological position, but rathcr a scrics ol rhctorical
principlcs that rcmain constant in thcir application to thc colonial situation
rcgardlcss ol thc particular idcology which thc writcr cspouscs (39). Tis
cssay cxamincs two ol thc rhctorical principlcs that sccm to rcmain constant
in writings lrom and about turnolthcccntury Nigcria.
74 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
Nearer to his Ancestors: Organic Development and Knowledge
Godidigogodigo, announcc thc drums that inlorm thc pcoplc ol
Umuolia ol thc dcath ol a grcat man, sctting thc sccnc ol thc luncral in
chaptcr thirtccn ol Achcbcs novcl. Tcxtually thc luncral providcs thc occa
sion lor konkwo to commit his accidcntal killing ol thc dcad mans son
and prccipitatcs his rcmoval lrom thc villagc. 8ut in a sort ol rcvcrsal ol a
uropcan tclcological notion ol individual dcvclopmcnt, thc third pcrson
narrator takcs thc occasion ol thc ccrcmony to commcnt on thc human
lilc cyclc: A mans lilc lrom birth to dcath was a scrics ol transition ritcs
which brought him ncarcr and ncarcr to his anccstors (85). Vhat should
bc strcsscd in this dcscription is not so much a notion that aging brings thc
individual closcr to dcath and thcrclorc closcr to thc dcad but rathcr that
through cach transitional ritc thc individual conccntratcs his/hcr rcla
tionship among anccstors. This conccption ol dcvclopmcnt contrasts that
invokcd by colonial rhctoric in thc cightccnth and ninctccnth ccnturics.
!n his cssay n Libcrty lrom 1859, J. S. Mill cxplains that \cry lcw
lacts arc ablc to tcll thcir own story, without commcnts to bring out thcir
mcaning (21). nc ol thosc lacts that turns out to rcquirc commcnt is his
statcmcnt in thc samc work that cspotism is a lcgitimatc modc ol govcrn
mcnt (11). Just bclorc cntcring into thc ccntral argumcnt ol n Libcrty,
Mill pauscs to considcr thc applicability ol his analysis:
!t is, pcrhaps, hardly ncccssary to say that this doctrinc is mcant
to apply only to human bcings in thc maturity ol thcir lacultics.
Vc arc not spcaking ol childrcn, or ol young pcrsons bclow thc
agc, which thc law may lix as that ol manhood or womanhood.
Thosc who arc still in a statc to rcquirc bcing takcn carc ol
by othcrs must bc protcctcd against thcir own actions as wcll
as against cxtcrnal injury. For thc samc rcason, wc may lcavc
out ol considcration thosc backward statcs ol socicty in which
thc racc itscll may bc considcrcd as in its nonagc. Thc carly
dillicultics in thc way ol spontancous progrcss arc so grcat, that
thcrc is scldom any choicc or mcans lor ovcrcoming thcm, and
a rulcr lull ol thc spirit ol improvcmcnt is warrantcd in thc usc
ol any cxpcdicnts that will attain an cnd, pcrhaps othcrwisc
unattainablc. cspotism is a lcgitimatc modc ol govcrnmcnt in
dealing with barbarians, providcd thc cnd bc thcir improvcmcnt,
and thc mcans justilicd by actually cllccting that cnd. Libcrty, as
a principlc, has no application to any statc ol things antcrior to thc
timc whcn mankind havc bccomc capablc ol bcing improvcd by
lrcc and cqual discussion (11) (italics minc).
75 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
Mills rcscrvations about thc applicability ol his thought on libcrty rcllcct
an cvolutionary notion ol dcvclopmcnt, lor individuals as lor nations and
pcoplcs that had gaincd currcncy in thc cightccnth and ninctccnth ccnturics.
His argumcnt providcs thc thcorctical/philosophical warrant that backs thc
impcrial justilications lor colonialism.
Pcrhaps thc most inucntial claboration ol an organic, il lostcrcd, thco
ry ol dcvclopmcnt appcars in Rousscaus 1762 trcatisc on natural cducation,
Te Emile. Rousscaus suggcstion that thc Frcnch pcasantry havc littlc nccd ol
thc kind ol cducation hc propounds bccausc thcy alrcady cxist in somc proto
natural rclationship to dcvclopmcnt that has bccn socializcd out ol thcir ur
ban compatriots, cxplains his choicc ol hypothctical pupil. Lct us choosc
our scholar among thc rich, writcs Rousscau, cxplaining that wc shall at
lcast havc madc anothcr man, thc poor may comc to manhood without our
hclp. For thc samc rcason ! should not bc sorry il milc camc ol a good lam
ily (2223). Too, Rousscau pondcrs thc impact ol gcography and climatc on
dcvclopmcnt and cducation, arguing that il ! want my pupil to bc a citizcn
ol thc world ! will choosc him in thc tcmpcratc zonc, in Francc lor cxamplc
(22). Unlikc his disposition towards a romanticizcd vcrsion ol thc poor and
thc pcasantry ol Francc, Rousscaus thoughts on thc rolc ol climatc ocr a
gcographical cxplanation lor his thcory ol racial inlcriority: a ncgro cannot
livc in Tornca nor a Samoycd in 8cnin. !t sccms also as il thc brain wcrc lcss
pcrlcctly organiscd in thc two cxtrcmcs. Ncithcr thc ncgrocs nor thc Laps
arc as wisc as uropcans (22). For Rousscaus tutor thc nonuropcan is not
only lcss wisc than thc uropcan, but thc brain is lcss wcll organizcd. Pcrhaps
Rousscau only mcans that thc brains ol nonuropcans organizc inlormation
dicrcntly, but givcn an organic/cvolutionary modcl ol dcvclopmcnt, thosc
dicrcnccs in organization (il thcy can bc locatcd along a vcctor ol civiliza
tion) would suggcst a sort ol primitivcncss.
For Rousscau, as lor Mill a ccntury latcr, thc acquisition ol languagc rcp
rcscnts an important stagc in thc progrcssivc dcvclopmcnt ol thc individual
and ol civilization. milc is, Rousscau says, twicc ovcr, born into cxistcncc,
and born into lilc, born a human bcing, and born a man (206). Tc cmcr
gcncc lrom a sccond birth corrcsponds to pubcrty in Rousscau, but it is also
thc momcnt altcr which thc pupil spcaks himscll (207). Mills cvolutionary
conccptions ol human dcvclopmcnt and civilization mcan that his principlcs
ol libcrty arc only applicablc whcn mankind has bccomc capablc ol bcing
improvcd by lrcc and cqual discussion (11). And, in lact, his statcmcnt in
vokcs thc classical dcnition ol barbarian as onc who misuscs, or is with
out, languagc. Tus, thc dcvclopmcnt ol, and thc dcaling with, barbarians
could ncvcr, in an ctymological scnsc, cntail lrcc spccch and discussion. For
both Mill and Rousscau languagc is conccivcd ol as a mcans and an cnd in
thc movcmcnt towards libcrty and maturity. As a mcans, languagc organizcs
76 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
knowlcdgc in ways that arc bcnccial to thc dcvclopmcnt ol individuals. As
an cnd, thc cxistcncc ol languagc and thc possibility ol discoursc bccomc
cvidcncc ol dcvclopmcnt and civilization.
Tc appcal and inucncc ol thcsc cvolutionary modcls in thc ninctccnth
ccntury can bc sccn not only in colonial administrators writings, but also in
thc work ol Alricans living in uropc. !n 1868 Jamcs Alricanus 8calc Hor
ton, a Sicrra Loncan ol !gbo dcsccnt traincd as a mcdical doctor in ngland,
publishcd a book callcd West African Countries and Peoples in which hc statcs
that it will bc my provincc to provc thc capability ol thc Alrican lor posscss
ing a rcal political govcrnmcnt and national indcpcndcncc (3). Hortons po
lcmic, howcvcr, sccms to subscribc to thc uropcan rhctoric ol dcvclopmcnt
whcn hc adds that a morc stablc and ccicnt Govcrnmcnt might yct bc
lormcd in Vcstcrn Alrica, undcr thc supcrvision ol a civilizcd nation (3). Tc
rcst ol thc book procccds to arguc that thc Vcst Alricans arc capablc ol bcing
civilizcd. Vhilc thc book cmploys 8ritish colonial rhctoriclor cxamplc,
in his scction on thc !gbo hc rccontcxtualizcs a stcrcotypc that Tc gbocs
arc considcrcd thc most imitativc and cmulativc ol pcoplc in thc wholc ol
Vcstcrn Alrica, placc thcm whcrc you will, or introducc to thcm any man
ncrs and customs, you will nd that thcy vcry casily adapt thcmsclvcs to thcm
(157)it docs so in a lashion that, somctimcs too subtly lor todays rcadcr
makcs a casc lor thc dignity and idcntity ol thc Alrican. So, dcspitc thc lact
that Horton makcs a lrank appcal lor colonialism bascd on an cvolutionary
conccption ol culturcs, hc also cxplicitly rccognizcs dangcrs inhcrcnt in that
call. Tough Horton writcs that Nothing tcnds morc to thc civilization ol
a barbarous country than thc immigration ol civilizcd individuals into it. . . .
!t is impossiblc lor a nation to civilizc itscll, civilization must comc lrom
abroad (175), hc tcmpcrs his position by warning against a commcrcializcd
colonialism and its mcrchant abuscs: !t must bc rcmcmbcrcd that thc n
glish arc considcrcd thc mildcst ol all civilizcd nations in thcir dcaling with
savagc nations, but il among thcm wc nd mcn capablc ol such barbarity |a
tradcrs incxplicablc stripping and ogging ol a nativc|, what civilization must
thcy cxpcct lrom othcr nations, and how many ccnturics will it rcquirc lor
thcir civilization by mcrchants: (176177). l coursc, thc history ol 8ritish
colonialism in Nigcria cvcntually provcd accuratc Hortons asscssmcnt ol thc
dangcrs ol a commcrcializcd colonialism.
!n Te Order of Tings, Foucault locatcs a shilt in modcs ol knowlcdgc at
thc cnd ol thc cightccnth ccntury that, in its most gcncral lormulation, struc
turcs thc ways in which knowlcdgc is collcctcd, ordcrcd, and disscminatcd.
Foucault idcntics taxinomia as thc paradigm ol ordcring in thc scvcntccnth
and cightccnth ccnturics and gcncsis as thc principlc subscqucntly. Tus hc ar
gucs that taxinomia cstablishcs thc tablc ol visiblc dicrcnccs, gcncsis prcsup
poscs a progrcssivc scrics, thc rst trcats ol signs in thcir spatial simultancity,
77 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
as a syntax, thc sccond dividcs thcm up into an analogon ol timc, as a chro
nology (74). Foucaults cxplanation ol gcncsis as an ordcring principlc cor
rcsponds to thc idcas that undcrpin uropcan notions ol cvolutionary dcvcl
opmcnt, and thus might makc scnsc ol a colonialist rhctoric that argucs lor
thc savagcncss ol thc Nigcr nativcs. Howcvcr, much ol thc writing produccd
undcr colonial rcgimcs collccts and organizcs inlormation in a taxonomic or
tabular lorm.
dward Saids cxamination ol thc work ol carly oricntalists dcscribcs
thc product ol thcir studics in tcrms that rcsonatc with Foucaults. Said char
actcrizcs thc scholarship that introduccd thc modcrn languagc ol ricntal
ism in thc anthropology ol Silvcstrc dc Sacy as csscntially compilatory and
in thc philology ol rncst Rcnan as harboring thc most csotcric notions ol
tcmporality, origins, dcvclopmcnt, rclationship, and human worth (134). Tc
two strains ol knowlcdgc ordcring that Foucault idcntics in his work sccm
to cocxist and to account lor thc bcginnings ol modcrn ricntalism in Saids
analysis. !n lact, thc cocxistcncc ol thcsc two modcls ol thought continucs to
support cach othcr through thc stagcs ol 8ritish colonialism. Tat is, whilc
Foucault may bc corrcct whcn hc idcntics a gcncral cpistcmological shilt
in uropcan thought, thc majority ol colonial/commcrcial writing about thc
Nigcr rcmains committcd to rcprcscnting its inlormation, or ndings, in
taxonomic and tabular lorm. Tc potcntial paradox ol this lact can bc cx
plaincd by rccognizing thc lounding paradox ol much uropcan colonialism.
!l Foucault is right, thcn pcrhaps thc rcliancc on tabular/taxonomic ordcring
in colonial writings can bc accountcd lor by thc gcnctic principlc itscll. From
a colonialist pcrspcctivc, thc cvolutionary primitivc modc ol ordcring rcprc
scntcd by thc tablc might sccm to suit thc study ol a pcoplc who thc gcnctic
thcory ol civilization has dcsignatcd savagc.
Tcsc two modcs ol ordcring will, in thc 8ritish colonial contcxt ol Ni
gcria, rcinlorcc two sccmingly contrary tcxtual principlcs ol accounting and
rccounting, or, in thc morc litcrary modcls, invoicing and voicing. Showing
that onc lorm or thc othcr ol thcsc tcxtual principlcs has a grcatcr anity lor
a commcrcial or an impcrial colonialism would rcquirc a morc thorough cx
amination ol thc availablc writings than ! undcrtakc hcrc. Howcvcr, lor con
vcnicncc sakc and thc organization ol this cssay, ! associatc morc cxamplcs ol
writing inlormcd by a narrativc principlc ol voicing with thc impcrial as op
poscd to thc commcrcial pcriods ol colonialism. At any account, thc intimacy
bctwccn thc commcrcial cntcrpriscs and thc 8ritish govcrnmcnt makcs thc
discrimination ol distinct colonial lorms dicult, il not impossiblc.
Rcturning to Tings Fall Apart, thc notion ol dcvclopmcnt in thc novcl
is also intimatcly linkcd to thc acquisition and usc ol languagc, but strcss is
placcd on thc rolc ol languagc in crcating a social and cultural spacc to ac
commodatc thc announccmcnt ol thc individual. !t is, lor instancc, only whcn
78 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
konkwos daughtcr, zinma, can spcak lor hcrscll, can tcll thc villagc whcrc
hcr iyi-uwa is buricd that shc takcs hcr placc among thc living as a pcrson,
but also as a viablc social bcing capablc ol narrating hcr own cxistcncc: No
ogbanje would yicld hcr sccrcts casily, and most ol thcm ncvcr did bccausc
thcy dicd too youngbclorc thcy could bc askcd qucstions (57). A child sus
pcctcd to bc an ogbanjea child who dics, is rcborn, and dics again to plaguc
rcpcatcdly its parcntscan only dcmonstratc its humanity, and, thcrclorc, its
intcntion to rcmain among thc living, at thc point whcn it comcs into spccch
as a social lunction. thcr parts ol thc novcl conccrn thc troublcd rclation
ship bctwccn konkwo and his cldcst son, Nwoyc. konkwo has bccn sorcly
disappointcd in his son until thc arrival ol !kcmcluna, a boy ransomcd to thc
pcoplc ol Umuoa as scttlcmcnt lor thc killing ol onc ol its daughtcrs by
anothcr villagc. Altcr spcnding thrcc ycars in konkwos lamily, !kcmcluna
sccms to havc had, at lcast in konkwos mind, a good inucncc on Nwoyc.
Tc narrator cxplains that konkwo was inwardly plcascd at his sons dcvcl
opmcnt. . . . Hc wantcd Nwoyc to grow into a tough young man capablc ol
ruling his lathcrs houschold. . . . And so hc was always happy whcn hc hcard
him grumbling about womcn. Tat showcd that in timc hc would bc ablc to
control his womcnlolk (37). konkwo is, ol coursc, dcludcd by Nwoycs
lcigning annoyancc at womcn, but in that dclusion hc procccds to cncouragc
Nwoycs maturation.
!n thc novcls tcrms, Nwoycs dcvclopmcnt is rcprcscntcd by physical
displaccmcnt, lrom thc childishncss ol his mothcrs hut to thc manlincss ol
his lathcrs obi. Part ol thc displaccmcnt and dcvclopmcnt ol Nwoycs pcrson
ality and masculinity cntails a narrativc shilt as wcll, and konkwo introduccs
him to storics ol thc landmasculinc storics ol violcncc and bloodshcd. . . .
storics about tribal wars or how hc had stalkcd his victim, ovcrpowcrcd him
and obtaincd his rst human hcad (37). Tc associativc gcndcring ol storics
in thc novcl crcatcs a compctition bctwccn gcnrcs ol spccch and storytclling,
and thc troublc bctwccn konkwo and Nwoyc is only aggravatcd by thc lact
that although Nwoyc kncw that it was right to bc masculinc and to bc vio
lcnt, somchow hc still prclcrrcd thc storics that his mothcr uscd to tcll . . .
storics ol thc tortoisc and his wily ways, and ol thc bird en-eke-nti-oba who
challcngcd thc wholc world to a wrcstling contcst and was nally thrown by
thc cat (3738). Tc distinctivcncss ol story lorms in thc novcl suggcsts thc
cxistcncc ol altcrnativc rclationships to knowlcdgc and modcs ol organizing
that knowlcdgc. From a uropcan pcrspcctivc, lcmininc storics takc on thc
rolc ol myths and masculinc storics that ol history. Tc mothcr storics also
tcnd to bc mctaphoric whilc thc lathcr storics arrangc thc world mctonymi
cally, that is, konkwos storics crcatc a sort ol history through invcntory (ol
hcads, yams, and titlcs) whilc thc womcns storics allcgorizc thc rolc ol spccch
and storics thcmsclvcs in rclation to both thc tcllcr and thc listcncr. Tc
79 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
contcst bctwccn thcsc two gcnrcs, and thc mcdiating appcal ol thc poctry
ol thc ncw rcligion, providcs thc motivational lorcc that cvcntually drivcs
Nwoyc out ol thc villagc and into thc Christian mission, thc story ol which is
narratcd not by konkwo but by Nwoycs mothcr (104).
For thc currcnt purposcs ol this discussion, thc importancc ol thcsc sto
rics is not thcir contcnt but thc lact that thc novcl dcpicts thc movcmcnt
lrom onc lorm ol narrativc to anothcr as part ol thc proccss ol dcvclopmcnt
in Umuoa. Tc novcl, in lact, suggcsts that individual dcvclopmcnt in !gbo
socicty cntails, or at lcast is cmblcmatizcd by, a coming into, and a lacility
with, languagc and storics. Tc narrators obscrvation that Among thc !bo
thc art ol convcrsation is rcgardcd vcry highly, and provcrbs arc thc palmoil
with which words arc catcn dclimits an cnd ol social and cultural dcvclop
mcnt that valucs languagc and a narrativc ordcr ol knowing (5).
Goldies Game: Recording Secrets in the Colonial Archive
!n a July 2, 1894 lcttcr lormalizing an cmploymcnt ollcr with thc Royal
Nigcr Company, Sir Gcorgc Goldic writcs to thcn Captain Frcdcrick Lugard
ollicially rcminding him ol thc agrccmcnt thcy had prcviously cntcrcd into
orally. Goldic writcs that Thc Company has bccn cngagcd in opcning up
tropical Alrica, an cndcavor practicablc, hc argucs, only on thc condition
that, in vicw ol thc dillicultics rcsulting lrom thc climatc, thc dilliculty ol
acccss to inncr Alrica, thc barbarism ol thc populations and othcr abnor
mal causcs, abnormal cncrgy, pcrsistcncc, paticncc, and abovc all, discipline
should bc displaycd by all thc ollicials ol Thc Company (Pcrham and 8ull
52). Thc condition ol disciplinc, or at lcast its display, on thc part ol ollicials
is strcsscd rcpcatcdly as a way to avoid thc two grcatcst dangcrs at homc:
thc apathy ol public opinion . . . about wcstcrn Alrica and thc cxcitability
ol public opinion, lor short pcriods, whcn lcd astray on somc popular hobby,
by onc sidcd or cxaggcratcd rcports (53). isciplinc, lor Goldic, bccomcs
a way to maintain thc companys monopoly in thc projcct ol opcning up
tropical Alrica, and thc prccisc mcaning ol corporatc disciplinc is claboratcd
in thc linal portions ol his lcttcr
vcry ollicial ol Thc Company, whcthcr a mcmbcr ol thc Council
or a judgc or an xccutivc olliccr or a soldicr is vcry propcrly
bound not to publish, nor to communicatc to anyonc likcly to
publish, anything conncctcd with Thc Company as a Govcrnmcnt
or as a commcrcial socicty, or thc Companys Tcrritorics or rcgions
visitcd whcn in Thc Companys scrvicc, without thc prcvious
asscnt ol thc Govcrning 8ody ol Thc Company.
You will undcrstand that in thc dillicult and complicatcd gamc
which Thc Company is playing, cvcry movc ol which has to bc
80 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
calculatcd with thc grcatcst carc, it would bc intolcrablc that any
individual should bc allowcd to bc thc judgc ol what hc might
(dircctly or indircctly) publish or communicatc to othcr pcrsons
than thc Council ol thc Company (53).
Thc disciplinc that Goldic sccks imposcs a gag ordcr mcant to kccp sccrct
any inlormation or knowlcdgc gathcrcd by thc Companys cmployccs. Thc
rulcs ol Goldics gamc, although not complctcly in placc until thc signing ol
thc General Act of The Conference of Berlin in 1885, arc dictatcd by intcrna
tional law and agrccmcnts madc by thc uropcan powcrs lor thc scrambling
ol Alrica. Thc movcmcnts ol thc picccs, howcvcr, arc only gcncrally sug
gcstcd in thc articlcs ol thc Companys chartcr. Thc rulcs dcclarc that Thc
tradc ol all nations shall cnjoy complctc lrccdom and that All thc Pow
crs cxcrcising sovcrcign rights or inllucncc in thc alorcsaid tcrritorics bind
thcmsclvcs to watch ovcr thc prcscrvation ol thc nativc tribcs, and to carc lor
thc improvcmcnt ol thc conditions ol thcir moral and matcrial wcllbcing,
and to hclp in supprcssing slavcry (General Act). Vhilc thc 8crlin Act
grants tradc its lrccdom, no nation or individual with impcrial/cconomic
intcrcsts in Alrica construcd thc documcnt to suggcst that inlormation
about tradc obtaincd thc samc right. Thus, alluding to a sort ol practical
statutc ol limitations on thc utility ol inlormation about thc Nigcr, Goldic
writcs to Lugard that Thcrc will bc no dilliculty about your publishing
books or dclivcring addrcsscs altcr your rcturn, provided that all proofs are
subject to the revision of the Council (his strcss, Pcrham and 8ull 53).
!n a pcrsonal statcmcnt appcndcd to thc ocial lcttcr lrom thc Com
pany, Goldic cxplains that it must not bc imagincd that Tc Company has
any dcsirc to hidc its actions undcr a bushcl, but it claims and insists on its
right to statc its own casc (54). Furthcr, Goldic honors Lugards scnsc ol
disciplinc with thc pcrsonal assurancc that ! havc no rcason to doubt that
whatcvcr you might writc would pass thc ncccssary rcvision in this occ
with but littlc altcration, but it is only lair to say that thcrc arc a grcat numbcr
ol mattcrs on which it would bc dccidcdly inadvisablc that anything should
as yct bc publishcd (54). Lugard axcs his signaturc and rcmits thc propcr
portions ol thc lcttcr to thc Company, zcalously plcdging himscll to obscrvc
thc conditions rcquircd ol mc, not only during my tcrm ol scrvicc with Tc
Company, but lor vc ycars altcr its conclusion (55).
Tc prohibition against publication and thc disposition ol sccrccy scrvc a
pragmatic lunction in light ol thc storics that wcrc making thc rounds among
Livcrpool mcrchants ol atrocitics committcd by King Lcopolds intcrcsts in
thc 8clgian Congo (Pakcnham 586). !t sccms a salc conclusion to assumc
that thc inlormation gathcrcd undcr thc objcctivcs Goldic dctails arc at lcast
somc ol what Lugard was to kccp sccrct. Tus, bcyond Lugards attcmpts to
81 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
concludc diplomatically land right trcatics with thc nativcs, hc is to gathcr
survcy data, to collcct gcncral inlormation ol cvcry kind . . . but cspccially
to makc inquircs as to thc cxistcncc ol gold, to obtain lrom nativcs . . . thc
grcatcst possiblc numbcr ol lists ol itincrarics, and to notc spccially prcva
lcncc ol Gum trccs, Shca 8uttcr trccs, and rubbcr vincs (Pcrham and 8ull
59). Vhat is not suggcstcd in Goldics guidclincs is a nccd to conccal rcla
tions and conlrontations with thc nativcs. A ccrtain tcndcncy in colonialist
discoursc would havc madc such a warning unncccssary, although Margcry
Pcrham and Mary 8ull do discuss thc issuc ol Alricans in thc notcs on thcir
cditorial policy that prclacc thc publication ol Lugards diarics: Alricans do
not play a largc part in Lugards account, and it has not bccn possiblc to nd
biographical dctails lor any ol thc mcn mcntioncd (42).
Tc cxigcncics ol sccrccy obviously acct thc manncr in which inlorma
tion is convcycd lrom thc colonial tcrritorics to ngland, but thcy also acct
and ordcr thc ways in which individuals working lor thc Company rclatc to
cach othcr and thc languagc in which thcy writc thcir own privatc storics.
Lugards diarics wcrc not publishcd until thc 1950s, and, as thc introduc
tion to thcm makcs cxplicit, thcy wcrc intcndcd to bc sccrct and to scrvc, in
part at lcast, as a daily rccord lrom which hc could prcparc thc companys
rcports (12). Tc diarics rcad much likc othcr travcl writings by uropcans
in Alrica.
Mary Louisc Pratts cxtcnsivc rcading ol thc lcaturcs lound in thc writ
ing ol uropcans in Alrica providcs a thorough account ol thc narrativc
structurc ol thosc tcxts, and, rathcr than rctrcad hcr ground, a quick sum
mary ol hcr conclusions should succ to dcscribc gcncrally Lugards diarics.
A particularly poignant cvaluation ol John 8arrows Account of Travels into
the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798 lcads Pratt to idcn
tily somc ol thc convcntional lcaturcs ol this cxplorcr/travcl writing: !n thc
main, what is narratcd provcs to bc a dcscriptivc scqucncc ol sights/sitcs, with
thc travclcrs prcscnt chicy as a kind ol collcctivc moving cyc which rcgistcrs
thcsc sights. Tcir prcscncc as agcnts scarccly rcgistcrs at all (141). Strcss
ing thc objcctivc, scllcacing tcndcncics in anothcr passagc lrom 8arrows
writings, Pratt shows how thc travclcrs strugglc to cross thc rivcr is not nar
ratcd but cxprcsscd in a much morc mcdiatcd lashion, as an cnumcration ol
thc traits ol thc rivcr that produccd thc diculty (142). 8cyond thc clision
ol a pcrccptivc subjcct in thcsc passagcs, what stands out as pcculiarly distinc
tivc about thc Alrican landscapc, and thc Alrican pcoplcs as thcy arc cn
countcrcd, is a narrativc othcring that makcs thc individual, or thc discrctc
cpisodc, stand lor an ctcrnalizcd and static history or truth. Tus, as Pratt
cxplains, thc Hc that pronominalizcs a particular Alrican is a sui generis con
guration, oltcn only a list ol lcaturcs sct in a tcmporal ordcr dicrcnt lrom
that ol thc pcrcciving and spcaking subjcct (140). Tis convcntionalizing
82 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
ol dcscription is, ol coursc, not limitcd to travcl and cxplorcr writing. Rathcr,
thc invoicing and atomizing modc ol much colonialist writing caccs and
circumscribcs thc prcscncc and voicings ol individuals, both thc nativcs and
thc cxplorcrs, involvcd in actual cncountcrs and strugglcs.
Tc lcaturcs ol travcl narrativcs that Pratt idcntics sccrct thc samc
inlormation that thc corporatc account books and rcports clidc, namcly thc
cxistcncc ol a nativc pcoplc that stands bchind thc tcxts mctonymic con
structivc principlcs. !n lact, thc objcctivcs that Goldic sct bclorc Lugard rc
qucstcd lists and taxonomics as thc mcdium ol rcprcscnting to thc Company
both his cxpcricnccs and thc rcsourcc potcntial ol thc Nigcr. Lugards diarics
similarly takc an invcntory ol cvcnts, placcs, and pcoplc cncountcrcd on his
lorays rathcr than cmplotting his cxpcricncc in a particular sctting with in
dividual charactcrs.
Tc tcndcncy ol colonial/commcrcial discoursc to sccrccy may bc bcst
illustratcd by thc latc ol rcports that wcrc prcparcd in contravcntion to thc
normal constructivc principlc.
!n thc latc 1880s Major C. M. Macdonald was askcd by thc 8ritish
Forcign cc to prcparc two studics on thc ccctivcncss and impact in thc
rcgion ol Goldics Nigcr Company. Tc Forcign cc kcpt both rcports
condcntial, allowing thcm to bc sccn limitcdly lor thc rst timc in 1952.
Macdonald lound that thc Company had dcalt unlairly with thc nativcs, had
rcspondcd to discontcnt with violcnt rcprisals lrom its privatc armcd lorccs,
and that it had lailcd to cstablish thc administrativc inlrastructurc that thc
chartcr rcquircd. Macdonald also discovcrcd that at lcast somc ol thc trcatics
madc with local lcadcrs had bccn concludcd undcr lalsc prctcnscs, hcaring
lrom onc ol thc Companys nativc translators that ! madc him |thc King|
undcrstand that hc ccdcd his country to thc Company. ! madc him undcr
stand that hc gavc his country to thc Company lor trading purposcs . . . but !
was not awarc that ccding mcant giving ovcr thc rights ol govcrnmcnt and !
darc not havc madc that suggcstion to him (quotcd in Flint 139).
Rathcr than rccount thc ndings ol thc rcports, ! want to strcss thc
manncr in which thcy wcrc prcparcd and writtcn. John Flint, who has studicd
thc original condcntial papcrs in thc Forcign cc, cxplains that colonial
rcports ol this typc wcrc gcncrally prcparcd undcr thc prcscriptivc guiding
principlc ol !mpcrial intcrcsts. Major Macdonald, howcvcr, sccms to havc
assumcd . . . that his task was to nd out thc wishcs ol thc Alricans, and
implcmcnt thcm. For him !mpcrial intcrcsts wcrc thc intcrcsts ol thc Alri
cans (130). Tus, Macdonald conductcd a rudimcntary kind ol plcbiscitc as
hc travclcd around thc il Rivcrs rcgion, gathcring as many dicrcnt opin
ions and storics as hc could clicit lrom thc pcoplc: locals, administrators, and
tradcrs alikc (130). Tc nal rcports, ol coursc, could not possibly nd ac
commodation in a colonial discoursc that dcmandcd sccrccy and invcntory, or
83 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
pcrhaps sccrccy through invcntory, and wcrc, thcrclorc, rclcgatcd to thc vaults
in thc 8ritish occs. Tc imposition ol sccrccy contractually agrccd to by
Lugard and imposcd upon Macdonald is a clcar cxamplc ol thc ways in which
colonial discoursc policcs its practitioncrs. Litcrary tcxts tcnd not to bc quitc
so crudc in thcir congurations, cxaminations, and constructions ol silcncc.
Where ones mouth was:
Secrets and Lies and Other Oversights of Empire
Thc night, writcs Achcbc at thc bcginning ol Chaptcr lcvcn ol Things
Fall Apart, was impcnctrably dark (67). Thc narrativc voicc that opcns
this cpisodc ol thc novcl scts thc cnvironmcnt in which thc nights cvcnts
takc placc with a Conradian cpithct that at oncc borrows lrom and rcviscs
Marlows own narrativc practiccs in Heart of Darkness.
Howcvcr, unlikc Marlows swccping assignmcnt ol impcnctrablc dark
ncss to an inhuman Alrican naturc and condition, Achcbcs narrator hu
morously and mattcrollactly unpacks thc impcnctrability ol that circadian
darkncss: Tc moon had bccn rising latcr and latcr cvcry night until now it
was sccn only at dawn. And whcncvcr thc moon lorsook cvcning and rosc at
cockcrow thc nights wcrc as black as coal (67). !n Conrad, thc impcnctra
blc darkncss has a mctaphysical, il inscrutablc, causc and, thcrclorc, mcan
ing. Conradian darkncss, in part, prompts a ruminativc Marlow to cntcrtain
a suspicion ol rcmotc kinship with thc Alricans hc cannot pcrccivc, but, likc
othcr lorms ol colonial account kccping, it also rclcgatcs Alrica and Alricans
to thc mctaphorically dark cras and spaccs ol uropcan thought. An oltcn
quotcd cxamplc lrom Marlows narrativc cquatcs impcnctrability not only
with prchistory and cmptincss but also with silcncc: Going up that rivcr was
likc travcling back to thc carlicst bcginnings ol thc world, whcn vcgctation
riotcd on thc carth and thc big trccs wcrc kings. An cmpty strcam, a grcat
silcncc, an impcnctrablc lorcst (66). Tc silcncc ol impcnctrability variously
posscsscs Marlow and Kurtz and is posscsscd by thcm. Howcvcr, thc story
Marlow tclls scts up thc antagonism bctwccn a voicing narrativcthc kind
which Kurtz cannot tcll as a rcsult ol thc rcduction ol his capacitics to a statc
ol purc, discmbodicd voiccand an impcrial invoicing projcctgurcd as a
kccping and itcmizing ol accounts most cxplicitly rcprcscntcd by thc station
clcrk and his clinical, antiscptic lcdgcrs and lists. Tc contcst lor impcrial
control ol thc story linc, ol rcprcscntation, and thus thc contcst ovcr how to
undcrstand Kurtz in rclation to thc companys projcct, and Marlows rclation
ol thc story bccomcs an implicitly thcmatic conict lor thc charactcrs in thc
novcl itscll. Marlow, lying on thc dcck ol thc stcamship whilc it is undcr rc
pair, ovcrhcars thc managcr and his ncphcw discussing thc ncccssity lor thc
upcoming journcy to thc inncr station. Rcsponding to a dcscription ol thc
complications Kurtz causcs thc station managcr, thc unclc consolcs him by
84 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
cxplaining that Tc climatc may do away with this diculty lor you (63).
Tc convcrsation procccds, illustrating thc constructivc and rcprcscntativc
compctition bctwccn voicing and invoicing:
Hc |Kurtz| scnt his assistant down thc rivcr with a notc to mc
in thcsc tcrms: Clcar this poor dcvil out ol thc country, and dont
bothcr scnding morc ol that sort. ! had rathcr bc alonc than havc
thc kind ol mcn you can disposc ol with mc. !t was morc than
a ycar ago. Can you imaginc such impudcncc! Anything sincc
thcn: askcd thc othcr hoarscly. !vory, jcrkcd thc ncphcw, lots
ol itprimc sortlots most annoying, lrom him. And with
that: qucstioncd thc hcavy rumblc. !nvoicc, was thc rcply lircd
out, so to spcak. Thcn silcncc (63).
\oicing in Heart of Darkness is not an uncomplicatcd allirmation ol narra
tivc capacity, just as invoicing is clcarly not an inhcrcntly contcmptiblc modc
ol discursivc accounting. 8ut Marlows narrativc is structurcd around thc
principlcs ol invoicing and sccrccy, and although hc claims to dctcst lying,
hc misrcprcscnts Kurtzs pamphlct on thc civilization ol thc savagcs by
cxcising thc ollcnding postscriptum in which Kurtz scrawlcd thc inlamous
words xtcrminatc thc brutcs.
Philosophically, and cvcn thcologically, Conrad uscs thc Janscnist tropc
ol impcnctrablc darkncss to signily thc inscrutablc bcginnings ol man. Tat
is, Alrica stands in thc uropcan imagination on thc timclinc ol organic
dcvclopmcnt as that placc lrom which human bcings cmcrgcd, and thus as
a placc that is ultimatcly unknowablc. Tis, ol coursc, is anothcr way ol dc
ploying thc cvolutionary modcl ol dcvclopmcnt so that Alrica bccomcs thc
physical location lor thc staging ol a uropcan conlrontation with its prc
cxistcncc. Vhat thc cditors ol Lugards journals said about thc rolc ol Alri
cans in his writings could cqually bc said ol Heart of Darkness, that thcy do
not play a largc part. Tc sccrccy that cnshrouds thc gurc ol thc Alrican
may, in lact, bc dictatcd by thc samc commcrcial intcrcsts that quictcd Lugard.
arly in his narrativc, altcr hc has signcd thc company contract, Marlow says
that ! undcrtook amongst othcr things not to disclosc any tradc sccrcts, and
hc armativcly submits, Vcll, ! am not going to (36). Latcr in thc novcl,
altcr dctcrmining that thc nativc hcads displaycd on spikcs outsidc ol Kurtzs
hut arc not ornamcntal but symbolic, Marlow rcitcratcs his commitmcnt to
sccrccy: ! am not disclosing any tradc sccrcts (9697). As a rcadcr, onc must
wondcr what prcciscly arc thc sccrcts Marlow kccps, but as a critic it sccms
compclling to ask how a principlc ol narrativc sccrccy inccts thc tcxt. Tcsc
qucstions cannot likcly bc answcrcd by looking at Conrads tcxt in isolation,
and ! bclicvc that Achcbc suggcsts a rcsponsc in his novcl.
85 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
Tc passagc that opcncd this scction ol thc cssay in which Achcbc dc
bunks thc impcnctrability ol darkncss by cxplaining ccrtain lacts about thc
moon and thc night continucs by cxploring thc importancc ol spccch and thc
shapcs ol storics that arc sharcd in thc darkncss ol an Alrican night. How
cvcr, rathcr than inl(l)ccting thc narrativc with sccrccy, thc narrator domcsti
catcs thc darkncss, ironizing Marlows xation by cxplaining that insidc onc
ol konkwos wilcs huts A palmoil lamp gavc out a ycllowish light. Vithout
it, it would havc bccn impossiblc to cat, onc could not havc known whcrc oncs
mouth was in thc darkncss ol that night (67). !n a dircct aront to thc uro
pcan imagination ol impcnctrablc darkncss, thc charactcrs in thc novcl arc
capablc not only ol nding thcir mouths lor cating, but also lor spcaking.
Tis introduction to darkncss cstablishcs thc sccnc ol spccch in which
thc most claboratc ol thc narrativc intcrvcntions continucs thc polyphony
ol voiccs in thc novcl. kwc, konkwos youngcst wilc, and hcr daughtcr
zinma, his lavoritc child, cxchangc storics through acts ol narration that arc
morc than mcrc ways to pass thc timc, morc than idlc and simplc lcssons in
thc guisc ol parablc. Rathcr, thc sharing ol storics is itscll gurcd as a proccss
ol dcvclopmcnt in which thc daughtcr practiccs hcr storytclling skills as part
ol hcr matrimonial hcritagc. 8arbara Harlow has commcntcd on this sccnc
and notcd that an cxamination ol thc rolc ol womcn in Tings Fall Apart
would idcntily womcn as thc main storytcllcrs . . . a lunction that, on thc onc
hand, arms Alrican womcn as thc bcarcrs and nurturcrs ol Alrican tradi
tions but that, on thc othcr hand, subjccts that chargc to a ncw intcrprctation
whcn thcsc vcry traditions arc rcwrittcn and givcn a vital assignmcnt within
thc stratcgics ol national libcration (79 n.1). Harlow rcads thc mothcrtalc ol
thc Tortoisc and thc 8irds as an anticolonialist allcgory, onc which dcmon
stratcs thc nccd lor thc nativcs ol thc nation (thc birds) to usc both lorcc and
rhctoric to ovcrthrow a colonialist powcr (thc tortoisc). Tc story kwc tclls
to hcr daughtcr through thc impcnctrablc darkncss can also, howcvcr, bc rcad
as a warning passcd lrom mothcr to daughtcr against konkwos lathcrtalcs.
kwcs story rccounts how all thc birds had bccn invitcd to a lcast in thc
sky. Tc wily Tortoisc soon discovcrcd thcir plans and, dcspitc thcir initial
protcstations, convinccd thc birds to providc him with lcathcrs so hc could
accompany thcm to thc lcast. As thcy wcrc all ying to thc party, thc birds
clcctcd Tortoisc to bc thcir spokcsman. Hc cxplaincd it was customary that
thcy all takc ncw namcs lor thc cvcnt. Altcr thc birds had choscn thcir namcs,
Tortoisc dcclarcd that Hc was to bc callcd All of you (68). Vhcn thc pcoplc
ol thc sky ocrcd thcir lood to all ol you, Tortoisc convinccd thc birds that
it was thc pcoplcs custom to lccd thc spokcsman rst. Soon thcrc was noth
ing lclt, thc birds took back thcir lcathcrs and abandoncd Tortoisc with no
way to rcturn homc. Parrot, howcvcr, agrccd to dclivcr a mcssagc to his wilc.
Vhcn Parrot rcachcd Tortoiscs housc, hc told his wilc to placc all ol thc hard
86 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
objccts thcy owncd out in lront ol thc housc. Tortoisc, unablc to scc clcarly
bccausc ol thc hcight, jumpcd and brokc his shcll on thc hocs, matchcts,
spcars, guns and cvcn his cannon (70). A mcdicinc man rcpaircd his shcll,
but, according to zinmas story, it has not bccn smooth sincc.
Vhilc this story would likcly bc rcad lrom an cthnological pcrspcctivc
as a pscudoscicntic, mythical cxplanation ol how tortoisc brokc his shcll,
Harlow has pcrsuasivcly argucd that thc story also illustratcs an anticolonial
impcrativc ol using thc tools ol both rhctoric and wcaponry to unburdcn a
colonizcd country (75). Vhilc ! nd Harlows cxplication ol thc story pro
vocativc and convincing, ! think thc onctoonc mapping ol thc story onto a
strict anticolonialist allcgory risks diminishing othcr insinuativc aspccts ol
thc talc. Tc story not only illuminatcs gcncrally thc colonial situation, but it
also providcs a particular warning against thc dangcrs ol a mctonymic systcm
ol political and civic rcprcscntation in !gbo socicty. Tat is, thc story contains
signicant warnings about both cxtcrnal and intcrnal thrcats lrom an ambi
tious and univcrsalizing individualism.
Pcrhaps thc most illustrativc cxamplc ol thc intcrnal mctonymic usur
pation ol thc pcoplcs voicc is rccctcd in thc languagc ol thc Royal Nigcr
Companys trcatics. !n his cssays, Achcbc cxplains that thcrc arc two gcncral
strains ol myths in his homc villagc ol gidi that cxplain thc abscncc ol
kings in his socicty (Hopes 163164). And yct, thc 8ritish rcquircd sovcrcigns
to authorizc thc lcgitimacy ol thc trcatics thcy concludcd with thc pcoplc ol
southcastcrn Nigcria. Tus, thcy somctimcs rhctorically crcatcd kings and
kingships whcrc nonc had cxistcd bclorc. Tc languagc ol thc Agreement be-
tween Onitsha and the National African Company lrom 20 August 1884 and
thc subscqucnt rcvisions ol that Agrccmcnt in thc Onitsha Protectorate Treaty
ol 9 ctobcr 1884 cxcmplily this point. Tc rst agrccmcnt statcs that Vc,
thc undcrsigncd King and Chicls ol nitsha, altcr many ycars ol cxpcricncc,
lully rccognizc thc bcnct accordcd to our country and pcoplc by thcir intcr
coursc with thc National Alrican Company (Limitcd), and in rccognition ol
this wc now ccdc thc wholc ol our tcrritory to thc National Alrican Compa
ny (Limitcd) and thcir administrators lor cvcr (rcprintcd in Ncwbury 107).
Tc sccond agrccmcnt, concludcd by thc 8ritish govcrnmcnt whcn qucstions
arosc about thc lcgitimacy ol privatc cntcrprisc trcatics undcr intcrnational
law, rcads Tc King, Quccn, and chicls ol nitsha hcrcby cngagc to assist
thc 8ritish Consular or othcr occrs in thc cxccution ol such dutics as may
bc assigncd to thcm, and lurthcr, to act upon thcir advicc in mattcrs rclat
ing to thc administration ol justicc, thc dcvclopmcnt ol thc rcsourccs ol thc
country, thc intcrcsts ol commcrcc, or in any othcr mattcr in rclation to pcacc,
ordcr, and good govcrnmcnt, and thc gcncral progrcss ol civilization (109).
!n a lurthcr tortoisy movc, H. P. Andcrson circulatcs a condcntial mcm
orandum in thc 8ritish Forcign cc that asks lor guidancc in intcrprcting
87 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
thc trcatics lor thc upcoming 8crlin Conlcrcncc. Vc should havc to rclcr
in Conlcrcncc to our Trcatics, hc worrics. Tc rst qucstion to bc dccidcd
. . . is what intcrprctation wc put on thosc Trcatics. . . . Tcy do not, likc thc
Frcnch Trcatics, mcntion thc word suzcrainctc, but thcy arc bclicvcd to bc
much on thc samc lincs ol thc Gcrman Trcatics. Tc Gcrmans, as wc know,
intcrprct thcsc as conlcrring an cxclusivc Gcrman Protcctoratc, what view
should we say that wc takc ol ours: (my cmphasis 186). Tc conccrn ovcr a
unicd intcrprctativc stancc in rclation to thc trcatics strcsscs thc rhctorical
usc ol thc agrccmcnts. !n a prclacc to a govcrnmcntal collcction ol 8ritish
Vcst Alrican documcnts, thc authors cxplain that nonc ol thc trcatics wcrc
considcrcd to havc thc lorcc ol law, rathcr, Tc obligations thcy imposc arc
ol a moral, not a lcgal ordcr, and il thc Crown disrcgards thcm thcrc is no
rcdrcss (Vight 8). Tus, thc documcntary clcvation ol a nativc individual to
thc status ol king, to a mctonymically usurpcd lorm ol tortoiscs all ol you,
docs not cstablish a spcaking subjcct among thc !gbo, but rathcr rhctorically
sanctions a voicc that guarantccs thc translcr ol that capacity to thc 8ritish.
Tc talc ol thc Tortoisc and thc 8irds, howcvcr, cannot bc limitcd to
an allcgorizcd vcrsion ol thcsc historical cvcnts. At a morc gcncral lcvcl, thc
brcaking ol Tortoiscs shcll lorcshadows konkwos sclldcstruction and rc
conrms thc dangcr ol a mctonymic, atomizing practicc ol rcprcscntation.
8oth Tortoisc and konkwo havc committcd thc samc rhctorical/narra
tivc crimc. Tcrc is somc tcxtual justication lor konkwos scnsc that hc
has somchow carncd thc right to act unilatcrally on bchall ol thc pcoplc ol
Umuoa. Tc novcl opcns with a mythologizing ol konkwo:
His lamc rcstcd on solid pcrsonal achicvcmcnts. As a young
man ol cightccn hc had brought honor to his villagc by throwing
Amalinzc thc Cat. Amalinzc was thc grcat wrcstlcr who lor scvcn
ycars was unbcatcn, lrom Umuolia to Mbaino. Hc was callcd thc
Cat bccausc his back would ncvcr touch thc carth. !t was this man
that konkwo thrcw in a light which thc old mcn agrccd was onc
ol thc licrccst sincc thc loundcr ol thcir town cngagcd a spirit ol
thc wild lor scvcn days and scvcn nights. Thc drums bcat and thc
llutcs sang and thc spcctators hcld thcir brcath. Amalinzc was a
wily craltsman, but konkwo was as slippcry as a lish in watcr.
vcry ncrvc and cvcry musclc stood out on thcir arms, on thcir
backs and thcir thighs, and onc almost hcard thcm strctching to
brcaking point. !n thc cnd konkwo thrcw thc Cat (3).
8ut, in an oltcnovcrlookcd passagc, konkwo is rcplaccd in thc symbolic
ordcr ol things by a ncwcomcr twcnty ycars altcr his own match. Umuolia
cnshrincs thc young wrcstlcr in konkwos placc, in thc words ol thc ncw
88 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
villagc song: Vho will wrcstlc lor our villagc: kalo will wrcstlc lor our
villagc. . . . Has hc thrown a hundrcd Cats: Hc has thrown lour hundrcd
Cats. Thcn scnd him word to light lor us (36). !n thc villagc ol Umuolia,
konkwos rolc as a lightcr, as a docr, has wancd, what is lclt to him as
cxprcssion ol his inllucncc is that which is lclt to all ol thc villagc cldcrs,
languagc and spccch, dcmonstrations that arc dillicult lor a stammcring
man. konkwos undoing at thc cnd ol thc novcl rcsults lrom his inability
to spcak pcrsuasivcly and lrom his rash prclcrcncc lor dccisivc action ovcr
thc culturally sanctioncd discursivc lorm ol mcdiation.
Tc allcgory ol thc Tortoisc and thc 8irds undcrscorcs thc nccd lor bal
ancc in rcsponding to an immcdiatc thrcat. Tc lact that thc story can bc
intcrprctcd as both a lcsson in colonial rcsistancc and a warning against thc
sort ol isolatcd hothcadcd rcsponsc ol thc individual dramatically illustratcs
thc subtlcty ol thc Alrican griot. xamining a Hausa talc, Achcbc cmphasizcs
thc inhcrcnt subvcrsivc powcr in its structurc, a powcr which will surlacc, hc
says, in a rcvolutionary timc, and whcn it comcs you dont nccd anothcr story.
!t is thc samc story that will stand rcady to bc uscd, and this to mc is thc cx
ccllcncc ol thc griot in crcating laughtcr and hiding what you might call thc
glint ol stccl. (Rowcll 90) Not only is thc talc ol thc Tortoisc and thc 8irds
narrativcly associatcd with thc womcn ol konkwos houschold, but thc rolc
spccically gcndcrcd in thc story as lcmininc is that ol thc wilc who litcr
ally cmploys all thc glints ol stccl hiddcn in hcr housc and who is dircctly
rcsponsiblc lor thc dcstruction ol Tortoiscs shcll. konkwo, not rccognizing
thc rhctorical thrcat ol kwcs stccl, dismisscs thc story as loolishncss.
We can eat the chick: Textual Institutions of Colonialism in Nigeria
Thc villagc was astir, obscrvcs thc narrator, rcporting on thc communal
cllccts ol thc imprisonmcnt ol Umuolias lcadcrs, insinuativcly adding, in
a silcnt, supprcsscd way (140). Altcr konkwo and his lamily rcturn to
Umuolia lrom his mothcrland Mbanta, silcncc obtains grcatcr import in thc
narrativc dcscription ol lilc among konkwos pcoplc. uring konkwos
abscncc, not only had thc missions cstablishcd thcir prcscncc, but thc colo
nial administration had built a court whcrc thc istrict Commissioncr
judgcd cascs in ignorancc (123). Things Fall Apart rcprcscnts thc thrcat ol
both institutions in tcrms ol gcncric inclusion and cxclusion. That is, thc
intrusions ol thc church and thc statc radically translorm thc lilc ol thc
nativcs not only by challcnging thc social, cultural, and political institutions
ol Umuolia but also by rcstructuring thc kinds ol spccch and languagc in
which lilc is conductcd. Thc thrcat rcprcscntcd by thc ncw rcligion, in thc
lorm ol thc storics and songs that scduccd konkwos son Nwoyc to con
vcrt, has its parallcls in thc juridical/administrativc gcnrcs ol tcstimony and
palavcr. Vhilc thc narrator incrcasingly strcsscs thc imposition ol silcncc in
89 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
Umuolia, thc plot lorcgrounds thc cncountcrs bctwccn !gbo individuals and
thc colonial institutions. Silcncc, thcn, bccomcs thc paradigmatic mcdium
ol ncgotiation, rcsistancc, and rcsignation.
8clorc thc silcncc imposcd by colonial administration inlccts thc rcla
tionships bctwccn thc charactcrs in thc novcl, bicrika, konkwos lcvcl
hcadcd ncighbor, dclivcrs thc ncws ol thc dcstruction ol Abamc to konkwos
clan in his mothcrland. Robcrt M. Vrcn has cxamincd thc historical and
documcntary sourccs lor Achcbcs ctionalization ol thc 8ritish raid on thc
Aro !gbo in rclation to Tings Fall Apart. Rathcr than rcitcratc thc historical
cvidcncc and prcccdcnts lor thc rclation, ! want to look at thc illustrativc story
konkwos unclc Uchcndu tclls thc youngcr mcn lrom Umuoa. Uchcndu
inquircs ol bicrika thc dctails ol thc cncountcr bctwccn thc whitc man and
his !gbo killcrs that prccipitatcd thc massacrc ol Abamc: Vhat did thc whitc
man say bclorc thcy killcd him:(98). Hc said nothing is thc initial rcply,
Hc said somcthing, only thcy did not undcrstand him is thc rcviscd rcsponsc
(98). Uchcndu continucs to listcn and thcn dclivcrs his talc and judgmcnt:
Ncvcr kill a man who says nothing. Tosc mcn ol Abamc wcrc lools.
Vhat did thcy know about thc man: Hc ground his tccth again and told
a story to illustratc his point. Mothcr Kitc oncc scnt hcr daughtcr to bring
lood. Shc wcnt, and brought back a duckling. You havc donc vcry wcll,
said Mothcr Kitc to hcr daughtcr, but tcll mc, what did thc mothcr ol this
duckling say whcn you swoopcd and carricd its child away, it said nothing,
rcplicd thc young kitc. !t just walkcd away. You must rcturn thc duckling,
said Mothcr Kitc. Tcrc is somcthing ominous bchind thc silcncc. And
so aughtcr Kitc rcturncd thc duckling and took a chick instcad. Vhat
did thc mothcr ol this chick do: askcd thc old kitc. !t cricd and ravcd and
curscd mc, said thc young kitc. Tcn wc can cat thc chick, said thc mothcr.
Tcrc is nothing to lcar lrom somconc who shouts. Tosc mcn ol Abamc
wcrc lools (9899).
konkwo, not undcrstanding thc allcgorical naturc ol this story, prclcr
ring as hc docs mctonymic narrativcs, concurs with Uchcndus asscssmcnt
that thc mcn ol Abamc wcrc indccd lools. His concurrcncc, howcvcr, dcmon
stratcs his misapprchcnsion ol thc story: Tcy had bccn warncd that dangcr
was ahcad. Tcy should havc armcd thcmsclvcs with thcir guns and thcir
matchcts cvcn whcn thcy wcnt to markct (99). Uchcndus story cstablishcs
a contcst ol gcnrcs, a clash ol spccch lunctions. Tc lact that Achcbc lo
catcs this alllcmalccast story, told by a brothcr ol konkwos mothcr, in his
mothcrland altcr hc has committcd a lcmalc crimc ol inadvcrtcntly killing a
clansman, all but ovcrstatcs konkwos ignorancc in not lcarning lcmininc
rhctoric. Altcr listcning to Uchcndus cxplanation about thc virtucs ol having
both a lathcrland and a mothcrland, konkwo namcs his rst born Nncka
(Mothcr is Suprcmc). Yct, as thc narrator tclls us, two ycars latcr whcn a
90 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
son was born hc callcd him Nwoa8cgottcn in thc Vildcrncss (115).
konkwos bclicl in thc protcctivc powcrs ol Mothcr lollows thc rigid dis
tinction hc maintains bctwccn mothcrtalcs and lathcrtalcs. Mothcr is Su
prcmc is a suitablc namc only lor a daughtcr, a son must lcarn to ncgotiatc
physical dangcr lrom thc start. 8iodun Jcyilo attributcs thc maintcnancc ol
this dichotomy to psychology: konkwo both loathcs thc mcmory ol his
lathcr and rcprcsscs thc lorc ol his mothcr, in thc proccss hc distorts both thc
masculinc and thc lcmininc, by kccping thcm rigidly apart and by thc lcroc
ity ol his war on thc lcmininc (851).
8cyond thc gcndcring ol story typcs, ol spccch lunctions, Uchcndus
story turns thc discoursc ol uropcan colonialism on its hcad. Tc colonial
inlrastructurc dcmands lrom its subjccts languagc ol scllcontcmpt, scll
incrimination, and/or scllabncgation that sccms to insist upon thc impor
tancc ol thc nativc spcaking but instcad pcrvcrts that spccch to rclcgatc thc
nativc to silcncc. Uchcndus story rcinvcsts silcncc with a kinctic potcntial,
hiddcn as a glint ol static stccl that can ncvcr bc accountcd lor by thc opprcs
sors. Achcbcs tcxt invcstigatcs this rhctorical paradox in thc mcctings that
most immcdiatcly lcad to konkwos suicidc. Tc istrict Commissioncr
rcsponds to thc momcnt whcn Umuoa spcaks with thc lorcc ol a singular
voicc, in thc lorm ol thc egwugwu Ajoa, by inviting thc lcadcrs ol Umuoa
to thc tablc.
8ut thc prctcnsc ol palavcr is violcntly pcrvcrtcd whcn thc istrict
Commissioncr actually cntcrs thc convcrsation. gbuc kwucmc rosc to
his lcct and bcgan to tcll thc story, cxplains thc narrator, dcscribing thc sccnc
at thc courthousc (137). Tc istrict Commissioncr intcrrupts, saying that
hc would likc othcrs to hcar thc story, Tcy sat togcthcr with thc mcn ol
Umuoa, and gbuc kwucmc bcgan again to tcll thc story ol how noch
murdcrcd an egwugwu (137). Tc prctcndcd dialoguc cnds with thc abduc
tion ol thc tribal lcadcrs, cnding days latcr only with thc judicial ransom by
thc villagc. Tc narrator dcscribcs thc cxpcricncc as silcncing, vcn whcn
thc mcn wcrc lclt alonc thcy lound no words to spcak to onc anothcr (138).
Tc silcncc, as dcscribcd in thc carly part ol this scction, is, howcvcr, onc
with kinctic lorcc and potcntial. And altcr thc mans rclcasc, konkwos scnsc
ol impotcncc ovcrboils at thc momcnt hc produccs his matchct, usurping
thc dccision making powcrs lrom thc rcst ol thc villagc with his murdcr ol
a colonial mcsscngcr. Ncithcr thc silcncc nor thc violcncc scrvcs to rcpair
wholly thc social, cultural, and political wounds that colonialism has visitcd
on Umuoa. 8ut, konkwos pcrsonal latc is cxaccrbatcd by colonialism and
missionary advcnturism. Tc tcxt suggcsts that his inability to accommodatc
and adapt to thc social and cultural structurcs ol Umuoa madc him not long
lor its world.
91 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
Tc colonial rccord was, ol coursc, no bcttcr than commcrcial cntcr
priscs at dcpicting or admitting thc cxistcncc ol thc pcoplcs ol Southcastcrn
Nigcria. Tc catcgorics ol dcscription changcd, but thc itcmizing discoursc
rcmaincd. Tc history ol rccord, as distillcd and rcncd in thc 8ritish co
lonial account books, commonly known as thc 8luc 8ooks, catcgorizcd and
atomizcd thc shapc ol thc ncw nation in tcrms cstablishcd by thc colonizcrs.
Tc articlc lrom thc carly constitutions that mandatcd thc lorm and sub
stancc ol thc 8luc 8ooks providcs thc catcgorics undcr which inlormation
about Nigcria was to bc organizcd: Tc Govcrnor shall punctually lorward
to Us lrom ycar to ycar, through onc ol ur Principal Sccrctarics ol Statc, thc
annual book ol rcturns lor thc Colony, commonly callcd thc 8luc 8ook, rc
lating to thc Rcvcnuc and xpcnditurc, clcncc, Public Vorks, Lcgislation,
Civil stablishmcnts, Pcnsions, Population, Schools, Coursc ol xchangc,
!mports and xports, Agriculturc, Producc, Manulacturcs, and othcr mattcrs
in thc said 8luc 8ook morc particularly spccicd, with rclcrcncc to thc statc
and condition ol thc Colony (Vight 184). Tcsc catcgorics ol knowlcdgc,
mcant to dcscribc thc statc and condition ol thc colony, circumscribc thc
burcaucratic languagc availablc to thc colonial occr lor rcprcscnting thc
ordcr ol thc nation.
Tcsc 8luc 8ooks wcrc to bc rcad in thc Colonial occ in ngland and
prcscntcd to Parliamcnt. Tcy oltcn did not scc publication until a couplc
ol ycars altcr thc pcriod ovcr which thcy rcport. !n thcir gcncral shapc, any
singlc 8luc 8ook is as rcvcaling as any othcr. !n thc 1951 rcport, lor instancc,
thc book opcns with a typical account ol important cvcnts lrom thc prcvi
ous ycar: !n annual rcports ol this kind it is somctimcs not casy to pick out
this or that cvcnt or scrics ol cvcnts as thc most important ol thc ycar (3).
8clorc moving on to rcport on thc mandatcd catcgorics ol Commcrcc, Pro
duction, Art, Litcraturc and Sport, thc book rchcarscs thc history ol Nigcria
and its pcoplc as it has comc to bc indcxcd in thc colonial accounts. Nigcria
has bccn dcscribcd as an arbitrary block ol Alrica. !ts ancicnt history is
largcly lost in thc mists ol lcgcnd and littlc accuratc data arc now availablc,
thc history bcgins (92).Tc rchcarsal ol thc history lunctions simultancously
to cducatc thc mctropolitan rcadcr in ngland and, in Prospcronian lash
ion, to rcmind thc nativc ol, or thc lack ol, hcr own history. Spcaking di
rcctly to thc subjcct ol thc !gbo, thc 8luc 8ook rcports that Tc tribcs ol
what is now southcastcrn Nigcria havc littlc or no known carly history prior
to 8ritish occupation, with thc cxccption ol ccrtain ol thc coastal pcoplcs,
who wcrc long known as kccn and cntcrprising tradcrs (94). Praising thc
nativcs capacity lor institutional scrvicc, thc rcport cxplains that Sincc thc
cstablishmcnt ol thc Protcctoratc, howcvcr, thc rapid sprcad ol cducation has
brought grcat changcs and both thc !bos and thc lcss numcrous !bibios now
92 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
cxcrcisc a most important inucncc on thc social, cconomic and political lilc
ol Nigcria (94).
Tc distilling and rcarmation ol colonial history continucs ycar altcr
ycar in thc 8luc 8ooks, rcducing last ycars cvcnts to thc minor contcxt in
thc largcr history claboratcd by thc rcports, a proccss ol rcvision and cxcision
that thc istrict Commissioncr undcrtakcs mcntally at thc cnd ol Tings
Fall Apart. Tis tcxtual proccss parallcls thc physical impcrial onc and is itscll
charactcrizcd in thc rcports: Ncithcr thc acquisition by thc 8ritish crown
ol thc colony ol Lagos nor thc cstablishmcnt ol a Protcctoratc ovcr largc
arcas ol thc intcrior was thc rcsult ol dclibcratc longrangc planning by thc
govcrnmcnts ol thc day (94). Tc nondclibcrativc aspccts ol this proccss
arc rctroactivcly dcscribcd in tcrms ol a courtship whcrc thc cvcnts covcr
ing thc wholc pcriod lrom thc carly discovcry ol Nigcria to thc prcscnt day
may roughly bc sct out undcr thrcc hcads, thc pcriod ol cxploration, that ol
pcnctration and nally that ol consolidation ol thc ground won (94). Tc
consolidation ol thc colony, and thus ol history itscll, is tcxtually rcprcscntcd
by thc marginalization ol all rcsistancc to thc impcrial proccss, locating thc
onc dcant act about which thc 8luc 8ook rcports altcr thc ocial history:
!n all this pcriod thcrc was only onc major thrcat to law and ordcr in thc tcr
ritory. Tis was thc womcns rising which occurrcd in thc wcrri and Calabar
Provinccs in 1929 and largcly rcsultcd in thc dcstruction ol thc local systcm
ol govcrnmcnt which had bccn sct up and in thc cstablishmcnt ol Nativc Ad
ministrations bascd closcly on thc indigcnous customs ol thc pcoplc (100).
Tc 8luc 8ook catcgorics prcscribc a ccrtain kind ol narrativc dcscrip
tion ol individuals and cvcnts. Tat is, thc colonial rccords do not mcrcly
providc a commcrcial/political accounting ol Nigcria, thcy also cstablish thc
catcgorics by which individual charactcr and plot arc to bc constructcd, mca
surcd, and cvaluatcd. Tc cmploymcnt ol this atomizing discoursc to dcscribc
thc pcoplc ol Nigcria is mostly clcarly cvidcnt in P. Amaury Talbots 1923
ccnsus, in which hc undcrtook not only to count thc colonial asscts but to
schcmatizc thc cultural, social, political, lcgal, and rcligious aspccts ol thosc
holdings. Talbot intcrprcts his mandatc in thc Forcword to his lour volumc
rcport: Tc chicl work has bccn an attcmpt to classily thc tribcs and sub
tribcs and to dcnc thcir boundarics (vi). Tc usc to which thc work should
bc put is prcscribcd as a bricl dcscription ol thc Southcrn Provinccs with a
lcw notcs on thcir historyin thc hopc that thcy may bc ol intcrcst to thc
pcoplc ol this country and ol somc usc to ncw administrators, who havc had
no opportunity ol gaining knowlcdgc on thc subjcct (vi). Talbot cxprcsscs
rcgrct about what hc sccs as a lack ol scicntic taxonomy in his work, placing
thc blamc lor that lack on thc dicultics and dclays prcscntcd by thc vcry
cnvironmcnt and pcoplc about which thc study rcports: Unlortunatcly thc
provisional classication adoptcd has had to dcpcnd almost cntircly on thc
93 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
basis ol languagc, sincc . . . thc rcsults ol an anthropomctrical survcy ol scvcral
thousand nativcs will arrivc too latc lor usc in thc prcscnt volumcs (vi).
cspitc his misgivings that thc ccnsus is organizcd around linguistic,
as opposcd to corporcal anitics, Talbot providcs an claboratc classication
ol thc populations ol Nigcria. For colonial administrativc usc, hc supplics
intricatc tabular data that prcsumc to arrangc thc collcction ol human dc
tails that dcscribc a nativcs individual circumstancc. nc ol his postcrsizcd
rcndcrings tabulatcs thc cultural and judicial rcsponsc ol thc nativc Nigcrians
to manslaughtcr. ! havc cxccrptcd bclow a numbcr ol his cntrics that dcm
onstratc thc rangc ol possiblc rcactions to thc accidcntal killing ol anothcr
human bcing that hc idcntics as !gbo justicc.
TribcSubTribcCascs judgcd by Manslaughtcr !gbo Abam Chicls, sub
chicls, and cldcrs Carrics out burial and undcrgocs all cxpcnscs. !gbo (nit
sha) Chicls, subchicls, and cldcrs Pay burial cxpcnscs or hand ovcr daughtcr,
in dclault, his lamily did so. !gbo Awtanzu (Awtanchara) Chicls, subchicls,
and cldcrs Runs away lor thrcc ycars. !gbo Awtanzu (Awtanzu) Chicls, sub
chicls, and cldcrs Nothing donc il cscapcs lor thrcc ycars, il caught substitu
tion by daughtcr or son. !gbo zza Titlcd man and somc scnsiblc cldcrs.
Fincd 2 cows, 1 goat and cloth givcn to parcnts, and lowl and goat sacriccd
to Ala. !gbo Ngwa (loko) Chicls, subchicls and scnsiblc old mcn. Hangcd.
!gbo ru (ru) Scrious cascs by zc, subchicls and Ndinzc. Minor cascs
by quartcr chicls. !l through ncgligcncc trcatcd as murdcr. !n othcr cascs,
has to pay luncral cxpcnscs. !gbo rc (lo) Chicls, subchicls, and cldcrs
has to run away lor thrcc ycars, on rcturn, ocrs sacricc. Compilcd lrom
P. Amaury Talbots Tc Pcoplcs ol Southcrn Nigcria, 1923. Tablc 19. p. 677.
! havc choscn thc cxamplc ol manslaughtcr bccausc thc crimcs, procc
durcs, and punishmcnts Talbot dcscribcs would appcar to apply to thc plot
ol Tings Fall Apart. konkwos lcmalc crimc ol accidcntally killing a lcl
low clansman would sccm to lall undcr Talbots 8ritish labcl ol manslaugh
tcr, yct thc rcsulting punishmcnt dcscribcd in Achcbcs novcl appcars, as onc
might cxpcct, nowhcrc in Talbots schcma. Talbots 1923 ccnsus dclimits, at
lcast practically il not actually, thc rangc ol possiblc cultural practiccs that a
young colonial occr might cncountcr in thc bush. Tus, lrom thc pcrspcc
tivc ol a istrict Commissioncr, Talbots tablcs stultily thc lull rangc ol plot,
charactcr, and sctting ovcr which hc is to takc control. ! am not arguing about
thc obvious inaccuracics and incomplctcncss ol Talbots rubrics, rathcr, ! want
to bc clcar that thc colonial administration must trcat this tabulation as thc
complctc rcprcscntation ol a nitc numbcr ol rcsponscs to manslaughtcr. Tis
tcndcncy ol thc accountants rcport to nitudc stabilizcs, stills, and makcs
managcablc thc story lincs ol thc nativcs. Yct, it is lrom within thc spacc
ol that silcncc that thc storics ol rcsistancc and contcst arc crcatcd. From
Uchcndus point ol vicw, thc rclcgation ol thc nativcs to silcncc supcrcially
94 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
conrms thc dismissivcncss ol 8ritish administrativc discoursc and thc prcju
dicial rationalizations lor thc introduction ol a culturc ol burcaucratic spccch
whilc it cstablishcs a discursivc ncgation lrom within which a culturc can
continuc and thrcatcn thc vcry structurc itscll.
Although Talbots ccnsus and thc colonial 8luc 8ooks do not rcprc
scnt thc lull rangc ol ocial accounting ol thc colonial/administrativc cx
pcricncc, thcy do rcprcscnt thc gcncral modcs ol ordcring knowlcdgc about
thc colony and its pcoplcs. Tc narrativc dcpiction ol Umuoa in Tings Fall
Apart rcprcscnts, in thc contcxt ol thc othcr writings on !gbo lilc, a rcin
scription into thc rccord ol thc complcxitics, contradictions, and rangc ol thc
!gbo world. Tc novclizcd trcatmcnt ol konkwo allcgorizcs, in somc way,
thc compctition ovcr discursivc rcprcscntation. As narrativc, it dircctly chal
lcngcs thc itcmizing and atomizing tcndcncics ol uropcan scicntic and
colonial languagc that prcsumcd to rcprcscnt, at lcast lor burcaucratic and
impcrial purposcs, thc data ol cmpirc. 8ut whilc this colonial discoursc prc
sumcs to spcak about thc statc and condition ol thc colonics, it simultan
cously monopolizcs thc gcncric convcntions lor rcprcscntation, naturalizing
itscll as thc only signicant lorm ol inlormation ncccssary lor ordcring
and knowing thc colonial world. Achcbcs novcl dcbunks this naturalization
by cxploring thc gcncric cncountcr not only bctwccn thc uropcan and thc
Alrican but also by cxamining a similar contradiction intcrnal to Umuoa
socicty. Ultimatcly, konkwos inability to ncgotiatc thc nativc gcnrcs ol story
tcllinggcndcrcd as masculinc and lcminincillustratcs thc largcr lailurc ol
colonial discoursc that silcnccs him lor his own silcncing attcmpts.
Achcbcs novcl suggcsts that a complcx rcorganization ol rhctoric and
gcncric convcntion arc ncccssary lor thc survival ol Umuoa. Ultimatcly
konkwos suicidc attcsts to his own inability to ncgotiatc thc ncw cxigcncics
ol narration that thc colonial administration prcscnts but also to his intran
sigcncc in thc lacc ol domcstic cultural prcssurcs that prccxist thc coming
ol thc whitc man to Umuoa. Tat is, konkwos own ovcrvaluation ol, and
dcpcndcncc on storics that itcmizcstorics ol thc land and ol his rst hu
man hcadcxcmplics thc inadcquacy and misrcprcscntational aspccts ol a
tabular, mctonymic, modc ol narration. A masculinc ordcr ol things is thus
rcvcalcd to bc structurcd around as much a principlc ol sccrccy and cxclusion
as thc contractual ordcrs that Lugard so rcadily agrccd to obscrvc. konkwos
own prcdilcctions lor thc tabular lorms ol story tclling, and ordcring things,
placc him in opposition to thc morc dynamically spccchoricntcd lorms ol
knowing promotcd within thc !gbo socicty ol thc novcl.
Africans come out: Challenges to Silence, Violence, and Speech
!n 1967, Sir Rcx Nivcn, cxAdministrator lor thc Northcrn provinccs,
writcs ol southcrn Nigcria that Historically thc arca is disappointing (54).
95 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
No onc, hc says has lclt us any rcliablc account ol thc coastal pcoplcs, to
thcm thc local population wcrc mcrc nativcs who could bc amusing, irri
tating or cxaspcrating, according to thcir moods, thc idca that thcy, thcir
customs and thcir bclicls could bc intcrcsting would havc bccn laughablc
(54). Notwithstanding thc tcrribly ambiguous rclationships bctwccn Nivcns
pronouns and his antcccdcnts, his commcnts accuratcly dcscribc a gcncral
lack ol writtcn rccords about thc !gbo and othcr southcrn pcoplcs. Nivcns
rcmcdy lor that lack, howcvcr, is qucstionablc: Thcrc arc somc pcrsonal
narrativcs, but thc Alricans comc out ol thcm as comic, ridiculous or brutal,
thcrc was no scrious attcmpt to dcscribc thcir way ol lilc or thcir rcligions
or cvcn thcir supcrstitions, still lcss to tracc thcir origins (54). n whosc
part, thc qucstion might bc askcd, and Nivcn rcsponds: !t was notpcr
haps surprisinglyuntil thc administration got into its stridc that a rcal
attcmpt was madc to cnquirc into thcsc important mattcrs (5455). Nivcns
dcprccatory rcmarks about pcrsonal narrativcs and his laudatory cvaluation
ol colonial scholarship quitc succinctly dcscribc an administrativc attitudc
towards languagc. Sincc Nivcn ncvcr namcs thc pcrsonal narrativcs to
which hc rclcrs, wc arc lclt to judgc his apparcnt disdain lor thcm bascd on
thc words hc uscs to charactcrizc thc narrativc construction, and his warn
ings about thc narrativcs arc clcar cnough, Alricans comc out ol thcm.
Vhcthcr as comic and ridiculous, in Nivcns cstimation, or as dignilicd,
social, and complcx in quianos or Hortons writing, thc thrcat to a colo
nialist discoursc ol consumption and atomization on thc Nigcr is prcciscly
thc cmcrgcncc ol Alricans.
Achcbc rcmarkcd in a rcccnt intcrvicw that his dcsirc to writc rcspond
cd to thc wisdom ol a provcrb hc valucs: Until thc lions havc thcir own his
torians, thc history ol thc hunt will always glorily thc huntcr. . . . ncc ! rcal
izcd that, ! had to bc a writcr. ! had to bc that historian (Art of Fiction). Tc
nccd lor that historian is suggcstcd by thc discursivc principlcs ol sccrccy
and invcntory in colonial writing that sccm to naturalizc thc undcrlying cvo
lutionary notions ol dcvclopmcnt that locatc !gbo socicty in a prcuropcan,
rcad primitivc, stagc. Tus, it is dicult to dctcrminc prcciscly whcthcr thc
modc ol ordcring knowlcdgc about colonial Nigcria is produccd by a bclicl
that thc colonizcrs arc conlronting and cncountcring thc barbarous, that
is without languagc, or whcthcr thc modc ol ordcring itscll imposcs silcncc
and sccrccy.
Colonialist discoursc in southcrn Nigcria, both through its conlormity
to thc rcprcscntational cxigcncics ol sccrccy and in thc modc ol its ordcring,
congurcs thc nativc as spccchlcss, and, having justicd that rclcgation ol thc
pcoplc to a prclinguistic cxistcncc with an organic modcl ol civilization, it
procccds to malign thcir capacity lor action. Tat is, as Mill argucs, thc ninc
tccnth ccntury 8ritish notion ol libcrty and socicty is prcdicatcd on thc idca
96 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
that action can only lcgitimatcly bc takcn whcn thc individual is capablc
ol lrccly discussing thc motivcs, a capacity rhctorically, gcncrically, and
politically disallowcd Alricans. Tc yoking ol silcncc to violcncc, and thc
libcrating potcntial ol spccch has bccn patcntly cnshrincd as thc justica
tion lor intcrnational law in gcncral (a lull invcstigation is nccdcd into thc
rolc ol spccch and violcncc as justicatory tcrms lor thc humanist rhctoric
ol cnding slavcry that undcrpinncd thc Conlcrcncc ol 8crlin) and intcr
national human rights law in particular in thc 1948 Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, whcrc thc lrccdom ol spccch is positcd as thc antidotc
to violcncc (prcamblc ol ubnv). Achcbc argucs that Nobody is, ol coursc,
going to bc so naivc as to claim lor languagc thc powcr to disposc ol all, or
cvcn most, violcncc (Hopes 128). Tings Fall Apart, by allcgorizing many ol
thc modcs ol colonial discoursc that claimcd to rcprcscnt a Nigcrian rcal
ity, suggcsts that somc mcdiating principlc bctwccn spccch and violcncc,
somc principlc outsidc ol an organic modc ol knowing and an itcmizing
lorm ol collcction, nccds to cxist il humans arc to cxist. For Achcbc that
modc is narrativc, as hc cxplains in his aptly titlcd cssay Vhat has Litcra
turc Got to o with !t:, Tc univcrsal crcativc rondo rcvolvcs on pcoplc
and storics. People create stories create people; or rathcr, stories create people
create stories (Hopes 162).
Tings Fall Apart is, in part, a corrcctivc to discourscs structurcd by
sccrcts and silcncc. !t is not that Tings Fall Apart lls out that which can
not bc told in thc colonial discourscs, but rathcr that it cxplodcs thc vcry
catcgory ol not tclling. !t rcjccts thc capitalist, impcrialist impcrativc ol
corporatc and narrativc sccrccy (a rcjcction that is, ol coursc, as important
lor Nigcria in thc timc it was writtcn as in thc timc it is sct and in thc
prcscnt circumstancc), thrcatcning thc idca ol narrativc as sccrccy. !n his
1959 (onc ycar altcr Achcbc publishcd his novcl) statcmcnt to thc Sccond
Congrcss ol 8lack Artists and Vritcrs in Romc, Frantz Fanon argucd that
Vc must rid oursclvcs ol thc habit, now that wc arc in thc thick ol thc
ght, ol minimizing thc action ol our lathcrs or ol lcigning incomprc
hcnsion whcn considcring thcir silcncc and passivity (206207). Fanons
commcnts arc intcndcd to cnlist thc Alrican intcllcctuals in thc popular
strugglcs against colonialism and lor indcpcndcncc, but his rcmarks also
suggcst that a normativc notion ol silcncc (and thcrclorc violcncc and
spccch) will not accuratcly dcscribc thc rcsistant history ol thc colonial
pcoplcs and anccstral participation in that rcsistancc. Achcbcs novcl thc
matizcs thc impositions ol silcncc and thc cqually important rcprcscn
tations ol silcncc, suggcsting that no casy cquation bctwccn silcncc and
passivity is possiblc.
97 A Mouth with Vhich to Tcll thc Story
Vovxs Ci :vb
Achcbc, Chinua. Thc Art ol Fiction: An !ntcrvicw with Chinua Achcbc. nlinc. 16 April
1995.
. Things Fall Apart. (1958) London: Hcincmann, 1986.
. Hopes and Impediments. Ncw York: oublcday, 1989.
Cohcn, Sir Andrcw. British Policy in Changing Africa. vanston: Northwcstcrn Univcrsity
Prcss, 1959.
Conrad, Joscph. Heart of Darkness. (1902) Ncw York: Pcnguin 8ooks, 1989.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constancc Farrington. Ncw York: Grovc
Vcidcnlcld, 1963.
Flint, John . Sir George Goldie and the Making of Nigeria. London: xlord Univcrsity Prcss,
1960.
Foucault, Michcl. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. (1966) Ncw York:
\intagc, 1994.
Harlow, 8arbara. Thc Tortoisc and thc 8irds: Stratcgics ol Rcsistancc in Things Fall Apart.
Approaches to Teaching Achebes Things Fall Apart. d. 8crnth Lindlors. Ncw York:
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Horton, Jamcs Alricanus. West African Countries and Peoples. (1868) dinburgh: dinburgh
Univcrsity Prcss, 1969.
!sichci, lizabcth. The Ibo People and the Europeans. Ncw York: St. Martins Prcss, 1973.
!zcvbayc, an. Thc !gbo as xccptional Colonial Subjccts: Fictionalizing an Abnormal
Historical Situation. Approaches to Teaching Achebes Things Fall Apart. d. 8crnth
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Jcyilo, 8iodun. konkwo and His Mothcr: Things Fall Apart and !ssucs ol Gcndcr in thc
Constitution ol Alrican Postcolonial iscoursc. Callaloo 16.4: 847858.
KirkGrccnc, A. H. M. (cd.). Lugard and the Amalgamation of Nigeria: A Documentary Record.
London: Frank Cass and Co., 1968.
Lubiano, Vahnccma. Narrativc, Mctacommcntary, and Politics in a Simplc Story.
Approaches to Teaching Achebes Things Fall Apart. d. 8crnth Lindlors. Ncw York:
Modcrn Languagc Association, 1991.
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. d. avid Spitz. Ncw York: V.V. Norton, 1975.
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Nivcn, Sir Rcx. Nigeria. Ncw York: Pracgcr, 1967.
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Northwcstcrn Univcrsity Prcss, 1963.
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98 Joscph R. Slaughtcr
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99
Kunapipi: Journal of Postcolonial Writing, \olumc 28, Numbcr 1 (2006): pp. 821. Copyright
2006 Mac Fcnwick.
MAC F NV! CK
Realising Ironys Post/Colonial Promise:
Global Sense and Local Meaning in
Tings Fall Apart and Ruins of a Great House
Locusts . . . wcrc vcry good to cat.
Chinua Achcbc, Tings Fall Apart
Anccstral murdcrcrs and pocts.
crck Valcott, Ruins ol a Grcat Housc
Thc only thing that can bc said lor ccrtain about irony is that it is thc
tropc par excellence ol unccrtainty. This is why ! havc choscn to bcgin this
study not with a statcmcnt about irony, but with a couplc ol ironic momcnts.
Still, thc tcrm is so protcan that cvcn to claim that thc abovc cxamplcs arc
instanccs ol irony will undoubtcdly bc contcntious. Thc purposc ol this
study, thcn, is not to gcncratc a ncw thcory ol irony (thc world has no nccd ol
that) but to rcalisc what ! will bc calling thc promisc ol irony within post/
colonial tcxts.
1
! usc thc word promisc in both ol its scnscs: to indicatc thc
potcntial ol irony (a potcntial that is bcst rcaliscd, pcrhaps, in ncvcr bcing
lullillcd), and as an oath or compact madc bctwccn ironys coconspirators:
thc rcadcr and thc tcxt.
Tcrc has bccn, lor a vcry long timc now, a vast and cvcrgrowing list
ol journal articlcs and books on thc lorm, naturc and usc ol irony. Givcn thc
brcadth and intclligcncc ol thc work alrcady cxtant on thc naturc ol irony, !
100 Mac Fcnwick
shall lorgo cvcn thc attcmpt to addrcss thosc issucs hcrc in any but thc most
cursory manncr. Most standard dcnitions ol irony idcntily thrcc dicrcnt
kinds, cach onc ol thcm motivatcd by a dicrcnt lorm ol opposition bctwccn
thc litcral mcaning ol thc said, and thc gural scnsc ol thc unsaid. \crbal
irony is thc rcsult ol a statcmcnt in which thc mcaning ol thc words uscd is
thc oppositc ol thcir scnsc. !rony ol situation occurs whcn a charactcr acts in
opposition to cxpcctation. ramatic irony (thc only lorm ol irony that is cx
clusivcly litcrary) ariscs whcn thc audicncc pcrccivcs somcthing that a char
actcr in thc litcraturc docs not know, dramatic irony is, thcn, thc opposition
ol thc limitcd mcaning ol thc situation as it is undcrstood by thc charactcr,
and thc lull scnsc ol that situation as it is apprchcndcd by thc audicncc. Tc
cxtralinguistic capacity upon which all thrcc ol thcsc typcs dcpcnd is appar
cnt in cvcn thc simplcst lorm ol irony, thc sarcastic rcmark. !l ! wcrc to say
that sounds likc lun, in such a manncr as to makc it clcar that it docs not, thc
litcral mcaning ol my scntcncc is rcplaccd by its rcal, cxtralinguistic scnsc.
Furthcrmorc, with my sarcasm ! am not just indicating my rcluctancc to un
dcrtakc thc proposcd advcnturc (hang gliding would bc a good cxamplc), but
! am also indicating a ccrtain amount ol disdain lor thc proposition, and pcr
haps cvcn lor thc pcrson making it. Tc promisc ol irony is, thcrclorc, that it
cnacts a momcnt ol cxtralinguistic communication in which thc limitations
ol thc litcraland cvcn thc aporia occasioncd by thc opposition ol scnsc and
mcaningis (apparcntly) ovcrcomc.
!rony thus cnacts a rclation bctwccn truth and lalschood. Vhilc thc
litcral mcaning ol my statcmcnt is lalsc, ! am cxcuscd lrom thc accusation
ol lying insolar as thc truc scnsc ol my uttcrancc is undcrstood. !l it is not,
thc lailurc to communicatc truth is not thc rcsult ol my lalsc uttcrancc, but
ol thc auditors inability to undcrstand what ! am saying, or ol my inabil
ity to mark thc irony clcarly cnough. 8y saying onc thing whilc mcaning
anothcr, it would appcar Tat irony is a lorm ol thc lic, but with thc appcal
that irony makcs to a gural mcaning that is in cxccss ol its litcral lalschood,
it avoids (or cvcn transccnds) thc accusation ol lying. !n a scnsc, ironyin
its suspcnsion ol lalschood during a clcarly untruc statcmcntsuspcnds
or rcsolvcs thc cthical tcnsions ol thc momcnt. Tc truc scnsc ol my uttcr
ancc not only transccnds its lalsc mcaning, but adds to that mcaning cxtra
linguistically. !rony, thcn, cvcn in thc cvcryday lorm ol thc sarcastic quip,
appcals to a rcalm in which thc truc scnsc ol thc uttcrancc transccnds its
lalsc and limitcd mcaning.
Tis aspcct ol irony gains spccial signicancc in post/colonial tcxts. For
irony to work, that is, lor thc rcadcr to apprchcnd its truc scnsc, thc rcadcr
must apprchcnd its lalsc or limitcd mcaning. ! may say that ! likc hang
gliding, but il ! do so in a contcxt that makcs it clcar that ! do not, thc truc
scnsc ol this statcmcnt is rcvcalcd: not by thc uttcrancc itscll, which convcys a
101 Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc
lalsc or limitcd mcaning, but by an act ol rclcrcncc to thc local and particular
circumstanccs that surround and inlorm thc uttcrancc in such a way as to
mark its lalsity and point thc way toward its truc scnsc. !n this rcspcct, thcn,
irony cnacts a rclation not only bctwccn truth and lalschood but also bctwccn
local and global, insolar as it brings into contact an cxtralinguistic scnsc that
surpasscs or cxcccds thc uttcrancc, and a mcaning (or sct ol discontinuous
mcanings) that can bc undcrstood only within thc particular contcxt ol thc
uttcrancc. Abovc, ! spokc ol ironys promisc as both potcntial and compact,
and it is in this intcrdcpcndcnt rclation ol local mcaning and global scnsc
that ! think this promisc is lulllcd. Tcrc is within cvcry ironic uttcrancc
thc potcntial lor thc succcsslul communication ol a truc scnsc dcspitc lalsc
or limitcd mcaning. !rony is thus thc compositc ol a momcnt ol global rcprc
scntation, as thc truc scnsc is apprchcndcd dcspitc thc lalsity ol thc mcaning,
and local rclcrcncc, insolar as that global rcprcscntation dcpcnds upon rclcr
cncc to thc local circumstanccs ol thc uttcrancc. Tc contact cnactcd by irony
bctwccn global scnsc and local mcaning is what has madc it such a rich, and
problcmatic, lorm ol addrcss lor post/colonial critics and thcorists.
2
Villiam Ncws Among Worlds (1975) is among thc rst works to addrcss
thc rclation bctwccn irony and post/coloniality and it rcmains onc ol thc
most comprchcnsivc. Ncw approachcs irony as symptomatic ol thc dualitics
that abound in Commonwcalth litcraturcs, and argucs that irony is a domi
nant mcthod whcrcby post/colonial authors arc ablc to cxprcss concrctcly
this scnsc ol incomplctc options, which hc argucs charactcriscs thc condition
ol post/coloniality (12). Ncw maintains this stancc throughout, consistcntly
arguing that thc ironics in thc tcxts that hc cxamincs arc thc litcrary mani
lcstations ol a prccxisting condition ol duality cndcmic to and charactcristic
ol post/coloniality. Hc docs not attcmpt to rcducc thc rich multiplicity ol thc
tcxts to any singlc vcrsion or thcory ol irony, on thc contrary, Ncw cxplicitly
statcs that thcmatic and tcchnical likcncsscs must not bc allowcd to obscurc
cach writcrs privatc vicwpoint. Tough dualitics abound in thc ironists world,
thc stanccs hc may takc rangc lrom parody and innucndo through sarcasm
and sclldisparagcmcnt to absurdity and nihilism (3). cspitc this important
acknowlcdgcmcnt that thcrc is no spccic kind or manncr ol post/colonial
irony, Ncw docs go on to cxplain that at its bcst thc ironic stancc provokcs
scrious dclibcration into thc problcms that lcd to thc dualitics in thc rst
placc (3). For Ncw, thcn, thc many dicrcnt uscs and lorms that irony takcs
on in post/colonial writing spring lrom thc samc sourcc and lcad to thc samc
cnd. Tat is, ironics in post/colonial tcxts symptomatically rccct and provokc
inquiry into thc spccic duality ol thc split loyaltics and unrcsolvablc tcn
sions (2) ol thc post/colonial condition.
!n Circling thc ownspout ol mpirc (1989) Linda Hutchcon both
cchocs and rcncs Ncws argumcnt whcn shc argucs that
102 Mac Fcnwick
as a doublctalking, lorkcdtongucd modc ol addrcss, irony
bccomcs a popular rhctorical stratcgy lor working within cxisting
discourscs and contcsting thcm at thc samc timc. !ts inhcrcnt
scmantic and structural doublcncss also makcs it a most convcnicnt
tropc lor thc paradoxical dualitics ol . . . postcolonial doublcd
idcntity and history. And indccd irony . . . has bccomc a powcrlul
subvcrsivc tool in thc rcthinking and rcaddrcssing ol history by
. . . postcolonial artists. (171)
cspitc this movc toward irony as a stratcgic rcsponsc by post/colonial
authors against thc conditions within which thcy must writc, Hutchcon
rctains Ncws lormulation ol irony as symptomatic ol thc post/colonial con
dition: irony is a tropc ol doublcncss. And doublcncss is what charactcriscs
. . . thc twolold vision ol thc postcolonial. . . . oublcncss and dillcrcncc
arc cstablishcd by colonialism by its paradoxical movc to cnlorcc cultural
samcncss . . . whilc at thc samc timc, producing dillcrcntiations and dis
criminations (176). Likc Ncw, Hutchcon charactcriscs irony as thc litcrary
manilcstation ol a litcral statc that has bccn imposcd upon thc writcr by
impcrial history.
For both Ncw and Hutchcon, irony is an ccctivc mcans through which
to cxprcss thc conditions ol post/coloniality insolar as it cmbodics thc naturc
ol thosc conditions. Hutchcon is quick to acknowlcdgc thc limitations that
this vicw placcs on irony within post/colonial tcxts: !rony is . . . a way ol rc
sisting old yct acknowlcdging thc powcr ol thc dominant. !t may not go thc
ncxt stcpto suggcst somcthing ncwbut it ccrtainly makcs that stcp pos
siblc. ltcn combincd with somc sort ol scllrccxivity, irony allows a tcxt to
work within thc constraints ol thc dominant whilc placing thosc constraints
as constraints in thc lorcground and thus undcrmining thcir powcr (177).
Tc only ccctivc mcans ol contcsting thc dominant that irony would sccm
to lcnd thc ironist is thc ability to highlight thc naturc ol that domination.
Tcrc is, according to Hutchcon, ncithcr libcration lrom nor rcplaccmcnt ol
that domination with somcthing ncw but mcrcly a suggcstion ol how that
somcthing ncw might bc possiblc.
Hutchcons stancc cchocs thc argumcnt ol Homi 8habha in Rcprcscn
tation and thc Colonial Tcxt (1984) insolar as hc argucs that irony is a modc
ol thc impcrialising powcr, and thus insucicnt to thc task ol countcring thc
opprcssivc and posscssivc gazc ol thc uropcan critic. Stating that bchind
thc rcalist irony |stands| a uropcan philosophical tradition ol cthical rcal
ism (115), 8habha concludcs that thc irony ol post/colonial tcxts cxists only
within thc cyc ol thc impcrialbcholdcr. !n his analysis ol \. S. Naipauls A
House for Mr. Biswas, 8habha claims that |t|o dcmonstratc thcmatically how
House rcsists its appropriation into thc Grcat Tradition ol litcrary Rcalism
103 Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc
would not bc dicult. !t would bc possiblc to scc . . . its modc ol addrcss as
thc uncanny rathcr than irony (115). According to 8habha, irony is not a
stratcgic tool ol thc post/colonial writcr, but an alicn lorm ol mimcsis that
is imposcd upon post/colonial tcxts by thc impcrial rcadcr. Tis imposition,
howcvcr, is ncithcr stablc nor lasting. 8habha argucs that thc irony which thc
Vcstcrn critic nds in post/colonial tcxts is symptomatic ol thc ccntral and
indccd dcning irony ol thc uropcan critics own critical practicc:
Vriting as thc lilling ol a gap . . . lincar timc consciousncss as
thc cllcct ol thc scqucntial practicc ol writing, tclcology and
unity, progrcssion and cohcrcncc as convcntionbound, lormal
productionsall thcsc notions givc writing a matcriality, a
productivc position. . . . Thcrc arc intimations hcrc ol thc
construction ol thc unity ol thc sign (as opposcd to its primordial
givcnncss), and thc rcsulting stability ol thc signilicd which,
paradoxically, suggcsts thc possibility ol its arbitrarincss, that is,
thc irony ol its rcprcssion ol discontinuity and dillcrcncc in thc
construction ol sense, thosc modcs ol meaning that wc call rcalism
and historicism. (9697, cmphasis addcd)
!n this vicw ol thc rclation bctwccn irony and thc post/colonial, thc
irony that thc uropcan rcadcr/critic imposcs upon post/colonial tcxts is
symptomatic ol thc dicrcncc and discontinuity that always/alrcady cxists
within thc impcrial culturc. !n ccct, thc attcmpt to ironisc post/colonial
tcxts rcbounds upon thc uropcan critic. According to 8habha, thc attribu
tion ol irony to post/colonial tcxts rcvcals how thc critics own practicc is
irrctricvably ironic insolar as it dcpcnds upon a lalsc scnsc ol unity that has
bccn constructcd to rcprcss thc discontinuous and dicrcnt mcanings which
undcrcut that practicc.
cspitc thcir dicrcnccs, lor Ncw, Hutchcon and 8habha thc promisc
ol irony lor post/colonial tcxts is rcaliscd insolar as it disturbsor highlights
thc inhcrcnt disturbanccs bctwccndicrcnt cultural mcanings without ol
lcring any way past or bcyond this momcnt ol rccognition. For cach ol thcm,
irony is a cognitivc dcad cnd. !t is my contcntion that thc protcan naturc ol
thc ironic uttcrancc promiscs a modc ol undcrstanding lor thc post/colonial
(con)tcxt in which global scnsc and local mcaning arc rclatcd to onc anothcr
within a provisional transcultural truth that cxcccds thc aporia or disrup
tivc discontinuitics ol thc post/colonial condition. Howcvcr, just as thcrc
is no monolithic or singular way ol bcing post/colonial, so too is thcrc no
monolithic post/colonial lorm ol irony. !n ordcr to prcscrvc this rccognition
ol multiplicity ! havc choscn to cxaminc hcrc two momcnts ol irony lrom
markcdly dicrcnt (con)tcxts. Chinua Achcbcs Tings Fall Apart dramatiscs
104 Mac Fcnwick
thc conict bctwccn !gbo and 8ritish as thc clash ol binary oppositcs. crck
Valcotts Ruins ol a Grcat Housc dramatiscs thc spcakcrs dicult and dra
matic conlrontation with a history which hc lccls yokcs togcthcr through
violcncc and opprcssion thcsc samc two cultural sidcs. Morc importantly,
thcsc two momcnts allow mc to cxplorc thc promisc ol irony within thc post/
colonial (con)tcxt lrom thc pcrspcctivc ol cach ol ironys coconspirators:
thc rcadcr and thc tcxt. !n Tings Fall Apart, thc cxtralinguistic scnsc with
which thc dicrcnt and oppositional mcanings ol thc situation arc ovcr
comc is thc rcadcrs own. !n Ruins ol a Grcat Housc, this cxtralinguistic
scnsc is cxprcsscd by thc spcakcr. cspitc thcir dicrcnt pcrspcctivcs, thcn,
thcsc momcnts lully rcalisc thc promisc ol irony within and lor thc post/
colonial (con)tcxt insolar as thcy rcalisc a modc ol transcultural undcrstand
ing in which global scnsc and local mcaning arc brought into a productivc
and cquivalcnt rclation.
Achcbcs Tings Fall Apart concludcs with a momcnt in which thc co
lonial dividc would appcar to bc unbridgcablc, as thc istrict Commissioncr
turns his back on thc hangcd lorm ol konkwos suicidc and contcmplatcs
thc titlc ol thc book that hc will writc: Te Pacication of the Primitive Tribes
of the Lower Niger (148). Tis momcnt marks thc violcnt and brutal cradica
tion ol thc hopc cxprcsscd clscwhcrc in thc novcl that rcciprocity bctwccn
coloniscr and coloniscd might indccd bc possiblc.
3
cspitc this lack ol ccc
tivc communication on thc part ol thc charactcrs, thc novcl docs not lcad only
to aporia and thc lailurc ol undcrstanding. Vhilc thc narrativc may vcry wcll
cnd with a momcnt ol painlul stasis, its conclusion is, ! would arguc, quitc
dicrcnt. Tc novcl is itscll poiscd upon a particularly painlul irony as thc
mcaning ol its nal momcnts is countcrbalanccd by thc scnsc ol thc wholc.
!n ccct, thc nal stasis ol thc novcl is ovcrcomc by thc dramatic irony that
allows thc rcadcr to rcsolvc thc conict that cntraps thc charactcrs,
4
and cvcn
thc !gbo Storytcllcr.
Nowhcrc is this dramatic irony morc apparcnt than during thc locusts
dcsccnt upon Umuoa:
And thcn quitc suddcnly a shadow lcll on thc world, and thc
sun sccmcd hiddcn bchind a thick cloud. konkwo lookcd up
lrom his work and wondcrcd il it was going to rain at such an
unlikcly timc ol thc ycar. 8ut almost immcdiatcly a shout ol joy
brokc out in all dircctions, and Umuolia, which had dozcd in thc
noonday hazc, brokc into lilc and activity.
Locusts arc dcsccnding, was joylully chantcd cvcrywhcrc, and
mcn, womcn and childrcn lclt thcir work or thcir play and ran into
thc opcn to scc thc unlamiliar sight. Thc locusts had not comc lor
many, many ycars, and only thc old pcoplc had sccn thcm bclorc.
105 Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc
At lirst, a lairly small swarm camc. Thcy wcrc thc harbingcrs
scnt to survcy thc land. And thcn appcarcd on thc horizon a
slowlymoving mass likc a boundlcss shcct ol black cloud drilting
towards Umuolia. Soon it covcrcd hall thc sky, and thc solid mass
was now brokcn by tiny cycs ol light likc shining stardust. !t was
a trcmcndous sight, lull ol powcr and bcauty.
vcryonc was now about, talking cxcitcdly and praying that
thc locusts should camp in Umuolia lor thc night. For although
locusts had not visitcd Umuolia lor many ycars, cvcrybody kncw
by instinct that thcy wcrc vcry good to cat. (3940)
Tis passagc disturbs thc Vcstcrniscd rcadcr, as our cxpcctations arc at
rst supportcd by thc prosc, and thcn ovcrturncd by it. Tc lorcboding and
cvcn apocalyptic languagc ol thc passagcs bcginning (a shadow lcll on thc
world, and thc sun sccmcd hiddcn bchind a thick cloud), givcs way within
thrcc paragraphs to a radically altcrcd vision ol thc cvcnt (it was a trcmcn
dous sight, lull ol powcr and bcauty). Tis passagc is ironic in thc most dircct
scnsc insolar as its conclusion is dircctly oppositc to what thc rcadcr is lcd to
cxpcct by its bcginning. 8cyond this rclativcly simplc instancc ol situational
irony, howcvcr, thc passagc cnablcs a momcnt ol dramatic irony in which thc
rcadcr is ablc to apprchcnd thc rclation ol thc two sidcs ol thc conict bc
twccn !gbo and 8ritish in a manncr that cxcccds thc litcral cxprcssion givcn
that conict in thc tcxtin particular, as that conict is prcscntcd as an op
positional binary in thc novcls nal paragraph.
Tis dramatic irony is cvidcnt in thc statcmcnt that cvcrybody kncw
by instinct that |locusts| wcrc vcry good to cat. Troughout thc novcl thcrc
arc momcnts in which thc !gbo Storytcllcrs vicw ol cvcnts is dircctly at odds
with thc Vcstcrniscd rcadcrs pcrccptions
5
but nowhcrc is thc division bc
twccn narrator/tcxt and rcadcr madc so palpably clcar, or so (apparcntly) un
bridgcablc. For thc Storytcllcr, human instinct dictatcs that locusts arc good
to cat, but thc instincts ol thc (vast majority) ol Vcstcrniscd rcadcrs arc cn
tircly dicrcnt, and not just bccausc ol thc dicrcnt cuisincs. Vcstcrn lorms
ol mass agriculturc arc susccptiblc to locusts in a way that traditional !gbo
cultivation is not, morc signicantly, thcrc arc also thc 8iblical associations ol
locusts with thc wrath ol God. Tc mcaning ol thc passagc, thcn, is to signal
to thc Vcstcrniscd rcadcr in as shocking a manncr as possiblc that wc do not
lully undcrstand thc !gbo culturc that wc arc cncountcring in thc tcxt. Tis
act ol rccognition is a salutary and ncccssary componcnt ol thc novcl, lor it
rcmovcs thosc rcadcrs who havc this apprchcnsion lrom thc pcrspcctivc pos
itcd at thc novcls conclusion by thc istrict Commissioncr, who is absolutcly
ccrtain that hc knowsand is authoriscd to writc downall that is ncccssary
about thc primitivcs undcr his control.
106 Mac Fcnwick
Tcrc is, howcvcr, a scnsc in thc passagc that is at odds with this mcan
ing, a scnsc that is apparcnt (ironically) only to somconc cncountcring thc tcxt
lrom within that samc Vcstcrn pcrspcctivc that thc mcaning ol thc passagc
disturbs. Tc swarm ol locusts lorcshadows thc dcstruction ol thc !gbo by thc
8ritisha point that is latcr madc quitc clcarly whcn thc raclc warns thc
pcoplc ol Abamc that thc uropcans wcrc locusts . . . and that rst man |on
thc bicyclc| was, thcir harbingcr scnt to cxplorc thc tcrrain. And so thcy killcd
him (98). !n thc wakc ol this murdcr, thc cntirc villagc ol Abamc is wipcd out
by 8ritish troops. Vhcn rcgardcd in this manncr, thc passagc rcvcrscs itscll
oncc morc and thc locusts changc back lrom bcing a trcmcndous sight, lull
ol powcr and bcauty and rccovcr thc lar morc lorcboding implications ol thc
passagcs bcginning, a shadow lcll on thc world, and thc sun sccmcd hid
dcn bchind a thick cloud. Tis passagc is ironic, thcn, insolar as its mcaning
signals thc insupcrablc dividc bctwccn thc narrator/tcxt and thc Vcstcrniscd
rcadcr (locusts arc good), whilc its lull scnsc is rcvcalcd only to that samc
rcadcr (locusts arc not good). Tc rcsult ol this passagc is a momcnt ol cx
cruciating dramatic irony as thc Vcstcrniscd rcadcr is put into thc position
ol knowing or pcrcciving morc than thc charactcrs, and cvcn thc storytcllcr.
Tc Vcstcrniscd rcadcr is thus immcdiatcly constitutcd as a part ol thc samc
impcrial us that cncompasscs thc istrict Commissioncr (who knows bcttcr
than thc nativcs), but whosc (illibcral) cultural chauvinism thc rcadcr rcjccts.
! would likc to suggcst, howcvcr, that this momcnt nccd not bc an uncasy apo-
ria in which dicrcnt cultural mcanings arc irrcconcilably opposcd (locusts
arc good vcrsus locusts arc bad). Rathcr, this momcnt holds thc promisc ol a
global scnsc within which thc dicrcnt local mcanings lcad not to thc stcril
ity ol binary opposition but to a ncw undcrstanding ol thc rclation bctwccn
!gbo and 8ritish culturcs. Tc rcadcrs ironic apprchcnsion ol thc claim that
locusts arc good to cat rcsolvcs thc apparcntly irrcsolvablc aporia ol thc cog
nitivc conict bctwccn konkwo and thc istrict Commissioncr.
! said at thc bcginning that irony appcals to a rcalm in which thc truc
scnsc ol thc uttcrancc transccnds its lalsc and limitcd mcaning. ! wcnt on
to arguc that irony is thc compositc ol a momcnt ol global rcprcscntation,
as thc truc scnsc is apprchcndcd dcspitc thc lalsity ol thc mcaning, and lo
cal rclcrcncc, insolar as that global rcprcscntation dcpcnds upon rclcrcncc
to thc local circumstanccs ol thc uttcrancc. Vith this in mind, wc can say
that thc ironic promisc ol Achcbcs novcl is rcaliscd only in and through thc
dramatic irony ol thc rcadcrs rccovcry or (rc)construction ol a truc scnsc ol
thc tcxt (that uropcan and !gbo arc both ncccssary to undcrstand thc tcxt)
that surpasscs its lalsc and limitcd mcaning (that uropcan and !gbo arc
insupcrably dividcd lrom onc anothcr). Tis truc scnsc is not, howcvcr, to
bc undcrstood as truthasobjcctas a singular or totalising lorm ol truth
that concludcs or rcsolvcs thc ambiguitics ol thc tcxt. Tc promisc rcaliscd
107 Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc
within thc ironic statcmcnt that locusts arc good to cat is a provisional lorm
ol truth, insolar as thc rcadcrs ironic apprchcnsion ol that momcnt docs not
rcsolvc thc conict bctwccn dicrcnt intcrcultural truths, but cnacts a rclation
bctwccn thosc truths. Tc statcmcnt locusts arc good to cat is ncithcr a lalsc
hood to bc ovcrcomc with truth (as thc istrict Commissioncr would claim
ol that primitivc bclicl ), nor a truth that rcbuts thc lalsity ol its contrary (as
konkwo would arguc). !t is a stagc upon which thcsc truths arc brought into
contact and rclation with onc anothcr.
As Hutchcon argucs in Ironys Edge, irony is, a rclational stratcgy in thc
scnsc that it opcratcs not only bctwccn mcanings (said, unsaid) but bctwccn
pcoplc (ironists, intcrprctcrs, targcts). !ronic mcaning comcs into bcing as thc
conscqucncc ol a rclationship, a dynamic, pcrlormativc bringing togcthcr ol
dicrcnt mcaningmakcrs, but also ol dicrcnt mcanings (58). As wc havc
sccn with Tings Fall Apart, thc dynamic, pcrlormativc bringing togcthcr
cnactcd by irony within post/colonial tcxts cntails a rclation not just bctwccn
dicrcnt individual mcaningmakcrs but bctwccn dicrcnt cultural pcrspcc
tivcs. ! havc argucd that thc promisc ol irony is that it cnacts a momcnt ol
cxtralinguistic communication in which thc limitations ol thc litcraland
cvcn thc aporia occasioncd by thc opposition ol scnsc and mcaningis (ap
parcntly) ovcrcomc. !l this is so, thcn thc promisc ol irony in post/colonial
tcxts would bc that it cnacts a momcnt ol cxtralinguistic communication in
which thc dicrcnccs bctwccn culturcs is (apparcntly) ovcrcomc. !t is prc
ciscly at this point whcrc my analysis is sundcrcd (pcrhaps irrctricvably) lrom
thosc ol Ncw, Hutchcon and 8habha, cach ol whom charactcriscs irony as
disruptivc with littlc or no rclcrcncc to its potcntial lor crcating somcthing
ncw. For it is prcciscly this that ! bclicvc is happcning in Tings Fall Apart in
solar as thc dramatic ironics ol thc narrativc allow thc rcadcr to movc past (or
through) thc disturbing and disruptivc clash ol !gbo and 8ritish to a trans
cultural truth within which thc two sidcs ol this bipolar historical conict
mcct and intcract. !n Achcbcs novcl, thc promisc ol irony is rcaliscd insolar
as it allows lor a scnsc ol transcultural truth that cxists in thc rclation irony
cnacts bctwccn or amongst thc discontinuous mcanings ol dicrcnt cultural
truths. Tis transcultural truth is ncithcr homogcnous nor stablc, lor it cxists
upon thc protcan stagc and word ol thc ironic uttcrancc. Tc provisionality
ol this truth docs not ncccssarily condcmn it to dircctionlcss or rclativistic
play, nor to inconclusivc aporia. !n lact, thc spcakcr in crck Valcotts Ruins
ol a Grcat Housc scizcs upon this vcry provisionality as thc basis ol a ncw
transcultural truth that surpasscs or ovcrcomcs thc discontinuitics and aporia
ol cultural dicrcncc which thrcatcn to ovcrwhclm him.
!n Ruins ol a Grcat Housc, thc spcakcr addrcsscs thc ironic naturc ol
his own poctic voicc and pcrsona(c), as thc pocm dramatically rcprcscnts thc
spcakcrs strugglc to undcrstand thc complicatcd rclation ol mastcr and slavc.
108 Mac Fcnwick
As a Vcst !ndian, thc spcakcr ol this pocm docs not havc thc option to rctrcat
into any illusory lorm ol cultural singularityas do thc charactcrs ol Achcbcs
novcl who can idcntily thcmsclvcs as or with !gbo or ngland. As thc dcsccn
dant ol both sidcs ol thc historical conict bctwccn Alrica (slavc) and u
ropc (mastcr) hc must instcad conlront thc ironic naturc ol thc rclation that
cxists bctwccn thcsc two culturcs which havc togcthcr crcatcd his idcntity. !n
this scnsc, thc spcakcr ol Ruins must rcalisc thc samc promisc ol irony as was
achicvcd by thc rcadcr ol Tings Fall Apart. For thc rst part ol thc pocm, thc
spcakcr attcmpts to work through thc rclation ol mastcr and slavc on a con
sciously intcllcctual lcvcl, but cvcntually thc ironics ovcrcomc him:
A grccn lawn, brokcn by low walls ol stonc,
ippcd to thc rivulct, and pacing, ! thought ncxt
l mcn likc Hawkins, Valtcr Ralcigh, rakc,
Anccstral murdcrcrs and pocts, morc pcrplcxcd
!n mcmory now by cvcry ulccrous crimc. (20)
Tc ironics ol this momcnt producc a complicatcd scrics ol rclations
and rcalisations that sprcad outward to thc rcst ol thc pocm, cncrgics that si
multancously disturb and rccongurc thc spcakcrs undcrstanding ol himscll
in such a way that thc intcnt to rcsolvc thc opposition ol mcaning and scnsc
mcrgcs with an acccptancc ol this opposition. !n this manncr, thc spcakcr
rcaliscs thc promisc ol his ironic idcntity.
Tc ironic opposition ol mcaning and scnsc that motivatcs this pocm is
most apparcntand is at its most disturbingin thc vcrbal irony cnactcd by
thc spcakcrs rccognition ol his anccstral murdcrcrs and pocts. As thc spcakcr
himscll rcaliscs, this is a momcnt ol prolound pcrplcxity as thc lincs uid,
almost protcan mcaning simultancously conlronts and conlounds thc scnsc
that thc spcakcr nds in it. Tc Rcnaissancc gurcs hc imagincs arc anccstral
murdcrcrs in at lcast two scnscs: rst, as part ol thc cnslaving culturc that
brought Alricans to thc Caribbcan, thcy arc thc murdcrcrs ol thc spcakcrs
anccstors, sccond, thcy arc murdcrcrs who arc anccstral to thc spcakcr, who
in this pocm is conlronting thc disturbing lact that hc is as Valcott puts it
in A Far Cry From Alrica, poisoncd with thc blood ol both, / . . . dividcd
to thc vcin (18). Tc linc is rcndcrcd cvcn morc ironic by thc lact that it is to
thcsc murdcrcrs that thc spcakcr owcs his vcry voicc, inasmuch as thcy wcrc
also thc pocts whosc lyrics havc produccd thc poctic lorm that hc dcpcnds
upon now in his attcmpt to rcjcct thcir lcgacy. Tcy arc thus, ironically, both
his anccstral pocts and his anccstral murdcrcrs at onc and thc samc timc.
Tc ironics ol this momcnt comc to dominatc thc pocm as thc spcakcr is ablc
to concludc (or tcrminatc) thc complcxitics ol this linc only by, ironically,
silcncing his own voicc and giving thc conclusion ol his pocm ovcr to onc ol
109 Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc
his anccstral murdcrcrs and pocts, in thc lorm ol John onncs Mcditation
X\!! lrom his Devotions:
Ablazc with ragc ! thought,
Somc slavc is rotting in this manorial lakc,
8ut still thc coal passion lought
That Albion too was oncc
A colony likc ours, part ol thc contincnt, piccc ol thc main,
Nookshottcn, rook ocrblown, dcrangcd
8y loaming channcls and thc vain cxpcnsc
l bittcr laction.
All in compassion cnds
So dillcrcntly lrom what thc hcart arrangcd:
as wcll as il a manor ol thy lricnds . . . (2021)
!t is thus by sublimating his own colonial voicc to thc opprcssivc u
ropcan Mastcr culturc that thc spcakcr, ironically, lcarns thc lcsson ol com
passion that rcsolvcs his pocm. At thc samc timc, his dclcrral to onnc is
pcrhaps an allusion to anothcr gurc that ironiscs this dclcrral. Tc principal
charactcr ol Vilson Harriss Palace of the Peacock (1960) is also namcd onnc,
and his journcy into thc hcartland ol Guyana dramatiscs thc brutality ol
uropcan conqucst ol thc Caribbcan. Tc spcakcrs turn to onnc is thus
doubly ironic insolar as cvcn as hc sccms to bc sublimating his own voicc to
that ol thc mastcr, hc is doing so, pcrhaps, through an appcal to a gurc who
has himscll bccn ironically rcwrittcn alrcady by thc Caribbcans most prolic,
imaginativc and lormidablc novclist.
6
Tis ironic conclusion is, apparcntly, thc only way that thc spcakcr can
ccctivcly lay to rcst thc dicult and dividcd imagcry that marks this pocm.
n thc onc hand, hc attcmpts to lan thc blazc ol ragc that hc lccls in rc
sponsc to thc idca ol a slavc rotting in this manorial lakc. n thc othcr, is
thc coal ol compassion that sccms, ironically, to cxtinguish thc rc ol ragc
rathcr than lucl it. Tc blazc ol ragc with which thc spcakcr rst attcmpts
to concludc thc pocm is highly rcminisccnt ol thc conclusion to Tings Fall
Apart insolar as it lcads toward a momcnt in which thc rcadcr is suspcndcd
within thc samc manncr ol static opposition bctwccn coloniscr and colo
niscd cmbodicd by thc istrict Commissioncrs book. Tc blazc ol ragc that
thc spcakcr wishcs to lccl is sustaincd only by thc opposition ol thc brutal
iscd slavc and thc manorial lakc that sccks to hidc him or hcr. As in Tings
Fall Apart, this opposition is ovcrcomc by thc dramatic irony initiatcd by thc
idca ol thc slavc as rotting. To this point in thc pocm, what has bccn rot
ting is not thc slavc, but thc Manor (thc manorial lakc). !n thc rst vcrsc
110 Mac Fcnwick
paragraph, wc arc prcscntcd with a numbcr ol imagcs ol rot and dccay, all ol
thcm groupcd around thc manor:
Stoncs only, thc disjccta mcmbra ol this Grcat Housc,
Vhosc mothlikc girls arc mixcd with candlcdust,
Rcmain to lilc thc lizards dragonish claws.
Thc mouths ol thc gatc chcrubs shrick with stain,
Axlc and coach whccl siltcd undcr thc muck
l cattlc droppings. (19)
Tc irony ol thc spcakcrs blazc ol ragc is that it is thc oppositc ol how
hc bcgan his pocm. At thc bcginning, his compassion sccms almost wholly
rcscrvcd lor thc manor and lor thosc who dwclt within it. Tc girls, who arc
prcscntcd as having bccn mothlikc, prcscnt to his imagination no thrcat or
cvil, and arc thc oncs wholikc thc rotting slavc at thc cndarc now mixcd
with candlcdust. Tc ruins ol thc Grcat Housc arc thcmsclvcs undcr con
tinual thrcat lrom thc lizards dragonish claws. As with thc locusts in Tings
Fall Apart, thc 8iblical allusions do not distancc thc spcakcr lrom thc manor,
but closc thc distancc with a sympathctic rcsponsc. Tc loss ol thc manor is,
in somc scnsc (and quitc ironically), rcgardcd as an dcnic lall, in which thc
lorccs ol cvil havc takcn ovcr, staining thc angclic guardians ol this rcalm
(thc gatc chcrubs). 8y thc cnd ol this opcning vcrsc paragraph, thc rot that
has ovcrtakcn thc Manor bccomcs, possibly, a sourcc ol hopc and rcdcmptivc
lcrtility as thc landscapc is buricd bcncath cattlc droppings. Tc mcaning
that thc spcakcr strivcs to givc his cxpcricncc at thc conclusion ol thc pocm
by ring within himscll a blazc ol ragc is at odds with thc vcry sympathctic
mcaning ol his opcning stancc.
Tc provisional scnsc ol thc rclation bctwccn past and prcscnt that thc
spcakcr hcrc achicvcs rcdrcsscs what Ncw thought was a gap within Vcst
!ndian litcraturc. !n a discussion ol Gcorgc Lamming and \. S. Naipaul, Ncw
argucs that
ordcr is . . . an irony in any community cmbarrasscd by its past,
lor thc pcoplc in it arc constantly alicnating thcmsclvcs lrom thc
cxpcricnccs thcy sharc. Thcir grasp on thc prcscnt is prcscrvcd by
thc satiric displaccmcnt ol thc past, but thcir idcntity is subscqucntly
diminishcd. A dillcrcnt kind ol satirc, attractcd to thc human
bcings whosc loiblcs wcrc bcing cxposcd, would cmbracc thc past
rathcr than distancc it, but it would at thc samc timc announcc a
dillcrcnt apprchcnsion ol thc human prcdicamcnt.
(9)
111 Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc
!n his apprchcnsion ol thc complicatcd rclation ol past and prcscnt,
mastcr and slavc, thc spcakcr ol this pocm is ablc to construct just such an
ironic vision in which thc past is cmbraccd rathcr than distanccd. !n this
manncr, Valcotts pocm cstablishcs thc samc modc ol undcrstanding thc rc
lation bctwccn coloniscr and coloniscd achicvcd by thc rcadcr ol Achcbcs
novcl, insolar as thc spcakcr movcs bcyond thc rclativcly simplc binary op
position ol mastcr and slavc that conlounds thc bcginning ol thc pocm. Tis
ncw undcrstanding is rcaliscd whcn at thc pocms conclusion thc spcakcrs
blazc ol ragc is conlrontcd and qucllcd by thc coal ol his compassion. Tc
lucl with which hc kccps alight this coal is thc idca that Albion too was
oncc / A colony likc ours. Tc ironics ol this stancc arc many and prolound.
First and lorcmost, is thc ironic naturc ol thc uttcrancc. Tc spcakcr is hcrc
attcmpting to construct lor himscll a spacc ol rcsolution and rctrcat in his
own landscapc whilc prcdicating that rctrcat upon a valuation ol thc impcrial
powcr that has scarrcd and woundcd that landscapc. Vhat is morc, this ironic
stancc is initiatcd by thc armation that ngland was a colony likc ours.
Tcrc arc within this statcmcnt two closcly allicd ironics that thc spcakcr
sccms to bc acccpting. Tc rst irony is historical, insolar as thc spcakcrs
claim that ngland was a colony likc ours is patcntly untruc. Tc colonisa
tion ol ngland by Romc was ol an altogcthcr dicrcnt naturc than was thc
colonisation ol thc Vcst !ndics by ngland.
7
Tc spcakcr himscll sccms to
rccognisc this in his lamcnt lor thc vain cxpcnsc / l bittcr laction. Tc scars
and wounds that bc pcrccivcs upon thc history ol ngland arc, apparcntly,
scllinictcd in civil war and thc intcrnally cnactcd violcncc ol bittcr laction
rathcr than thc lcgacics ol impcrial control. Tc spcakcr also sccms to acccpt
and pass ovcr without commcnt thc irony ol thc lact that a nation that was
itscll a colony should bccomc a brutalising coloniscr. Tc nal irony ol thc
spcakcrs stancc, thcn, is that hc is ablc to nd compassion lor thc impcrial
brutaliscrs ol his own history by translcrring onto thcm thc violcncc that
thcy havc cnactcd actcd on othcrs. Tc lact that hc may scc that violcncc as
having bccn scllinictcd only adds irony to irony.
8
Tanks to this ironic un
dcrstanding ol his circumstanccand ol himscllhc is ablc to movc past thc
ironic opposition ol mcaning (ngland and thc Vcst !ndics arc thc samc)
and scnsc (no, thcyrc not) to his nal momcnt ol compassion. l coursc,
as ! havc alrcady argucd abovc, this nal stancc is also ironic insolar as hc
dcpcnds upon thc voicc and words ol his anccstral murdcrcr and poct to rc
solvc his conict lor him. 8y this point, howcvcr, thc irony ol this rcaction is
ovcrlookcdor transccndcdby thc spcakcrs ironic modc ol undcrstanding
thc rclation bctwccn coloniscr and coloniscd.
!rony, as thc tropc par excellence ol misdircction, ambivalcncc and dou
blcncss gcncratcs a uid kind ol truth that puts into motion opposing or
contradictory tcrms or positions that cannot bc rcconcilcd, but which in thcir
112 Mac Fcnwick
(ironic) mobility can bc conjoincd and mutually cxpcricnccd. Tc rcadcr
ol Tings Fall Apart is ablc, through thc apprchcnsion ol dramatic irony, to
rcalisc a truth ol thc impcrial cncountcr that cscapcs or cxcccds thc actors
caught up within it: that thc situation it cxplorcs is not onc that can bc apprc
hcndcd lrom within thc static polaritics ol binary opposition. Just as locusts
arc ncithcr good nor bad to cat, ncithcr sidc ol thc cultural conict is in thc
right, and both havc somcthing to ocr to our undcrstanding ol thcir mutual
clash. Tis global scnsc ol thc tcxt, howcvcr, subsists only insolar as thc rcadcr
is willing and ablc to pcrccivc and undcrstand thc local and particular cir
cumstanccs and point ol vicw ol thc !gbo Storytcllcr. Tc transcultural truth
achicvcd by thc rcadcr is thcrclorc mobiliscd by and within thc proccss that
rclatcs thc rcadcrs own pcrccptions and undcrstanding to thc tcxts dicr
ing and dicrcnt truths. Vhilc it is thc rcadcr who must rcalisc thc promisc
ol irony in Tings Fall Apart, in Ruins it is ironys othcr coconspirator, thc
spcakcr, who rcaliscs this promisc whcn hc is ablc to concludc his pocm in
compassion by ncithcr rcjccting outright, nor acccpting unqucstioningly, his
anccstral murdcrcrs and pocts. Tis conciliatory gcsturc is maintaincd by thc
ironic conclusion ol thc pocm in which thc spcakcr nds his own voicc only
in and through thc voicc ol thc tradition that his pocm bcgan in rcbcllion
against. 8oth works bring to lruition thc promisc ol irony lor post/colonial
tcxts by bccoming thc stagc or ground upon which a global scnsc ol thc his
torical rclation bctwccn coloniscr and coloniscd (As wcll as il a manor ol thy
lricnds . . .) is brought into a rcciprocal and cquivalcnt rclation with thc local
mcanings ol that history (somc slavc is rotting in this manorial lakc).
Tcsc tcxts rcalisc thc promisc ol irony insolar as thcy cach construct a
scnsc ol thc rclation bctwccn culturcs that not only surpasscs thc discontinu
ity ol dicrcnt cultural mcanings, but which activcly adds to that mcaning
cxtralinguistically. Tis scnsc is, howcvcr, always/alrcady provisional, insolar
as it is maintaincd by thc cxtralinguistic (incxprcssiblc) scnsc that irony both
aspircs to and dcpcnds upon. !t is this always/alrcady provisional scnsc ol
truth that ! havc in mind whcn ! spcak ol thc promisc ol irony in and lor
post/colonial tcxts, lor thcrc is no uniqucly post/colonial lorm ol irony any
morc than thcrc is an idcntiablc and singular condition ol post/coloniality.
Tc ironic uttcrancc holds within it thc promisc ol a modc ol truth in which
global scnsc cxists in an cqual and rcciprocal rclationship with local mcan
ing. At thc samc timc, this rclation is maintaincd upon thc strcngth ol thc
promisc that binds thc rcadcr to thc tcxt, and thc tcxt to thc rcadcr, it is thc
promisc madc in and by cvcry rcading actthat this act is not mcaninglcss.
113 Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc
No:vs
1. ! usc this lorm (post/colonial) ol this most contcntious tcrm in ordcr to
sidcstcp thc dillicult (and ncvcrcnding) qucstion ol thc hyphcn. Vhcthcr thc
writcrs ! will bc cxamining arc postcolonial or postcolonial is, lor thc purposcs ol
this study at lcast, sccondary to thcir status, as ironists.
2. !ntcrcstingly, thcrc havc bccn vcry lcw works ol sustaincd criticism on irony
and thc post/colonial. !n lact, thc thrcc works that ! cxaminc in this study arc thc
most substantivc yct produccd. Thcrc arc litcrally hundrcds ol papcrs and books in
which thc rolc ol irony is considcrcd in spccilic post/colonial tcxts, but by and largc
thcsc works do not addrcss thc spccilic lunction or naturc ol irony as it is rcaliscd
in a post/colonial tcxt.
3. A lcw pagcs bclorc this momcnt wc hcar ol thc convcrsations bctwccn
Mr. 8rownthc morc modcratc missionaryand Akunna, in which cach was
ablc to lcarn ol thc othcrs bclicls, but signilicantly in which ncithcr succccdcd in
convcrting thc othcr (126).
4. Thc novcls onc and only lcgitimatcly in bctwccn charactcr, konkwos
son, Nwoyc, is radically incapablc ol cnacting any lorm ol lruitlul or lasting
undcrstanding bctwccn thc cultural lorccs rcprcscntcd by thc istrict Commissioncr
and konkwo. Nwoycs own rcbcllion against his lathcr is ncithcr articulatc, nor
productivc ol a ncw or comprchcnsivc undcrstanding:
!t was not thc mad logic ol thc Trinity that captivatcd him. Hc did not
undcrstand it. !t was thc poctry ol thc ncw rcligion, somcthing lclt in thc
marrow. Tc hymn about brothcrs who sat in darkncss and in lcar sccmcd to
answcr a vaguc and pcrsistcnt qucstion that hauntcd his young soul. . . . Hc
lclt a rclicl within as thc hymn pourcd into his parchcd soul. Tc words ol thc
hymn wcrc likc thc drops ol lrozcn rain mclting on thc dry platc ol thc panting
carth. Nwoycs callow mind was grcatly puzzlcd. (104)
5. For cxamplc, whcn konkwo bcats his sccond wilc lor not prcparing his
mcal thc Storytcllcr cxplains that konkwo was provokcd to justiliablc angcr
and condcmns him only lor bcating his wilc during thc Vcck ol Pcacc (21), thc
Storytcllcr also docs not condcmn thc murdcr ol !kcmcluna, thc practicc ol lcaving
twins to dic in thc vil Forcst or thc brutally callous trcatmcnt ol konkwos dying
lathcr.
6. onnc is not thc only anccstral poct whosc voicc wc hcar in thcsc concluding
lincs. Thc dcscription ol ngland as nookshottcn is lound in Shakcspcarcs Henry
V as thc Frcnch Constablc opcnly wondcrs, at thc valour ol thc nglish givcn that
thc climatc ol Albion is loggy, raw, and dull (3.5.14). Thc ironics ol this potcntial
ccho arc compclling whcn wc considcr that in Shakcspcarcs play thc Constablc
uttcrs thcsc lincs lor ironic cllcct insolar as thc nglish arc dcstincd to conqucr
Franccas thcy did thc Caribbcan. Thc spcakcr ol Valcotts pocm, thcn, is ablc to
adopt thc voicc ol an outsidcr, ol onc who contcsts thc conqucst ol thc nglish, only
through a rclcrcncc to that most canonical ol all nglish authors, and only through
thc mask ol a charactcr who mistakcnly bclicvcs hc can dclcat thc nglish.
7. This passagc thus opcns yct anothcr ironic allusion insolar as thc rclcrcncc
to ngland as Albionthc Roman namc lor thcir nglish provincchcarkcns
back to thc bcginning ol Conrads Heart of Darkness, in which Marlow comparcs
114 Mac Fcnwick
thc Roman conqucst ol ngland to 8ritish impcrialism. Thc irony ol this rclcrcncc
stcms lrom thc lact that Marlow condcmns Roman impcrialism as robbcry
with violcncc (65) in ordcr to cclcbratc 8ritish impcrialism by comparison. Thc
spcakcrs alludcd sympathy with this point ol vicw thus (ironically) aligns him with
Marlows proimpcrial scntimcnts cvcn as thc spcakcr is attcmpting to align his own
cxpcricncc with thc coloniscrs in tcrms ol thcir mutual status as coloniscd victims
ol impcrial aggrcssion.
8. Thc vcry practicc and purposc ol cmpirc is ironiscd in this pocm, insolar as
thc plantation that it prcscnts was uscd to grow limcs, which wcrc rcquircd by 8ritish
sailors to avoid scurvy. Thc impcrial plantation was thus dcdicatcd to growing a crop
that was rcquircd to light a discasc that was itscll causcd by impcrialism.
Vovxs Ci :vb
Achcbc, Chinua 1996, Things Fall Apart, Hcincmann, xlord.
Ashcrolt, 8ill, Garcth Grilliths and Hclcn Tillin 1989, The Empire Writes Back, Routlcdgc,
London.
8habha, Homi 1984, Rcprcscntation and thc Colonial Tcxt: A Critical xploration ol somc
Forms ol Mimcticism, The Theory of Reading, cd. Frank Glovcrsmith, Harvcstcr,
Susscx, pp. 93123.
Conrad, Joscph 1899, Heart of Darkness, 8roadvicw, Pctcrborough.
Hutchcon, Linda 1989, Ironys Edge, Routlcdgc, London.
. 1994, Circling thc ownspout ol mpirc, Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-
Colonialism and Post-Modernism, cd. !an Adam and Hclcn Tillin, Univcrsity ol
Calgary Prcss, Calgary, pp. 167189.
Ncw, Villiam H. 1975, Among World, Prcss Porccpic, rin.
Valcott, crck 1986, A Far Cry lrom Alrica, Collected Poems 19481984, Farrar, Straus &
Giroux, Ncw York, pp. 1718.
. 1986, Ruins ol a Grcat Housc, Collected Poems 19481984, Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
Ncw York, pp. 1921.
115
Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture, \olumc 39, Numbcr 2 (Summcr 2006): pp. 273299.
Copyright 2007 Univcrsity ol klahoma.
L! \ R L \ S Y
Making Use of the Past in
Tings Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is an almost iconic tcxt in thc postcolonial countcr
canon, and ovcr tcn million rcadcrs havc takcn Achcbcs palm oil to swallow
his words. This grand littlc kola ol a novcl, that cvcntually inauguratcd
and its prolits sustaincdHcincmanns Alrican Vritcrs Scrics, has initiatcd
gcncrations ol rcadcrs into thc historics ol rcsistancc in Nigcrian, Alrican,
and postcolonial litcraturcs.
1
Vrittcn during thc intcnsc introspcction ol
Nigcrias sclllashioning on thc cvc ol indcpcndcncc, Achcbcs novcl rcllccts
on thc imprint ol thc past at a timc whcn oppositional cultural and national
idcntitics wcrc bcing constructcd to opposc thc lcgacy ol impcrialisms oth
cring ol Alrica. Vhilc Achcbc lamously idcntilicd his novclistic purposc
as cducational (Thc Novclist 4245), Things Fall Apart also rccrcatcs an
!bo world that writcs back intcrtcxtually to thc lcgacy ol Kurtzs dcsirc to
xtcrminatc all thc brutcs! (mimickcd in thc istrict Commissioncrs pro
jcctcd pacilication ol oral history) (Conrad 84), pcrhaps Achcbcs lirst usc
ol thc tropc ol thc intcrprctcr (Ashcrolt ct al 80). This intcrprctcr, stand
ing at thc boundarics ol konkwos story, prcparcs to rcndcr it hypodicgctic,
or to collapsc it into an cmbcddcd talc within his own account ol Alrica.
Achcbcs own usc ol this past lor his dillcrcnt communitics ol rcadcrs
2
tclls
ol thc ways in which thc past has bccn invcntcd, appropriatcd, intcrprctcd,
rcwrittcn, and crascd. Vrittcn against thc grain ol colonial historics,
116 livcr Lovcscy
cthnographic accounts likc G. T. 8asdcns, colonial novcls likc Joycc Carys
Mister Johnson (Valsh 107119), and Conrads scllconscious palimpscst
ol cthnographic misrcading, Achcbcs mctahistorical past issucs lrom an
alicnatcd historical consciousncss suspicious ol thc lundamcntal instability
ol historical narrativcs. Achcbcs story ol Umuolia is a work ol historical
allirmation dccply markcd by thc unccrtainty and historical discnlranchisc
mcnt lrom which it sprang.
3
Tings Fall Aparts rcading ol thc past cnacts historical instability and
thc provisional naturc ol all historical accounts, as wcll as thc ways such ac
counts arc changcd and lost, rcwrittcn and rcinvcntcd. At thc cnd ol Tings
Fall Apart, whcn thc istrict Commissioncr appropriatcs thc authority to
crcatc and cdit thc historical narrativc, hc cccts, as \. Y. Mudimbc writcs
in a dicrcnt contcxt, thc historical dislocation ol thc colonial subjcct (Idea
192). Tc novcl prcscnts Umuoas past through its misusc and appropriation
that alicnatc thc colonial subjcct. Tings Fall Apart is thus lcss a rcprcscnta
tion ol thc past than a prcparation lor its writing. Tc novcls subtlc trcatmcnt
ol thc tragic discnlranchiscmcnt lrom history is pcrlormcd through a cri
tiquc ol lalsc, pscudotraditional history and also a thcmatic misrcading that
is an incursion into thc isolatcd villagcs, mimicking thc impcrial advancc in
thc pcrson ol thc patronizing, patcrnalistic istrict Commissioncra morc
gcntlcmanly, burcaucratic monstcr than Conrads Kurtzwho will translatc
konkwos lilc and dcath into an anccdotc lor an instructional book lor co
lonial occrs, dcmonstrating thc banality ol impcrial cvil. !n thc contcxt ol a
considcration ol historical and cthnographic misrcading, this cssay cxamincs
Tings Fall Aparts critiquc ol lalsc traditionalism as wcll as its thcmatizcd
misrcading ol thc past.
Contexts of Historical and Ethnographic Misreading
Thc social practicc ol history in much Alrican art, writcs Mudimbc, was
pcrlormcd by spccialists ol mcmory (Idea 70), but Achcbcs mctahistory in
Things Fall Apart is alicnatcd lrom tradition, as its author was, by cducation
and also by rcligious and cultural oricntation. Vhilc thcrc is no unmcdiatcd
acccss to thc liction ol a purc, lixcd, changclcss tradition, Achcbcs past
in his lirst novcl is a scllconsciously hybridizcd artilact. His construction
ol thc past and thc motivcs bchind it arc partly cxplaincd by his pcrsonal
circumstanccs and thc patcrnalistic historical and anthropological climatc
in which hc was writing. His own knowlcdgc ol !bo oral tradition, lor
cxamplc, was gaincd at thc crossroads ol culturcs partly by listcning to scr
mons (zcnwahacto 66). Growing up in a mission homcstcad, Achcbc
cxpcricnccd thc alicnation that Homi 8habha dcscribcs as thc othcrncss
ol thc Scll inscribcd in thc pcrvcrsc palimpscst ol colonial idcntity (44).
Things Fall Apart lor Achcbc was an act ol atoncmcnt with my past, thc
117 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
ritual rcturn and homagc ol a prodigal son (Achcbc, Namcd 70) .
4
As
Francis NgabohSmart suggcsts, narrating thc past in a postcolonial con
tcxt implics a dcsirc to havc or talk about thc past, thc prcscnt, and thc
luturc at oncc (21).
5
Achcbcs attcmpt to rcclaim this past and thc authority
to writc history opcratcd undcr thc sign ol loss, amncsia, and silcncc. Such
silcncc bclorc thc outragcs ol history is, as Mudimbc writcs in a dillcrcnt
contcxt, thc massivc and shamclul silcncc ol mcn who discovcr thcmsclvcs
incapablc ol cxplaining to thcir childrcn what happcncd, Alrican idcolo
gics ol scllallirmation, growing out ol thc cncountcr with this silcncc, arc
also hauntcd by thc spcctcr ol cultural dcath (Idea 183). Things Fall Apart
thcmatizcs this historical haunting, lor as Achcbc writcs in Thc Novclist
as Tcachcr, ! would bc quitc satislicd il my novcls (cspccially thc oncs !
sct in thc past) did no morc than tcach my rcadcrs that thcir pastwith all
its impcrlcctionswas not onc long night ol savagcry lrom which thc lirst
uropcans acting on Gods bchall dclivcrcd thcm (45). Achcbcs carclul,
studicd rcclamation ol thc authority to tcll a historical narrativc strivcs to
unpack thc hcsitations, compromiscs, contradictions, and silcnccs bchind
thc rcndcring ol a usablc Alrican past.
6
His discoursc in Things Fall Apart,
bcaring thc imprint ol a uroccntric gcnrc, languagc, intcrtcxtuality and
gazc, is a stratcgy ol rcsistancc to historical and cthnographic vcritics.
Tc notion ol Alrica as uropcs othcr, writcs Mudimbc, in Foucaul
dian guisc, is a product ol thc Vcst and was conccivcd and convcycd through
conicting systcms ol knowlcdgc (Idea xi), and onc ol thc discourscs ol its ar
ticulation, cultural anthropology, originatcs in thc Vcstcrn dcsirc to discovcr
its own past, and it constructcd an imaginary |historical| trajcctory that bcgins
with thc socallcd primitivc and culminatcs in thc attainmcnts ol uropcan
civilization (Idea 186187). thnographic dcscription lrcqucntly allcgorizcs
an arrival in a prclapsarian paradisc or a dcparturc lrom a dystopian hcll, but
cthnography is a murdcrous disciplinc opcrating undcr thc sign ol cultural
dcath (Cliord, Writing 112). !t inadvcrtcntly cradicatcs culturcs bccausc ol
thc dcstructivcncss ol contact with Vcstcrn monoculturc and thc rcication
implicit in culturcs translation into cthnographic discoursc. For Mudimbc,
thc Vcst rcprcscntcd itscll against gcographical othcrs, who wcrc ncvcrthc
lcss imagincd and rcjcctcd as thc intimatc and othcr sidc ol thc uropcan
thinking subjcct, on thc analogical modcl ol thc tcnsion bctwccn thc bcing
!n!tscll and thc bcing For!tscll (Idea xi). Achillc Mbcmbc, in an attcmpt
to invcnt a ncw discoursc to addrcss contcmporary Alrican rcalitics and thc
impcrial lcgacy, lurthcrs Mudimbcs analysis. Sct against an cxtcndcd critiquc
ol Gcorgc Vilhclm Fricdrich Hcgcls dcnial ol Alrican history, Mbcmbc
gurcs thc colonial cncountcr as rapc and rcication, a proccss in which thc
colonizcrs vcry bcing is contingcnt on thc annihilation ol thc colonizcd
118 livcr Lovcscy
(173206). pistcmic colonial violcncc is rcproduccd in thc lcgacy ol abjcc
tion and horror in thc postcolony (196206, 236241).
Tings Fall Apart was writtcn in thc contcxt ol 1950s colonial Alrican
historiography. Achcbc was writing against oldcr notions ol Alrica as u
ropcs othcr, and thc dismissal by Hcgcl and historians likc Hugh Trcvor
Ropcr ol thc vcry possibility ol Alrican history. !n colonial idcology, as lor
Tomas Macaulay in his inlamous Minutc on !ndian ducation, anything
othcr than uroccntric truc History would mcrcly promotc local lying lcg
cnds or thc attcring |ol | national prcjudiccs (429430). Vith insidious
honcsty, thc 8clgian missionary Placidc Tcmpcls in Bantu Philosophy rccog
nizcd a distinct Alrican mctaphysical systcm bascd on vital lorcc, to which
Christianity and a colonial cthos would bc a supcrcial imposition, lcading
thc Vcstcrnizcd clitc ol pscudouropcans to godlcss matcrialism (120),
unlcss Vcstcrn valucs wcrc manipulatcd to appcar to bclong to thc vcry roots
ol Alrican tradition. Tcmpcls cxamination ol 8antu philosophy is bascd on
intimatc obscrvations during an cxtcndcd rcsidcncc so that !n thc cnd, with
out knowing how, onc attains thc ability to think likc thc 8antu and to look
upon lilc as thcy do (29). His proposal is an outgrowth ol his dcspair at othcr
schcmcs to advancc Alrican social cvolution, and his account is punctuatcd
by cxtracts lrom collcagucs cncouraging lcttcrs. Tcmpcls writcs that a mis
sionary or lay pcrson may rcjcct his notion ol Christianity as thc incvitablc
consummation ol 8antu philosophy bccausc ol Alricans incapacity (121).
Such an individual, Tcmpcls concludcs, howcvcr, would bc lorccd to acccpt
that hc should systcmatically liquidatc thc 8antu, or, morc wiscly, that hc
should pack his bags and rcturn to uropc! (119).
Achcbc wrotc against thc horizon ol such vicws ol thc colonizcd, in thc
historical climatc ol thc 1950s whcn thc dominant Alrican historiography
was a romanticizcd cclcbration ol hcroic Alrican cmpircs, such as Zimbabwc,
on which was graltcd contcmporary national aspirations. Achcbc in Tings
Fall Apart rcsists rclcrcnccs to, lor cxamplc, thc glorics ol Nri, Nok, or 8c
nin, and ncithcr docs hc applaud thc origins ol rcpublican govcrnancc in !bo
tradition, Umuoa altcr all mcans childrcn . . . ol thc lorcst (Vrcn 171).
Anothcr prcoccupation ol Alrican historiography whcn Achcbc wrotc Tings
Fall Apart was a rcasscssmcnt, by Alrican historians such as Christophcr
Vilson and 8asil avidson, as wcll as Hugh TrcvorRopcr, ol thc rcasons
lor what was pcrccivcd as Alricas agclong stagnation as Villiam chicng
points out (48). Achcbc strongly implics thc notion ol Umuoas stagnation
and thus its vcry rcadability as a static objcct, an cmbcddcd mispcrccption
that is part ol his tcxts pcrlormancc ol misrcading as wc shall scc in thc
third scction ol this cssay. !n addition, Tings Fall Apart docs not romanticizc
thc Umuoan past as a goldcn agc, with national ovcrtoncs. Umuoa is not
a mctonym lor Nigcria or Alrica, though it oltcn has bccn rcad as such.
7

119 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
Morcovcr, Achcbcs portrayal anticipatcs morc rcccnt undcrstanding ol mul
tiplc and ovcrlapping allcgianccs in many Alrican socictics to lamily, clan,
cult, guild, anccstors, and villagc, as wcll as cthnic group and nation,
8
and it
acknowlcdgcs thc scductivc rolc ol tradc, mcdicinc, and cducation in coloni
zation along with that ol military violcncc.
Alrican intcllcctuals, likc Achcbc, as wcll as uropcan intcllcctuals par
ticipatcd in thc invcntion ol Alrica and thc dcnition ol its cultural and na
tional traditions, and this projcct is in largc part Achcbcs subjcct in Tings
Fall Apart. As Philip Zachcrnuk argucs in an account ol intcllcctual history
in colonial southcrn Nigcria, this proccss ol invcntion bclongs to a complcx
world ol invcntionsmutual, antithctical, and unconncctcd (6)
9
As hc rc
minds us, thc strugglc to dccolonizc Alrican minds bcgan long bclorc thc
postcolonial cra (10). Howcvcr, thc colonial crcation ol proloundly static, rci
cd Alrican tradition was politically motivatcd in various parts ol Alrica to
lcgitimizc scttlcrs rolcs and to countcr Alrican dcmands lor rclorm and latcr
indcpcndcncc (Rangcr, Tc !nvcntion 211, 247, 261262). Such colonial
crcations ol tradition opcratcd by lrcczing thc original indigcnous culturc by
turning it into an objcct ol acadcmic analysis (Young 174). !nvcntcd Alri
can traditions distortcd thc past but bccamc in thcmsclvcs rcalitics through
which a good dcal ol colonial cncountcr was cxprcsscd (Rangcr, Tc !n
vcntion 212). !n particular, thc authority to asscss thc cultural capital ol thc
past was translatcd by indigcnous clitcs into ncw traditions ol law and land
rights (Rangcr, Tc !nvcntion 250251), and most importantly into cultural/
cthnic and nationalist groupings. Tc complcx rclationship bctwccn culturc,
thc nationstatc, and colonialismas wcll as modcrnization
10
at thc his
torical momcnt ol colonization is a subjcct bcyond thc scopc ol thc prcscnt
papcr, but it has grcat importancc in dcscribing thc historical pcriod in which
Achcbc was composing his novclistic analysis ol historical rcprcscntation. !l
thc sovcrcign nationstatc is itscll a uroccntric idca, intcrnationalizcd in thc
latc ninctccnth ccntury, thcn as Nicholas irks argucs thc notion ol a nation
alist culturc may bc contingcnt on thc cxpcricncc ol colonialism:
vcn as much ol what wc now rccognizc as culturc was produccd
by thc colonial cncountcr, thc conccpt itscll was in part invcntcd
bccausc ol it. Culturc was also produccd out ol thc allicd nctwork
ol proccsscs that spawncd nations in thc lirst placc. Claims about
nationality ncccssitatcd notions ol culturc that markcd groups
oll lrom onc anothcr in csscntial ways, uniting languagc, racc,
gcography, and history in a singlc conccpt. (3)
irks dclincs culturc as thc congcrics ol bclicl, valuc, assumption, and
habitus idcntilicd by anthropology (22) as wcll as a sitc ol intcrvcntion,
120 livcr Lovcscy
dislocation, and strugglc (1011), hc cxplains in this passagc, in thc con
tcxt ol a study ol colonial !ndia, that culturc was produccd along with thc
nationstatc. Kwamc Appiah argucs, morcovcr, pcrhaps lollowing Frantz
Fanons dircction in n National Culturc (206248), that this construct
ol culturc may havc bccn a stratcgy ol rcsistancc to impcrialism (5354),
though as irks cautions, thc nationstatc paradoxically both rcsistcd and
rcproduccd colonialism (15). Thus, considcring thc historical and thcorctical
contcxts ol its crcation, Achcbcs projcct in Things Fall Apart was itscll a lorm
ol rcsistancc to colonialism though it was bascd on a construct ol Umuolian
culturc that was in turn at lcast partly bascd on anthropologists accounts.
Achcbcs construct ol cultural archacology in Tings Fall Apart involvcs
a dialoguc with thc missionary, cthnographcr, and apologist ol cmpirc G. T.
8asdcn.
11
Achcbc clcarly has a rclationship ol grcat ambivalcncc with 8as
dcn, who marricd Achcbcs parcnts and whosc work hc rst cncountcrcd in
thc carly 1950s whcn hc studicd comparativc rcligion at Univcrsity Collcgc
!badan (zcnwahacto 5, 43). ltcn comparcd to thc Rcv. 8rown in Tings
Fall Apart (Vrcn, Tings 42), 8asdcn was aordcd much rcspcct in thc !bo
community. 8asdcn attcmptcd to rccord thc !bo past, but hc did so to bury
that past so dccply and nally that it could not risc again, and his cthno
graphic motivcs arc patcrnalistic and sanctimonious, as wcll as opcnly racist
and hcgcmonic. Achcbcs lamous, modcst words about his novclistic aims
bcing satiscd by rcvcaling Alrican history as othcr than onc long night ol
savagcry could bc a dircct rcply to 8asdcn who wrotc ol his own projcct:
Tc rccords ol thc past nccd not rccct upon thc luturc. As dawn succccds
darkncss, so may it bc with thc !bo Pcoplc (xxii).
!n thc introduction to his 1938 study Niger Ibos, 8asdcn lamcnts that
thc traditional culturc, law, and customs hc dcscribcs arc lost. Tis autobio
graphical introduction, an cxamplc ol what Mary Louisc Pratt dcncs as thc
cthnographic subgcnrc ol pcrsonal narrativc (7), is a boastlul apology lor thc
impossibility ol his task and a backhandcd asscrtion ol thc noblc motivc bc
hind its inccption and thc authority ol its pronounccmcnts. !t lunctions in
part to cnticc thc nonAlrican rcadcr with thc prospcct ol thc cxotic and
also to caution thc Alrican rcadcr against nostalgia. 8asdcns introduction is
bascd on a notional obscrvation ol thc hcart ol darkncss, and rcminds us that
anthropology and impcrialism dcvclopcd in thc samc soil, rclying on idcas ol
providcntial history and social arwinism (Mudimbc, Invention 17). 8asdcns
scllappointcd projcct is lcss a dcscription, howcvcr, than a work ol salvagc
or a lorcnsic autopsy: To contcmplatc conscrving nativc law and custom, is
to conccrn oursclvcs vcry largcly with a corpsc. !t will not rcspond as antici
patcd, bccausc lilc has ccascd to animatc it (xv). Tc oldcr gcncration that
rccalls thc past is quickly vanishing, hc asscrts, and givcn thc povcrty ol docu
mcntary cvidcncc, thc mcmory ol thc past will bc lost. Tc anthropologists
121 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
rccord, hcncclorward, hc implics, will bc thc cstablishcd authority on thc
culturc ol thc past. Morcovcr, 8asdcn acknowlcdgcs thc vcry impossibility
ol dclimiting thc objcct ol his scarch bccausc purc unadultcratcd lorms ol
ancicnt culturc arc a myth (xix). Hc admits thc cnormous local variations in
customs, as a rcsult ol constantly changing conditions, including thc disrup
tions ol slavc raiding and colonialism, and thc ongoing inucncc and supcr
imposition ol idcas lrom ncighboring arcas and lrom abroad. Such changc is
not mcrcly imposcd lrom outsidc: Vhat ! would cmphasisc is, that it is the
African who is choosing, and hc will continuc to do so, whatcvcr thc lorcigncr
may say, whcthcr hc bc tradcr, missionary, govcrnmcnt ocial, cducationist
or anthropologist (xiii).
Howcvcr, dcspitc his scholarly handwringing about thc lost objcct ol
his scarch, 8asdcns statcd aim is to addrcss thc nccd lor an authoritativc and
complctc book (xxi). His totalizing vision is consistcnt with his contradic
tory claims to total objcctivity. Hc claims that ! havc donc no morc than
act as scribc altcr tracing thc lacts and placing thcm in ordcr (xxii), yct hc
admits that as an anthropologist hc is asscmbling divcrsc lragmcnts whilc
bcloggcd with antcccdcnt prcsumptions (xvii). Tc authority ol his work
comcs lrom its bcing inlormation dclivcrcd rsthand to his unconscious pcn
by lricndly nativc inlormants. Hc stamps this claim to authcnticity by cnd
ing his introduction with a drawing ol an clcphant tusk prcscntcd to him in
acknowlcdgmcnt ol his status. !n this location, it is virtually an allacccss pass
to insidcr knowlcdgc.
cspitc this claim, howcvcr, thc anthropologists involvcmcnt in rc
cording supcrscdcs simply ordcring lacts and mcrcly archiving thc past.
8asdcns massivc cataloguc ol customs has a dcnitc political agcnda, prcd
icatcd on assumptions about thc csscntial charactcr ol his cthnographic
subjccts. Hc cmphasizcs thc dicultics that bcsct thc scckcr altcr truth
whcn dclving into thc dcpths ol thc primitivc mind (xviii). His subjcct
is imprisoncd by taboos, prohibitions, and supcrstitions, unlathomablc by
uropcan rationality, a thcorctical obstaclc rcquiring novcl mcthodological
innovation:
Hcncc, it is cxtrcmcly dillicult to draw up a rational account
ol nativc law and custom. !t is to bc felt rathcr than cxprcsscd.
This is particularly thc casc about midnight whcn surroundcd
by a company ol highly cxcitcd danccrs, or taking notc ol blood
staincd lctishcs. Thcrc arc momcnts whcn onc positivcly feels a
sinistcr inllucncc, though this nccd not ncccssarily intcrlcrc with
oncs invcstigations, cspccially il hc is prcscnt by invitation and,
thcrclorc, cnjoying a lair mcasurc ol lrccdom. (xviixviii)
122 livcr Lovcscy
8asdcns account thus rcinlorccs a pcrccption ol thc lundamcntal irrational
ity ol his subjccts. As a rcsult, his tcxt may bc cmploycd to rcsist any colonial
attcmpt to adapt traditional laws and customs to prcscnt uscs. Not only arc
such modcrnizcd traditions a travcsty ol thcir originals (xiii), but clcarly
thc vcry attcmpt at crcating thcm is illadviscd givcn thc sinistcr naturc
ol things past. Vriting amid rumblings about colonialism and national
ism, 8asdcn rccommcnds thc principlc ol 8ritish govcrnancc and Christian
morality to rcstrain !bo aspirations and also to prcvcnt a dcsccnt into purc,
godlcss matcrialism. Hc warns against a rcvcrsion to carlicr lorms, an his
torical atavism that rcscmblcs rcvcrsc cvolution. His account ol thc dark
past, hc hopcs, will scrvc to intcnsily thc brightncss ol thc luturc.
False Traditionalism
Achcbc dcltly dispcnscs with thc nagging dcsirc lor a myth ol origin, such
as that dcsignatcd a londncss lor nostalgia by 8asdcn, at thc bcginning ol
Things Fall Apart with a concisc rcndition ol konkwos lamc as a wrcstlcr:
his light with Amalinzc thc Cat that thc old mcn agrccd was onc ol thc
licrccst sincc thc loundcr ol thcir town cngagcd a spirit ol thc wild lor scvcn
days and scvcn nights (3). konkwo wrcstlcs not only with Amalinzc but
also with his anccstors, and by implication with his chi in his attcmpt to
lashion a ncw tradition.
12
konkwo is ashamcd ol his gcntlc lathcrs boast
lul improvidcncc and povcrty, lailing to apprcciatc his llcxibility and dcx
tcrity, as wcll as his vigorous lovc lor lilc. Hc cant undcrstand thc strcngth
ol his lathcrs dcccptivc wcakncss. Hc also ovcrlooks thc oral history likcly
containcd in his lathcrs songs and thc wisdom ol his words. konkwos lilc
is put in dangcr by thcsc words, spokcn altcr his ncar calamity during thc
drought, that cxprcss a virtual prophccy hc is doomcd to lullill: o not
dcspair. ! know you will not dcspair. You havc a manly and a proud hcart.
A proud hcart can survivc a gcncral lailurc bccausc such a lailurc docs not
prick its pridc. !t is morc dillicult and morc bittcr whcn a man lails alone
(2425). Attcmpting to purgc Unoka lrom his mcmory, konkwo cnacts
an cdipal compact that also cntails thc rcjcction ol tradition, thc vcry
pillar on which hc attcmpts to crcct his own scllcrcation as a succcsslul
man ol iron will who cmbodics thc bcst ol Umuolias cultural hcritagc. As
hc acknowlcdgcs latcr, lorcsccing himscll and his lathcrs crowding round
thcir anccstral shrinc waiting in vain lor worship and sacrilicc and linding
nothing but ashcs ol bygonc days, a sons rcjcction cntails thc prospcct ol
annihilation (153), and hc thrcatcns his othcr sons with vcngcancc lrom
bcyond thc gravc il thcy lollow Nwoyc and join thc missionarics (172).
konkwos symbolic annihilation ol his lathcr and ol thc living historical
mcmory that hc rcprcscnts divorccs konkwo lrom history. Hc wants to
rccrcatc his own past, bcginning with thc crasurc ol thc mcmory ol his
123 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
lathcr. Hc thcn attcmpts to rcmakc history in his own imagc with thc lamc
ol his wrcstling that bccomcs lor him a ncw, rcinvigoratcd myth ol origin
announccd at thc bcginning ol thc novcl. Hc promotcs his vcncration lor
tradition, but his inadvcrtcnt murdcr ol zucdus son and his own suicidc arc
abominations that pollutc thc carth. Hc has cmbarkcd on what will bccomc
a prodigal, antibildungs narrativc ol thc shamclaccd son who rccrcatcs
himscll as a murdcrous lathcr. As an aspiring mcmbcr ol thc cgwugwu,
konkwo should cmbody, bchind his masqucradcrs mask, historic tradi
tion, but instcad hc opposcs his lathcr, history, and tradition, attcmpting to
crcatc a pscudotraditional history in its placc.
Umuoas communal cthos is groundcd on thrcc traditions, cach ol
which konkwo violatcs: thc lands sacrcdncss, anccstors right to rcspcct,
and thc primacy ol thc clans survival. konkwo in a scrics ol pctty and cata
strophic violations ol custom undcrmincs cach ol thcsc traditions. Hc ini
tially disrupts thc wcck ol pcacc, cndangcring thc yam harvcst. His suicidc,
at thc cnd ol thc novcl, is an abomination dcncd by Achcbc as a nso ani
(nso-taboo, ani-carth)that which the earth forbids, an ocncc against thc
carth goddcss Ani, who is also goddcss ol thc arts and morality (Cott 82).
Howcvcr, most signicantly his dcnial ol his lathcr and his attcmpt to orphan
himscll lrom thc tradition his lathcr rcprcscnts rcndcr him a lalsc lathcr g
urc in thc clan. Vhilc in this community thc lcmalc spirit, rcprcscntcd by thc
carth, is a ncarly divinc lorcc, Achcbcs historical Fathcrs and Sons narrativc
progrcsscs through a patriarchal linc until konkwo is ovcrtakcn by histori
cal lorccs hc cant comprchcnd or control, and witncsscs thc suprcmacy ol
Umuoas rcprcsscd and outcast.
13
konkwo, who aspircs to bc lcading patriarch ol thc clan, a champi
on ol hcgcmonic masculinity, bccomcs his sons cncmy and cvcn murdcrcr.
konkwos violcncc as wcll as his cldcst son Nyoycs dismay about thc killing
ol twins drivc Nwoyc away lrom konkwo to thc missionarics. konkwo
wishcs his daughtcr zinma and not Nwoyc wcrc his cldcst son. Nwoyc
brcaks his conncction with his lathcr as a dircct rcsult ol konkwos murdcr
ol !kcmcluna. !kcmcluna has bccomc a kind ol lostcr brothcr to Nwoyc, and
allows Nwoyc to mimic thc stcrcotypically malc bchaviors konkwo admircs.
!kcmclunas attcntion allows Nwoyc a placc in thc shadow ol konkwos
sclllashioning as a grcat ncw patriarch who will bc honorcd altcr his dcath.
!kcmcluna, thc child givcn in partial rcparation lor thc murdcr ol a woman
ol his villagc, combincs thc bcst ol malc and lcmalc tradition, in that hc can
apprcciatc mcns storics ol conqucst as wcll as womcns storics ol origins and
cthics, and hc manilcsts thc csscntializcd malc quality ol couragc along with
lcmalc compassion. !kcmcluna is a pcaccmakcr, prcparcd to shcltcr Nwoycs
youngcr sistcr lrom konkwos wrath, in addition to bridging thc dividc bc
twccn lathcr and son. Hc is an outsidcr in konkwos villagc, who brings ncw
124 livcr Lovcscy
aptitudcs as wcll as ncw storics, and hc would almost ccrtainly havc bccn a
morc skilllul ncgotiator with thc missionarics and thc colonial lorccs.
Vhilc thc rcprcscntation ol !kcmclunas ritual dcath signals Achcbcs
unwillingncss to sanitizc thc past, it also hints at his discomlort with pscudo
traditional limitations on cultural cxibility and adaptability ol thc sort ad
vanccd by konkwo.
14
!n a rarc passagc ol lrcc indircct discoursc in thc novcl,
thc childish innoccncc ol thc victim is naturalizcd. Tc account ol !kcmclu
nas murdcr shilts abruptly in thc spacc ol an cllipsis lrom rcportcd narrativc
(Hc had ncvcr bccn lond ol his rcal lathcr) to mcdiatcd intcrior monologuc:
. . . ol coursc shc |his sistcr| would not bc thrcc now, but six. Vould hc
rccognizc hcr now: Shc must havc grown quitc big. How his mothcr would
wccp lor joy, and thank konkwo lor having lookcd altcr him so wcll and lor
bringing him back. Shc would want to hcar cvcrything that had happcncd
to him in all thcsc ycars. Could hc rcmcmbcr thcm all: (5960) !kcmcluna
rccalls his old mcthod lor rcsolving mystcrics whcn hc was a littlc boy. Hc
rcmcmbcrs thc words ol thc song lrom his lavoritc story about a land whcrc
thc ant holds his court in splcndor and thc sands dancc lorcvcr (35). Vc
lollow thc childs rcturn to an inscct paradisc and a yct morc childish statc
that intcnsics thc horror ol his murdcr. Hc wondcrs Vhy had konkwo
withdrawn to thc rcar: (6061). Tc blunt qucstion and thc stark dcscrip
tion ol action that lollows rccall, in rcvcrsc ordcr, thc staccato lincs ol Ycatss
Lcda and thc Swan
15
: konkwo lookcd away. Hc hcard thc blow. Tc pot
lcll and brokc in thc sand. Hc hcard !kcmcluna cry (61). Likc Ycatss pocm
that inquircs into thc momcntary violcncc ol thc cncountcr ol human and
divinc, konkwos involvcmcnt in violcnt ritual with thc raclcs sanction
lcads, bccausc ol his privatc trauma, to pcrsonal and collcctivc catastrophc. !n
a childs vcrsion ol thc words lrom thc cross in Johns gospcl, or !saacs qucs
tioning ol Abraham, !kcmcluna statcs with thc stark mattcrollactncss ol
thosc about to dic: My lathcr, thcy havc killcd mc! His is not a tidy murdcr,
howcvcr, and hc runs in supplication to thc onc hc claims with thc namc ol
lathcr only to bc struck down by his wouldbc savior. rivcn by thc intcnsity
ol his lcar ol rcscmbling his own lathcr, konkwo participatcs in thc an
nihilation ol !kcmcluna whosc vcry namc continucs his plca lor lilc: lct my
strcngth not bccomc lost (Hocgbcrg 74). konkwo soon will ccasc cvcn to
rclcr to !kcmcluna by his propcr namc or by thc morc pcrsonal cpithct son.
!nstcad, in a variation ol mctonymy, antonomasia, konkwo will rcplacc his
namc with thc indircct, impcrsonal cpithct boy as hc trics to makc silcncc
closc ovcr mcmory.
Tc horror ol konkwos murdcr ol !kcmcluna and, to a lcsscr cxtcnt,
konkwos inarticulatc rcsponsc rcsonatc throughout thc rcst ol thc novcl,
though clcarly konkwo is a most awcd cmbodimcnt ol Umuoan val
ucs and his pcrsonal cdipal trauma docs not allcgorizc thc coming colonial
125 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
cncountcr. konkwos action, morcovcr, as bicrika says, is an abomination,
an cthical violation lor which thc goddcss wipcs out wholc lamilics (67),
cvcn though it is consistcnt with thc lcttcr ol thc law. Tis action prccipitatcs
thc novcls catastrophc, thc hcros dcath. Tc morc immcdiatc conscqucncc ol
konkwos violationsccmingly part ol thc bizarrc chain ol causc and ccct
in thc workings ol thc irony ol latc in thc narrativc tragcdyhowcvcr, is his
inadvcrtcnt murdcr ol thc son ol thc oldcst man in thc villagc, a symbolic
violation ol anccstors and a strikc against thc clans vcry survival. Tc warn
ing about thc potcntial violation has bccn brought to konkwo by gbuc
zcudu, thc oldcst man in konkwos quartcr ol Umuoa. Hc rcpcats to
konkwo that bccausc !kcmcluna calls him lathcr, konkwo should avoid
thc sccnc ol his dcath. For konkwo, by this timc, !kcmcluna has gonc lrom
bcing virtually an adoptcd son and Nwoycs cldcr brothcr to bcing mcrcly a
boy and that boy (65, 66). konkwos murdcr ol !kcmcluna, a product ol
his dcsirc to conqucr his own tcndcrncss, displaycd in his acction lor zinma
and !kcmcluna, indicatcs that konkwo opposcs his chi and its promptings
to gcntlcncss and balancc. Vhilc konkwo, rcscmblcs thc provcrbial man
who challcngcs his chi to a wrcstling match, hc also wrcstlcs with his culturc
that nally, as Achcbc has commcntcd, bctrays him by bcing dcvious and
cxiblc, bccausc il it wasnt, it wouldnt survivc ( Jcyilo, Litcraturc 118).
16

Vhcn zcudu dics, onc ol thc anccstral spirits calls on him to haunt anyonc
who might havc causcd his dcath, and in thc scvcn ycars altcr konkwos
ight into cxilc, cvcnts accclcratc out ol anyoncs control and by thc timc
ol konkwos rcturn thc communitys mcmory ol his past glory has ladcd,
and hc bcgins to lall out ol collcctivc history. uring his cxilc, konkwo is
suspcndcd outsidc ol Umuoan timc and its colonial cncountcr in a limbo
that, as Simon Gikandi writcs, compcls thc hcro to conlront his rcprcsscd
lcmininc spacc (Poctics 7). 8y Part Trcc ol thc novcl, thc rcadcr, too, has
a ncw pcrspcctivc on cvcnts.
Re-Reading the Past
nc ol thc grcatcst achicvcmcnts ol Things Fall Apart is its construction
ol a sccmingly objcctivc, impartial narrator with a dctachcd, scllcllacing,
implicd author in thc background.
17
Thc narrator appcars to havc an incx
haustiblc lund ol cultural knowlcdgc, as il combining 8asdcns cthnographic
curiosity with thc intuitivc undcrstanding ol his nativc inlormants. Thc
narrator appcars to initiatc rcadcrs into thc practiccs ol cvcryday lilc and thc
sccrcts ol an isolatcd socicty. As in cthnographic discoursc, thc novcls lirst
two parts prcscnt a lantasy ol a traditional socicty going about its traditional
ways unobscrvcd. Thc novcls cxtcndcd lirst part prcscnts a mcthodical,
multilaycrcd rccord, blcnding thc communitys scasonal lolkways with thc
livcs ol a handlul ol individuals, mcrging privatc and public domains, thc
126 livcr Lovcscy
commonplacc and thc cxtraordinary. Thc novcl has oltcn bccn intcrprctcd as
anthropological.
18
Thc notion that Things Fall Apart prcscnts untrammclcd
cultural authcnticity, howcvcr, is a lantasy bclonging to thc construction
ol a uropcan anthropological cxotic as Graham Huggan points out in a
pcrccptivc rcading ol thc novcl (43). Altcr survcying thc lcgacy ol misguidcd
anthropological thcorics ol Alricans, including Tcmpcls, Christophcr
Millcr argucs that dcspitc its obvious pitlalls, anthropology is thc ncccssary
mcdiator bctwccn Alrican litcraturc and thc nonAlrican rcadcr or Alrican
rcadcr lrom a dillcrcnt cultural arca (4). Vith its shilting localization, thc
pacing ol its sccmingly opaquc, transparcnt cxposition, and thc austcrc
simplicity ol its stylc, Things Fall Apart convcys thc imprcssion ol bcing an
cthnographic documcnt, but it bcgins with a wrcstling match and thc rcadcr
is lullcd carly into a scnsc ol complaccncy bclorc bcing thrown at thc cnd.
Tc rcadcr bcgins to accumulatc insidcr knowlcdgc, and cvcn thc warn
ings implicit in thc cxamplc ol othcr outsidcrs lail to guard against compla
ccncy, bccausc thcir incptitudc and arrogancc clicit laughtcr or pity, binding
thc rcadcr morc closcly within thc pcriphcry ol thc narrators gazc. Tc grow
ing assumption ol insidcr knowlcdgc lcads thc rcadcr to a sccmingly bcnign
rcspcct lor !bo culturc, cultural dicrcncc, and cvcn thc unknowability ol
culturc that initially disguisc an awarcncss ol misrcading. As il ablc to distin
guish dicrcnt !bo dialccts, lor cxamplc, thc rcadcr sharcs in thc laughtcr at
thc missionary intcrprctcr who calls himscll my buttocks (144). Tc rcadcr
also sharcs in thc outragc whcn Tortoisc, who takcs on thc rolc ol authori
tativc cultural mcdiator, bctrays his compatriots. As 8rucc Hcnrickscn has
argucd, thc novcls lamiliarizing discoursc . . . may havc hclpcd to plant thc
trap ol univcrsalizing intcrprctations (300). Tc novcl prcscnts what Huggan
dcscribcs as bcing in part a dcconstructivc cxcrcisc in cthnographic parody,
a scrics ol pointcdly cxaggcratcd, at timcs caricatural, cultural (mis)rcadings
aimcd at a Vcstcrn modcl rcadcr conlrontcd with thc limits ol his/hcr cul
tural knowlcdgc and intcrprctivc authority (43). Vhilc Tings Fall Aparts
lalliblc Vcstcrn rcadcr is lcss a modcl than mcrcly bcing onc ol thc novcls
rcadcrs or implicd rcadcrs, cthnographic parody is a lrcqucntly ovcrlookcd
aspcct ol Achcbcs complcx acsthctic. Howcvcr, whilc somc ol thc parodic
play is pointcdly cxaggcratcd, much ol it is not. Tings Fall Apart is morc
subtlc than Huggan allows in constructing thc rcadcrs gazc. Tis gazc is mc
diatcd through thc sccmingly dctachcd, objcctivc stancc ol thc narrator, and
it initially lostcrs a rcspcct lor thc unknowablcncss ol culturc.
Tc novcl carclully lays thc groundwork lor its cmbcddcd misrcad
ing not only in thc introduction ol lalsc intcrprctcrs, but also in its carclul
construction ol customs, languagc, and cultural changc. Vhcn Chiclo, lor
instancc, lcads thc sickly zinma on an cpic march through thc ninc vil
lagcs, thc rcadcr is ncvcr allowcd into thc sccrcts ol thc pricstcss ol Agbalas
127 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
strcngth or thc mystcrics ol thc raclcs cavc or thc rcason lor thc walk,
though wc do lcarn that Chiclo has a particular acction lor thc girl.
19
Tc
locus in this sccnc is on thc tcndcrncss ol a mothcr and cvcn a violcnt, ob
tusc, awkward lathcr lor a bclovcd daughtcr. Vhatcvcr humor thcrc is in
thc account hcightcns our scnsc ol konkwos incpt conccrn. Morcovcr, likc
konkwo, wc havc no cxplanation ol why things arc happcning. Tc would
bc anthropological narrator docs not intrudc with an cthnographic quick x,
and wc arc not givcn matcrial cxplanations such as that kwcs immunc
rcsponsc is triggcrcd by cxccssivc latiguc. Tcrc is no authoritativc voicc or
ccntcr in thc tcxt to cxplain away cultural vcritics. !nstcad, wc arc prcscntcd
barc lacts, and lclt to pondcr thc mystcry ol cultural practiccs that most vil
lagcrs would bc unablc to lathom. Vc arc lclt to cmulatc thc narrators quict
rcspcct lor cultural artilacts.
Tc clcarcst instancc ol thc cultivation ol rcadcrly rcspcct and thc so
phisticatcd prcparation lor misrcading lics in thc justly lamous ogbanjc cpi
sodc that anticipatcs Chiclos night walk. kagbuc, thc mcdicinc man who
uncarths thc iyi-uwa, docs not havc a stonc in his loin cloth, wc arcnt told
thcrc was an carlicr shrinc or villagc undcr this ground whcrc such objccts
may havc bccn littcrcd, and wc arc not cvcn told that such lcgcnds may
havc hclpcd to cxplain high inlant mortality ratcs. Rathcr, as with Chiclos
night walk, thc rcalism ol prcscntation is psychological, and wc apprcciatc
thc youthlul zinmas humorous scllimportancc. Tc abscncc ol cxplana
tion and thc prcscntation ol barc dctails convcy a rcspcct lor cultural mystcr
ics. Tc rcadcr, constitutcd hcrc as a comparativc anthropologist, lcavcs such
sccncs a dctachcd obscrvcr, allowcd to witncss thc manilcstation ol mystcry,
but cncouragcd to rcspcct its authcnticity without an irritablc rush to lacilc
cxplanation. Morcovcr, thc modc ol prcscntation cultivatcs a scnsc ol insidcr
knowlcdgc and insidcr rcspcct lor cultural taboos.
Tings Fall Apart also sccmingly lacilitatcs thc rcadcrs introduction to
an !bo linguistic mcdium and to a rcsulting misrcading. Likc 8asdcn, Achcbc
providcs a glossary ol !bo words and phrascs, italicizcd in thc tcxt, and hc also
providcs simultancous translation. !n such instanccs, languagc lunctions as a
mctonym lor an cntirc culturc, as Ashcrolt ct al suggcst (62), but it may also
scrvc as a twoway gatc allowing an outsidcr cndowcd with global nglish
rcady acccss to thc csscntial cultural artilact. Tings Fall Apart appcarcd in
papcrback on Junc 17, 1958 at a timc whcn papcrback publication, dcsigncd
lor thc cducational markct, was somcwhat unusual (Currcy ct al 149159).
Tc novcl was publishcd by thc division ol Hcincmann rcsponsiblc lor thc
markcting and distribution ol school tcxtbooks in Alrica. Tc novcls glos
sary, addcd to thc 1967 cdition, which has a problcmatic dicgctic status in
thc postcolonial tcxt (Ashcrolt ct al 61), would lacilitatc thc novcls usc as a
school tcxt, a lunction cmbraccd by both Achcbc and Hcincmann. Typically,
128 livcr Lovcscy
in thc novcls usc ol !bo, wc arc introduccd to a word or conccpt in nglish
and thcn providcd with thc nglish word conncctcd to thc !bo word by a
corrclativc conjunction, and thcn lclt with thc !bo word alonc, with prcsum
ably thc possibility ol rclcrcncc to thc glossary again il ncccssary.
20
Tc rst
rclcrcncc to a hut, in nglish with no !bo word attachcd, is on pagc vc,
and thcn on pagc 14 wc progrcss to hut, or obi, and by pagc 29 wc havc obi
alonc. Similarly, pcrsonal god is uscd on pagc 14, and thcn chi or pcrsonal
god on pagcs 18 and 27, thc ncxt thrcc rclcrcnccs in thc tcxt arc to chi alonc.
Tc rcadcr is prcscntcd a kind ol 8crlitz Guidc to !bo, !bo Madc Simplc,
but also and morc importantly a kind ol shorthand authority ovcr ccrtain
mctonymic clcmcnts ol a prcsumably static, unchanging linguistic mcdium
standing lor what thc rcadcr is lullcd into misrcading as a static, unchang
ing, cxotic culturc, complctc and lrozcn in timc. Tc rcadcr thus is lcd into
misrcading by bcing cncouragcd in a spccics ol sccmingly bcnign cultural
appropriation. Tc vcry linguistic mcdium ol thc tcxt thus cmbcds a misrcad
ing that is bascd on an implicd scnsc ol cultural stasis. Vc havc a carclully
manulacturcd !bo Survival Guidc to lacilitatc lilc in a carclully controllcd
ctional modcl villagc, it allows rcady acccss to rcprcscntativc conccpts and
linguistic markcrs, usclul lor timc travcl back to thc past.
Similarly, !bo provcrbs ocr mcdiatcd acccss to cultural hcritagc, prc
scntcd through carclul cxplanation, rcpctition, and dircctcd intcrprctation.
Tc novcl carclully but subtly cxplains provcrbs, somctimcs providing rst
thc gcncral principlc thc provcrb illustratcs, thcn thc provcrb itscll, lollowcd
by its spccic application. For cxamplc, whcn konkwo movcs lrom succcss
to succcss as wrcstlcr and larmcr, wc lcarn in a condcnscd modcl ol how this
pattcrn will subscqucntly opcratc: Agc was rcspcctcd among his pcoplc, but
achicvcmcnt was rcvcrcd. As thc cldcrs said, il a child washcd his hands hc
could cat with kings. konkwo had clcarly washcd his hands and so hc atc
with kings and cldcrs (8). Tc provcrb is groomcd and drcsscd lor gcncral
consumption. lscwhcrc, rcpctition lostcrs thc pcrccption ol undcrstanding
as with thc provcrb A toad docs not run in thc daytimc lor nothing that
is rst introduccd altcr thc cxplanatory paraphrasc Tcrc must bc a rcason
lor it (20). A variation ol this provcrb rcpcatcd latcr in thc novcl is lollowcd
by thc spcakcrs contcxtualizcd cxplanation: My lathcr uscd to say to mc:
Vhcncvcr you scc a toad jumping in broad daylight, thcn know that somc
thing is altcr its lilc. Vhcn ! saw you all pouring into this mccting lrom all
thc quartcrs ol our clan so carly in thc morning, ! kncw that somcthing was
altcr our lilc (203). A partial lamiliarity with thc provcrb is attcrcd, as il thc
rcadcr now bclongs to thc discursivc milicu.
A similar gradual immcrsion in cultural lorc and a prcparation lor mis
rcading occur in thc tclling ol lolktalcs. Nwoyc lovcs his mothcrs storics
ol origins, conict rcsolution, and morality. Just bclorc hc hcars thc talc ol
129 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
\ulturcs cmbassy to Sky to acquirc rain lor parchcd arth, thcrc is a rclcr
cncc to a catcgory ol storics ol thc tortoisc and his wily ways (53), prcparing
us lor thc morc cxtcndcd narration ol thc talc ol tortoisc and thc birds. How
cvcr, bclorc this narrativc, konkwo, waking lrom his rst slccp altcr mur
dcring !kcmcluna, rccalls his mothcrs story ol ars dismissal ol sccmingly
lccblc Mosquitos marriagc proposal. Humiliatcd Mosquito rcminds ar ol
his continuing vitality cach timc hc passcs. !n contcxt, wc clcarly scc thc al
lcgorical importancc ol thc talc and ol konkwos rcjcction ol such womcns
storics as silly (75). Hc lails to apprcciatc thc cndurancc ol thc wcak and thc
triumph ol mcmory. Tc rcadcr is gradually lcd to pcrccivc thc cxtcnsion ol
allcgorical signicancc in such talcs, so that whcn wc hcar kwcs story ol
cunning Tortoisc going to a lcast in thc sky and stcaling all ol thc lood, and
his bctraycd compatriots allowing him to shattcr on thc ground, wc know thc
storys signicancc supcrscdcs cxplaining thc origin ol thc tortoiscs pattcrncd
shcll. Vc arc lcd to pcrccivc thc conscqucnccs ol sclsh bchavior and pcrhaps
to intcrprct thc account as a colonial allcgory ol thc cultural mcdiator (Tor
toisc) who abuscs his rolc. Tus, thc carclul prcscntation ol csscntial cultural
lorc lostcrs thc rcadcrs scllcondcncc in lccling likc an insidcr and cvcn in
opposing alicn incursion.
Part nc ol Tings Fall Apart prcscnts a cultural mosaic that is clcarly
uid and pluralistic, but thc novcl thcmatizcs a misrcading whcrcby thc ac
cumulation ol insidcr knowlcdgc, including a grasp ol thc mctonymic lunc
tion ol languagc, strongly implics that thcrc is a knowablc cultural objcct
that rcmains static. Tcrc arc numcrous signs that thcrc has bccn changc
within Umuoan socicty, but thc proccss ol changc rcmains mystcrious, and
this complicatcs thc dilcmma ol mcn likc Nwoyc, bicrika, and Uchcndu
lacing thc sccming incvitability ol thc murdcr ol twins. !t also constructs
a solid il lragilc cultural idcntity whosc cncountcr with colonialism it may
not withstand without brcaking to picccs and bcing massivcly rcstructurcd.
arly in thc novcl and long bclorc thc Rcv. 8rown and Akunnas discussion
ol comparativc rcligion, Achcbcs subjcct ol study whcn hc rst cncountcrcd
8asdcns Niger Ibos, thcrc is a discussion ol thc mcrits ol changing customs
rcgulating thc Vcck ol Pcacc. Punishmcnt lor violating thc Vcck ol Pcacc
has coolcd in a numbcr ol gcncrations lrom cxccution to a nc, bccausc thc
oldcr sanctions spoilcd thc pcacc which it was mcant to prcscrvc (31). !n
a dicrcnt clan, thosc dying during that wcck arc cast into thc vil Forcst,
rcsulting, says gbuc zcudu, in thc clans bcing hauntcd by thc cvil spir
its ol thcsc unburicd dcad (32). konkwo and bicrika latcr ruminatc on
thc rcstrictions placcd on titlcd mcn tapping palms, and thc abscncc ol such
rcstrictions in othcr clans. bicrika complains, ! dont know how wc got
that law (69), but hc procccds to nd its justication in upholding thc status
ol titlcd mcn. Vhilc thcrc is oltcn littlc indication ol cxactly how customs
130 livcr Lovcscy
changc, thcy obviously do changc and thcrc is an opcn discussion among
scnior clan mcmbcrs ol thc rclativc mcrits ol maintcnancc and innovation.
Tis is apparcnt whcn bicrika rccalls thc discussion ol titlcd mcn and tap
ping, and rcccts that othcr clans bargain a bridc pricc rathcr than using
sticks. Tis discussion in turn lcads to thc qucstion ol matcrnal or patcrnal
child owncrship, and, altcr konkwos commcnt on thc varicty ol customs
in thc world, to a rclcrcncc to rumors ol thc toclcss whitc mcn. cspitc thc
cvidcnt uidity and plurality cxisting in Umuoan culturc, thc proccss lor
changing customs and laws is not cxplaincd, and bccausc ol thc promincncc
givcn thc prcdicamcnts ol Nyoyc, bicrika, and konkwo, thc rcadcr may
wcll mispcrccivc that thc clans incxibility contributcd to or cvcn causcd its
dcclinc. Nwoyc brcaks with his lathcr and appcars to opposc tradition whcn
hc joins thc missionarics. Hc is motivatcd by konkwos violcncc, and by his
rcvulsion at thc murdcr ol !kcmcluna and thc slaughtcr ol twins. Similarly,
bicrika is puzzlcd by thc ncccssity ol driving konkwo into cxilc altcr his
accidcntal shooting ol gbuc zcudu:
8ut although hc thought lor a long timc hc lound no answcr.
Hc was mcrcly lcd into grcatcr complcxitics. Hc rcmcmbcrcd his
wilcs twin childrcn, whom hc had thrown away. Vhat crimc had
thcy committcd: Thc arth had dccrccd that thcy wcrc an ollcnsc
on thc land and must bc dcstroycd. And il thc clan did not cxact
punishmcnt lor an ollcnsc against thc grcat goddcss, hcr wrath
was looscd on all thc land and not just on thc ollcndcr. As thc
cldcrs said, il onc lingcr brought oil it soilcd thc othcrs. (125)
Finally, too, konkwo murdcrs thc istrict Commissioncrs mcsscngcr to
triggcr a war against thc colonial lorccs or to signily his last act ol violation
against community norms and collcctivc dccision making in lavor ol his
own vcrsion ol tradition. His act is a gcsturc ol individual will, though bascd
on thc traditional hcroic warrior valucs that hc cmbodics. !t acknowlcdgcs
his gricl at thc communitys wcakncss and his acccptancc that lor him thcrc
is no luturc (Moscs 131). Hc dics, howcvcr, and Nwoyc and bicrika sur
vivc, and thc catharsis within thc tcxt and within Umuolia will soon bcgin
with thc clcansing ol thc carth.
konkwos own incxiblc dcvotion to initiativc, violcncc, and powcr,
and his disrcgard lor pluralistic cultural traditions and anccstral history, rc
sult lrom his traumatic upbringing and do not rcprcscnt thc totality ol thc
cultural norms ol thc clan. Tc vcry dicrcnt rcsponscs to changing circum
stanccs shown by Nwoyc and bicrika, mcn ol dicrcnt gcncrations, display
thc clans cxibility: Tc clan was likc a lizard, il it lost its tail it soon grcw
anothcr (171). Tcy will rcmcmbcr konkwo in ways that hc rcluscd to
131 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
honor thc mcmory ol his lathcr, whosc unburicd spirit roams thc carth lrom
thc vil Forcst, a sitc that cnablcd thc missionarics survival. konkwo is
thc son ol an outsidcr, but konkwo bccamc an insidcr by crcating his own
tradition ol cxclusion. konkwos risc is cnablcd by cultural cxibility, but so
too is his lall. Nwoyc and bicrika, unlikc konkwo, havc adaptcd according
to thc cxibility and plurality ol thc old ways. konkwo scvcrs Nwoyc lrom
his lamily altcr. konkwo bcats his silcnt son. For thc wisc Uchcndu silcncc
may bc ominous. Tc ncar silcncc ol thc whitc man who cyclcs into Abamc,
lor cxamplc, is unscttling hc says. Uchcndu, konkwo, and bicrika agrcc
on Abamcs loolishncss, but disagrcc on its causc. Uchcndu says Abamc crrcd
by killing an ominously silcnt man and lailing to conccivc ol thc possibility
ol unknown abominations, konkwo and bicrika criticizc Abamcs lailurc
to anticipatc a massivc armcd assault. Uchcndu gcsturcs to a living tradition
ol tolcrancc whcn hc rclcrs to thc prcscncc ol albinos in thc clan who must
havc a nation clscwhcrc: Tcrc is no story that is not truc, said Uchcndu.
Tc world has no cnd, and what is good among onc pcoplc is an abomina
tion with othcrs (141). konkwo, howcvcr, rcluscs altcrnatc intcrprctations,
and is impaticnt with nc words whatcvcr thcir truth. konkwo should havc
comc to scc thc wisdom ol his lathcrs words about thc bittcrncss ol pcr
sonal lailurc, instcad, hc disdains his advicc: Unoka was likc that in his last
days. His lovc ol talk had grown with agc and sickncss. !t tricd konkwos
paticncc bcyond words (25). konkwos contcmpt lor thosc with a lovc
ol talk will nally position him with anothcr who is prcparcd to closc o
Umuoas pluralistic history and who is inluriatcd by thc clans lovc ol su
pcruous words (206), thc amatcur anthropologist and luturc Alricanist, thc
istrict Commissioncr.
Until thc suddcn appcarancc ol thc istrict Commissioncr in kon
kwos villagc, thc rcadcrs sympathctic idcntication with Umuoa and thc
rcadcrs assumption ol a stancc ol cultural rclativism likc thc Rcv. 8rowns
arc lostcrcd by thc tcxt. Tc rcadcr attains a carclully nurturcd condcncc in
thc posscssion ol insidcr knowlcdgc and a patcrnalistic il not mildly patron
izing attitudc, bordcring on that ol thc sanctimonious and condcsccnding
8asdcns. Tc tcxt appcars to initiatc thc rcadcr in thc sccrcts ol an isolatcd so
cicty, but this constructcd prctcnsc ol undcrstanding positions thc rcadcr not
with bicrika or cvcn 8rown, but with thc istrict Commissioncr. !n Ycatss
Tc Sccond Coming, lrom which Achcbc takcs his novcls titlc, thc pocms
spcakcr, standing on thc vcrgc ol a cataclysmic historical paradigm shilt, is
ablc to gazc into thc past and luturc. For Ycats, thc conguration ol thc gyrcs
at this instant cnablcs a typc ol lucid drcaming that pcrmits thc tclcscoping
ol history and prophccy. Standing at thc diagctic bordcr ol Achcbcs tcxt ol
Umuoa and at onc crossroads ol a contincnts history, thc rcading istrict
Commissioncr gazcs at thc projcctcd annihilation ol Umuoa and ol storics
132 livcr Lovcscy
likc konkwos. Tcrc is a radical constriction ol timc and spacc, as in Ycatss
pocm, and thc pcriphcry ol Umuoa has bccn brcachcd. Tc istrict Com
missioncr lails to rccognizc that just as thc Vcst can risc and lall in apocalyp
tic timc, so too can Umuoa (Tcn Kortcnaar 34). pcrating undcr thc sign ol
an apocalyptic vision ol thc dissolution ol civilizations, Achcbc in Part Trcc
ol Tings Fall Apart rcduccs thc historic cataclysm ol impcrialism to thc ba
nality ol a burcaucrats colonial history.
Hcaring ol konkwos suicidc and ol Umuoas mcthods lor dcaling
with thc abomination, thc istrict Commissioncr cnacts catachrcsis. Hc an
ticipatcs writing an account that will lalsily and shrink konkwos narrativc,
thc rich divcrsity ol Umuoa, and in lact thc cntirc novcl to a paragraph. Hc
will thus rcducc and distort konkwos story, and crasc history. Morcovcr, hc
will supcrimposc his own projcct, Tc Pacication ol thc Primitivc Tribcs
ol thc Lowcr Nigcr, that will rcintcrprct and rcwritc konkwos history. Hc
projccts a discursivc shilt lrom an indigcnous oral history to a history and an
thropology ol thc conqucrcd. His titlc and thc annihilation it cntails rclcr to
Heart of Darkness and thc patcrnalistic Kurtzs projcctcd gcnocidc. As Jamcs
Cliord has argucd, Heart of Darkness scllconsciously draws attcntion to its
own cthnographic sclllashioning (Predicament 110). Conrad has built into
his work a vision ol thc constructcd naturc ol culturc and languagc (95). Likc
Conrads narrator, in Cliords rcading, Achcbcs istrict Commissioncr scll
consciously anticipatcs thc sclccting, dclcting, and cditing that will locus and
polish his cthnographic study. rawing on Cliords insight, Huggan notcs
that Tings Fall Apart is also an cthnographic parody (40), its intcrtcxtual
dialoguc with Heart of Darkness a postcolonial parodyrcvcrsal (42).
Achcbcs istrict Commissioncr is a rcading charactcr who considcrs
himscll to bc both a participant in thc unlolding cvcnts and a scllconscious
intcrprctcr ol his own pcrlormancc in thcsc cvcnts, as il hc wcrc standing
akimbo on thc diagctic bordcr ol thc tcxtual thoughtworld ol Umuoa. Tc
last part ol Tings Fall Apart shows that thcrc is no such thing as a bcnign
impcrial rcading. Likc thc istrict Commissioncr who assumcs insidcr
knowlcdgc, thc rcadcr has acquircd a carclully packagcd prctcnsc ol grasp
ing Umuoan culturc in Part nc. !n what appcars to bc a novclistic deus
ex machina, thc omnipotcnt istrict Commissioncr dcsccnds to adjudicatc
Umuoan aairs, but hc is judgc and dcstroycr, whosc patronizing dismissal
ol supcruous words pcrlorms a narrativc and historical crasurc. Hc is a par
ticipant in thc glamour ol cmpirc building that conlcrrcd instant gcntility
(Rangcr, Tc !nvcntion 215), a man rcadying himscll lor a carccr altcr his
tour ol duty, whcn his impcrial mcmorics will bc domcsticatcd into colonial
thcory. Hc will writc an cthnographic account in thc scrvicc ol thc globalizing
idcology ol cmpirc that will classily, rcducc, distort and dcstroy thc socicty it
133 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
dcscribcs. Achcbcs narration cnds with thc commcnccmcnt ol thc narrativc
ol cthnographic rcprcscntation, that annihilatcs thc social lorms it dcscribcs.
Tc third part ol thc novcl projccts into thc luturc uscs madc ol an
Alrican past and onto thc construction ol cthnographic, colonial, and post
colonial discourscs ol history. Tc novcl is a tragcdy, but onc that is multi
dimcnsional.
21
Tc tragcdy opcratcs bccausc ol thc rcadcrs idcntication with,
not konkwo, but Umuoa, but thc catastrophc is thc rccognition that thc
rcadcr is an outsidcr who has bclicvcd him/hcrscll to bc a sympathctic insidcr
and is now positioncd with thc arrogant, myopic, annihilating istrict Com
missioncr. Tc novcl thcmatizcs this misrcading whcrcby thc rcadcr pcrlorms
thc appropriation ol culturc, and thcn cxpcricnccs historical alicnation. Likc
Marlow in Heart of Darkness who is compcllcd to rcpcat his story bccausc
ol his complicity in lying to thc !ntcndcd, a lic ol thc kind that pcrpctu
atcd thc ction ol King Lcopolds saving mission in thc Congo, Tings Fall
Aparts rcadcr is at lcast notionally complicit with thc istrict Commissioncr
in pcrpctuating thc appropriation ol cultural mcmory. Tis acsthctic disloca
tion rcccts thc historical alicnation ol a subjcct lrom history.
Tings Fall Apart thus anticipatcs thc uscs that will bc madc ol thc past.
!t thcmatizcs intcrprctation and misintcrprctation. Achcbc ironically rcduccs
thc istrict Commissioncrs momcntous plan lor Alrica to vc paragraphs,
and at lcast gcsturcs lorward to thc uscs that will bc madc ol Alricas past in
postcolonial thcory, an arca in which Achcbcs own vital contribution is oltcn
ignorcd (MoorcGilbcrt 4).
22
Achcbc rcminds us, morc than lour dccadcs
altcr his novcl rst appcarcd in a modcst print run ol 2000, ol thc uscs madc
ol Alricas past. Vrittcn undcr thc sign ol thc loss ol thc past, his novcl ad
drcsscs thc lundamcntal instability ol historical accounts ol uid, pluralistic,
and cxiblc culturcs, that havc bccn lought ovcr with such violcncc by com
pcting powcrs. Likc thc tradition ol Mbari, about which Achcbc has writtcn
so cloqucntly (Alrican 13), his achicvcmcnt in Tings Fall Apart is onc with
its dcstruction and dissolution. Tings Fall Apart lorcgrounds thc provisional
naturc ol all narrativcs ol thc past, thc ways thcy arc lost, changcd, rcwrittcn,
and rcinvcntcd.
No:vs
1. 8crnth Lindlors concludcs a 1998 survcy ol thc novcls impact: Things Fall
Apart, both in Alrica and clscwhcrc, rcmains thc most widcly rcad and durablc ol
Alrican litcrary mastcrworks and a truly intcrnational classic (Achcbc 16).
2. Thc qucstion ol Things Fall Aparts rcadcrship has bccn controvcrsial. Thc
novcl has a widc varicty ol rcadcrs, rcal, intcndcd and implicd, and Achcbc has said
thc novcl is intcndcd lor all rcadcrs though hc clcarly assumcd a ccrtain lamiliarity
with Vcstcrn languagcs and gcnrcs and a lack ol lamiliarity with !bo lolkways,
though hc also wrotc lor a broadlydclincd Alrican audicncc, divorccd lrom its
134 livcr Lovcscy
history, and also lor thc audicncc ol Conrad and Cary, to scrvc as an antidotc.
8rucc Hcnrickscn ollcrs a valuablc discussion ol univcrsalizing, cxoticizing, cthical,
and political rcadings ol thc novcl, though hc assumcs that thc Vcstcrn rcadcr is
Achcbcs intcndcd audicncc (302).
!n a binary study ol Things Fall Apart and 8cn kris The Famished Road,
in light ol Mudimbcs notion ol Alrican gnosis, and using an approach, that whilc
thcorctically sophisticatcd, inadvcrtcntly rccalls onc mcmbcr ol thc Troikas match
up ol Achcbc and Soyinka, and thcir cvaluativc and lcgislativc approach to Alrican
discoursc, Ato Quayson argucs that Things Fall Aparts rcalist modc is dcsigncd to
packagc Alrican traditions lor a Vcstcrn audicncc in ordcr to justily indcpcndcncc.
Achcbcs rcalist modc, lor Quayson, docs not attcmpt to conjurc a pristinc past,
instcad, this modc is lormulatcd lor a luturc whcn indigcnous oral gcnrcs would
bc cngullcd by cthnographic and rcalist discourscs (146). Howcvcr, Quayson
sccms to ovcrlook thc lact that Achcbcs is clcarly a constructcd, mcdiatcd past,
and that thc lragmcntation ol traditional history and its discursivc appropriation
bcgan wcll bclorc hc bcgan writing in thc 1950s. Quayson claims, morcovcr,
that Things Fall Apart lails to rcprcscnt supcrnatural actions or motivation, or to
allow thc supcrnatural to ovcrwhclm lincar narration, as in kris mythopoctic
manncr, and that |c|vcn whcn thc narrator sccms to bc lcaving a margin lor thc
supcrnatural, cvcrything is cxplaincd to thc rcadcr in ordcr to locatc it within thc
pattcrn ol rcalworld causality (144). Achcbcs novcl, on thc contrary, avoids such
cxplanation ol supcrnatural cvcnts, charactcristic ol cthnography, and thc acsthctic
distancing produccd, as Quayson allows, by kris omniprcscnt supcrnaturalism.
Quaysons discussion ol indigcnous oral gcnrcs, lurthcrmorc, draws on thc practicc
ol writcrs within a wcstcrn Nigcrian tradition (Tutuola, Soyinka, and kri), with
thc cxccption ol nitsha Markct litcraturc, and thc discussion tcnds to ovcrlook
thc lact that whcn Achcbc wrotc his lirst novcl thcrc was not a singlc national
litcraturc, though pcrhaps Achcbc was attcmpting to producc onc in anticipation ol
indcpcndcncc. Morcovcr, kris novcl is not divorccd lrom its idcological contcxt,
and thc shapcshilting abiku partly allcgorizcs thc changing nation to which hc
tcntativcly bclongs, and Azaro also ligurcs thc artist, and thc inspiration providcd
by onc with thc ability to livc amidst thc bcauty and tcrror ol crcation.
3. Achcbc has spokcn ol thc scnsc ol pcrsonal and collcctivc bctrayal hc
cxpcricnccd in rcading uropcan lictions ol Alrica, likc Conrads, and bcing lcd to
idcntily with Vhitc invadcrs. !n a 1984 intcrvicw, Achcbc madc a similar point about
rcading Joycc Carys Mister Johnson: Vc should havc immcdiatcly idcntilicd with
thc Alricans but this was impossiblc bccausc thc dicc was loadcd against thcm, thc
way thc story was told, thc way thc author took sidcs (qtd in zcnwahacto 44). !n
lact, Achcbc said in an intcrvicw in 1983 that angcr with Mister Johnson inspircd
him to writc (Nkosi 13). !n an 1983 intcrvicw hc said: thc momcnt ! bccamc
conscious ol thc possibilitics ol rcprcscnting somcbody lrom a ccrtain standpoint,
lrom that momcnt ! rcaliscd that thcrc must bc misrcprcscntation, thcrc must bc
misjudgmcnt, thcrc must bc cvcn straightlorward discrimination and distortion
(Jcyilo, Litcraturc 112). !n 1995, hc said that hc cncountcrcd colonial idcology,
lor thc lirst timc in liction, as somcthing sinistcr (Rowcll 183). Rccognizing this
narrativc doublccross awakcncd him to thc idcological cmbcdding ol all storics, and
inspircd his own writing.
4. A similar awarcncss ol gcncrational rcsponsibility inlorms thc purposc
ol othcr Alrican cultural historians. Mudimbc, lor cxamplc, rclcrs to his work in
135 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
The Idea of Africa as storics to my childrcn (209), and Kwamc Anthony Appiah
dcdicatcs In My Fathers House to his lamilys childrcn (viii).
5. NgabohSmarts cssay argucs that Achcbcs novcl calls lor a nationalist
rcsponsc to thc colonial imposition ol silcncc (17), a subjcct Joscph R. Slaughtcr
cxplorcs larthcr in his account ol colonial silcncc and narrativc voicc (140143),
concluding Achcbcs novcl thcmatizcs thc impositions ol silcncc and thc cqually
important rcprcscntations ol silcncc, suggcsting that no casy cquation bctwccn
silcncc and passivity is possiblc (147). Thcsc two cssays bcgin and cnd thc lirst part
(locuscd on Things Fall Apart) ol volumc onc ol Emerging Perspectives on Chinua
Achebe, cditcd by rncst N. mcnyonu. A numbcr ol cssays in this lirst part arguc
that Achcbcs novcl prcscnts a complcx account ol a cohcrcnt il multilacctcd past and
ol intcgratcd intcgrity in national (NgabohSmart 323), individual (nycmclukwc
3547), and gcndcrcd (Azodo 4965) tcrms. Things o Not Fall Apart is thc
provocativc titlc ol Joscph bis cssay (7783).
6. ! am cmploying an cxpandcd scnsc ol thc cvocativc phrasc cmploycd in
Tcrcncc Rangcrs survcy ol Alrican historiography (Rangcr, Towards 17) Rclcrring
to thc crisis in Alrican historiography in thc 1970s, lollowing thc dominancc ol
hcroic history in a pcriod whcn thcrc was a dcmand lor somcalmost anypast
(1920), Rangcr advocatcs approachcs to social history that arc rclcvant to problcms
ol povcrty and undcrdcvclopmcnt (1730). Appiah rclcrs to Things Fall Aparts
usablc past (150), but hc docs not citc Rangcr, instcad rcading thc novcl as an
instancc ol what Frcdcric Jamcson gcncralizcd as a national allcgory. Appiah
writcs that novcls likc Things Fall Apart sccm to bclong to thc world ol cightccnth
and ninctccnthccntury litcrary nationalism, thcy arc thcorizcd as thc imaginativc
rccrcation ol a common cultural past that is craltcd into a sharcd tradition by thc
writcr, thcy arc in thc tradition ol Scott . . . Thc novcls ol this lirst stagc arc thus
rcalist lcgitimations ol nationalism: thcy authorizc a rcturn to traditions whilc at
thc samc timc rccognizing thc dcmands ol a Vcbcrian rationalizcd modcrnity. From
thc latcr sixtics on, thcsc cclcbratory novcls ol thc lirst stagc bccomc rarcr: Achcbc,
lor cxamplc, movcs lrom thc crcation ol a usablc past in Things Fall Apart to a cynical
indictmcnt ol politics in thc modcrn sphcrc in A Man of the People (149150).
7. Scc thc discussion ol Umuolia and Alrica in Kalu gbaas Understanding
Things Fall Apart (12), and Chidi Amutas intcrprctation ol konkwo as an
cmbodimcnt ol thc spirit ol his agc and his class (134).
8. Scc, lor cxamplc, Tcrcncc Rangcrs Thc !nvcntion (248).
9. Zachcnuk docsnt discuss Achcbc and avoids litcrary cndcavors in his
account ol intcllcctual history, but his dclinition ol his locus mcdial community,
involving a colonialcducatcd clitc traincd lor colonial scrvicc, would includc ligurcs
likc Achcbc (13, 14).
10. Scc Michacl \aldcz Moscss Hcgclian analysis ol thc rolc ol modcrnization
in what hc rcads as Achcbcs progrcssivc vicw ol history is Things Fall Apart, a novcl
prophctic ol postcolonial criscs (107109).
11. Robcrt Vrcn documcnts 8asdcns inl lucncc on Achcbc in Achebes World,
but hc scts out to critiquc 8asdcn and thcn citcs him as an authority.
12. Vrcsting also signilics socictys ordcring ol chaos, as Chidi konkwo
indicatcs (8486), though konkwo both subducs and pcrpctuatcs chaos.
13. Zohrch T. Sullivan argucs that in thc novcl thc prcscncc ol thc slippcry
and unstablc lcmalc codc disturbs thc unstablc rigidity ol masculinc codcs in all
thrcc scctions ol thc novcl (106). Jcyilo notcs that thc lragmcntary storics and
136 livcr Lovcscy
motils ol thc agbala and thc efulefu movc this social catcgory to rcstitution at thc cnd
ol thc novcl (For Chinua 64).
14. avid Hocgbcrg shows how !kcmclunas ritual murdcr violatcs Umuolian
sanctions against killing outsidcrs and judging sons according to thcir lathcrs valuc:
|b|y thc timc hc killcd, !kcmcluna has bccomc a symbol ol blurrcd boundarics
bctwccn scll and othcr (73).
15.
A suddcn blow: thc grcat wings bcating still
Abovc thc staggcring girl, hcr thighs carcsscd
8y thc dark wcbs, hcr napc caught in his bill,
Hc holds hcr hclplcss brcast upon his brcast.
How can thosc tcrricd vaguc ngcrs push
Tc lcathcrcd glory lrom hcr looscning thighs:
And how can body, laid in that whitc rush,
8ut lccl thc strangc hcart bcating whcrc it lics:
. . .
16. Achcbc tclls ol thc proud wrcstlcr who gocs to thc spirit world and dclcats
cvcryonc but is dclcatcd by his chi, an unimprcssivc ligurc vcry wcak and hungry
looking, thin as a ropc who with onc lingcr picks him up and smashcs him on thc
ground (Cott 84).
17. Simon Gikandi notcs that in Things Fall Apart thc narrators position,
idcntity, and pcrspcctivc changc oltcn (30).
18. Ato Quayson, lor cxamplc, survcys unproblcmatizcd approachcs to thc
novcls cultural authcnticity and Alricanncss (Rcalism 119, 121), paradigmatic
ol much carly Alrican litcrary criticism.
19. Ncil Tcn Kortcnaar rcads this sccnc as an cxamplc ol thc novcls usc ol
doublcconsciousncss, thc bilurgatcd vision ol a holistic world ol absolutc intcgrity
and thc abstractcd stancc ol rational obscrvation (3637). For Tcn Kortcnaar, thc
novcl cmploys doublcconsciousncss to prcscnt thc history ol a socicty that did not
conccivc ol itscll historically lor a modcrn audicncc (38) that cannot conccivc
ol anything clsc. Achcbc historicizcs thc !bos, Tcn Kortcnaar argucs, by making
konkwo a scllconscious agcnt who narratcs his lilc thus allowing, through his
conlrontation with thc Vhitcs, thc !gbos cntry into history (45). Tcn Kortcnaars
argumcnt is bascd on a dichotomous vicw ol Vcstcrn and Alrican conccptions ol thc
novcls modcrn, univcrsal audicncc, composcd ol both Alrican and Vcstcrn rcadcrs.
His argumcnt is undcrwrittcn with a suspicion ol thc viability ol oral history.
20. This docs not apply to singlc uscs ol individual words, likc inyanga (43),
cxplaincd in thc glossary, or singlc uscs ol words lollowcd by cxtcndcd dclinitions,
such as osu (155, 156).
21. Richard 8cgams study ol thc novcls thrcc cndings in thrcc historical
modcs classilics lour typcs ol tragcdy dcsignatcd in thc critical litcraturc: classical,
modcrn, !gbo, and historical (399).
22. 8art MoorcGilbcrt implics that thc istrict Commissioncrs projcctcd
titlc anticipatcs thc wars ol postcolonial thcory and his own dilcmma ol choosing
bctwccn adjudication or synthcsis in trcating thc subjcct (202).
137 Making Usc ol thc Past in Things Fall Apart
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JALA: Journal of the African Literature Association, \olumc 1, Numbcr 1 (VintcrSpring
2007): pp. 202213. Copyright 2007 Frank Salamonc.
F RANK S AL AMN
Te Depiction of Masculinity in
Classic Nigerian Literature
Turning and turning in thc widcning gyrc
Thc lalcon cannot hcar thc lalconcr,
Things lall apart, thc ccntrc cannot hold,
Mcrc anarchy is looscd upon thc world,
Thc blooddimmcd tidc is looscd, and cvcrywhcrc
Thc ccrcmony ol innoccncc is drowncd,
Thc bcst lack all conviction, whilc thc worst
Arc lull ol passionatc intcnsity.
Tc Sccond Coming (1921) Villiam 8utlcr Ycats
Thc writings ol Chinua Achcbc, Volc Soyinka, and Amos Tutuola rank
among thc worlds grcat litcraturc. Thcy sharc with that litcraturc thc
cstablishmcnt ol icons and thc crcation ol classic typcs against which all
subscqucnt writings arc judgcd. Thcsc authors havc sct thc tcrms lor luturc
discussion. !ntcrcstingly, thcy havc locuscd on thc mcaning ol masculinity
in Nigcria and givcn it a ccntral position in thc cultural wcb ol mcaning
within and bctwccn intcracting groups.
!n Tings Fall Apart, lor cxamplc, Chinua Achcbc uscs thc opposition
ol masculinity and lcmininity to cncapsulatc thc conict bctwccn thc 8ritish
and !gbo, bctwccn thc mission and traditional rcligion. Volc Soyinka in Ak
and othcr writings addrcsscs thc issuc ol thc conlusion ol gcndcr rolcs undcr
142 Frank Salamonc
colonial rulc and in thc postcolonial cra and thc problcms that such conlusion
raiscs. Vhilc Tutuolas Palm Wine Drinkard may appcar to bc a goodnaturcd
romp dcrivcd lrom various Yoruba lolk talcs, it has important things to say
about thc Yoruba conccpt ol masculinity. !n his latcr works, such as Te Brave
African Huntress, Tutuola cxamincs thc signicancc ol womcn and gcndcr
rolcs in thc Nigcrian sccnc.
ach ol thcsc authors, thus, approachcs major issucs ol idcntity amid
changc through thc lcns ol gcndcr. Gcndcr, morcovcr, is wrappcd up in all as
pccts ol lilc, including rcligion, cducation, hunting, and drinking. Tc dctails
cach author painstakingly prcscnts allow thcir worlds to cmcrgc wholc and
complctc and paradoxically cnticc lrom rcadcrs thc crcation ol parallcls lrom
thcir own worlds and lcssons applicablc to thcir livcs.
Morcovcr, masculinity may appcar to cxist in ccrtain works as somchow
indcpcndcnt ol lcmininity or in absolutc opposition to it. Howcvcr, cvcn
in Achcbcs ctional world which somctimcs appcars to bc dominatcd only
by malcs, thcrc is clcar cvidcncc that dcnitions ol masculinity arc strongly
dcpcndcnt on cultural constructions including thc lcmininc. Tat is as truc
ol Tings Fall Apart as Anthills of the Savannah. Soyinka locuscs on gcndcr
conlusion rcsulting lrom colonialism and all that is cncompasscd and con
tingcnt on it whilc much ol Tutuolas humor rcsults lrom cxplicit or implicit
gcndcr conict.
Tcsc major authors, thcn, addrcss cataclysmic dcning issucs in Nigc
rian history lrom thc pcrspcctivc ol gcndcr rclations. Tc ovcrall disruption,
an intcgral part ol thc colonial hcritagc, struck at thc corc ol indigcnous val
ucs. Conccpts ol rcligion, politics, and lamily camc undcr attack. Masculinity
bccamc a mctaphor lor rcsistancc to thcsc assaults sincc both colonial culturc
and socicty and thc indigcnous culturcs and socictics it sought to translorm in
thcory wcrc malcdominatcd oncs. Scxuality, additionally, and croticism wcrc
intcgral discourscs in thc colonial dialoguc, symbolizing powcr and control.
Ncvcrthclcss, thc rcality was lar morc complcx than its abstractions.
Vomcn playcd a morc signicant rolc than cithcr sidc oltcn acknowlcdgcd
in thc powcr strugglcs that rockcd thc Nigcrian cosmos. Soyinka clcarly rcc
ognizcs thc rolc womcn playcd in anticolonial movcmcnts and Achcbc was
inucnccd by thc nitsha Markct Vomcns rcbcllion. Tutuolas drinkard is
ccrtainly asscrting his masculinity through his drinking. Hc docs so as onc
knowing that such bchavior ocnds womcn and symbolizcs his masculinity.
Colonialism and Masculinity in the Literature
!n Things Fall Apart, Achcbc scts thc !gbo, a larming pcoplc, in opposition to
thc cllctc 8ritish colonial cstablishmcnt. Rathcr than cloaking this conllict
in vaguc or didactic gcncralitics, though, hc pcrsonilics !gbo cthos through
143 Thc cpiction ol Masculinity
thc protagonist kinawa. kinawa champions thc old masculinc virtucs in
which wcakncss thrcatcns thc individuals as wcll as groups survival.
Achcbc claboratcs through kinawa thc !gbo bclicl in an csscntial link
bctwccn a human and God, callcd chi. Chi is a pcrsons dcstiny, part ol a
pcrson lrom conccption. Chi is an intcgral part ol a pcrsons pcrsonality. Chi
is not God but God chooscs a pcrsons chi. Howcvcr, chi is not a passivc
thing. !t activcly chooscs lrom among thc packagcs God placcs bclorc it.
ach packagc contains an individuals dcstiny.
Tc packagc contains all ol a pcrsons luck and mislortuncs which a pcr
son will cncountcr in lilc. Chi, thus, can mcan cithcr this packagc ol dcstincd
good and cvil and thc guardian spirit who guidcs a pcrson in lilc. Tcrc is no
cscaping chi. A good !gbo, thcrclorc, scts as a goal thc achicvcmcnt ol his or
hcr chi, which can bc rcad on an individuals palms.
Tc qucst to achicvc oncs chi guidcs a pcrsons bchavior throughout
lilc. Chi is an cxprcssion and rcinlorccmcnt ol thc individualistic naturc ol
!gbo social organization. !t is also an csscntial part ol !gbo rcligion and daily
valucs. Howcvcr, chi is not absolutc. Rcccting anothcr !gbo valuc, !gbo hold
that an individual who is wisc cnough can manipulatc his chi just as his chi
sccks to manipulatc an individual. Strugglc and ambition arc prizcd !gbo
valucs. vcrcoming obstaclcs is a way ol lilc and highly honorcd among thc
!gbo, and Achcbc makcs this strugglc part ol his plot, adding to thc tcnsion
and intcrcst ol his tragic talc.
!gbos bclicvc that prcdcstination is not an irrcvocablc dctcrmination ol a
pcrsons lilc. Pcoplc may changc thcir dcstiny. cstiny, as so much ol !gbo lilc,
is a transaction in which thc partncrs ncgotiatc. !n this casc it is thc individual
and cstiny that ncgotiatc. !n this ncgotiation bctwccn dcstiny and Chi lics
thc root ol thc conict bctwccn 8ritish colonialism and thc !gbo. Tus, thc
strong masculinity ol kinawas Chi lcads him into a tragic conict with
8ritish impcrialists. Tcir Chi is grcatcr than his. !t is a hopclcss conict but
konkwo yiclds to his Chi, hclping to bring himscll and his pcoplc down.
Achcbc, morcovcr, dcpicts thc Church as diluting thc masculinity ol thc
!gbo through thcir imposing nglish on thcm, thus casing thcm into a loss
ol thcir own languagc on provcrbs. vcrywhcrc thc !gbo turncd thcrc was
a lorcc at work undcrmining traditional laws and rcligion. thnoccntrism,
on both sidcs, hindcrcd any rcal hopc ol mutual undcrstanding bctwccn thc
two culturcs.
n an individual lcvcl, konkwo wishcs to distinguish himscll lrom
what hc pcrccivcs as his lathcrs wcakncsscs. konkwo, conscqucntly, wishcs
to bc a warrior, a strong man in thc traditional !gbo valuc systcm. For kon
kwo Christianity is thc antithcsis ol thc masculinc valucs ol thc !gbo. Hc
bclicvcs that thcsc masculinc valucs havc prcscrvcd thc !gbo throughout thcir
144 Frank Salamonc
history. Tc lcmininc valucs introduccd by colonial rulc, thcn, appcar, thcn, to
thrcatcn thc vcry cxistcncc ol thc !gbo pcoplc.
konkwo bclicvcd that masculinity was thc gluc that hcld thc !gbo
togcthcr. Tis bclicl was rcinlorccd in him bccausc hc had no inhcritancc.
Tcrclorc, thc !gbo bclicl in thc valuc ol hard work as a mcans lor advancc
mcnt was rcinlorccd. Hc had to advancc on his own or not at all. First, hc
cxccllcd at wrcstling and thcn bccamc a sharccroppcr. Morcovcr, konkwo
blamcs his lathcr lor wasting his timc by spcnding it making music on his
utc, socializing and communing with naturc instcad ol amassing wcalth and
prcstigc lor his lamily. !nstcad ol making moncy hc borrows it and accumu
latcs dcbt.
!n rcaction, konkwo work cndlcssly, sowing his clds. Hc cmbraccs
traditional !gbo valucs, apprcciating thc valuc ol thc yam, acccpting thc sig
nicancc ol wrcstling and hard work. Morcovcr, hc pays his dcbts and kccps
his wilc and childrcn in linc with a strangc hand.
A Yoruba View of Masculinity
Thcrc arc similaritics bctwccn Soyinkas Ak and Achcbcs Things Fall
Apart. Howcvcr, thcrc arc signilicant dillcrcnccs. Soyinka is rclating a
mcmoir, albcit a kind ol nostalgic and somcwhat idcalizcd onc. Morcovcr,
whilc not having lallcn apart thc world ol thc villagc ol Akc is a mixturc ol
traditional, modcrn, and changing. Thc young Soyinka is growing up in thc
pcriod just bclorc and during Vorld Var !!, to about thc agc ol tcn. !t was
a pcriod at thc hcight ol 8ritish Colonialism in Nigcria, whcn it sccmcd as
il thc 8ritish rulc would last lorcvcr.
Soyinka grcw up in a privilcgcd position rmly in thc middlc ol 8ritish
idcological sway. His mothcr was a Christian markct woman and his lathcr
was a schoolmastcr. Tcrc wcrc, to bc surc, strong rcmnants ol Yoruba culturc
and tradition in thc ovcrall mix ol lilc. Morcovcr, Soyinka notcs thc transac
tions that occurrcd bctwccn thc two culturcs.
Tus, Soyinka rclatcs thc undcrstanding ol Yoruba masculinity to thc
complcxitics ol thc Yoruba placc within Nigcrian colonial rcality. Tcsc com
plcxitics includc strong markct womcn who rcvolt against taxation, lcd by
his own mothcr, buoons in 8ritish unilorms, traditional Yoruba ritcs, and
his own Christian indoctrination. Christian missionarics by naming his play
arcas in nglish changc thcir rcalitics lor him, imprcssing on him thc powcr
ol languagc.
Soyinkas thcmcs arc powcrlul oncs. Tcy dcal with thc clash ol culturcs,
thc powcr ol languagc to dcnc and crcatc rcality, and thc social construction
ol gcndcr rolcs. Tcsc vicws havc lcd to actions which havc causcd his im
prisonmcnt on a numbcr ol occasions. His criticism ol lraud in thc Vcstcrn
Nigcrian clcctions lcd to his rst imprisonmcnt.
145 Thc cpiction ol Masculinity
Shortly altcr thcsc clcctions triggcrcd o cvcnts that lcd to thc Nigcrian
Civil Var, Yakubu Gowons govcrnmcnt arrcstcd him lor sccking to aid thc
brcakaway rcgion ol 8ialra in its rcsistancc to Nigcria. Soyinka was in prison
lrom 19661969, cightccn months ol it in solitary conncmcnt. !n part prcs
surc lrom Lillian Hcllman and Robcrt Lowcll among othcr promincnt writ
crs ccctcd his rclcasc.
uring this pcriod Soyinka managcd to writc poctry and his prison
notcs. Tc book Te Man Died rcsultcd lrom thcsc corts. Livc 8urial ap
pcarcd in Te New Statesmen on thc 23rd ol May, 1969 bclorc Soyinkas rc
lcasc lrom prison. !ts lincs, Sixtccn paccs / 8y twcntythrcc. Tcy hold /
Sicgc against humanity / And Truth / mploying timc to drill through to his
sanity capturcd thc litcrary imagination ol thc timc and dircctcd morc angcr
against thc Fcdcral Govcrnmcnt ol Nigcria. !ndccd, thc Nigcrian govcrn
mcnt banncd Te Man Died (1972) on its publication.
Howcvcr, Soyinka has practiccd in his lilc thc words hc uscd in his ac
ccptancc spccch lor thc Nobcl Prizc, words which rccct his nuanccd undcr
standing ol masculinity.
Thcrc is a dccp lcsson lor thc world in thc black raccs capacity
to lorgivc, onc which, ! oltcn think, has much to do with cthical
prcccpts which spring lrom thcir world vicw and authcntic
rcligions, nonc ol which is cvcr totally cradicatcd by thc
accrctions ol lorcign laiths and thcir implicit cthnoccntrism.
(Nobcl Lccturc, 1986)
Amos Tutuola and the Comedy of Masculinity
Comcdy is thc othcr sidc ol tragcdy. !t can only cxist, in lact, in thc prcs
cncc ol tragcdy. Through its mocking ol thc scrious sidc ol lilc, it brings it
into dccpcr pcrspcctivc, locusing light on thc shadow ol tragcdy. Tutuola
chosc to mastcr thc licld ol comcdy, inhcriting in thc proccss thc rolc ol
thc clown, thc truth saycr, whosc jokcs and jibcs hidc and rcvcal nuggcts ol
dccp truth.
!t is altogcthcr appropriatc that thc rhythms ol his prosc rccct thc ris
ol Yoruba music. Likc Yoruba music, and much ol thc AlricanAmcrican
music dcrivcd lrom it, thcrc is rhythmic and structural rcpctition, insinuat
ing thc mcssagc dccp into thc unconscious ol thc listcncr, touching on ar
chctypal thcmcs. Tcsc thcmcs, morcovcr, arc ovcrlapping oncs, supporting a
lcad voicc that soars ovcr thc top. Tis stylc, common to Yoruba storytclling,
involvcs thc listcncr into thc crcation ol thc story, ring and improvising on
common thcmcs.
Hc bcgins his most lamous work with thcsc scntcnccs, ! was a palm
winc drinkard sincc ! was a boy ol tcn ycars ol agc. ! had no othcr work morc
146 Frank Salamonc
than to drink palmwinc in my lilc. Although many ol his lcllow Yoruba
objcctcd to thc novcl bccausc ol thc languagc and accuscd Tutuola ol lalsi
cation, thc book rcccts Yoruba lilc accuratcly in thc latcr pcriod ol 8ritish
colonialism. !t is also a morality talc, dcpicting what happcns to a man who
givcs himscll up to thc pursuit ol plcasurc instcad ol living a morally rcspon
siblc lilc as dclincatcd in Yoruba culturc.
Tc magical clcmcnts ol thc story in which thc hcro lollows his palm
winc tappcr down a holc to cads town cvokc thc magic ol thc lolk talc,
whcrc anything can and usually docs happcn. Tcrc arc ghosts, wondrous
dccds and cvcnts. Along thc way many lcssons arc transmittcd and thc narra
tor, in turn, puts thcsc into pcrspcctivc.
Views of Women in Yoruba and Igbo Colonial Culture
Soyinka has a lclicity ol touch which cnablcs him to prcscnt womcn in an
cquablc light with mcn. Hc apprcciatcs thc importancc ol womcn and thcir
contribution to both traditional and colonial culturc. Hc rclatcs thc rolc
strong womcn playcd in his lilc lrom his oldcr sistcr whom hc accompanicd
to school bclorc hc was ollicially old cnough to attcnd through his mothcr
who lcd a markct rcvolt and thc inllucncc ol his aunt, Funmilayo Ransomc
Kuti, mothcr ol thc lamous musician Fcla and a lcadcr ol thc Nigcrian
lcminist movcmcnt. Shc organizcd and lcd thc womcns rcvolt in Abcokuta
against 8ritish tax policy. Soyinkc scrvcd as a mcsscngcr bctwccn mcmbcrs
ol that rcvolt.
n thc othcr hand, thcrc arc thosc who arguc that malc dominancc did
not arrivc with uropcan colonialism but was mcrcly strcngthcncd by it.
Vomcn, thcrclorc, wcrc socializcd to lill spccilic rolcs in thcir
socicty. Howcvcr, it is important to notc that thcsc womcn,
whilc assigncd to dillcrcnt social strata, did not ncccssarily vicw
thcmsclvcs as victimizcd or downtroddcn (Ulomata). Vomcns
rolcs in prccolonial Nigcrian socicty wcrc oltcn complcmcntary
to thosc ol mcn, rathcr than divcrgcnt. (Rojas). Vomcn had
houschold and larming dutics, but thc burdcncd was cascd and
thcir livcs bccamc casicr as timc wcnt on and thcy borc childrcn,
proving thcir valuc to thc socicty as a wholc (Rojas). Thcrc was
no conccpt ol a lulltimc houscwilc, howcvcr. ach woman had
rcsponsibilitics ranging lrom caring lor childrcn and thc agcd to
larming and othcr agricultural activitics (Ulomata). As konkwo
notcd, His mothcr and sistcrs workcd hard cnough, but thcy grcw
womcns crops, likc cocoyams, bcans and cassava. Yam, thc king
ol crops, was a mans crop. (Achcbc, 2223). So although thcir
contribution was lcss signilicant ovcrall to thc status ol thc group,
147 Thc cpiction ol Masculinity
womcn had an important job in growing thc lood with which to
supplcmcnt thc lamilys incomc and dict. Thcy also had thc chancc
to acquirc political inllucncc through marriagc, but it rcmains clcar
that dillcrcnccs also cxist|cd| in thc powcr rclations bctwccn thc
scxcs mcn typically bcing cxpcctcd to bc dominant ovcr thcir wivcs
and to havc grcatcr control ovcr cconomic rcsourccs (Spcncc, 4).
This malc dominancc was incrcascd with 8ritish colonial rulc. Thc !gbo,
too, cxpcricnccd a lcmalc hcadcd riot against 8ritish colonial practiccs.
Thc Aba Vomcns Rcvolt was onc ol thc most signilicant cvcnts
that occurrcd in Nigcrian history during colonialism. !t was lor
cxamplc, thc lirst major rcvolt ol its typc that was organizcd
and lcd by rural womcn ol wcrri and Calabar Provinccs which
containcd a population ol two million pcoplc, locatcd in a total
land mass ol about 6,000 squarc milcs (\an Allcn 1981, 60). Likc
othcr major cvcnts ol its magnitudc, thc rcvolt has continucd to
attract much scholarly inquiry and discoursc, unparallclcd in !gbo
history until thc Nigcria8ialra war (riji http://www.icaap.org/
iuicodc:101.2.1.14).
Thc rcvolt took placc as a protcst against colonial intcrlcrcncc in thc
acknowlcdgcd privilcgcs ol womcn not to pay taxcs in !gbo socicty. Thus,
thc intcrprctation ol traditional womcn as bcing totally opprcsscd nccds
rclincmcnt sincc thc Abba rcvolt ol 1929 dcmonstratcd that womcn wcrc
lully capablc ol taking powcrlul and unprcccdcntcd action against colonial
mcn and wantcd to protcct privilcgcs thcy dccmcd csscntial to thcir status as
!gbo womcn. Thc Abba rcvolt, morcovcr, lcd to thc cmcrgcncc ol numcrous
lcmalc hcrocs, lurthcr dcmonstrating thc nccd lor carc in arriving at lacilc
gcncralitics rcgarding gcndcr rclations in Alrican socictics.
Tcsc subtlctics and ambiguitics in gcndcr rclationships hclp cxplain thc
writings ol Soyinka, Tutuola, and Achcbc in thcir ovcrt and covcrt dclincation
ol masculinity. Altcr all wc dcnc oursclvcs against thc othcr and in intcrac
tion with thc othcr. !t is clcar that Achcbc, lor cxamplc, dcpicts konkwos
strugglc lor !gbo masculinity as a rcsult ol his bclicl in his lathcrs lailurc to
achicvc it. !t is also clcar that konkwo docs not lully apprcciatc thc bound
arics ol thc rcal as opposcd to thc idcal !gbo pcrccption ol masculinity.
His socialization into that masculinc idcal was patcntly awcd. To slip
into jargon wc can say that his rolc modcl was sadly lacking. His lathcr was
unablc to pay his own way, a truc !gbo idcal, and support his lamily. !t is
clcar that konkwo is struggling to right his lathcrs wrongs, to makc up
to his lamily lor thosc wcakncsscs and bccomc a modcl ol truc malc !gbo
148 Frank Salamonc
rightcousncss. vcrcompcnsation is a common bchavior among thosc scck
ing to rcstorc lamily honor and konkwo was no cxccption.
n thc othcr hand Amos Tutuola dccidcd to cxaminc thc world ol
womcn and shows grcat skill in so doing. !n Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark
Jungle (1955) and Te Brave African Huntress (1958), hc makcs womcn hcro
incs who drivc thc plot. Adcbisi is a lormidablc woman. Shc is a huntrcss,
lollowing in hcr lathcrs prolcssion. Adcbisi is a charming as wcll as bravc
pcrson, who cndcavors to rcscuc hcr lour cldcr brothcrs. Tcsc brothcrs, who
appcar lcss bravc and charming than shc, wcnt o on an cxpcdition to thc
Junglc ol thc Pygmics and wcrc ncvcr hcard lrom altcr that.
Adcbisi wcnt altcr thcm and survivcd numcrous pcrils. As cxpcctcd,
shc cmcrgcs lrom hcr ordcal unscathcd. Shc also has hcr lour brothcrs, many
othcr captivcs ol thc pcoplc in thc Junglc ol thc Pygmics, and a good dcal ol
prccious coin. Nccdlcss to say, shc bccomcs a rich and honorcd woman.
arlicr Tutuola approachcd thc topic ol lcsbianism in a morc undcr
standing manncr than most uropcan writcrs, malc or lcmalc, ol his day. !n
1954 hc rcturncd to his magical 8ush ol Ghosts. His hcro winds up magi
cally in Tc Namclcss Town o thc Quccr Vay Homcward. His words tcll
it bcst.
Thcrc ! noticcd that all thc inhabitants arc ladics and womcn, no
singlc man is living thcrc or coming thcrc at all and to my surprisc
all thcsc ladics and womcn havc long brown moustachcs undcr
thcir lowcr jaws, so cvcry woman marricd a lady, bccausc thcrc arc
no mcn to marry thcm. 8ut whcn ! askcd thc SupcrLady or my
wilcVhy all thc ladics and womcn havc moustachcs in this
town likc hcgoats: shc rcplicdthosc womcn with moustachcs
had bccn bctraycd by thcir husbands altcr thcir marriagc, but now
nonc ol thcm could marry any malc again cxccpt to marry ladics as
husbands. Altcr wc took a stroll round thc villagc and saw many
tcrriblc and wondcrlul things lor somc hours, thcn wc camc back
homc (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts 123).
Vithout dclving dccply into thc patcnt symbolism ol thc passagc, it is clcar
that Tutuola is awarc ol thc dccp ambiguity ol Yoruba gcndcr rclationships
and thc blcnding ol Vcstcrn conccpts ol malc and lcmalc. !ntcrcstingly,
likc Soyinka, hc is apparcntly not troublcd by this lact. His own Supcr
Lady in thc novcl has a moustachc that makcs hcr, as wcll as othcrs, look
likc a goat.
Unlikc thc !gbo Achcbc, thcn, thc Yoruba Tutuola and Soyinka appcar
to havc no nccd to provc thcir masculinity or, to bc morc accuratc, to havc
thcir malc charactcrs cstablish thcir masculinity. Tcrc is thc Yoruba tolcrancc
149 Thc cpiction ol Masculinity
lor this and that, too in thcir artistic and rcligious imagination. Pcrhaps,
this Crcolc charactcristic ol syncrctism has allowcd a morc nuanccd vicw ol
gcndcr among thcir writings.
Conclusion
!t is always usclul to go back to csscntials, cspccially whcn dcaling with
powcr rclations and thc ability to imposc dclinitions on social constructions
ol rcality. Vhilc scx is biological, gcndcr is cultural. ach socicty dctcr
mincs what it mcans to bc malc or lcmalc, that is, cach socicty imposcd
its own construction ol gcndcr on its pcoplc. Howcvcr, colonial and Alrican
dclinitions ol gcndcr wcrc at odds with onc anothcr.
Tcrclorc, a signicant part ol bcing a man lor thc gcncration ol Achcbc,
Soyinka, and Tutuola was rcsistancc to colonial authority and thc construc
tion ol a ncw ordcr to rcplacc it. A signicant part ol thc construction ol that
ncw ordcr had to do with thc construction ol gcndcr and thc dcnition ol
appropriatc gcndcr rclationships. ach author agrccd that thc colonial ordcr
was indccd lragilc. Howcvcr, cach approachcd thc dcpiction ol that lragility
in a dicrcnt way just as cach had a dicrcnt vision ol what should rcplacc
thc colonial statc.
Soyinka cnvisions thc Ncw Alrica as a synthcsis ol lccling and rcason.
Tus, hc rcjccts thc conccpt ol Ncgritudc bccausc in Lcopold Scnghors vi
sion it is a static cmbodimcnt ol nonrational lccling. !t is a stcrcotypc undcr
anothcr guisc. Soyinka is too much ol a rational humanist to cmbracc thc
vision ol thc instinctivc noblc savagc, who sings and danccs without any con
scious thought or cort.
His rcjcction ol absolutcs, morcovcr, mirrors Yoruba tolcrancc and cvcn
cmbracc ol ambiguity and thc Crcolc world ol syncrctism. Tis cmbracc ol
contradiction and rcjcction ol absolutism is complctcly in kccping with Soy
inkas rcbu ol colonialism. For Soyinka and his lcllow Yoruba Tutuola thc to
talitarianism ol colonialism cannot bc rcplaccd with any othcr absolutism. Tc
world must bc cmbraccd as it is, with all its blurrcd gcnrcs and cvcn gcndcrs.
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kalor, Chinycrc Gracc. From thc Hcart ol Masculinity: gbodoUkc Vomcns Masking.
Research in African Literatures, 25.3 (1994): 717.
151 Thc cpiction ol Masculinity
riji, John N. (2000). !G8 VMN FRM 19291960. West Africa Review, 2.1.
|iuicodc: http://www.icaap.org/iuicodc:101.2.1.14|
Traorc, usscynou. Matrical Approach to Things Fall Apart: A Poctics ol pic and Mythic
Paradigms. Approaches to Teaching Achebes Things Fall Apart. cd.
Grcgory Gipson. Mutable Semantics: Three Texts and the Term Postcolonial. Grcgory Gipson,
English 27 (Autumn 1997).
Ashcrolt, 8ill, Garcth Grilliths, and Hclcn Tillin, cds. The Post-colonial Studies Reader.
Routlcdgc, Ncw York, NY, 1995.
mcchcta, 8uchi. The Slave Girl. Gcorgc 8razillcr, !nc., Ncw York, NY, 1977.
Soyinka, Volc. Ak: The Years of Childhood. \intagc !ntcrnational, Ncw York, NY, 1989.
153
Research in African Literatures, \olumc 39, Numbcr 1 (Spring 2008): pp. 166185. Copyright
2008 Thc !ndiana Univcrsity Prcss.
ANR A P VLL VLF
Problematizing Polygyny
1
in
the Historical Novels of Chinua Achebe:
Te Role of the Western Feminist Scholar
I believe that in our situation the greater danger lies not in remembering
but in forgetting, in pretending that slogans are the same as truth; and I
believe that Nigeria, always prone to self-deception, stands in great needs
of reminders.
Chinua Achcbc, Morning Yet on Creation Day XII
!n Chinua Achcbc and thc !nvcntion ol Alrican Culturc, an articlc in thc
spccial issuc Chinua Achcbc at Scvcnty, publishcd in Research in African
Literatures in 2001, Simon Gikandi lauds Achcbcs novcls as thc Urtcxts
ol our |Alrican| litcrary tradition (6). Hc gocs on to cxtol thc trcmcndous
inllucncc |Achcbcs| works havc had on thc institutions ol pcdagogy and
intcrprctation and thc rolc his lictions havc comc to play in thc making
and unmaking ol Alrican worlds (6). Ccrtainly, with thc publication ol
his lirst novcl, Things Fall Apart (1959), Achcbc was almost immcdiatcly
takcn up in litcrary circlcs as thc lathcr ol Alrican litcraturc and has sincc
rcmaincd at thc ccntcr ol Alrican litcrary studics. Furthcrmorc, and pcr
haps morc signilicantly, Achcbc occupics a position ol grcat importancc lor
his Alrican rcadcrs. !n gcncral, his writing is rcgardcd as having rcstorcd
a scnsc ol pridc to Alrica (scc Moorc, moyclc, Villiams). arly in his
carccr, Achcbc sccmcd to rccognizc and, most honorably, to takc on thc
154 Andrca Powcll Vollc
dillicult rcsponsibilitics that camc with his privilcgcd position. !n his cssay
Novclist as Tcachcr (1965), Achcbc dcscribcs his own pcrccption ol his
rolc as a promincnt Alrican writcr: ! would bc quitc satislicd il my novcls
(cspccially thc oncs ! sct in thc past) did no morc than tcach my rcadcrs that
thcir pastwith all its impcrlcctionswas not onc long night ol savagcry
lrom which thc lirst uropcans acting on Gods bchall dclivcrcd thcm
(72). !n many rcgards, Achcbc has achicvcd his goal. !n his historical novcls,
Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God (1964), Achcbc dcpicts prccolonial !gbo
lilc with grcat complcxity. Although his charactcrs arc not without llaws,
Achcbc portrays thcir lilcstylcs and bclicl systcms as worthy ol rcspcct.
Achcbc rccalls his Alrican hcritagc with pridc and tcachcs othcrs to do
thc samc. !l only lor this rcason, Gikandi and othcrs arc ccrtainly justilicd
in considcring Achcbcs novcls loundational lor tcachcrs and scholars ol
Alrican litcraturc.
As lcminist critics havc long notcd, though, Achcbcs novcls, cspccially
his carly novcls, rcvcal rcal blind spots whcn it comcs to important gcndcr
issucs that continuc to plaguc many postcolonial Alrican countrics.
2
!n his
two historical novcls, in lact, Achcbc consistcntly sidclincs thc placc ol thc
postcolonial woman in ordcr to locus on postcolonial manhood. Vomcns
livcs oltcn scrvc as littlc morc than loddcr lor thc cxploration ol masculinity.
And bccausc Achcbc docs hold such a highprolc position in Alrican stud
ics, his gcndcrdctcrmincd blind spots dcmand carclul scrutiny. Tc apparcnt
dismissal ol womcns issucs in Achcbcs carly novcls suggcsts a rst things
rst approach to nationalism, an approach which dictatcs that Alricans dcal
with national problcms bclorc thcy movc on to lcss important issucs, such
as gcndcr politics on local lcvcls. Vc know, howcvcr, dcspitc thc immcdiatc
attractions ol thc rst things rst movcmcnt, that gcndcr issucs arc indccd
intcgral to nationalist causcs. Ccrtainly, in ordcr lor Alrican nationalism to
scrvc all Alricans, womcns issucs must makc thcir way into public discoursc
and, ultimatcly, womcn must takc part in thc actual lormation ol Alrican na
tions. Polygyny, or thc marriagc ol onc man to morc than onc woman at thc
samc timc, is onc systcm, still promincnt in many Alrican communitics, that
kccps womcn lrom taking part in this important busincss ol nationbuilding.
!ronically, in his historical novcls, Achcbc sccms to dismiss thc issuc ol Al
rican polygyny, which ! considcr an important gcndcr conccrn lor lcminists
thc world ovcr, as a nonissuc.
3

!n this cssay, ! analyzc Achcbcs portrayal ol polygyny in Tings Fall
Apart and Arrow of God and thcn illuminatc somc ol thc social rcalitics and
lasting lcgacics ol this systcm ol marriagc. Pcrhaps morc important, ! considcr
thc placc ol thc Vcstcrn lcminist critic in rclation to thc mattcr ol polygyny.
How can wc discuss Alrican polygyny without discounting its vcry rcal bcnc
ts lor womcn: Furthcrmorc, how can wc talk about polygyny in a productivc
155 Problcmatizing Polygyny
way, in a way that advanccs thc agcnda ol Alrican lcminism, without projcct
ing a Vcst is bcst idcology onto our discoursc and without lurthcr silcncing
thc womcn who arc actually involvcd in polygynous rclationships: ! proposc
that thc lramcwork ol lcminist postcolonial thcory, spccically bcll hookss
conccption ol solidarity, can providc us with a usclul way ol approaching
this complcx issuc and, ultimatcly, lcnd us thc authority that wc nccd in ordcr
to crcatc contcxts in which womcn can cnvision and pursuc altcrnativcs to
opprcssivc polygyny. Morcovcr, ! asscrt that wc can tcach Achcbcs historical
novcls in ways that providc our studcnts with mcaninglul opportunitics to
think through thc implications ol Achcbcs ccntrality to thc canon and thc
conscqucnccs ol his lack ol attcntion to gcndcr conccrns in gcncral and to thc
issuc ol polygyny in particular.
Polygyny is ccrtainly thc prclcrrcd typc ol marriagc lor thc mcn ol thc
prccolonial !gbo villagcs in both Tings Fall Apart and Arrow of God, but it is
in thc lattcr novcl that wc gain thc most insight into thc ncgativc cccts ol
this marriagc custom lor Achcbcs lcmalc charactcrs. Polygyny, in Arrow of
God at lcast, sccms to causc pcrpctual tcnsion bctwccn womcn ol thc com
munity. !n lact, lor thc lcmalc charactcrs in thc polygynous houscholds ol
Achcbcs Arrow of God, sct in latc ninctccnth or carly twcnticthccntury
Alrica, bickcring sccms a way ol lilc. zculu, thc Chicl Pricst ol his villagc
and thc protagonist ol Achcbcs tcxt, has two wivcs, Matc and Ugoyc, who
squabblc inccssantly throughout thc story. vcn in thc novcls opcning sccnc,
in which zculu and his wivcs and childrcn obscrvc thc ncw moon, Matc
and Ugoyc quarrcl ovcr whcthcr thc moon appcars to havc an cvil posturc
(2). Tcir rivalry bccomcs morc and morc apparcnt as thc novcl progrcsscs.
Matc rcscnts Ugoyc bccausc thc lattcr wilc is bcautilul and young cnough to
bcar childrcn and is thus still attractivc to thcir husband. Hcr jcalousy surlac
cs mostly in thc lorm ol malicious gossip. Vhcn Nwalo, Ugoycs son, shows
intcrcst in Matcs cooking, shc insinuatcs that Ugoyc starvcs hcr childrcn in
ordcr to accumulatc pcrsonal lunds lor jcwclry. Shc asks hcr own daughtcr,
Vhat do you cxpcct a boy to do whcn his mothcr cooks soup with locust
bcans lor sh: Shc savcs hcr moncy to buy ivory bracclcts (9). !n this way,
thc bittcrncss bctwccn thc two womcn inlccts cvcry intcraction that occurs
within zculus compound.
Tc compctition bctwccn thc two wivcs rcachcs a pcak altcr a physical
battlc bctwccn duchc, anothcr ol Ugoycs sons, and jiugo, Matcs daugh
tcr. Matc sccs that duchc has causcd a wclt to surlacc on hcr daughtcrs
lacc and takcs advantagc ol thc opportunity to publicly humiliatc Ugoyc. Shc
wails loudly that hcr daughtcr has bccn woundcd by thc son ol hcr husbands
othcr wilc. Ugoyc rcacts to Matcs accusations by running into thc scnior
wilcs hut and shouting, Lct nobody call my namc thcrc | . . . |. ! say lct no
body mcntion my namc at all (129). zculu, who has by this timc dismisscd
156 Andrca Powcll Vollc
thc battlc bctwccn his two childrcn as a normal instancc ol sibling rivalry and
ol minimal conscqucncc to him, promptly adviscs both ol his wivcs to shut
up. Vhcn Ugoyc protcsts again that Matc has criticizcd hcr unlairly, zculu
rctorts, And il shc did: . . . Go and jump on hcr back il you can (129). Vith
this rcsponsc, zculu dcmonstratcs that not only is hc accustomcd to thc
bickcring bctwccn his wivcs, but that, at lcast on somc lcvcl, hc takcs plcasurc
in thcir rivalry. Most ol all, though, zculu makcs it clcar that thc rclation
ship bctwccn his wivcs is ol littlc signicancc to him.
!n this way, wc bcgin to scc that compctition among womcn is cxpcctcd,
acccptablc, and, ultimatcly, inconscqucntial in Achcbcs polygynous socicty.
vcn outsidc ol zculus immcdiatc lamily, womcn ol thc community pit
thcmsclvcs against cach othcr in a numbcr ol sccncs. Vhcn duchc and
jiugo ght, lor instancc, thc crowd ol womcn surrounding thcm arc im
mcdiatcly dividcd (128). Two ol thc womcn, longtimc rivals, bccomc vcr
bally and physically aggrcssivc toward cach othcr. Tcy |mcasurc| thcmsclvcs
against cach othcr, and onc ol thcm rccommcnds that thc othcr go and cat
shit bclorc thc crowd nally dispcrscs (128). Furthcrmorc, during a spiri
tual rccnactmcnt ccrcmony at thc lcast ol Pumpkin Lcavcs, thc womcn all
|strugglc| to sccurc positions in thc lront (71). Jcalousy bctwccn womcn is
apparcntly cvcn lcgcndary in Achcbcs !gbo community, lor thc onc story
that Ugoyc rclatcs to hcr childrcn throughout thc novcl dcpicts thc troublcd
rclationship ol compcting wivcs. Tc story bcgins: ncc upon a timc thcrc
was a man who had two wivcs. Tc scnior wilc had many childrcn but thc
youngcr onc had only onc son. 8ut thc scnior wilc was wickcd and cnvious
(190). Ccrtainly, wc can undcrstand Ugoycs storytclling as a way ol hcr cop
ing with thc circumstanccs ol hcr own lilc, but thc lact that shc sharcs a talc
ol such bittcrncss and jcalousy with hcr young childrcn implics that although
rivalry bctwccn wivcs is a common occurrcncc in hcr culturc, it is not con
sidcrcd a scrious issuc. Ugoycs willingncss to rclatc this story to hcr childrcn
paradoxically indicatcs hcr scnsc ol anxicty rcgarding hcr quarrclsomc rcla
tionship with Matc, hcr awarcncss that hcr situation is normal, and, nally,
hcr dcnial that thc rivalry causcs hcr scrious cmotional distrcss cvcn whcn it
clcarly docs. Pcrhaps wc can intcrprct thc contcntion cvidcnt bctwccn thcsc
lcmalc charactcrs as a conscqucncc ol thcir communitys pcrccption ol thcm,
and thcir pcrccptions ol thcmsclvcs, as no morc than wivcs. As thc adjcctivc
jcalous is attachcd to thc noun wivcs in numcrous passagcs throughout
Arrow of God, wc lcarn, as thc womcn in Achcbcs prccolonial villagc havc
lcarncd, that womcn (or wivcs) arc cxpcctcd to bickcr and ght.
Rcading thc compctition bctwccn womcn in Achcbcs Arrow of God
through a lcminist lcns is tricky, though, to say thc lcast. First ol all, wc must
undcrstand thc rivalrics that dcvclop bctwccn womcn in this novcl within thc
broadcr contcxt ol rising tcnsions bctwccn mcn. zculus importancc as Chicl
157 Problcmatizing Polygyny
Pricst is scriously thrcatcncd, lor instancc, by thc arrival ol thc Christian mis
sionarics ncar his villagc, thc ncw Christian dcity, and thc missionarics who
attcmpt to win ovcr zculus ncighbors, and, indccd, his own son, duchc,
to a ncw typc ol rcligion, bccomc his dircct rivals throughout thc coursc ol
thc novcl. Furthcrmorc, zculu cngagcs in scvcral strugglcs with anothcr lo
cal Chicl Pricst, zidcmili, in attcmpts to provc thc suprcmacy ol his god
ovcr that ol thc othcrs god and, thus, his position ol suprcmc powcr ovcr thc
community. !n lact, zculus rclusal to dcclarc thc harvcst, a dccision that ul
timatcly causcs his pcoplc to turn to laith in thc Christian god, is onc way in
which zculu trics to position himscll as morc important than zidcmili. !n
dccd, in somc ways, Arrow of God is about rivalry, tcnsions bctwccn colonizcr
and colonizcd and bctwccn individual malc charactcrs drivc thc novcls plot.
Tc tcnsions bctwccn lcmalc charactcrs can bc rcad, thcn, much as zculus
hungcr lor powcr can bc rcad, as mcrc symptoms ol thc impcnding sickncss
ol colonization. !n this way, though, thc womcns rivalrics arc pcrhaps all thc
morc disturbing. Clcarly, womcn such as Ugoyc and Matc arc victims ol
that which many postcolonial scholars havc dcscribcd as doublc colonization.
Tcsc womcn arc subordinatcd, not only to thc colonizing powcrs, but also to
thcir own mcn. vcn il thc colonial lorccs at work in thc novcl intcnsily thc
conicts bctwccn thcsc two womcn, and othcr womcn in thc tcxt, polygyny
rcmains at thc corc ol thcir rivalrics.
Ccrtainly, polygyny, as portraycd in thc novcl, sccms to brccd a malc su
prcmacist idcology, which, according to lcminist scholar bcll hooks, tcachcs
us that womcn arc natural cncmics, that solidarity will ncvcr cxist bctwccn
us bccausc wc cannot, should not, and do not bond with onc anothcr (396).
uc to thc particular rcalitics ol polygynous living, thcn, thc womcn ol zcu
lus villagc do not dcmonstratc that which hooks calls solidarity (396). Tcy
do not support onc anothcr dcspitc thcir dicrcnccs or stand unitcd against
thcir opprcssors, as hooks suggcsts that womcn can and should do. Tc dil
culty with asscssing this aspcct ol Achcbcs lcmalc charactcrization, though,
lics in dctcrmining il his dcpiction ol womcn simply rcprcscnts thc social rc
ality ol his sctting or il Achcbc himscll actually cndorscs thc scxist trcatmcnt
ol womcn in thc novcl.
4
Rosc Urc Mczu, who discusscs Achcbcs trcatmcnt
ol gcndcr, cxplains that in crcating a masculincbascd socicty, Achcbc was
mcrcly putting litcraturc to mimctic usc, rcccting cxisting traditional morcs
(n.p.). Mczu gocs on, howcvcr, to lault Achcbc, not lor dcpicting womcn as
subordinatc to mcn, but lor rcndcring his womcn inconscqucntial and thus
kccping thcm on thc lringc ol thcir univcrscncglcctcd, cxploitcd, dcgcn
cratcd, and indccd madc to lccl likc outsidcrs. For Mczu, thcn, Achcbcs
scxist attitudc is unabashcd and without apology. Tus, although Achcbcs
portrayal ol womcn may bc historically accuratc, his disrcgard lor thc
158 Andrca Powcll Vollc
ncgativc circumstanccs ol his lcmalc charactcrs livcs is apparcnt throughout
Arrow of God.
Lct us also rccall, as wc considcr thc parallcls bctwccn Achcbcs por
trayal ol polygyny in Arrow of God and his pcrsonal attitudc toward this sys
tcm ol marriagc, Achcbcs own words in his important cssay An !magc ol
Alrica: Racism in Conrads Heart of Darkness (1975), now anthologizcd as a
scminal tcxt ol postcolonial thcory. 8csidcs using cxamplcs lrom Joscph Con
rads pcrsonal writings to provc this canonical author a bloody racist (215),
Achcbc points to spccic passagcs within Heart of Darkness that dcmonstratc
Conrads own pcrccptions ol Alricans. Achcbc docs considcr thc possibility
that thc attitudc to thc Alrican in Heart of Darkness is not Conrads but that
ol his ctional narrator, Marlow, and that lar lrom cndorsing it Conrad might
indccd bc holding it up to irony and criticism (214). Ultimatcly, though,
Achcbc rcjccts this intcrprctation: 8ut il Conrads intcntion is to draw a
cordon sanitaire bctwccn himscll and thc moral and psychological malaisc ol
his narrator, his carc sccms to mc totally wastcd bccausc hc ncglccts to hint
howcvcr subtly or tcntativcly at an altcrnativc lramc ol rclcrcncc by which wc
may judgc thc actions and opinions ol his charactcrs (214). Much as Achcbc
nds nothing in Heart of Darkness to suggcst an ironic dcpiction ol racism, !
nd nothing in Arrow of God to suggcst an ironic dcpiction ol scxism. !n lact,
! proposc that Achcbc rcvcals his own attitudc toward polygyny, an intrinsi
cally scxist institution, at scvcral points during thc novcl.
Achcbc rcvcals his dismissivc attitudc toward polygyny partially with
his usc ol numcrous pcrspcctivcs in Arrow of God. Troughout thc novcl,
Achcbc providcs us with not only insights into zculus own attitudc toward
his wivcs, but also glimpscs ol thc attitudc ol thc voicc that narratcs thc tcxt
and, pcrhaps most disturbingly, indications ol thc attitudcs ol thc womcn
toward cach othcr. All ol thcsc pcrspcctivcs point to Achcbcs own lack ol
intcrcst in thc rcal, matcrial conccrns ol his lcmalc charactcrs. Vc know, lor
instancc, that zculu rcgards rivalry bctwccn wivcs as common and incon
scqucntial. 8csidcs ignoring thc vcry rcal conccrns ol his warring wivcs, hc
squclchcs an argumcnt bctwccn his cldcst two sons by calling thcm jcalous
wivcs, implying that jcalousy is antithctical to masculinity and a scntimcnt
that bclongs in thc lcmininc sphcrc (13). Tc narrativc voicc arms zculus
asscssmcnt ol rivalry as unimportant. Vhcn zculu rcturns to his homc al
tcr imprisonmcnt, thc narrator inlorms us, csscntially, that things rcturn to
normal: vcn in zculus compound thc daily rounds cstablishcd thcmsclvcs
again. bikas ncw wilc had bccomc prcgnant, Ugoyc and Matc carricd
on likc any two jcalous wivcs | . . . | (193). Tc most disturbing pcrspcctivc
on thc bickcring bctwccn womcn is that statcd by Adczc, zculus cldcst
daughtcr, born ol zculus dcccascd rst wilc. Adczc is alrcady marricd and
rcsidcs in hcr husbands villagc whcn shc visits with hcr sistcr Akuckc at thc
159 Problcmatizing Polygyny
lcast ol Pumpkin Lcavcs. Likc Ugoyc, Akcukc has also cxpcricnccd numcr
ous conicts with Matc. Vhcn shc noticcs Akuckcs ncgativc rcaction to
Matcs prcscncc at thc lcast, Adczc tcascs Akuckc, Arc you two quarrclling
again: ! thought ! saw it on hcr lacc. Vhat havc you donc to hcr this timc:
(74). Achcbc uscs this cxchangc bctwccn Adczc and Akuckc to dcmonstratc
to his rcadcrs, in casc wc havc rcmaining doubts at this point in thc tcxt, that
thc ncgativc intcractions that occur bctwccn thc !gbo womcn in his novcl
arc just a part ol traditional Alrican lilc. 8ccausc thcsc words ol dismissal
arc spokcn by a woman, thcy scrvc to provc Achcbcs assumption that rivalry
bctwccn womcn is normal and not to bc takcn too scriously. Adczc, as a
woman hcrscll, powcrlully validatcs thc gcndcr norms ol prccolonial Alrica
that stimulatc compctition among womcn.
Although it is not such a ccntral issuc as in Arrow of God, polygyny is also
thc common modcl ol marriagc in Tings Fall Apart, Achcbcs rst novcl and
thc only othcr ol his major works sct in prccolonial Alrica. Tings Fall Apart
takcs placc a gcncration or so bclorc Arrow of God, and, likc thc lattcr novcl, is
sct in an !gbo villagc. Having multiplc wivcs is clcarly a markcr ol masculin
ity and prcstigc in thc prccolonial Alrican socicty ol thc tcxt. konkwo, thc
ccntral charactcr, rcscnts his lathcr, Unoka, who only had onc wilc and was
not succcsslul according to his sons standards, but hc honors thc mcmory ol
his lathcrs lricnd, koyc, who had a barn lull ol yams and | . . . | thrcc wivcs
(6). !n this way, wivcs arc cquatcd with propcrty in !gbo culturc and, cspc
cially, in konkwos mind. konkwo takcs grcat pridc in holding dominion
ovcr his wivcs. Hc bcats thcm rcgularly and quitc brutally. Although wc havc
no rcason to supposc that his community mcmbcrs condonc his trcatmcnt ol
his wivcs, it is ccrtainly acccptcd as nobodys busincss but konkwos. Addi
tionally, konkwo bclicvcs that |n|o mattcr how prospcrous a man |is|, il hc
|is| unablc to rulc his womcn and his childrcn (and cspccially his womcn) hc
|is| not rcally a man (53). Tcllingly, konkwos dcsirc lor womcn is thc samc
dcsirc that hc cxpcricnccs as hc prcparcs lor battlc, it is thc dcsirc to conqucr
and subduc (42). konkwos thrcc wivcs |livc| in pcrpctual lcar ol his cry
tcmpcr (13). Scholars havc paid amplc attcntion to Achcbcs portrayal ol
gcndcr in Tings Fall Apart, though not spccically to thc institution ol po
lygyny as it is prcscntcd in thc novcl (scc notcs 2, 3, and 8). Although rivalry
among womcn is not an issuc brought to thc lorclront in Tings Fall Apart as
it is in Arrow of God, ! asscrt that thc custom ol polygyny inucnccs womcns
livcs grcatly, and ncgativcly, in both novcls. Tc institution ol polygyny itscll
promotcs thc malc pcrccption ol womcn as mcrc acquisitions and ncccssarily
subordinatcs thcm to mcn and thc maintcnancc ol patrilincar culturc.
Altcr conducting studics into thc rcalitics ol polygyny in contcmporary
Alrican communitics, lcminist scholar Annc NasimiyuVasikc asscrts that
polygyny crcatcs a world ol unccrtaintics, jcalousics, and rivalrics (113). Vc
160 Andrca Powcll Vollc
nd that NasimiyuVasikcs conclusion rings truc as wc considcr thc tcn
sions that cxist bctwccn Achcbcs lcmalc charactcrs, cspccially in Arrow of
God. Pcrhaps morc important, though, polygyny, as a cultural systcm, simply
dchumanizcs womcn. !ntrinsic to thc institution ol polygyny is thc privilcg
ing ol malc status and thc dcnial ol lcmalc subjcctivity. !n gcncral, polygyny
assumcs that womcn cxist solcly lor thc bcnct ol thc mcn in thcir lamilics
and as trading collatcral lor thcir largcr communitics. As tccnagcrs, young
womcn arc commonly givcn in marriagc to much oldcr mcn lrom ncighbor
ing communitics, and, in thcsc cxchangcs, thcy crcatc bonds bctwccn thcir
homc communitics and thcir ncw husbands communitics. Anthropologist
ugcnc Hillman statcs that polygamy is a lunction ol social solidarity on
thc lcvcl ol thc cxtcndcd lamily, thc clan, and thc tribal or cthnic community
(118). Hc gocs on to cxplain: ach ncw marriagc scts up ncw rclationships
ol anity bctwccn two dicrcnt kin groups (118). !n this way, thc morc
wivcs (and latcr, daughtcrs) a man has, thc morc patronagc tics hc has to
othcr communitics. !n Arrow of God, lor instancc, mcsscngcrs lrom Umuaro
lccl salc visiting kpcri bccausc scvcral wivcs and mothcrs ol thc rst villagc
wcrc born and raiscd in thc sccond villagc (20). Tc two communitics arc thus
linkcd by thc translcr ol womcn lrom onc to thc othcr.
5
Tis typc ol patron
agc systcm is not cxclusivc to polygynous Alrican communitics, ol coursc, or
cvcn to Alrican communitics in gcncral, as it has opcratcd in many Vcst
crn culturcs throughout thc agcs in similar ways, howcvcr, polygyny ccrtainly
multiplics thc cccts and injurics ol this patriarchal systcm.
Frcqucntly in polygynous culturcs, oncc womcn arc marricd, thcy bc
comc thc propcrty ol thcir husbands communitics. Vc scc this shilt ol prop
crty in Arrow of God whcn bika marrics kuata, a young woman lrom
a ncighboring !gbo community. kuatas parcnts and scvcral lricnds lrom
hcr community dclivcr hcr to bika, and whcn thcy lcavc hcr, to livc out
thc rcst ol hcr lilc among thc pcoplc ol hcr ncw husband (who, wc must
rcmcmbcr, is himscll a strangcr to hcr), kuata lclt likc an orphan child
and tcars camc down hcr lacc (117). Tc ncxt day, |c|vcry child in zculus
compound wantcd to go to thc strcam and draw watcr | . . . | bccausc their
ncw wilc was going (123, cmphasis addcd). kuata is now claimcd, not only
by hcr husband, but also by hcr husbands lamily and by thc community at
largc. Altcr marriagc, womcn arc oltcn valucd most highly lor thc childrcn
that thcy producc lor thcir husbands communitics. !n gcncral, mcn prclcr
lor thcir wivcs to bcar malc childrcn to sccurc thc patrilincar continuancc ol
thcir lamilics, but thcy valuc lcmalc childrcn lor thc patronagc tics that thcy
will bring to thcir communitics whcn thcy cvcntually marry. Childrcn also
bccomc propcrty ol thcir lathcrs communitics, and mothcrs havc virtually
no voicc in thc raising ol thcir own childrcn. Vhcn Ugoyc protcsts zculus
ordcr that thcir son, duchc, participatc in a Christian missionary church,
161 Problcmatizing Polygyny
lor instancc, zculus rcsponds, How docs it conccrn you what ! do with my
sons: (46, cmphasis addcd). Vith this commcnt, zculu rcminds Ugoyc that,
as only a mothcr, shc docs not havc thc authority to qucstion his dccisions
rcgarding hcr childrcn.
8csidcs bcaring childrcn, womcn in polygynous socictics arc oltcn cx
pcctcd to do most ol thc planting and harvcsting and to cook and clcan lor
thcir husbands and childrcn.
6
A man who has multiplc wivcs multiplics his
lamilys labor lorcc and also his chancc at having many hcalthy childrcn. !n
Arrow of God, zculus brothcr, kckc spcaks on thc issuc ol marriagc: il
lcrcnt pcoplc havc dicrcnt rcasons lor marrying. Apart lrom childrcn which
wc all want, somc mcn want a woman to cook thcir mcals, somc want a
woman to hclp thcm on thc larm, othcrs want somconc thcy can bcat (64).
kckcs point is ccrtainly not that bcating womcn is acccptablc, on thc con
trary, this is thc only rcason ol thosc that hc statcs that is not acccptablc to
him and to most ol thc mcn in his community. !t is intcrcsting, though, that
kckc bcgins his spccch by asscrting that pcoplc havc various rcasons lor
wanting to marry but immcdiatcly slips into a dcscription ol what mcn want
and nccd lrom thc bond ol marriagc. A womans nccds arc not only not val
ucd hcrc, thcy arc not cvcn acknowlcdgcd. !n a systcm so ccntcrcd on malc
wants and nccds, thcn, it is no wondcr that Achcbcs lcmalc charactcrs bickcr
and dcmonstratc discontcnt in various ways throughout Arrow of God.
Yct, in his 88C documcntary scrics Te Africans: A Triple Heritage, Ali
A. Mazrui assurcs thosc ol us who might nd plural marriagc bascd on malc
suprcmacist idcology disturbing that polygamy is onc ol Alricas most mis
undcrstood institutions. Mazrui assumcs that polygyny works lor thosc who
practicc it and that Vcstcrncrs simply do not undcrstand this lorm ol mar
riagc. Ccrtainly, polygyny in practicc is a complicatcd custom and, although
! havc dcscribcd it in gcncral tcrms and with spccic attcntion to its ncgativc
aspccts, rcsists rcduction to a simplc dcnition. Tough polygyny is an insti
tution undcniably constructcd on principlcs ol malc supcriority and domin
ion, it scrvcs womcns intcrcsts in scvcral important ways. !n thcory, at lcast,
polygynous unions providc womcn with builtin support systcms. Hillman
says that in polygynous houscholds, thc joys and sorrows ol lamily lilc arc
sharcd (119). Furthcrmorc, il onc wilc cannot bcar childrcn, anothcr wilc
might givc onc ol hcr own childrcn to thc childlcss wilc lor upbringing (Hill
man 119). Vivcs sharc work rcsponsibilitics as wcll, and in arcas whcrc sub
sistcncc lood production dcpcnds on thc labor lorcc that cach lamily providcs
lor itscll, a polygynous houschold is morc ccicnt in providing lor its lamily
mcmbcrs (Hillman 114). !n his documcntary, Mazrui claims that in his cx
pcricncc, polygynous lamilics lunction wcll. Hc spcaks about his own two
mothcrs sharing rcsponsibilitics lor his dying lathcr and commcnts that, in
gcncral, il thcrc is jcalousy bctwccn two wivcs, it docs not intcrlcrc with daily
162 Andrca Powcll Vollc
work.
7
Anothcr positivc aspcct ol polygyny is that it providcs social stability
lor all womcn within a community. !t is almost unhcard ol lor a woman ol
marriagcablc agc to bc unmarricd in a polygynous community. Also, widows
arc quickly rcmarricd, usually by rclativcs ol thcir dcccascd husbands (Hill
man 121). !n a matcrial scnsc, thcn, polygyny providcs comlort and nan
cial sccurity lor womcn. A provcrb mcntioncd in Arrow of God arms thc
scnsc ol stability, cvcn amid gcncral unhappincss, that polygyny providcs lor
somc womcn: Let my husband hate me as long as he provides yams for me every
afternoon (176, cmphasis in original). !n lact, Carolc 8oycc avics claims
that although polygyny as a systcm lunctions lor an Alrican womans rcprcs
sion and submission, it is also a lcaturc ol hcr culturc which makc|s| lor
hcr indcpcndcncc and control (Mothcrhood 242). 8csidcs, polygyny is an
institution that, although scxist in naturc, is pcrpctuatcd by womcn as much
as it is pcrpctuatcd by mcn, as Hillman cxplains:
Vhcrc it is bclicvcd and sccn and lclt that polygamous, much morc
than monogamous, lamilics producc lor thcir mcmbcrs grcatcr
sccurity, prospcrity, and prcstigc, thc womcn thcmsclvcs will
bc sccn to lavor thc custom ol plural marriagc. Sincc thc wivcs,
togcthcr with thcir childrcn, sharc in all thc bcnclits ol bclonging
to thc polygamous lamily, thcy thcmsclvcs will somctimcs prcssurc
thcir husbands into sccking additional wivcs. Somc womcn rcgard
it as a disgracc to bc thc only wilc ol a man. (120)
Clcarly, thc custom ol polygyny is dccply ingraincd in many Alrican culturcs,
and, thus, cvcn though it is so opprcssivc to womcn, polygyny is onc ol thc
most dillicult ol traditions to climinatc (8oycc avics, !ntroduction 8).
!ndccd, dcspitc thc uropcan inucncc ol colonialism, polygyny has not
ccascd to cxist in Alrica. !n lact, although it may look slightly dicrcnt among
thc many divcrsc culturcs on thc contincnt, it continucs as a widcsprcad cus
tom. !n a 1998 study, sociologist Paul Spcnccr cstimatcs that thrcc out ol
lour Alrican socictics practicc polygyny (51). Somc scholars havc argucd that
polygyny will bccomc lcss common as Alrica bccomcs morc and morc indus
trializcd, but Samucl Vajc Kunhiyop, who claims that thc Christian Church
should acccpt Alrican polygyny as a lcgitimatc lorm ol marriagc, challcngcs
this assumption, stating, !t is cvidcnt that polygamy is not dying out as ar
gucd but rathcr is still prcscnt and nccds scrious attcntion (14). Polygynous
marriagc is cspccially common in rural arcas, having rcmaincd an idcal in
thosc arcas whcrc it is still an cconomic assct rathcr than a liability (Spcnccr
53). Tc !gbo ol Nigcria, whosc history and hcritagc Achcbc portrays in his
novcls, arc cxccptional among cultural groups in Alrica in that thc custom ol
polygyny has bccomc almost obsolctc.
163 Problcmatizing Polygyny
!n lact, thc majority ol !gbo today considcr thcmsclvcs to bc Christians
and havc abandoncd thc custom ol polygyny in accordancc with Christian
tcachings.
8
According to anicl Jordan Smith, an anthropologist who has
publishcd widcly on various aspccts ol !gbo culturc, Polygamy, oncc lairly
common, is cxcccdingly rarc among thc youngcr gcncration (139). Hc gocs
on to cxplain, howcvcr, that many !gbo mcn havc lovcrs:
That !gbo mcn can and will havc cxtramarital allairs is widcly
acccptcd. A man who chcats on his wilc risks littlc social
condcmnation, assuming hc continucs to providc lor his wilc and
childrcn | . . . |. !n lact, among !gbo mcn thcrc is a ccrtain pridc
in taking lovcrs. 8cing ablc to havc lovcrs is sign |sic| ol continuing
masculinc prowcss and ol cconomic succcss, bccausc, incrcasingly,
womcn cxpcct thcir lovcrs to pcrlorm cconomically as wcll as
scxually. (141)

!n this way, thcn, polygyny has lclt bchind a powcrlul lcgacy cvcn in culturcs
that havc, in thcory at lcast, abandoncd thc practicc. !n lact, thc systcm that
Smith dcscribcs is, in somc ways, much worsc lor womcn than polygynous
marriagc. Thc womcn who cngagc in cxtramarital allairs with !gbo mcn arc
not in stablc social positions, thcir malc partncrs do not havc linancial obli
gations to thcsc womcn as thcy do to thcir wivcs. Morcovcr, thc custom ol
marricd mcn taking lovcrs involvcs othcr risks, such as unwantcd prcgnancy
and thc sprcading ol A!S and othcr scxually transmittcd discascs. Many
!gbo mcn continuc to cngagc in cxtramarital allairs dcspitc thc risks and
problcms associatcd with this custom, howcvcr, somc cvcn rcgard it as thcir
cultural right to do so: To hcar !gbo mcn tcll it, acccss to multiplc womcn
is part ol thcir Alrican hcritagc. !t is our culturc, many mcn said, and it
cannot bc changcd. !mplicit in mcns vcrsion ol traditional culturc is thc
bclicl that womcn do not and havc ncvcr had thc samc rights ol cxtramarital
scxual acccss (Smith 146). Clcarly, gcndcr politics in !gbo communitics,
which havc ostcnsibly abandoncd thc practicc ol polygyny, continuc to vali
datc its powcrlul lcgacy.
!ntcrcstingly, in Vcstcrn acadcmic rcscarch, scholars havc largcly ig
norcd polygyny throughout thc past scvcral dccadcs. Ccrtainly, vcry lcw crit
ics ol Achcbcs two novcls, Arrow of God and Tings Fall Apart, havc locuscd
on thc polygynous lilcstylcs that hc prcscnts in thc tcxts. !n carly rcvicws ol
both novcls, critics cithcr ignorcd thc issuc ol polygyny, or thcy prcscntcd
it as a quaint aspcct ol Achcbcs rcndcring ol local color. Phocbc Adams, in
hcr 1959 rcvicw ol Tings Fall Apart, which is rcprcscntativc in contcnt and
tonc ol many ol thc othcr initial rcvicws ol thc novcl, was quitc cntranccd by
Achcbcs portrayal ol prccolonial Alrica, but shc lailcd to undcrstand that
164 Andrca Powcll Vollc
Achcbcs charactcrs rcprcscnt rcal pcoplc and rcal customs and cspccially that
thc customs prcscntcd in thc tcxts wcrc at thc timc (and rcmain today) prcva
lcnt in many Alrican cultural groups: Hcrc arc all thc primitivc ritcs, thc
witchcralt, and supcrstitious savagcry as wcll as thc morc acccptablc laccts
ol hcathcn cxistcncc dcpictcd with a historical insight availablc to lcw whitc
mcn (101). Vhcn Arrow of God was publishcd in thc Unitcd Statcs in 1967,
most rcvicwcrs trcatcd its portrayal ol Alrica in much thc samc way as Ad
ams rcgardcd Achcbcs Alrica in Tings Fall Apart. Tc rcvicw in Booklist, lor
instancc, labclcd thc novcl a slowmoving but cvocativc novcl ol Alrican
villagc lilc in thc 1920s (824). Clcarly, critics wcrc attractcd to thcsc carly
Achcbc novcls lor thc charming picturcs thcy conjurcd ol nativcs in a placc
lar away and wcrc much lcss intcrcstcd in thc gcndcr politics prcscntcd in thc
books or thc lcgacics ol thcsc politics lor actual Alrican pcoplc. !n dangcrous
ways, ! think, Vcstcrncrs rcad thcir own colonialist stcrcotypcs into thcsc
carly postcolonial tcxts.
spccially as wc cndcavor to unpack thc political import ol Achcbcs
portrayal ol polygyny, wc must considcr thc ways Vcstcrncrs havc tcndcd to
ignorc thc issuc ol polygyny. ur rcluctancc to addrcss Achcbcs dcpiction
ol this systcm ol marriagc is pcrhaps indicativc ol our rcluctancc to addrcss
polygyny at all and, lct alonc, to dcclarc a strong stancc on thc issuc. Although
somc critics ol Achcbc havc considcrcd issucs ol gcndcr in his ctional works,
virtually nonc havc addrcsscd polygyny.
9
!n lact, vcry lcw lcminists havc writ
tcn about polygyny at all, as it cxists in litcraturc or in thc rcal world, at lcast
in lormal scholarship. Tc topic ol polygyny did comc up rcccntly, howcvcr,
on VMSTL, an intcrnational cmail lorum lor thc discussion ol Vomcns
Studics issucs. Tis listscrv convcrsation, which occurrcd bctwccn March 26
and March 30, 2006, bcgan with a discussion ol thc H8 scrics Big Love and
ways to usc this program to talk about polygyny in thc classroom. 8ccausc
Big Love portrays thc trials ol polygyny in an Amcrican Mormon lamily,
thc discussion ncccssarily locuscd on polygyny in thc Unitcd Statcs. As thc
discussion broadcncd to a morc gcncral dcbatc on polygyny, though, attitudcs
toward polygyny itscll surlaccd. An immcnsc division cmcrgcd bctwccn
thosc who argucd that polygyny is opprcssivc to womcn and, thus, a systcm
that must bc dcmolishcd and thosc who bclicvcd that polygyny is simply an
altcrnativc typc ol marriagc and, though admittcdly scxist in naturc, a bond
ultimatcly agrccd upon among conscnting adults. !n thc cnd, no conclusions
wcrc rcachcd in thc listscrv discussion cxccpt that wc nccd to talk about
polygyny in nuanccd tcrms, that polygyny is cxpcricnccd dicrcntly by dicr
cnt individuals, and that this systcm ol marriagc cxists lor multiplc purposcs,
not all ol which disscrvicc womcn. !t is intcrcsting that thc topic ol Alrican
polygyny only cntcrcd into thc discussion onc timc and thcn mcrcly as an
cxamplc ol how drastically opinions on polygyny can dicr, cvcn in Alrica,
165 Problcmatizing Polygyny
onc contributor statcd, womcn disagrcc about whcthcr or not thc practicc
should bc continucd.
8csidcs rccognizing that polygyny is a multidimcnsional custom with
dccp roots in many Alrican communitics, lcminist scholars havc avoidcd
discussing this topic lor various othcr rcasons. Vc must cxaminc our ra
tionalc lor cvading thc topic ol polygyny in thc past in ordcr to bcgin to
considcr appropriatc ways to dcal with it in thc prcscnt. For instancc, onc
motivc lor avoiding polygyny is that lcminists do not want to associatc thcm
sclvcs with thc Christian missionarics who, bcginning in prccolonial timcs
and continuing up until thc prcscnt day, havc gonc to cxtrcmcs to cradicatc
polygynous customs among thcir Alrican convcrts. Polygyny has lrcqucntly
bccn considcrcd by Christians a statc ol adultcry (Kunhiyop 43). !n many
cascs, in lact, whcn a polygynous man has convcrtcd to Christianity, hc has
bccn rcquircd to choosc just onc ol his wivcs and to divorcc thc othcrs. Tc
rcsults ol polygynous divorccs havc bccn scvcrc, somc abandoncd wivcs, un
ablc to marry again duc to cultural bclicls, havc turncd to prostitution, and
abandoncd childrcn havc strugglcd with povcrty and thc stigma associatcd
with illcgitimacy (Kunhiyop 44). As Christianity has bccomc onc ol most
dominant, and dominccring, rcligions in Alrica, many Alrican countrics havc
criminalizcd polygyny and, in somc cascs, pronounccd it punishablc by im
prisonmcnt (Mazrui). 8ccausc organizcd Christianity has takcn a stancc ol
rigid condcmnation against it, thcn, polygyny has clcarly comc to rcprcscnt a
disjuncturc bctwccn thc undcrstanding ol Vcstcrn pcoplcs and thc culturcs
ol indigcnous Alrica. Fcminist scholars may bc hcsitant to align thcmsclvcs
with thc Church and thc oltcn mcrcilcss ways in which Christians havc han
dlcd thc custom ol polygyny.
10

Anothcr dctcrrcnt to Vcstcrncrs spcaking out against polygyny is that
it is an ancicnt custom, onc that cxistcd wcll bclorc thc agc ol uropcan
colonialism. Sincc Vcstcrncrs had no hand in crcating this marriagc systcm,
opprcssivc to womcn though it may bc, many bclicvc that it is not within our
rights as outsidcrs to qucstion it. Vhilc it is truc that Vcstcrncrs did not crcatc
thc institution ol polygyny, thc colonial systcm ccrtainly contributcd signi
cantly to thc plight ol Alrican womcn. As many historians havc pointcd out,
though, thc colonial structurc powcrlully rcinlorccd thc patriarchal systcms
that alrcady cxistcd in prccolonial Alrica. For onc thing, thc introduction ol
capitalism oltcn subordinatcd womcn, who had prcviously hcld important
rolcs as laborcrs lor thcir lamilics, to thcir wagccarning husbands. Minckc
Schippcr claims that undcr capitalism, thc valuc ol traditional womcns labor
was rcduccd considcrably bccausc thc homc and thc workplacc wcrc scpa
ratcd |and| thc statc and industrial conccrns rcscrvcd most urban wagc la
bor lor mcn (157). Tc capitalist systcm madc womcn cvcn morc dcpcndcnt
on mcn, ol coursc, lor providing lor thcir matcrial nccds. Colonial laws also
166 Andrca Powcll Vollc
dcvalucd womcn by dctcrmining that thcy had no rights to owncrship ol
land or control ovcr thc producc thcy cultivatcd (157). !n addition, colonial
ism narrowcd thc possibilitics lor womcn within thcir communitics and thc
world at largc: Tcir traditional powcrs ol hcaling and othcr lunctions (spirit
mcdiums, midwivcs, brcwcrs ol ritual bccr) wcrc undcrmincd by Church and
Statc. Vomcn rcccivcd littlc or no cducation bccausc ncithcr Alrican nor co
lonial patriarchs rcgardcd it as important (158). Furthcrmorc, in somc cascs,
colonial lorccs did dircctly inucncc thc incrcasc ol polygyny. !n his study ol
thc history ol thc Yoruba, anothcr cultural group lrom Nigcria, Andrcw Ap
tcr claims that thc cocoa tradc, which incrcascd dramatically in Nigcria lrom
1900 through 1960, causcd an incrcasc in polygynous houscholds among
larmcrs who tradcd in cocoa, with thcir wivcs as managcrs (120). !n thcsc
cascs, mcn nccdcd multiplc wivcs to managc largc cocoa busincsscs. Vithout
a doubt, uropcan impcrialism has donc its part in kccping Alrican womcn
on thc lowcr rungs ol thc traditionally patriarchal hicrarchy that still cxists in
many Alrican culturcs, prcvcnting thcm lrom achicving indcpcndcncc and
suitablc quality ol living.
!ndccd, thcn, Vcstcrn lcminists and Alrican lcminists alikc must qucs
tion thc polygynous customs ol Alrica, as thcy arc rcprcscntcd in litcraturc
such as Achcbcs and as thcy cxist in actuality, and, in doing so, makc stridcs
toward cmpowcring thc womcn ol polygynous socictics. As 8oycc avics as
scrts, |F|orms ol opprcssion intrinsic to various socictics which still plaguc
Alrican womcns livcs | . . . | must incvitably bc at thc crux ol Alrican lcminist
thcory (!ntroduction 7). NasimiyuVasikc takcs 8oycc avicss asscssmcnt
a stcp lurthcr and statcs spccically, !t is only by uniting and locusing on
thc common cncmy that womcn will bc ablc to cxposc thc cvils ol polygamy
(113). ur goal is not ncccssarily to cradicatc thc practicc ol polygyny, though,
and ccrtainly not to punish or ridiculc mcmbcrs ol polygynous lamilics, as
missionarics havc donc in thc past. !nstcad, wc must work toward thc crcation
ol salc contcxts lrom which womcn can talk opcnly about thc gcndcr politics
that inucncc and control thcir livcs and, ultimatcly, makc thcir own dcci
sions about marriagc without risking condcmnation lrom thcir communitics.
Ccrtainly, though, wc must rcsist cnvisioning and trcating womcn involvcd in
polygynous rclationships as agcntlcss and cndcavor to listcn to thcir own cx
prcssions ol subjcctivity, in whatcvcr lorms thcsc may takc. Also, as Chandra
Talpadc Mohanty rcminds us, lcminists must rclusc to givc in to thc tcmpta
tion ol homogcnization, which shc rcgards as discursivcly coloniz|ing| thc
matcrial and historical hctcrogcncitics ol thc livcs ol womcn in thc third
world, thcrcby producing/rcprcscnting a compositc, singular Tird Vorld
Vomanan imagc that appcars arbitrarily constructcd, but ncvcrthclcss car
rics with it thc authorizing signaturc ol Vcstcrn humanist discoursc (260).
Tcorist Annc McLccr prcscnts an altcrnativc to rcproducing thc Tird
167 Problcmatizing Polygyny
Vorld Voman as thcr. Shc says that wc must cmbracc notions ol sistcr
hood and a global condition ol womcn without crasing dicrcncc or ncgating
othcr aspccts ol womcns idcntity, such as culturc, cthnicity, nationalism, and
so lorth (46). As lcminists ol thc VMSTL listscrv havc mcntioncd, wc
cannot assumc that all womcn in polygynous marriagcs havc livcd similar
cxpcricnccs or cvcn that thcy arc opprcsscd in thc samc way. Pcrhaps most
importantly, wc cannot ignorc thc vcry rcal bcncts ol polygyny or lail to rcc
ognizc thc matcrial rcasons why womcn choosc to pcrpctuatc this institution.
Ultimatcly, as 8cnita Parry points out, discourscs ol rcprcscntation should
not bc conluscd with matcrial rcality (37). Fcminists must rcspcct womcns
dccisions rcgarding how thcy will livc thcir livcs, bccausc, ol coursc, no systcm
should ovcrridc a womans right to choosc.
As outsidcrs, though, wc in thc Vcst lacc dcnitc challcngcs as wc
vcnturc to crcatc changc cvcn in thc discourscs surrounding polygyny and
ccrtainly in thc social practicc ol Alrican marriagc customs. First ol all, bc
causc impcrial nations havc lrcqucntly uscd womcns rights issucs as justi
cations, or cxcuscs, lor colonization, wc must ght to dicrcntiatc oursclvcs
lrom thc protolcminists ol thc impcrialist agc. Vc must avoid transposing a
Vcst is bcst idcology onto thc issuc ol Alrican polygyny. ! bclicvc that wc
can bcst work against polygyny by lorming allianccs with Alrican womcn
thcmsclvcs. Howcvcr, cvcn thc womcn among us cannot basc our alliancc
with Alrican womcn simply on gcndcr. As Mohanty suggcsts, Sistcrhood
cannot bc assumcd on thc basis ol gcndcr, it must bc lormcd in concrctc,
historical and political practicc and analysis (262). vcn thc tcrm sistcr
hood is problcmatic in that it signics gcndcr as thc dcning lactor ol rc
lationships bctwccn womcn. hooks takcs Mohantys suggcstion lurthcr and
proposcs that thc consolidation ol divcrsc lorms ol lcminism not ncccssarily
takc thc shapc ol sistcrhood but ol solidarity, which, as mcntioncd carlicr,
accommodatcs dicrcncc:
Vomcn do not nccd to cradicatc dillcrcncc to lccl solidarity.
Vc do not nccd to sharc common opprcssion to light cqually to
cnd opprcssion. Vc do not nccd antimalc scntimcnts to bond us
togcthcr, so grcat is thc wcalth ol cxpcricncc, culturc, and idcas wc
havc to sharc with onc anothcr. Vc can bc sistcrs unitcd by sharcd
intcrcsts and bclicls, unitcd in our apprcciation lor divcrsity,
unitcd in our strugglc to cnd scxist opprcssion, unitcd in political
solidarity. (411)

Thc most prcssing qucstion, thcn, sccms to ask thc lollowing: How can wc
bc unitcd in solidarity with thosc who do not spcak about thcir opprcssion:
168 Andrca Powcll Vollc
Studics havc shown that many Alrican womcn arc dissatiscd with
thcir rolcs in polygynous lamilics but that thcy arc rcluctant to spcak out
about thcir strugglcs. Summarizing thc rcsults ol an anonymous 1992 survcy
ol lcmalc Nigcrians attitudcs toward gcndcr and gcndcr rolcs, Nasimiyu
Vasikc says: Tis shows that many womcn arc not happy with thcir lot,
dcspitc thcir sccming acccptancc | . . . |. Tcy quictly rcjcct and rcscnt what
socicty and mcn havc imposcd on thcm (112). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
arms NasimiyuVasikcs ndings. !n thc 1988 vcrsion ol hcr groundbrcak
ing cssay Can thc Subaltcrn Spcak: Spivak asscrts that womcn in postcolo
nial nations, cspccially undcrprivilcgcd womcn, arc gcncrally unablc to voicc
thcir cxpcricnccs:
Vithin thc cllaccd itincrary ol thc subaltcrn subjcct, thc track
ol scxual dillcrcncc is doubly cllcctcd | . . . | both as objcct
ol colonialist historiography and as subjcct ol insurgcncy, thc
idcological construction ol gcndcr kccps thc malc dominant. !l,
in thc contcxt ol colonial production, thc subaltcrn has no history
and cannot spcak, thc subaltcrn as lcmalc is cvcn morc dccply in
shadow. (28)

Hcrc Spivak suggcsts that womcn in postcolonial countrics arc silcnccd both
by thc traditional patriarchy undcr which many Alricans construct thcir
livcs and by thc lcgacy ol colonialism. Thus, ! claim that a part ol solidar
ity, as dclincd by hooks, is dirccting our attcntion to thc silcnt sullcring
ol womcn.
! do not claim that wc can spcak lor Alrican womcn in polygynous
rclationships, instcad, ! insist that wc must spcak about thc circumstanccs
ol thcsc womcns livcs and work toward incorporating thcir voiccs into our
discoursc. As Vcstcrn lcminists, wc can cnvision and bcgin to crcatc cul
tural changc by spcaking out against polygyny. 8ccausc lcminists livc divcrsc
livcs and work in divcrsc clds, wc can spcak out against polygyny in divcrsc
ways. As tcachcrs, wc can tcach Achcbcs historical novcls with attcntion to
thc voiccs that Achcbc cxcludcs. Vc can ask our studcnts to considcr thc
portrayal ol polygyny in Tings Fall Apart and Arrow of God. Tcsc tcxts, and
thc dcpictions ol polygyny within thcm, can providc our studcnts with op
portunitics to discuss thc placc ol thc Vcstcrn lcminist in thcsc mattcrs. As
litcrary scholars, wc can bcgin to changc thc opprcssivc marriagc customs in
Alrica by discussing polygyny in gcncral, much as thc contributors to thc
VMSTL listscrv did carlicr this ycar. Participants in discussions such as
this onc, howcvcr, would do wcll to rcmcmbcr hookss idca ol solidarity. Tc
primary disagrccmcnt that occurrcd during this discussion was ovcr whcthcr
or not Vcstcrn lcminists havc thc authority to takc a stand on thc issuc ol
169 Problcmatizing Polygyny
polygyny. n this issuc, listscrv commcnts, unlortunatcly, turncd pcrsonal
and took on highly aggrcssivc toncs. !nstcad ol squabbling with onc anothcr,
as il playing thc parts ol jcalous wivcs in an Achcbc novcl, ovcr our author
ity, or lack ol authority, to judgc polygyny, lct us rccall that ncithcr dicrcnccs
ol opinion among thosc who spcak about polygyny nor dicrcnccs in cxpcri
cnccs bctwccn Vcstcrn womcn and Alrican womcn nccd prcvcnt us lrom
working toward thc cmpowcrmcnt ol all womcn. Vc nccd not lcar tclling thc
truth, which is, ol coursc, that polygyny, as a systcm that so clcarly subjugatcs
womcn to thc nccds and dcsircs ol mcn, is intrinsically opprcssivc. Tus, as
lcminists, wc must stand unitcd against thc marriagc custom ol polygyny.
! bcgin this proccss by bringing to light, lor thc purposcs ol discussion,
Chinua Achcbcs portrayal ol polygyny in Tings Fall Apart and Arrow of
God. As statcd prcviously, Achcbc csscntially writcs polygyny o as a non
issucit is not somcthing that hc is particularly intcrcstcd in or considcrs to
bc much ol a problcm. !n ordcr to undcrstand thc signicancc ol Achcbcs
attitudc toward polygyny, howcvcr, wc must rcturn to his rcputation within
and outsidc ol thc acadcmy. Mczu dcscribcs Achcbcs succcss in tcrms ol thc
caglc on thc iroko:
!n this mctaphor thc iroko |thc tallcst trcc in Alrican landscapc|
rcprcscnts thc licld ol Alrican litcraturc, thc caglc |thc king ol
birds|, Chinua Achcbc. Achcbc has, ol coursc, litcrarily climbcd
and soarcd abovc thc iroko scvcral timcs. Morc than thosc ol any
othcr Alrican writcr, his writings havc hclpcd to dcvclop what is
known as Alrican litcraturc today | . . . |. Having bccn thc lirst,
so to spcak, to scalc thc top ol thc iroko, this caglc Achcbc, and
othcr malc caglcts altcr him, arguably havc appropriatcd all that
thcy havc lound thcrc. (n.p.)
Mczu lirst rcports on thc undcniably promincnt position that Achcbc has
sccurcd lor himscll in thc licld ol Alrican litcraturc. Shc gocs on to rcvcal
his scxist portrayal ol Alrican culturc and insinuatc that this particular
aspcct ol Achcbcs work has rcsultcd in ncgativc conscqucnccs lor thc rcal
Alrican womcn whom his lcmalc charactcrs rcprcscnt. spccially bccausc
Achcbc rcgards himscll as somcthing ol a tcachcr to his Alrican rcad
crs, his dismissal ol womcns issucs, such as polygyny, is problcmatic.
11
l
coursc, Achcbc may simply rcgard his stancc toward polygyny as only a
ncccssary postponcmcnt ol a morc indcpth analysis ol womcns issucs in
Alrica. Hc may assumc that attcntion to womcns issucs should lollow a
sccuring ol national idcntity in postcolonial nations. Postcolonial lcminist
scholar Kristcn Holst Pctcrscn cxplains how womcns issucs havc bccn swcpt
asidc in Alrican litcraturc lor thc purposcs ol nationalist causcs:
170 Andrca Powcll Vollc
An important impctus bchind thc wavc ol Alrican writing which
startcd in thc 60s was thc dcsirc to show both thc outsidc world
and Alrican youth that thc Alrican past was ordcrly, dignilicd
and complcx and altogcthcr a worthy hcritagc. This was obviously
opting lor lighting cultural impcrialism, and in thc coursc ol that
thc womcns issuc was not only ignorcda latc which would havc
allowcd it to surlacc whcn thc timc was ripcit was conscriptcd
in thc scrvicc ol dignilying thc past and rcstoring Alrican scll
conlidcncc. (253)
!n his carly novcls, Achcbc docs cxactly what Pctcrscn dcscribcs, hc assumcs
both that womcns issucs arc not intcgral to thc nationalist causc and that
thcy can wait. Achcbc is ccrtainly not thc only Alrican or postcolonial writcr
to makc thcsc dangcrous assumptions rcgarding thc placc ol womcns issucs
within thc largcr nationalist movcmcnts, but hc is pcrhaps thc most signili
cant ligurc to do so in thc licld ol Alrican litcrary studics.
!n his critiquc ol Conrads Heart of Darkness, Achcbc condcmns thc
tcndcncy ol Vcstcrn writcrs to dcpict Alrica as thc antithcsis ol uropc. Hc
dcscribcs this muchcmploycd litcrary tropc as cvidcncc ol thc dcsirconc
might indccd say thc nccdin Vcstcrn psychology to sct Alrica up as a
loil lor uropc, a placc ol ncgations at oncc rcmotc and vagucly lamiliar in
comparison with which uropcs own statc ol spiritual gracc will bc manilcst
(!magc 210). !n his historical novcls, howcvcr, Achcbc uscs womcn in much
thc samc way as Conrad uscs Alricans. Ccrtainly, Achcbc docs not systcmati
cally dchumanizc his womcn as hc claims Conrad docs to his Alricans, but
Achcbc consistcntly uscs lcmalc charactcrs to throw malc charactcrs in rclicl.
Tc bickcring bctwccn Mati and Ugoyc, lor instancc, is prcscntcd as insig
nicant whcn mcasurcd against zculus rivalry with zidcmili and down
right trivial whcn comparcd to thc thrcat that thc Christian missionarics posc
to zculus spiritual lcadcrship. Achcbcs dcpiction ol polygyny in Tings Fall
Apart and Arrow of God situatcs his lcmalc charactcrs rmly in a masculinc
tradition that prcvcnts thcm lrom moving into thc positions ol powcr, posi
tions that womcn in Alrica must occupy in ordcr lor thcir nations to scrvc
thcir nccds. Morc signicantly, Achcbc providcs us with no altcrnativc way ol
rcading his portrayal ol polygyny. So il Hcart ol arkncss rcvcals Conrads
dclibcratc racism, Achcbcs historical novcls rcvcal his, probably subconscious,
scxism. Furthcrmorc, il Conrads dcpiction ol Alrica points to his darkcst lcar
that, in an uncivilizcd land, a uropcan might mcntally and morally dctc
rioratc to thc lcvcl ol an Alrican, thcn Achcbcs rcprcscntation ol polygyny
points to his lcar that undcr thc colonialism ol thc carly twcnticth ccntury
or thc ncocolonialism ol today, a man might dcclinc to thc statc ol a jcalous
wilc. Postcolonialism has oltcn involvcd rcclamation ol nativc malc powcr
171 Problcmatizing Polygyny
and, as a rcsult, has somctimcs cncouragcd thc romanticizing ol prccolonial
lorms ol masculinity. Ccrtainly, polygyny has traditionally scrvcd as a systcm
through which Alrican mcn could dcmonstratc powcr and staturc within
thcir communitics. !n this way, Achcbcs portrayal ol polygyny suggcsts his
anxicty, inucntial to his work at lcast during thc pcriod ol timc in which
thcsc tcxts wcrc writtcn and publishcd, ovcr dispcnsing with this particular
avcnuc ol proving Alrican manhood.
Achcbc proposcs that thc rcason that Vcstcrn rcadcrs havc so long ac
ccptcd Conrads rcprcscntation ol Alrica as lactual is bccausc this rcprcscn
tation is consistcnt with a typical Vcstcrncrs systcm ol thought: Tat this
simplc truth |Conrad is a racist| is glosscd ovcr in criticism ol his work is duc
to thc lact that whitc racism against Alrica is such a normal way ol think
ing its manilcstations go complctcly undctcctcd (215). Likcwisc, pcrhaps
wc havc not attcndcd to Achcbcs dismissal ol polygyny bccausc, as primar
ily an Alrican womcns issuc, this mattcr has somchow lallcn o our radars.
!t is a sccmingly lorgottcn issucan issuc not usually considcrcd with thc
rcspcct that it is duc. Ccrtainly, Chinua Achcbcs two historical novcls lail to
rcprcscnt thc lull signicancc ol this issuc lor Alrican womcn. Tus, Achcbc
is pcrhaps guilty ol that which hc warns against in his introduction to a col
lcction ol his cssays, Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) (a titlc that in itscll
alludcs to thc optimism ol thc nationalist movcmcnt). As Achcbc points out
in thc cpigraph that ! usc to opcn this cssay, thcrc is a rcal dangcr in lorgctting
thc truth about thc statc ol oncs nation, cspccially as that nation is lorming,
and in imagining slogans, such rst things rst, morc rcal than rcality
itscll. And yct, in his qucst to dignily Alrican tradition and customs, Achcbc
has lorgottcn thc truc statc ol aairs in polygynous homcs all across Alrica.
Likc othcrs in positions ol powcr, Achcbc has ignorcd that polygyny still cx
ists and lorgottcn that this institution dcscrvcs and dcmands carclul scrutiny.
Hc has uscd polygyny as a way to talk about masculinity whilc ignoring thc
problcms, lor womcn likc Matc and Ugoyc in Arrow of God, ol this systcm
ol marriagc. Hc has lorgottcn that polygyny is intrinsically dcstructivc to
womcns autonomy, that it purposclully silcnccs thcm. Pcrhaps most ol all, at
lcast in his carly novcls, Achcbc lorgcts that in ordcr lor Alrican nationalism
to scrvc all Alricans, womcn must takc part in thc lormation ol Alrican na
tions, that womcns voiccs must bc hcard.
As Gikandi suggcsts, Achcbc has changcd thc lacc ol Alrican litcraturc,
rcviscd thc pcrccption ol Alrica in thc Vcstcrn world, and donc morc than
his lair sharc to instill a scnsc ol cultural pridc in his Alrican rcadcrs. ! do not
arguc that wc should, or cvcn that wc could, rcmovc Achcbc lrom his posi
tion as such a promincnt gurc in Alrican litcrary studics. Rathcr, ! proposc
that wc complicatc somc ol thc issucs that Achcbc has so succcsslully brought
to intcrnational attcntion. Polygyny is onc such issuc that wc must addrcss
172 Andrca Powcll Vollc
morc lully in scholarly studics and discoursc. As Vcstcrn lcminist tcachcrs
and scholars, wc can practicc solidarity, cvcn with thosc who do not spcak
about thcir strugglcs, by taking a stand on this admittcdly complicatcd issuc.
Ccrtainly, wc do not want to lurthcr appropriatc womcns livcs, but wc must
rcmind Achcbc, and othcrs, that systcms ol marriagc havc to changc in ordcr
lor Alrican womcn to bc ablc to spcak out and join thc nationalist causc.
No:vs
1. ! usc thc tcrm polygyny, which rclcrs spccilically to thc practicc ol a man
having morc than onc wilc at thc samc timc, rathcr than polygamy, which is a
univcrsal tcrm that dcnotcs plural marriagc. ! prclcr polygyny bccausc it is this
typc ol plural marriagc that is most common in Alrican communitics. Polyandry,
thc practicc ol a woman having morc than onc husband at thc samc timc, is
cxtrcmcly rarc among communitics in Alrica. !n ordcr to rcmain truc to thc words
ol othcr scholars and thcorcticians that ! usc in this cssay, ! rctain thcir usc ol thc
tcrm polygamy cvcn whcn polygyny would morc accuratcly dcscribc thc systcms
ol marriagc that thcy discuss.
2. Mcrun Nasscr and Mabcl Scgun cxplicitly arguc that Achcbc has
disscrviccd his lcmalc rcadcrs.
3. Although ! arguc that his lirst two novcls, Things Fall Apart and Arrow of
God, dismiss important womcns issucs, ! agrcc with critics such as !dowu moyclc,
Rosc Urc Mczu, Kwadwo sciNyamc, Jr., and Sophia . gwudc, who havc
notcd that Achcbc docs attcnd morc lully to thc positions ol Alrican womcn in
his latcr novcls. As Mczu asscrts, Achcbcs ncwly cnvisioncd lcmalc rolcs arc to bc
cxpoundcd, articulatcd, and sccurcd by woman hcrscll (n.p.). According to Mczu,
Achcbc cvcn gocs so lar as to |acknowlcdgc| that thc malaisc thc Alrican party is
cxpcricncing rcsults lrom cxcluding womcn lrom thc schcmc ol things. ! rccognizc,
howcvcr, that thc historical novcls, cspccially Things Fall Apart, arc thc oncs most
oltcn taught, thus, Achcbcs trcatmcnt ol womcns issucs in thcsc novcls sccms
cspccially important to thc ways in which thcsc issucs arc vicwcd in and outsidc ol
thc acadcmy.
4. Critics dcbatc this issuc hotly. !n opposition to Mczu, Pralulla C. Kar rcads
Achcbcs charactcrization as an attcmpt to rcndcr a rcalistic vcrsion ol prccolonial
Alrica and thc pcoplc who livcd within that world, asscrting that Achcbc cxamincs
thc naturc ol thc traditional Alrican without trying to idcalisc it (152). Scc also
gwudc.
5. Minckc Schippcr, in a 1996 issuc ol Research in African Literatures, says
that in traditional Alrican culturcs, il a man wants a wilc, shc will havc to bc
rclinquishcd by anothcr man | . . . |. !n this cxchangc, thc woman is not a subjcct but
an objcct. Mcn |trcat| womcn as living commoditics, to bc bartcrcd in thc intcrcst ol
cnhancing thc grcatcr glory ol malc status | . . . |. !n a numbcr ol culturcs, a woman
is only known as somc mans daughtcr or mothcr. Hcr idcntity is dcpcndcnt on hcr
lathcr, husband, or son. (162)
6. As Julict !. konkwo asscrts, Thc wilc is to all intcnts and purposcs
scrvant (148).
173 Problcmatizing Polygyny
7. !ntcrcstingly, although hc sccks to prcscnt polygyny in a positivc light,
Mazruis commcnt dcmonstratcs his assumption that jcalousy is indccd inhcrcnt in
thc systcm ol polygyny.
8. As litcrary scholar . !bc Nwoga points out, thc !gbos arc wcll known lor
thcir rcccptivity to changc (36). This cultural group acccptcd Christianity quickly
whcn missionarics introduccd it in thc carly part ol thc twcnticth ccntury.
9. !n opposition to Nasscr and Scgun, somc scholars havc positioncd Achcbc
as scnsitivc to thc intcrcsts ol Alrican womcn. Scc thc articlcs ol Nwando Achcbc,
8iodun Jcyilo, and Kwadwo sciNyamc.
10. vcn though Achcbc dcals dircctly with thc conscqucnccs ol Christian
missionary work lor his charactcrs in both Arrow of God and Things Fall Apart, hc
avoids any intcrrogation ol polygyny cvcn in this contcxt.
11. Achcbc dcmonstratcs his pcrccption ol himscll as a tcachcr in scvcral
passagcs ol Novclist as Tcachcr. !n onc such passagc, hc citcs an cxamplc ol a
schoolboy who lccls ashamcd to writc about thc harmattan, thc windy scason in
Alrica, and hc rcsponds, ! think it is part ol my busincss as a writcr to tcach that
boy that thcrc is nothing disgracclul about thc Alrican wcathcr, that thc palm trcc
is a lit subjcct lor poctry (Novclist 71).
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Spcnccr, Paul. The Pastoral Continuum: The Marginalization of Tradition in East Africa.
xlord: Clarcndon, 1998.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Can thc Subaltcrn Spcak: Ashcrolt 2428.
Schippcr, Minckc. mcrging lrom thc Shadows: Changing Pattcrns in Gcndcr Mattcrs.
Research in African Literatures 27.1 (1996): 155171.
Smith, anicl Jordan. Romancc, Parcnthood, and Gcndcr in a Modcrn Alrican Socicty.
Ethnology 40.2 (2001): 129151.
175 Problcmatizing Polygyny
Villiams, Adcbayo. Thc Autumn ol thc Litcrary Patriarch: Chinua Achcbc and thc Politics
ol Rcmcmbcring. Research in African Literatures 32.3 (2001): 821.
Acxxowivbc:vx:
! would likc to thank r. cborah M. Mix and r. Laurcn nkcy lor rcading and
commcnting on dralts ol this articlc.
177
College Literature, \olumc 35, Numbcr 2 (Spring 2008): pp. 154174. Copyright 2008
Vcst Chcstcr Univcrsity.
CARY S NY R
Te Possibilities and Pitfalls of Ethnographic
Readings: Narrative Complexity
in Tings Fall Apart
Thc istrict Commissioncr changcd instantancously. Thc rcsolutc
administrator in him gavc way to thc studcnt ol primitivc customs.
. . . As hc walkcd back to thc court hc thought about |thc book hc
planncd to writc|. vcry day brought him somc ncw matcrial. Thc
story ol this man who had killcd a mcsscngcr and hangcd himscll
would makc intcrcsting rcading. nc could writc almost a wholc
chaptcr on him. Pcrhaps not a wholc chaptcr but a rcasonablc
paragraph, at any ratc. Thcrc was so much clsc to includc, and onc
must bc lirm in cutting out dctails. Hc had alrcady choscn thc titlc ol
thc book, altcr much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes
of the Lower Niger.
Thcsc lamous closing lincs ol Chinua Achcbcs Things Fall Apart (1958,
hcrcaltcr TFA) rcprcscnt a dramatic shilt ol pcrspcctivc, whcrcby thc
protagonists lilc story, which has bccn thc subjcct ol thc prcvious twcnty
lour chaptcrs, is unccrcmoniously condcnscd into a bricl anccdotc in a lor
cign tcxt: wc arc thrust lrom what is ligurcd as an intimatc, insidcrs vicw
ol !gbo lilc to a jarringly alicn onc. Thc outsidcrs proposcd cthnography
ol thc rcgions purportcdly primitivc tribcs cxcmplilics a tradition ol colo
nial discoursc that Achcbc powcrlully countcrs in TFA.
1
konkwos tragic
dcathprcliguring lor thc rcadcr thc dcmisc ol thc clans traditional ways
178 Carcy Snydcr
scrvcs thc govcrnmcnt anthropologist mcrcly as raw matcrial to appropriatc
and possibly turn to a prolit.
2
Not only is thc promincnt konkwo strippcd
ol his individual idcntity as hc is translormcd into a namclcss Alrican in a
Vcstcrn tcxt, but thc particularitics ol thc sophisticatcd !gbo culturc, which
thc novcl has takcn pains to claboratc, arc also crascd as thcy arc lumpcd
togcthcr in thc csscntialist catcgory ol primitive tribes. Morcovcr, though thc
Commissioncr has shown himscll to bc a poor rcadcr ol nativc customs and
bclicls, lacking both thc intcllcctual curiosity and thc humility that arc rcq
uisitc to undcrstanding anothcr culturc, hc noncthclcss passcs as an Alrican
authority in thc Vcst. Achcbcs narrativc works to rcdrcss thc rcductivc and
distortcd rcprcscntation ol traditional Alrican culturcs cmblcmatizcd by thc
Commissioncrs tcxt.
Tc rclcrcncc to thc colonial tcxt within thc novcl may bc takcn as an
cmbcddcd rclcrcncc to thc cxtratcxtual politics ol rcprcscntation in which
thc novcl participatcs. Achcbc rcports that it was his angcr at what hc took to
bc thc caricaturcs ol Nigcrians in Joycc Carys novcl Mr. Johnson that initially
inspircd him to writc a countcrnarrativc, sympathctic to thc indigcnous pcr
spcctivc (Flowcrs 1989, 4). 8y thc authors account, thc novcl is mcant at oncc
to writc back to thc Vcstcrn canon,
3
corrccting crroncous rcprcscntations
ol Alrica and Alricans, and to rcstorc to his pcoplc an awarcncss ol thc dig
nity and humanity ol prccolonial Alricarcminding thcm what thcy lost
through colonization (Achcbc 1973, 8). Publishcd two ycars bclorc Nigcria
gaincd indcpcndcncc lrom Grcat 8ritain, TFA aims to wrcst lrom thc co
lonial mctropolc control ovcr thc rcprcscntation ol Alrican livcs, staking a
claim to thc right to scllrcprcscntation.
Vhilc raising issucs ol authority and authorship, at thc samc timc, thc
istrict Commissioncrs indisputably alicn pcrspcctivc at thc novcls cnd
lunctions to rcinlorcc thc imprcssion ol thc lorcgoing narrativcs ostcnsiblc
authcnticity: as Ncil tcn Kortcnaar pcrccptivcly argucs, Achcbcs appcal to an
obviously lalsc authority dcploys irony to cstablish Achcbcs own crcdcntials
as a historian ol !gboland (2003, 124). Against thc cgrcgiously misinlormcd
intcrprctation ol an outsidcr, thc rcst ol thc novcl is lashioncd as a vicw lrom
thc insidc, as thc author himscll has dcscribcd it (Flowcrs 1989, 4). Vith
such rcmarks, Achcbc has contributcd to thc aura ol authcnticity that sur
rounds his book, positioning himscll as a kind ol nativc anthropologist, who
rcprcscnts lrom within thc lilc ol thc ctionalizcd astcrn Nigcrian villagc,
Umuoa (bascd on thc authors nativc gidi).
Sclling millions ol copics and taught not only in litcraturc classrooms,
but in anthropology, comparativc rcligion, and Alrican Studics courscs as wcll,
TFA is widcly apprcciatcd lor its richly dctailcd, insidcpcrspcctivc ol a tra
ditional Vcst Alrican culturc.
4
!ndccd, thc novcl has lrcqucntly bccn dccmcd
cthnographic lor its vivid rcprcscntation ol thc customs, ccrcmonics, and
179 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
bclicls ol thc !gbo pcoplc. An carly rcvicw capturcs this scnsc ol condcncc in
thc authors crcdcntials as an cthnographic rcportcr: No uropcan cthnolo
gist could so intimatcly prcscnt this mcdlcy ol morcs ol thc !bo tribc, so dctail
thc intricatc lormalitics ol thc clan.
5
!n 1980, critic avid Carroll prcscnts
what by thcn is a rcccivcd vicw, whcn hc writcs, Vith grcat skill Achcbc . . .
combincs thc rolc ol novclist and anthropologist, synthcsizing a ncw kind
ol ction. Tis is whcrc his csscntial gcnius lics (1980, 183). !n 1991, thc
MLAs Approaches to Teaching Achebes Tings Fall Apart, bascd on a survcy
ol scvcral hundrcd tcachcrs ol Alrican litcraturc in thc U.S., Alrica, and u
ropc, lists among thc principal rcasons lor tcaching this novcl thc pcrccption
that it ocrs an unusual opportunity to discovcr thc lorcign lrom within:
Rcadcrs cvcrywhcrc may cntcr Achcbcs !gbo worldvicw and scc past and
prcscnt Alrican cxpcricnccs lrom an indigcnous pcrspcctivc (Lindlors 1991,
15, 2).
6
Finally, in anothcr pcdagogical volumc, Understanding Tings Fall
Apart, Kalu gbaa inlorms tcachcrs and studcnts that Achcbcs novcl may bc
rcgardcd as an authcntic inlormation sourcc on thc ninctccnthccntury !gbo
and thcir ncighbors (1999, xvii).
As a litcrary critic (in thc Amcrican acadcmy) and not an anthropologist,
! havc no intcntion ol qucstioning thc accuracy ol Achcbcs cultural portrait
ol thc !gbo, which sccms dcscrving ol its rcputation as authoritativc.
7
Vhat !
do want to qucstion is this pcrsistcnt rhctoric ol authenticity, intimacy, and (to
coin a clumsy word) insiderness which pcrvadcs discussions ol Achcbcs tcxt.
Furthcr, ! want to challcngc thc pcrvasivc cthnographic or anthropological
modc ol rcading Achcbcs novcl, which ! takc as paradigmatic ol a common
approach to Alrican litcraturc, and to cthnic litcraturcs morc gcncrally, at
lcast in thc Vcst.
8

As Kcith 8ookcr points out, anthropological rcadings . . . havc somc
timcs prcvcntcd Alrican novcls lrom rccciving scrious critical attcntion as lit
craturc rathcr than simply as documcntation ol cultural practiccs.
9
Tc navc
cthnographic or anthropological rcading trcats a novcl likc TFA as though it
transparcntly rcprcscnts thc world ol anothcr culturc, ignoring thc acsthctic
dimcnsions ol thc rcprcscntation. Ato Quayson suggcsts that thc tcndcncy to
rcad Achcbcs novcls as though thcy unproblcmatically rcprcscnt historic and
cultural rcality is not limitcd to critics unlamiliar with thc Alrican contcxt:
Vcst Alrican critic mmanucl bicchina duplicatcs this tcndcncy lrom
an insidcrs pcrspcctivc, rcading TFA as rccctivc or mimctic ol traditional
bclicls and practiccs in an almost unmcdiatcd way (Quayson 2003, 225).
10

(Vhilc ! agrcc with thc thrust ol Quaysons critiquc, ! will quarrcl with his
rcication ol thc catcgorics ol insidcr and outsidcr shortly.) !t is not mcrcly
that such rcadings givc short shrilt to thc litcrary dimcnsions ol this ction,
but in rcading ction likc cthnography, somc critics opcratc lrom thc lalsc
assumption that cthnographic tcxts thcmsclvcs arc transparcnt.
11
!n anothcr
180 Carcy Snydcr
contcxt, lizabcth Fcrnca dcncs thc cthnographic novcl as onc writtcn
by an artist lrom within thc culturc, which prcscnts an authcntic rcprc
scntation ol that culturc (1989, 154, 153). Lcaving asidc thc objcction that
autocthnographic might bc a morc tting tcrm hcrc, Fcrncas dcnition
highlights a common assumption ol such rcadings: thc writcrs insidcr sta
tus rathcr circularly vcrics thc authcnticity ol thc rcprcscntation.
Tis articlc sccks to complicatc thc construction ol postcolonial writcrs
likc Achcbc as cultural insidcrs. My analysis dcmonstratcs that ncithcr thc
author nor thc narrativc voicc ol TFA can bc aligncd simply with a mono
logical Alrican (or cvcn Vcst Alrican, Nigcrian, or ninctccnthccntury !gbo)
pcrspcctivc, dcspitc thc pcrsistcnt critical tcndcncy to do so. Raiscd by Chris
tian cvangclists in a small villagc in astcrn Nigcria, Achcbc has writtcn clo
qucntly about his childhood alicnation lrom his lamilys anccstral traditions.
! show that Achcbcs pcrspcctivc at thc cultural crossroads (his phrasc) is
manilcst in thc narrativc voicc ol TFA, which movcs along a continuum ol
proximity and distancc in rclation to thc culturc it sympathctically dcscribcs.
!n this way, Achcbcs position visavis thc !gbo docs cxcmplily many ol thc
dilcmmas ol cthnographic obscrvationil wc undcrstand thc rclationship bc
twccn thc obscrvcr and thc obscrvcd to bc morc complicatcd, and somctimcs
lraught, than most anthropological rcadings ol thc novcl assumc. To uncovcr
thc complcxitics in thc narrativc voicc, ! arguc, wc nccd to rcad thc novcl
not navcly as providing a clcar window onto an alicn culturcin contrast
with thc prcsumably distortcd vision ol colonial writcrs likc Joycc Carybut
meta-ethnographically, in a way that attcnds to thc complcxity inhcrcnt in any
cthnographic situation.
12
Such a rcading rcstorcs Achcbcs tcxt to thc rcalm
ol thc litcrary, by cncouraging subtlc attcntion to thc narrativcs achicvcmcnts
as ction, rathcr than as cultural documcntation.
A Voice from the Inside
Lauding Achcbcs judicious and multilacctcd rcprcscntation ol thc !gbo in
TFA, avid Carroll writcs, !t was an achicvcmcnt ol dctachmcnt, irony
and lairncss, dcmonstrating in thc writing thosc qualitics hc admircs in
his own pcoplc (1980, 29). 8ut in what scnsc arc thc turnolthcccntury
!gbo rcprcscntcd in thc novcl thc authors own pcoplc: Thc lormulation
simplilics thc writcrs subjcct position, whilc ignoring thc hctcrogcncity ol
thc !gbo, as ol all culturcs. Achcbcs dividcd idcntity as a colonial subjcct is
cmblcmatizcd by his christcncd namc, Albcrt Chinualumogu, a tributc on
thc onc hand to Quccn \ictorias consort, Princc Albcrt, and on thc othcr,
to thc writcrs Alrican hcritagc, at Univcrsity, hc droppcd thc lormcr and
croppcd thc lattcr namc, rclashioning his idcntity in a way that could bc
rcad as simultancously indigcnizing (by cllacing thc colonial markcr) and
modcrnizing (in his words, making thc namc morc busincsslikc) (Achcbc
181 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
1975, 118). Achcbc cxplains that hc was born at thc crossroads ol culturcs:
n onc arm ol thc cross, wc sang hymns and rcad thc 8iblc night and
day. n thc othcr, my lathcrs brothcr and his lamily, blindcd by hcathcn
ism, ollcrcd lood to idols (1975, 120). Hc attcndcd a missionary school,
not surprisingly, sincc his lathcr was onc ol thc lirst convcrts in thc arca
(zcnwahacto 1997, 3), and, as a Christian, lcarncd to look down on
hcathcns and thcir pagan customs: Christians wcrc rcgardcd as thc pcoplc
ol thc church, whilc hcathcns wcrc thc pcoplc ol nothing (Achcbc 1975,
115). Achcbc has suggcstcd that writing TFA was an act ol atoncmcnt lor
this carly rcpudiation ol anccstral traditions, ollcrcd up by a prodigal son
(120). At thc samc timc, hc rccalls bcing lascinatcd by thc traditional cus
toms and rituals taking placc in thc villagc, and cvcn partaking ol hcathcn
lcstival mcals unbcknownst to his parcnts. Thus Achcbcs rclationship to
traditional !gbo ways is rootcd in ambivalcncc.
Likc many Alrican writcrs ol his gcncration, Achcbc rcccivcd a colo
nial cducationmcaning onc calibratcd to an nglish lramc ol rclcrcnccat
both thc prcstigious sccondary school hc attcndcd at Umahia and at thc Uni
vcrsity ol !badan, whcrc hc bccamc wcll acquaintcd with thc nglish litcrary
canon. !n an oltquotcd passagc, Achcbc rcccts on thc psychological rami
cations ol studying colonial ction, lor a young, black Alrican man:
Vhcn ! had bccn youngcr, ! had rcad thcsc advcnturc books about
thc good whitc man, you know, wandcring into thc junglc or into
dangcr, and thc savagcs wcrc altcr him. And ! would instinctivcly
bc on thc sidc ol thc whitc man. You scc what liction can do, it
can put you on thc wrong sidc il you arc not dcvclopcd cnough.
!n thc univcrsity ! suddcnly saw that thcsc books had to bc rcad
in a dillcrcnt light. Rcading Heart of Darkness, lor instancc, . . .
! rcalizcd that ! was onc ol thosc savagcs jumping up and down
on thc bcach. ncc that kind ol cnlightcnmcnt comcs to you,
you rcalizc that somconc has to writc a dillcrcnt story. (Qtd. in
Flowcrs 1989, 343)
This suddcn shilt in rcadcrly idcntilication is a kind ol parablc ol thc lrac
turing ol idcntity undcr colonization: Achcbc is split bctwccn idcntilying
with thc whitc advcnturcr and with thc savagc, and though hc consciously
dccidcs to takc up thc savagcs causc, to tcll a dillcrcnt story, his cxpcri
cncc suggcsts that ultimatcly it is not as simplc as choosing sidcs. Achcbc
rcmains a dividcd subjcct: living bctwccn two worlds, hc allirms, is onc
ol thc ccntral thcmcs ol my lilc and work (Qtd. in Flowcrs 1989, 333).
Tc pcrvasivc rhctoric ol insidcrncss associatcd with this writcr obscurcs
thc morc apt tropc ol thc artist situatcd at cultural crossroads. Achcbc has
182 Carcy Snydcr
rclcrrcd to his position straddling culturcs as onc ol thc major advantagcs
hc has cnjoycd as a writcr (kpcwho 2003, 72): as Simon Gikandi notcs, thc
Nigcrian novclist lcarncd to rcgard thc chasm bctwccn himscll and thc !gbo
traditions as a gcncrativc artistic spacc (1996, 15). Gikandis word chasm
dcnotcs Achcbcs alicnation lrom indigcnous customs. Yct ! would strcss that
it is distancc (a chasm) in tcnsion with proximity to traditional ways that is
thc cnabling condition lor Achcbcs art. !n this way, hc rcscmblcs thc gurc
ol thc modcrn cldworkcr in thc tradition ol 8ronislaw Malinowski, whosc
mcthodology ol participantobscrvation involvcs shuttling back and lorth
bctwccn pcrspcctivcsadopting thc nativcs point ol vicw as a participant,
and thcn pulling back, as an obscrvcr, to placc customs and bclicls in contcxt
(Cliord 1988, 34). xploring thcsc anitics in grcatcr dctail will shcd light
on thc intricacics ol Achcbcs narrativc tcchniquc.
A Participant-Observer
Mindlul ol thc tcndcncy to rcad Achcbcs works in an cthnographic modc,
onc intcrvicwcr askcd thc author whcthcr hc rcgardcd his novcls as a
compctcnt sourcc ol cultural inlormation . . . about !gbo socicty, Achcbc
concurrcd, cxplaining that hc aimcd to prcscnt a total world and a total lilc
as it is livcd in that world, and adding, !l somcbody clsc thinks, as somc
do, that this is sociology or anthropology, thats thcir own lookout (Flowcrs
1989, 64). That Achcbc is lar lrom discouraging cthnographic rcadings ol
his liction lollows lrom his pcdagogical vicw ol art: to Achcbc, thc novclist
is a tcachcr, and cducating Alricans and lorcigncrs about a hcritagc that has
bccn dcmcancd and crodcd through colonization is a viablc way ol lullilling
an important social mission.
13

Tc phrasc Achcbc uscs to dcscribc thc purvicw ol his novcls (a to
tal world and a total lilc) rcsonatcs with thc languagc ol cultural holism
cmploycd by anthropologists likc Malinowski to dcscribc thcir objcct ol
studytypically, a tribal villagc prior to cxtcnsivc contact with lorcigncrs.
14

!n anothcr intcrvicw, Achcbc statcs that whilc somc Alrican writcrs may ob
jcct that Alricans arc not tribal anymorc, My worldthc onc that intcr
csts mc morc than any othcris thc world ol thc villagc (Flowcrs 1989,
77). !n its scopc and oricntation, TFA rcscmblcs thc traditional villagc study
ol an anthropologist, cxccpt Achcbcs cld is both homc and strangc (or,
rathcr, estranged). !n aiming to capturc what hc pcrccivcs as a vanishing way
ol lilc (hc spcaks ol obscrving thc rcmains ol villagc traditions in his youth
|1975, 18|), Achcbc also rcscmblcs thc gurc ol thc modcrn cldworkcr, bcnt
on what Jamcs Cliord has callcd a projcct ol cthnographic salvagc.
15
!n
Achcbcs casc, thc travcl that is also a condition ol convcntional cldwork is
gurativc: thc villagc hc visits and rccrcatcs in his historical ction is onc ol
thc past, lrom which hc is scparatcd by timc, cducation, and cxpcricncc.
183 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
Tc cldwork mcthods associatcd with 8ritish Social Anthropology
and pionccrcd in thc rst dccadcs ol thc twcnticth ccntury rcquircd thc cld
workcr to dcvclop a closc rapport with thc nativcs and to takc part in nativc
customs and rituals, as wcll as to obscrvc thcm. Rclcrring to thc cldworkcrs
oscillation bctwccn cmpathic idcntication and objcctivc analysis, Cliord
writcs that participantobscrvation cntails a dclicatc managcmcnt ol distancc
and proximity (1997, 72). Tc narrativc voicc ol Achcbcs rst novcls has
bccn dcscribcd in tcrms that rcsonatc with thcsc: kpcwho asscrts that thc
most striking quality ol TFA is its cmpathic account ol thc !gbo socicty,
a pcrspcctivc incxplicably mitigatcd, in his charactcrization, by thc objcctivc
distancc ol thc narrativc voicc (25). Similarly Carroll lauds thc opcning ol
thc scqucl to TFA, Arrow of God, as an cxtraordinary achicvcmcnt ol sympa
thy and dctachmcnt (1980, 183). Tcsc critics lail to rccognizcor at lcast
to cxplorc thc ramications olthc ncar paradox ol this dcscription, which
makcs thc narrativc voicc ol TFA morc intcrcsting than many acknowlcdgc.
Likc thc traditional anthropologist, this Alrican novclist navigatcs bctwccn
polcs ol cmpathy and objcctivity, attitudcs that arc potcntially at odds with
onc anothcr. Achcbcs account ol his rclationship to !gbo traditions illustratcs
this tcnsion:

! was brought up in a villagc whcrc thc old ways wcrc still activc and
alivc, so ! could scc thc rcmains ol our tradition actually opcrating.
At thc samc timc ! brought a ccrtain amount ol dctachmcnt to it
too, bccausc my lathcr was a Christian missionary, and wc wcrc not
lully part ol thc hcathcn lilc ol thc villagc.(Achcbc 1973, 18)
Achcbc is at oncc thc insidcr, spcaking ol our tradition, and thc outsidc
obscrvcr, rcgarding villagc ways with a ccrtain dctachmcnt.
Rathcr than compromising his authority as a rcprcscntativc ol !gbo cul
turc, though, distance cmcrgcs in Achcbcs account as thc ncccssary condition
lor rcprcscntation:
! think it was casicr lor mc to obscrvc. Many ol my contcmporarics
who wcnt to school with mc and camc lrom hcathcn lamilics ask
mc today: How did you managc to know all thcsc things: You
scc, lor thcm thcsc old ways wcrc just part ol lilc. ! could look at
thcm lrom a ccrtain distancc, and ! was struck by thcm. (Achcbc
1973, 18)
Achcbc implics that his hcathcn contcmporarics cant scc thc cultural lor
cst lor thc trccs: too closc to thcir own customs, thcy lail to scc thcm clcarly.
Malinowski also insinuatcs that cultural insidcrs sullcr a kind ol conccptual
184 Carcy Snydcr
myopia in rclation to thcir own culturc: in his words, Thc nativcs obcy
thc lorccs and commands ol thc tribal codc, but thcy do not comprchcnd
thcm (1984, 11). Vhcrcas Malinowski inlantilizcs thc nativcs in this statc
mcnt, implying thcy arc incapablc ol comprchcnding abstraction, Achcbc
cxprcsscs a similar scntimcnt without condcsccnsion: his uniquc pcrspcc
tivc, hc implics, is a lactor ol an inhcritcd position. !n Achcbcs asscssmcnt,
thc distancc imposcd bctwccn him and thc old ways by thc accidcnt ol
his birth is an assct: Thc distancc bccomcs not a scparation but a bring
ing togcthcr likc thc ncccssary backward stcp which a judicious vicwcr may
takc in ordcr to scc a canvas stcadily and lully (1975, 120).
16
Thc acsthctic
analogy translorms Achcbc into that judicious vicwcr, ablc to comprchcnd
thc canvas ol !gbo culturc morc lully than thc participants whosc proximity
prcvcnts thcm lrom making scnsc ol thc dctails. Achcbc may ovcrstatc thc
lortuitousncss ol his position: thc similc also rcminds us that Achcbc is an
artist, as wcll as an intcllcctual, and, as such, is by (scll)training and incli
nation a scllconscious obscrvcr.
Vhilc Achcbc lrccly acknowlcdgcs his partial disconncction lrom tradi
tional ways, at thc samc timc, hc promotcs an imagc ol himscll as an intimatc
obscrvcr, who has largcly pickcd up his knowlcdgc ol indigcnous culturc
through convcrsation and pcrsonal obscrvationthat is, through rsthand
cxpcricnccs (Achcbc qtd. by Vrcn, 1617). Tis charactcrization is somcwhat
mislcading: as Gikandi cautions, howcvcr appcaling thc tcmptation to rcad
Achcbc as an authcntic voicc ol his pcoplc might bc, it must bc rcsistcd
bccausc it is not possiblc lor thc writcr to appcal to an original notion ol
!gbo culturc. . . . !gbo rcality, insolar as it is availablc to Achcbc, comcs to him
(and hcncc to thc rcadcr) mcdiatcd by thc novclists sourccs, both !gbo and
colonial (1991, 31). Vc know, lor cxamplc, that Achcbc studicd Vcst Al
rican rcligion with Gcorcy Parrindcr at Univcrsity (zcnwahacto 1997,
4244), and that hc rcad thc works ol P. Amaury Talbot, thc administrator
anthropologist, and ol G. T. 8asdcn, thc missionaryanthropologist on whom
thc charactcr Mr. 8rown is bascd, Robcrt Vrcn suggcsts that Achcbcs c
tion is inlormcd by this rcading (1980, 1718). !n cacing thc tcxtual sourccs
that inlorm his undcrstanding ol nativc lilc, Achcbc again rcscmblcs thc scll
mythologizing cldworkcr ol thc carly twcnticthccntury, who purportcdly
comcs to know a culturc through closc idcntication and cmpirical obscrva
tion, not through scholarly rcscarch (scc Cliord 1997).
Finally, as an Alrican novclist writing in nglish, Achcbc, likc thc tradi
tional anthropologist, conlronts thc challcngc ol rcndcring indigcnous cxpc
ricncc in a lorcign tonguc. Tc nonnativc rcadcr ol TFA is rcmindcd ol thc
act ol translation that lics bchind thc cntirc work cach timc shc stumblcs ovcr
an untranslatcd !gbo word. !n thc Prclacc to Argonauts of the Western Pacic,
Malinowski stipulatcs that cthnographcrs should incorporatc nativc phrascs
185 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
into thcir tcxts as a mcans ol cstablishing authority, by dcmonstrating thcir
supposcd mastcry ol thc indigcnous languagc (1984, 23). Vith shiltcd cm
phasis, Kortcnaar obscrvcs ol thc !gbo words that pcppcr Achcbcs narrativc,
Tcsc lorcign traccs in an nglish tcxt rclcr mctonymically to a wholc world
that cannot bc adcquatcly translatcd, a world that Achcbc implicitly sharcs
with thc charactcrs hc writcs about. Tc non!gbo rcadcr, by implication, can
only achicvc a mcdiatcd knowlcdgc ol that world (Kortcnaar 2003, 127). !
would suggcst that, likc all cultural knowlcdgc, Achcbcs is also mediated in
ways ! havc mcntioncd, though ccrtainly hc posscsscs what might bc callcd
a ucncy in !gbo culturc, and thuscvcn as his world is not idcntical to
thcirssharcs a grcat dcal with thc charactcrs hc rcprcscnts. !n my rcading,
rathcr than lunctioning to rcinlorcc an us vs. you dividc lor thc non!gbo
rcadcr, thc nativc phrascs wovcn into thc largcly nglish tcxt ol TFA scrvc to
linguistically rcndcr thc bordcrland lrom which Achcbc writcs.
17

!n an cssay cxploring thc conccpt ol anthropology as cultural transla-
tion, Talal Asad asscrts that thc skillcd translator, whcthcr ol languagcs in a
limitcd scnsc or ol culturcs morc gcncrally, sccks to rcproducc thc structurc
ol an alicn discoursc within thc translators own languagc (1986, 156). For
Achcbc, thc situation approximatcs thc rcvcrsc: hc has argucd that Tc Alri
can writcr . . . should aim at lashioning an nglish which is at oncc univcrsal
and ablc to carry his pcculiar cxpcricncc (1975, 100). As scvcral critics havc
argucd, Achcbc indigenizes thc nglish languagc, rcproducing attributcs ol
Alrican oral tradition in a writtcn tcxt.
18
Rcvcrsing Asads lormula lor tradi
tional translation, onc could say that Achcbc sccks to rcproducc thc structurc
ol native discoursc within an alien languagc, yct lor a writcr who has dc
scribcd himscll as pcrlcctly bilingual (119) and who has writtcn cloqucntly
about his alicnation lrom anccstral traditions, thc nativc/alicn binary docs
not quitc hold.
Hcncc, though ! havc suggcstcd that Achcbcs position visavis thc
!gbo has much in common with that ol a traditional anthropologistsimi
laritics thc insidcr/outsidcr dichotomy would obscurcimportant dicrcnccs
mark his position as wcll. Unlikc Malinowski among thc Trobriand !slandcrs,
Achcbc is not a strangcr pitching his tcnt among nativcs, hc is a nativc son,
albcit a prodigal onc. Tc stakcs arc also vcry dicrcnt lor Achcbc than lor
thc traditional anthropologist: hc attcmpts to salvagc a vanishing culturc
not out ol disintcrcstcd intcllcctual curiosity or thc ncccssity ol cstablishing
prolcssional crcdcntials (via thc disciplinary ritcolpassagc, cldwork), but
rathcr, as a cultural nationalist intcrcstcd in rccupcrating a culturc lragmcntcd
and maligncd by colonization.
!n many ways, thcn, a morc apt analogy lor this Alrican novclist at
cultural crossroads is thc native anthropologist, who complicatcs thc insidc/
outsidc binary that govcrns charactcrizations ol convcntional cldwork. Likc
186 Carcy Snydcr
thc postcolonial writcr, thc nativc anthropologist is liablc to bc rcad uncritical
ly as ocring an authcntic pcrspcctivc, a rcading that has rcccntly mct with
criticism lrom within thc disciplinc. Kirin Narayan, a cldworkcr and scholar
who uncomlortably bcars thc labcl in qucstion, rcjccts thc nativc/nonnativc
binary, suggcsting that, instcad, wc should vicw cach anthropologist in tcrms
ol shilting idcntications amid a cld ol intcrpcnctrating communitics and
powcr rclations (1993, 671). Considcring such lactors as cducation, gcndcr,
scxual oricntation, class, racc, or shccr duration ol contact, shc points out
that thc loci along which wc arc aligncd with or sct apart lrom thosc whom
wc study arc multiplc and in ux. !n this way, hcr work urgcs a rcthinking
ol thc rclationship bctwccn cultural obscrvcrs and thosc thcy obscrvc, casting
scrious doubt on thc cxtcnt to which anyonc is an authcntic insidcr (671).
Raiscd in 8ombay by a GcrmanAmcrican mothcr and !ndian lathcr, cdu
catcd in a univcrsity in thc Unitcd Statcs, and conducting cldwork in divcrsc
rcgions in !ndia, Narayans own situation amply dcmonstratcs thc multiplc
and shilting idcntications shc dcscribcs.
Achcbcs rclationship to thc !gbo parallcls thc complcx positioning ol
thc nativc anthropologist visavis hcr nativc inlormants, which scholars such
as Narayan and Cliord suggcst ovcrlaps in signicant ways with that ol a
traditional anthropologist. As il with Achcbc in mind, Cliord writcs, Go
ing out to thc cld now somctimcs mcans going back, thc cthnography bc
coming a notcbook ol a rcturn to thc nativc land (1997, 80). Likc Narayan,
Cliord strcsscs that nativc rcscarchcrs arc complcxly and multiply locatcd
visavis thcir worksitcs and intcrlocutors, cxpcricncing dicrcnt dcgrccs
ol aliation and distancc (77). Hc also challcngcs thc insidc/outsidc binary,
pointing toward a continuum modcl, whcrc cultural obscrvcrs movc uidly
bctwccn polcs ol sympathctic idcntication and critical cxplication in rcla
tion to thosc thcy study: lor cvcn whcn thc cthnographcr is positioncd as
an insidcr, a nativc in hcr or his community, somc taking ol distancc and
translating dicrcnccs will bc part ol thc rcscarch, analysis, and writing (86).
Cliord suggcsts that lor thc nativc rcscarchcr as wcll as thc traditional an
thropologist, distancc and translation arc prcconditions ol cthnographic rcp
rcscntation. As thc ncxt scction argucs, thc narrativc voicc ol TFA manilcsts
thc varying dcgrccs ol aliation and distancc, which typily thc dynamic
rclationship ol all cultural obscrvcrs to thc cld, but which is intcnsicd in
thc casc ol thc nativc anthropologist.
Things Fall Apart: A Dialectic of Proximity and Distance
Part ! ol Achcbcs lirst novcl plungcs thc nonnativc rcadcr into thc world
ol thc !gbo, with dctailcd dcscriptions ol thc pcoplcs customs, bclicls, and
ccrcmonics. Scamlcssly wovcn into thc narrativc labric arc accounts ol thc
Fcast ol thc Ncw Yam, thc ncgotiation ol bridc pricc, thc ccrcmony ol thc
187 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
egwugwu (anccstral spirits), thc nso-ani (sacrilcgc) ol committing violcncc
during thc Vcck ol Pcacc, and so on, thcsc dctails, togcthcr with thc
numcrous provcrbs cmbodying clan wisdom that punctuatc thc narrativc,
19

lunction collcctivcly to crcatc a rich, vivid portrait ol a traditional Nigcrian
culturc. Thc narrators intimatc acquaintancc with !gbo culturc is signalcd
by thc ability to closcly documcnt such bclicls and practiccs, to usc thc
nativc tonguc, and to omniscicntly cntcr into !gbo charactcrs minds.
Not surprisingly, thcn, critics havc intcrprctcd thc narrativc voicc as
cmanating lrom thc insidc. !n Carrolls cstimation, Tc voicc is that ol
a wisc and sympathctic cldcr ol thc tribc (1980, 31). !nncs also strcsscs thc
spcakcrs idcntication with thc nativcs point ol vicw: thc narrativc voicc is
primarily a rccrcation ol thc pcrsona which is hcard in talcs, history, prov
crbs and poctry bclonging to an oral tradition, it rcprcscnts a collcctivc voicc
through which thc artist spcaks for his socicty, not as an individual apart lrom
ithc is thc chorus rathcr than thc hcro (1990, 32). Rcccntly, Angcla F.
Miri has cchocd thcsc rcadings, asscrting that TFA s storytcllcr undoubtcdly
rcprcscnts thc !gbo voicc or thc vox populi (2004, 102). Vhcthcr thc voicc is
individuatcd (a tribal cldcr) or collcctivc (a communal chorus), critics pcrsist
in casting Achcbc and thc narrator in thc rolc ol nativc inlormant lor thc
Vcstcrn rcadcr.
Yct asscrtions likc !nncss that thc narrator spcaks for his socicty, not
as an individual apart lrom it will not withstand closc rcading: thc nar
rator lrcqucntly stands apart, bccoming (in my tcrms) an obscrvcr, rathcr
than an implicd participant. Vc arc told, lor cxamplc, that arkncss hcld
a vaguc tcrror for these people, cvcn thc bravcst among thcm. Childrcn wcrc
warncd not to whistlc at night lor lcar ol cvil spirits (Achcbc 1996, 7, my
cmphasis). Tcsc rcmarks clcarly install distancc bctwccn thc narratorwho
prcsumably is not alraid ol thc dark, and likcly docs not bclicvc in cvil spir
itsand thcsc pcoplc, who arc cowcd by thcir lcar ol thc night. Hcrc thc
narrator is aligncd morc closcly with nonnativc rcadcrs than with thc !gbo
pcrspcctivc, and, in this mcdiating rolc, is morc cthnographic obscrvcr than
nativc inlormant. Tc movc is akin to what Jamcs 8uzard has callcd thc scll
intcrrupting stylc ol cthnographic narrativcs, whcrcby thc cthnographcr in
sists that howcvcr closcly s/hc may idcntily with thc nativcs, s/hc is not rcally
onc ol thcm (2005, 34).
For thc most part, pinning down thc narrativc pcrspcctivc is not a casc
ol disccrning whcthcr thc narrator is insidc or outsidc nativc culturc, but,
rathcr, ol dctccting thc uid movcmcnt bctwccn thcsc vantagc points. Tc
slippcrincss ol thc narrativc voicc is cvidcnt in a passagc that bcgins, Umuo
a was lcarcd by all its ncighbours. !t was powcrlul in war and in magic,
and its pricsts and mcdicincmcn wcrc lcarcd in all thc surrounding coun
try (Achcbc 1996, 8). Tat Umuoa is powcrlul in magic is prcscntcd in
188 Carcy Snydcr
a dcclarativc scntcncc that rcndcrs without qucstion or judgmcnt thc nativc
point ol vicw. Tc narrator continucs, on onc point thcrc was gcncral agrcc
mcntthc activc principlc in that mcdicinc had bccn an old woman with onc
lcg. !n lact, thc mcdicinc itscll was callcd agadi-nwayi, or old woman (89).
Tis story ol thc origin ol nativc bclicl is aggcd as consistcnt with thc clan
world vicw: thcy agrcc that thc old woman with onc lcg is thc sourcc ol thcir
rcputation in magic. At thc samc timc, thc anccdotc is consonant with an
thropological accounts ol primitivc culturcs that rcgard disability as a sourcc
ol mctaphysical powcr. Tus thc narrator subtly providcs an altcrnatc lramc
ol rclcrcncca way ol undcrstanding Umuoas rcputation that accords with
Vcstcrn disbclicl in magic. Rathcr than opcrating lrom a xcd vicwpoint, thc
narrator movcs lrccly bctwccn divcrgcnt pcrspcctivcs.
Anothcr passagc that illustratcs thc narrativcs liminal pcrspcctivc
jockcying bctwccn insidc and outsidc pcrspcctivcs in cthnographic lashion
is thc dcscription ol thc raclc, Agbala, in Chaptcr Trcc:
No onc had cvcr bchcld Agbala, cxccpt his pricstcss. . . . !t was
said that whcn such a spirit appcarcd, thc man saw it vagucly in
thc darkncss, but ncvcr hcard its voicc. Somc pcoplc cvcn said that
thcy had hcard thc spirits llying and llapping thcir wings against
thc rool ol thc cavc. (Achcbc 1996, 12)
Thc passagc is rcspcctlul ol thc raclcs sacrcdncss to thc !gbo: thc narra
tor docs not ovcrtly proclaim disbclicl. Yct thc cxistcncc ol Agbala is lclt in
qucstion: no onc has sccn it, cxccpt in dubious conditions (vagucly in thc
darkncss) and no onc has hcard its voicc. !ndccd, what can bc hcard in
thc cavcthc llapping ol wingsabovc all conjurcs thc imagc ol bats,
thc probablc dcnizcns ol a dark, dank placc. Hcncc, again, thc narrator
subtly providcs an altcrnativc lramc ol rclcrcncc, accommodating skcpticism
alongsidc !gbo bclicl.
Tc vcry lcw critics who avoid thc rcductivc insidcr rcading ol TFA tcnd
to cquatc thc intcrmittcnt distancc ol thc narrativc to which ! havc bccn al
luding with an anthropological pcrspcctivc. For instancc, Gikandi obscrvcs
that thc narrator at timcs adopts distancc and rcprcscnts thc !gbo as il thcy
wcrc an anthropological othcr (1996, 46). Similarly, Kortcnaar notcs that
Achcbc occasionally lapscs into thc knowing tonc ol thc anthropologist
(2003, 132), as in thc glossary, whcn hc dcncs scvcral !gbo tcrms with thor
oughgoing disbclicl.
20
Vhilc usclully complicating navc cthnographic rcad
ings that lail to problcmatizc thc narrators insidcrncss, thcsc critics opcratc
lrom an cqually lallacious assumption that an anthropological pcrspcctivc is
inhcrcntly alicnatcd. !n doing so, thcy lail to rcalizc that thc anthropological
pcrspcctivc itscll mcdiatcs bctwccn ncar and lar, insidc and outsidc, distancc
189 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
and proximity. Tcy conatc distancc and disbclicl with thc alicn pcrspcctivc
ol an anthropologist, rathcr than rccognizing that thc anthropological voicc
mcdiatcs bctwccn ostcnsiblc nativc and lorcign pcrspcctivcsaltcrnatcly sus-
pending disbclicl, to closcly idcntily with a nativc pcrspcctivc, and cxplicating
bclicl, lrom an cxtcrnal vantagc point.
Tis is morc than a qucstion ol scmantics. 8y rcading thc narrations
oltcn ovcrlookcd complcxity as ethnographic, ! hopc not only to undcrscorc
thc novcls artistry, but also to usclully complicatc our undcrstanding ol cth
nographic rclationships thcmsclvcs. Vhcn Achcbcs bcst critics rcvcrsc thc
morc common navc cthnographic rcading that !vc bccn discussing by
cquating thc novcls anthropological pcrspcctivc with a vicw lrom outside,
thcy unwittingly rcplicatc thc kind ol dichotomous thinking Achcbc himscll
so assiduously avoids in his nuanccd narrativc. n a stylistic lcvcl, thc slippcry
narrativc voicc manilcsts thc ongoing proccss ol positioning and rcposition
ing oncscll at cultural crossroads.
Acknowlcdging inconsistcncics in pcrspcctivc that most Achcbc critics
ignorc, Gikandi argucs that thc ambivalcnt narrativc voicc signals contradic
tions inhcrcnt within !gbo culturc, contradictions highlightcd by thc char
actcr ol Nwoyc, who lunctions as an intcrnal critic ol such practiccs as thc
disposing ol twins and thc killing ol !kcmcluna. For Gikandi, it is crroncous
to rcad thc narrator as cithcr a rcprcscntativc insidcr or a unicd, collcctivc
voicc bccausc a stablc cld ol social valucs docsnt cxist in thc novcl: prccolo
nial Umuoa is rcprcscntcd as a socicty with various voiccs and conicting
intcrcsts (1996, 45). Vhilc taking Gikandis point, ! would strcss that thc
uctuations ol thc narrativc voicc also cxprcss thc shilting aliations ol thc
author, who, likc thc nativc anthropologist, is pullcd bctwccn thc valucs and
traditions ol somctimcs conicting cultural lramcworks.
Anothcr notablc cxccption to thc rcductivc insidcr rcading is that ol
Abdul JanMohamcd, who intcrprcts thc novcls balancing act bctwccn sym
pathy and objcctivc distanccor, in his tcrms, bctwccn sacrcd and sccular
pcrspcctivcsas narrativc doublc consciousncss. JanMohamcd conccivcs ol
this dualism as thc authors crcativc solution to a dilcmma hc dcscribcs in
this way: Achcbc is challcngcd with thc uncnviablc task ol cnsuring that his
charactcrs do not sccm loolish bccausc thcy bclicvc in thc abscncc ol |thc|
bordcr |bctwccn thc sacrcd and thc sccular|, whilc hc is obligcd to acknowl
cdgc it lor thc samc rcason, doublc consciousncss, thcn, is thc simultancous
awarcncss ol thc bordcr and its dccp rcprcssion (1984, 3233). Rathcr than
scrving to pandcr to a Vcstcrn audicncc who will rcgard nativc bclicl with
possiblc disdain (by rcgarding thc charactcrs as loolish), ! havc argucd that
thc narrativc tcnsion bctwccn bclicl and skcpticism rcgistcrs thc authors own
shilting lramc ol rclcrcncc, onc akin to that ol an cthnographic obscrvcr, con
tinually navigating bctwccn indigcnous and lorcign vicwpoints. Morcovcr, in
190 Carcy Snydcr
its mancuvcrings among dicrcnt !gbo as wcll as Vcstcrn pcrspcctivcs, thc
narrativc consciousncss that cmcrgcs is morc than doublc, it has multiplc,
shilting pcrmutations, as a nal cxamplc will show.
!llustrating thc narrativcs cvcrshilting vantagc point is Chaptcr Tcns
dcscription ol thc trial, prcsidcd ovcr by ninc egwugwu (maskcd anccstral
spirits) and thcir lcadcr, thc vil Forcst.
21
To bcgin with, conjuring thc mo
mcntousncss ol thc ccrcmony, thc egwugwu arc dccmcd thc most powcrlul
and thc most sccrct cult in thc clan (Achcbc 1996, 63), thcir voiccs arc rcp
rcscntcd as guttural and awcsomc (62). Tc dcscription continucs, throw
ing thc rcadcr into thc ccntcr ol thc action: Tc egwugwu housc was now a
pandcmonium ol quavcring voiccs: Aru oyim de de de de dei! Fillcd thc air as
thc spirits ol thc anccstors, just cmcrgcd lrom thc carth, grcctcd thcmsclvcs
in thcir csotcric languagc (6263). From thc vantagc point ol thc bclicvcr,
thc voiccs arc prcscntcd as thosc ol thc anccstral spirits. Tc !gbo grccting
rcmains untranslatcd, such that thc narrator scrvcs as thc custodian ol knowl
cdgc unsharcd with thc rcadcr. Yct thc word csotcric signals that mcmbcrs
ol thc clan also rcmain in thc dark as to thc signicancc ol thc uttcrancc:
No woman cvcr askcd qucstions about thc cxclusivcly malc cult (63). From
a position ol privilcgcd omniscicncc, thcn, thc narrator movcs not only bc
twccn an insidc and an outsidc pcrspcctivc, but also bctwccn thc scmiopaquc
boundarics that dividc thc malc and lcmalc sphcrcs. Tis narrativc cxibility
rcscmblcs thc shilting cld rclationships ol thc nativc anthropologist, as dc
scribcd by Narayan, with points ol aliation and disaliation that arc mul
tiplc and in ux (Narayan 671).
!t is only altcr building up a scnsc ol thc ccrcmonys signicancc lrom a
point ol vicw idcnticd with thc initiatc that thc narrator stcps back lrom thc
cvcnt to givc anothcr pcrspcctivc:
konkwos wivcs, and pcrhaps othcr womcn as wcll might
havc noticcd that thc sccond egwugwu had thc springy walk ol
konkwo. And thcy might also havc noticcd that konkwo was
not among thc titlcd mcn and cldcrs who sat bchind thc row ol
egwugwu. 8ut il thcy thought thcsc things thcy kcpt thcm within
thcmsclvcs. Thc egwugwu with thc springy walk was onc ol thc
dcad lathcrs ol thc clan. (Achcbc 1996, 64)
Thc passagc bcgins by subtly casting doubt on thc nativc bclicl in anccstral
spiritsunmasking thc egwugwu, as it wcrcby intimating that onc ol thcm
has thc springy walk ol konkwo, and thus is a man, not a spirit. Thc
narrativc voicc draws thc lcmalc charactcrs into complicity with its skcptical
pcrspcctivc, by tcntativcly attributing to thcm a glimmcring awarcncss ol
konkwos tclltalc walk, thcy might havc noticcd what thc narrator knows
191 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
lor ccrtain: thcrc is a human bcing bcncath thc ccrcmonial disguisc. !l Vrcn
is corrcct whcn hc asscrts that thc !gbo pcrccivc thc egwugwu not as mortals
maskcd but |as| transccndcntcvcn transubstantiatcbcings, living prcs
cnccs ol thc dcad lathcrs ol thc ninc villagcs ol Umuolia (Achcbc 1996,
35), thcn calling attcntion to konkwos disguisc rcprcscnts a major brcach
with thc insidcrs vicw. An cpisodc toward thc cnd ol thc novcl lcnds support
lor this rcading: whcn noch publicly unmasks an egwugwu, rcduc|ing| its
immortal prcstigc in thc cycs ol thc uninitiatcd, hc is rcprcscntcd as killing
. . . an anccstral spirit, thcrcby throwing Umolia into a statc ol conlusion,
and cllcctivcly prcsaging thc dcath ol thc soul ol thc tribc (131132).
Thc languagc litcralizcs thc bclicl that thc egwugwu cmbody thc spirits ol
thc clan, as docs thc closing scntcncc ol thc passagc quotcd abovc, which
rcjoins thc pcrspcctivc ol thc dcvout bclicvcr, by allirming that thc egwugwu
in qucstion actually was onc ol thc dcad lathcrs ol thc clan. Thus thc nar
rator inhabits shilting and somctimcs contradictory pcrspcctivcs, along a
continuum that strctchcs lrom thc most crcdulous bclicvcr to thc skcptic or
cultural outsidcr.
Trough thcsc mancuvcrings, thc narrativc voicc rcplicatcs thc dynamic
positioning ol thc nativc anthropologistat oncc part ol !gbo culturc and
apart lrom it, a participant and a judicious obscrvcr, at turns closcly idcn
tilying with various !gbo pcrspcctivcs and taking thc distancc that is thc
prccondition lor cthnographic rcprcscntation.
Conclusion
!t is tcmpting to rcad TFA as a voicc lrom thc insidc lor a numbcr ol
rcasons. Thc novcl itscll cncouragcs this rcading, with its dctailcd docu
mcntation ol cultural practiccs, its lluid incorporation ol nativc words and
phrascs, and its juxtaposition ol thc principal narrativc pcrspcctivc with thc
rcductivc and distortcd vicw ol outsidcrs likc thc istrict Commissioncr.
8y construing his narrativc as combating thc misinlormcd rcprcscntations
ol colonial writcrs, Achcbc has contributcd to thc imprcssion ol thc books
documcntary rcalism.
Additionally, likc othcr postcolonial litcraturc, TFA has cntcrcd thc
Vcstcrn canon as a kind ol scqucl to 8ritish Modcrnism, onc that is pcr
ccivcd as providing a corrcctivc to thc idcological blindspots ol writcrs lrom
thc carlicr historical pcriod. Frcqucntly partncrcd with Joscph Conrads Heart
of Darkness in introductory lcvcl courscs and 8ritish litcraturc survcys (in
cluding my own), TFA appcars on thc syllabus to show thc othcr sidc ol thc
colonial cncountcr. Too oltcn this impulsc lcads critics and tcachcrs to rcgard
postcolonial writcrs as rcndcring thc cxpcricncc ol colonizcd and prccolonial
socictics in an unproblcmatic, unmcdiatcd way.
192 Carcy Snydcr
Yct this modc ol rcading ovcrsimplics thc rclationship bctwccn
Achcbc and traditional !gbo culturc, thrcatcning to lctishizc thc voicc ol
thc lormcr colonial subjcct, whilc ignoring thc complcxity ol thc narrativc
voicc, which is morc dynamic than such rcadings acknowlcdgc. ubbing
thc novcl cthnographic or anthropological is cqually rcductivc, whcn thcsc
tcrms arc undcrstood to imply a kind ol photographic rcalism, and whcn
thc authors indigcnous status is assumcd to vouch lor an uncomplicatcd
tcxtual authcnticity. Tc opposing, but still misguidcd, assumption that thc
novcls anthropological pcrspcctivc is inhcrcntly alienated likcwisc simplics
thc dynamic cthnographic rclationship, which thc novcl subtly rcproduccs at
thc lcvcl ol stylc.
Notwithstanding thcsc cautions, ! bclicvc that litcraturc is onc ol thc
most valuablc tools wc posscss lor imagining lilc in othcr culturcs. Tus wc
should not stop rcading cthnographically, but rathcr, by apprcciating thc com
plcxity ol thc cthnographic projcct, cspccially whcn undcrtakcn by a nativc
son, wc can bcttcr apprcciatc thc corrcsponding complcxitics ol narrativcs
that cmcrgc lrom cultural crossroads.
No:vs
1. !n Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achcbc tcrms this voicc thc scdatc prosc
ol thc districtolliccrgovcrnmcnt anthropologist ol thc carly twcnticthccntury
(1975, 5).
2. !n thc scqucl to TFA, Arrow of God, wc lcarn that thc Commissioncr has
prolitcd lrom colonial anthropology, sincc his book has bccomc a colonial classic, a
manual ol cmpircbuilding, as Nahcm Yousal notcs (2003, 39).
3. Thc phrasc is not Achcbcs, but rathcr an allusion to thc wcllknown and
scminal work ol postcolonial criticism, The Empire Writes Back (1989).
4. According to !sidorc kpcwho, as ol 2003, thc novcl had bccn translatcd
into ncarly sixty languagcs and sold closc to ninc million copics. Charlcs Larson
statcs that lollowing Nigcrian indcpcndcncc, TFA bccamc rcquircd rcading at
thc sccondary lcvcl in Nigcria (kpcwho 2003, 27), but my locus in this cssay is
primarily thc novcls critical rcccption in thc U.S.
5. Hassoldt avis, Saturday Review, 1959 (qtd in Larson 1516).
6. thcr rcspondcnts to thc survcy statcd that thcy wantcd to givc studcnts a
scnsc ol Alrican history and thc cllccts ol colonialism on Alrica, as wcll as to dispcl
stcrcotypcs about Alrica, and many strcsscd that thc novcl providcs an acccssiblc,
cvocativc introduction to Alrican litcraturc or to postcolonial litcraturc morc
gcncrally (Lindlors 1991, 15).
7. ! cmploy authoritativc as a rclativc, not an absolutc, tcrm, by which ! mcan
wcll inlormcd. Thc authority ! would ascribc to TFAas to any wcllloundcd
historical and/or cthnographic rcprcscntationis that ol what Jamcs Clillord calls a
partial construction and what onna Harraway calls situatcd knowlcdgc.
8. Scc, lor cxamplc lcni Coundouriotis, who has dcmonstratcd that Alrican
novcls lrcqucntly havc bccn rcad (by Alricans as wcll as uropcans and North
Amcricans) as bcaring cthnographic witncss to thcir authors culturcs, such that
193 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
thcir historical spccilicity is mutcd or crascd (1999, 45). lizabcth Janc Harrison
idcntilics a similar tcndcncy in scholarship on thc liction ol Zora Ncalc Hurston
and Mary Huntcr Austin whosc litcrary stratcgics havc bccn ncglcctcd in lavor
ol an analysis ol thc cultural contcxt ol thcir narrativcs (1997, 44). Likcwisc, Hcnry
Louis Gatcs complains that uropcan and Amcrican critics too oltcn appropriatc
Alrican and AlricanAmcrican litcraturc as anthropological cvidcncc about thcsc
culturcs (1984, 4).
9. 8ookcr, The African Novel in English (1998, 65). As carly as 1969, G. .
Killam makcs an almost cquivalcnt statcmcnt: So much has bccn writtcn about
thc anthropological and sociological signilicancc ol Things Fall Apart and Arrow of
Godthcir cvocation ol traditional ninctccnth and carlicr twcnticthccntury !bo
villagc lilc . . . that thc ovcrall cxccllcncc ol thcsc books as picccs ol liction, as
works ol art, has bccn obscurcd (8ookcr 1998, 1).
10. Pointing out that Achcbcs lcllow Nigcrian writcr, Volc Soyinka,
has labclcd Achcbc a chroniclcr ol thc past, Nahcm Yousal similarly objccts
that Achcbcs liction has bccn asscsscd in too limiting tcrms, according to its
vcrisimilitudc, its lacility lor rcl lccting cxtcrnal rcality (2003, 4).
11. Sincc thc publication ol Jamcs Clillord and Gcorgc Marcuss Writing
Culture (1986), thcrc has bccn gcncral acknowlcdgcmcnt within thc licld ol
anthropology that thc classic gcnrc associatcd with licldwork, thc cthnography,
is a textthat thc cxpcricncc ol licldwork is mcdiatcd by languagc which shapcs/
constructs that cxpcricncc.
12. ! am using meta in thc scnsc connotcd by thc tcrm metafiction, mcaning
liction that scllconsciously alludcs to its own artiliciality or litcrarincss, announcing,
in cllcct, ! am liction. To rcad metaethnographically, by cxtcnsion, mcans to rcad
in a way that is scllrcl lcxivc ol cthnographic practicc, attcntivc to thc dynamism
inhcrcnt in thc cthnographic voicc.
13. Scc Thc Novclist as Tcachcr (Achcbc 1975, 6773).
14. Cultural holism in 8ritish Social Anthropology has its roots in thc
disciplincs lirst tcxt book, . 8. Tylors 1871 Primitive Culture, which dclincd
culturc as a complcx wholc. Primitivc villagcs, bclicvcd to bc isolatcd lrom outsidc
contact, organically intcgratcd, and rclativcly simplc in thcir organization, wcrc
rcgardcd as idcal laboratorics lor studying culturc (scc lor cxamplc Mcad 2001, 6).
Howcvcr, thc idca ol thc pristinc nativc villagc has bccn critiqucd in rcccnt ycars as a
romantic construct: lor cxamplc, Arjun Appadurai writcs, Nativcs, pcoplc conlincd
to and by thc placcs to which thcy bclong, groups unsullicd by contact with a largcr
world, havc probably ncvcr cxistcd (1988, 39). Scc also Clillord (1997).
15. Cl. Coundouriotos, who argucs that unlikc thc salvagc cthnography ol
uropcan cthnographcrs who sought, as Clillord has cxplaincd, to prcscrvc what
was alrcady lost, Achcbcs authocthnography aims at allirming thc contcmporancity
ol nativc culturcs with thosc ol thc Vcst (1999, 38).
16. Ruth 8cncdict also cmploys an acsthctic mctaphor in discussing thc
anthropologists uniquc pcrspcctivc: lor 8cncdict, a kind ol gcstalt vision cnablcs
thc cultural obscrvcr to makc scnsc ol a lorcign culturc, such that hundrcds ol
dctails lall into ovcrall pattcrns (1946, 12). Pattcrn bccomcs an opcrativc tropc
lor 8cncdict, cvidcnt in thc titlc ol hcr 1934 anthropological classic, Patterns of
Culture. For an analysis ol thc rclationship bctwccn 8cncdicts conccpt ol culturc
and thc approach to art ol litcrary studics Ncw Critics (both sccking organic unity
and a complcx wholc in thcir objccts ol study), scc Manganaro (2002, 151174).
194 Carcy Snydcr
17. Thc allusion is to Gloria Andzalduas innovativc and powcrlul tcxtualization
ol bilingual, bicultural cxpcricncc in Borderland/ La Frontiera, which poctically
thcorizcs thc cxpcricncc ol litcrally and symbolically inhabiting thc bordcrland
bctwccn Mcxico and Tcxas, lrom a Chicana pcrspcctivc.
18. Scc JanMohammcd (1984), Kortcnaar (2003), 8ookcr (1998).
19. 8y conjuring thc cllcct ol languagc in translation, thc novcls provcrbs
cvokc thc scmblancc ol cultural authcnticity, yct ironically, it has bccn wcll
cstablishcd that thcsc provcrbs at bcst looscly approximatc !gbo sayings, and in somc
cascs arc Achcbcs purc invcntion. Scc Shclton (1969, 8687).
20. Scc lootnotc 21.
21. vcn thc dclinition ol egwugwu in thc books glossary rcvcals a shilting
rclationship to !gbo culturc: prior to thc 1996 cdition, thc tcrm was glosscd as a
masqucradcr who impcrsonatcs onc ol thc anccstral spirits ol thc villagc (Achcbc
1996, 149)a dclinition that rcl lccts thoroughgoing disbclicl, as Kortcnaar notcs
(2003, 130). Thc most rcccnt cdition ol thc tcxt rcviscs this dclinition to thc
maskcd spirit, rcprcscnting thc anccstral spirits ol thc villagc (liii)wording that
prcsumably morc closcly aligns with thc !gbo pcrspcctivc.
Vovxs Ci :vb
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8ookcr, M. Kcith. 1998. The African Novel in English: An Introduction. Portsmouth, NH:
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8uzard, Jamcs. 2005. Disorienting Fiction: the Authoethnographic Work of Victorian Fiction.
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Carroll, avid. 1980. Chinua Achebe. London: Macmillan Prcss Ltd.
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Prcss.
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zcnwahacto. 1997. Chinua Achebe: A Biography. xlord: Jamcs Currcy Prcss.
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Modcrn Middlc ast. !n Literature and Anthropology, cd. Philip A. cnnis & Vcndcll
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195 Thc Possibilitics and Pitlalls ol thnographic Rcadings
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Men and Women about American Life today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future. NY:
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. 1996. Chinua Achcbc and thc !nvcntion ol Alrican Litcraturc. Prclacc to Things
Fall Apart. xlord: Hcincmann.
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. C.: Thrcc Contincnts Prcss.
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Tcnncsscc Prcss.
Huggan, Graham. 1994. Anthropologists and thcr Frauds. Comparative Literature, 46.2
(Spring): 113128.
!nncs, C. L. 1990. Chinua Achebe. Cambridgc: Cambridgc Univcrsity Prcss.
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Modcs in Achcbcs Things Fall Apart. Ariel 15: 4, 1939.
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Interpretations: Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart, cd. Harold 8loom. Philadclphia:
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Killam, G. . 1977. The Novels of Chinua Achebe. 1969. Rcprint. London: Hcincmann.
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Achebes Things Fall Apart: A Casebook, cd. !sidorc kpcwho. xlord Univcrsity Prcss.
Larson, Charlcs. 1971. The Emergence of African Fiction. 8loomington: !ndiana Univcrsity Prcss.
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. 1997. Conversations with Chinua Achebe. Jackson: Univcrsity Prcss ol Mississippi.
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Manganaro, Marc. 2002. Culture, 1922: The Emergence of a Concept. Princcton: Princcton
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196 Carcy Snydcr
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197 197
1930 8orn Novcmbcr 16 in thc villagc ol gidi in castcrn Nigcria
to Janct Hocgbunam Achcbc and !saiah kalor Achcbc,
a catcchist lor thc Church Missionary Socicty. Thc namc
Chinua is an abbrcviation lor Chinualumogu (may God
light on my bchall ), in cllcct a praycr and a philosophical
statcmcnt rcllccting a bclicl in and dcsirc lor stability in lilc.
1935 Thc Achcbc lamily rcturns to gidi. Thc storytclling
tradition now cxists sidc by sidc with bookrcading scssions
in Socictys school. Latcr on, whcn looking back at his carly
days, Chinua rcmcmbcrs living in two worlds at onccthc
Christian world ol hymns in church and thc poctry ol thc
litany, and thc traditional rcligion ol thc !gbo culturc, whcrc
masqucradcs and lcstival loods play an important rolc.
1936 Achcbc bcgins school at St. Philips Ccntral School,
Akpakaogwc gidi. Thc school itscll was constructcd ol
mud blocks in thc shapc ol a T and surroundcd by mango
trccs, which providcd snacks lor thc childrcn. Altcr a wcck in
rcligious class, thc Rcvcrcnd Nclson zckwcsili scnds him to
a highcr inlant school bccausc ol his intclligcncc.
1938 Achcbc lcarns nglish. Hc is in Standard Two whcn Vorld
Var !! bcgins.
Chronology
Chronology 198
19391943 Chinua is taught by thc inspirational S. N. C. konkwo
lrom Standard Two upward. Hc cxccls in rcading nglish
and, among othcr things, carns konkwos rcspcct lor his
knowlcdgc ol thc !gbo vcrsion ol thc 8iblc. Among thc
books Chinua rcads during his primaryschool days arc A
Midsummer Nights Dream and Pilgrims Progress.
1944 Chinua cntcrs Govcrnmcnt Collcgc, Umuahia, onc ol thc
bcst schools in Vcst Alrica. Thc ncw principal, namcd
Hicks, said to bc a kind and gcntlc soul, carricd on thc
tradition ol Robcrt Fishcr, cmphasizing a carclul sclcction ol
qualilicd boys lor admission and acadcmic cxccllcncc. Thc
boys arc cxpcctcd to lcad a vcry organizcd lilc, at timcs at
thc pacc ol a military school. !n latc 1944, Villiam Simpson
rcplaccs Hicks as principal. Simpson, a Cambridgc graduatc
who had spcnt about twcntysix ycars in thc colonial scrvicc
in Nigcria, was dcdicatcd to improving thc alrcady high
acadcmic standards at Umuahia. uring his tcnurc, Simpson
introduccs thc Tcxtbook Act, which statcs ccrtain timcs
during which tcxt book rcading is not pcrmissiblc, lcaving
sports, physical cxcrcisc, or timc to bccomc acquaintcd
with thc cxtcnsivc collcgc library as thc only altcrnativc.
Chinua bcnclits lrom thc Simpson mcthod, rcading such
books as Up from Slavery, Gullivers Travels, The Prisoner of
Zenda, Oliver Twist, Tom Browns Schooldays, and Treasure
Island. Among Chinuas prolcssors arc Adrian P. L. Slatcr,
who tcachcs logic by cmphasizing scicntilic mcthods ol
obscrvation and cxpcrimcntation, and inculcatcs thc habits
ol writing corrcct nglish, and Charlcs Low, an Australian
cducatcd at Mclbournc and xlord univcrsitics, both a poct
and playwright, and who had practically mcmorizcd Paradise
Lost.
19481953 !n 1948, Achcbc cnrolls at Univcrsity Collcgc, !badan,
as a mcmbcr ol thc lirst class to attcnd this ncw school.
Although his original intcntion is to study mcdicinc, Achcbc
soon switchcs to nglish litcrary studics with a syllabus
that is almost idcntical to thc honors dcgrcc program at thc
Univcrsity ol London. Toward thc cnd ol his carccr at !badan,
Chinua is grcatly inllucnccd by thc lccturcs ol Alcx Rodgcrs
on Thomas Hardys Far from the Madding Crowd.
Chronology 199
1950 As a studcnt in thc Faculty ol Arts, Chinua bcgins to cxprcss
himscll as a writcr. Hc contributcs storics, cssays, and skctchcs
to thc University Herald. Thcsc storics arc latcr publishcd in
1972 in Girls at War and Other Stories.
1953 Achcbc graduatcs lrom thc Univcrsity Collcgc, !badan. Thc
dcgrcc cxaminations rcllcct thc strict and rigid dcsirc ol thc
univcrsity to maintain thc highcst standards. 8y thc timc hc
graduatcs, his intcllcctual horizon and social undcrstanding
havc bccn cnhanccd through his intcraction with a varicty ol
Nigcrians and lorcigncrs.
1954 8cgins tcaching nglish at thc Mcrchants ol Light School
at ba undcr thc supcrvision ol A. . . Mgbcmcna. As thc
school was in its inlancy, thc quartcrs lor stall and studcnts
wcrc inadcquatc. Thc dormitorics wcrc madc ol mud and
coatcd with ccmcnt and thcrc was at that timc ncithcr
clcctricity nor pipcd watcrthc studcnts had to lctch thc
watcr lrom cithcr a ncighboring villagc or a strcam. His tcnurc
at thc Mcrchants ol Light Sccondary School is bricl. About
lour months altcr his arrival, hc rcccivcs a lcttcr lrom thc
Nigcrian 8roadcasting Scrvicc inviting him lor an intcrvicw,
which is quickly lollowcd by an ollcr ol cmploymcnt as scnior
broadcasting olliccr lrom around thc middlc ol 1954.
1955 !n thc January issuc ol Radio Times, Chinua and Angcla
8cattic rcccivc acknowlcdgmcnt lor thcir rolc in cducating
thcir listcncrs.
1956 arly in thc ycar, Chinua Achcbc and 8isi nabanjo, cditor ol
thc Radio Times, arc nominatcd by thc N8S, Lagos to attcnd
thc 88C Stall School in London organizcd lor participants
lrom Alrica, Australia, Ncw Zcaland, Canada, and Asia. Thc
training was intcndcd to cmphasizc handson cxpcricncc
within thc UK broadcasting systcm.
1957 Gocs to London to cmbark on a twclvcycar carccr as
produccr lor thc 8ritish 8roadcasting Corporation Stall
School, whcrc hc mccts thc 8ritish novclist and litcrary critic
Gilbcrt Phclps.
1958 Things Fall Apart publishcd. Thc novcl is publishcd two ycars
bclorc Nigcrian indcpcndcncc is gaincd in 1960.
Chronology 200
1960 Vritcs two short storics, onc titlcd Chikcs School ays
which appcars in thc Rotarian, and Mackc, which is
publishcd in thc anthology Reflections, cditcd by Franccs
Adcinola, who was working at thc N8S in Lagos as hcad ol
Talks. Also publishcs No Longer at Ease.
1961 Achcbc appointcd dircctor ol thc \oicc ol Nigcria (cxtcrnal
broadcasting) by thc Nigcrian 8roadcasting Corporation. n
cccmbcr 10, hc marrics Christic Chinwc koli at !badan.
1962 8irth ol his lirst child, a daughtcr namcd Chinclo, on July 11.
The Sacrificial Egg, and Other Short Stories publishcd.
1964 8irth ol his sccond child, a boy namcd !kcchukwu. His namc
mcans through thc might ol God. Arrow of God publishcd.
Publishcs Thc Rolc ol thc Vritcr in thc Ncw Nation, Nigeria
Magazine, Junc 1964. !n Scptcmbcr, Chinua participatcs in
thc lirst Commonwcalth Litcraturc Conlcrcncc to bc hcld at
thc Univcrsity ol Lccds, whcrc hc prcscnts a papcr on Thc
Novclist as Tcachcr.
1966 A Man of the People publishcd in January. atc ol publication
closcly coincidcs with thc lirst military coup dtat in Nigcria.
Achcbc rcsigns lrom his job with thc Nigcrian 8roadcasting
Corporation duc to thc incrcasing pcrsccution ol Nigcrians
and rcturns to his homcland. Chike and the River publishcd.
1967 n May 24, his third child, a son namcd Chidi, is born. His
namc mcans Thcrc is a God. Thc astcrn Rcgion ol Nigcria
dcclarcs itscll an indcpcndcnt statc callcd 8ialra lollowing
a thirtymonth civil war. Achcbc givcs unwavcring support
lor thc young nation, so much so that hc dcclincs an ollcr
by Northwcstcrn Univcrsity to tcach in thc Gwcndolcn M.
Cartcr program ol Alrican Studics.
1968 Achcbc dcclincs a sccond ollcr, madc by a lcttcr datcd January
9, lrom Gwcndolcn Cartcr. n August 25, hc dclivcrs papcr
on Thc Alrican Vritcr and thc 8ialran Causc to a political
scicncc scminar at Makcrc Univcrsity Collcgc, Kampala.
1969 Scrvcs as chairman ol National Guidancc Committcc at
Umuahia. !n January, writcs a pocm titlcd Air Raid, a
rcquicm on a dcvastating air strikc at Umuahia.
Chronology 201
1970 n March 7, his lourth child, Nwandois, born. Hcr namc,
which mcans a child undcr which thc parcnts would shcltcr,
signilics thcir anticipation ol a timc altcr thc war.
1971 Beware, Soul Brother, and Other Poems publishcd. Rcpublishcd
as Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems in 1973. Publishcs The
Insider: Stories of War and Peace from Nigeria.
1972 Publishcs Girls at War and Other Stories. Achcbc rcccivcs
.Litt. dcgrcc lrom artmouth Collcgc.
1973 Achcbcs impact in Francc is apparcnt with thc publication ol
Chinua Achebe et la tragedie de l historie, a critical study ol his
work, by Thomas Mclonc.
1974 Achcbc lccturing at thc Univcrsity ol Massachusctts,
Amhcrst.
1975 Achcbc publishcs a volumc ol liltccn cssays, Morning Yet on
Creation Day, writtcn bctwccn 1962 and 1973, on various
litcrary and political subjccts. Achcbc dccidcs to acccpt an
appointmcnt at thc Univcrsity ol Connccticut in Storrs.
1976 Achcbc lcavcs Univcrsity ol Connccticut to rcturn to Nigcria.
Among many rcsponsibilitics, hc tcachcs a coursc in modcrn
Alrican liction at thc Univcrsity ol Nigcria, Nsukka.
1977 Publishcs two childrcns books, The Flute and The Drum,
bascd on !gboland lolktalcs.
1978 Publishcs a pocm, Thc Amcrican Youngstcr in Rags, in
Okike and writcs cssay, Thc Truth ol Fiction, prcscntcd at
thc Univcrsity ol !lc.
1979 clivcrs his cssay, !mpcdimcnts to ialoguc 8ctwccn North
and South, at 8crlin !ntcrnational Litcraturc Fcstival hcld
Junc 21 to July 15.
1980 !n April, attcnds conlcrcncc ol thc Alrican Litcraturc
Association in Gaincsvillc, Florida. Mccts Jamcs 8aldwin lor
thc lirst timc.
1982 Attcnds mcctings and cngagcs in discussions rcgarding gcncral
clcctions to bc hcld in 1983. Joins Pcoplcs Rcdcmption Party
(PRP) in latc 1982.
1983 The Trouble with Nigeria publishcd.
Chronology 202
1984 Achcbc givcs lccturc at Univcrsity ol Port Harcourt,
Rcllcctions on Nigcrias Political Culturc.
1985 Hcincmann publishcs Short Stories, cditcd by Achcbc and
Lyn !nncs.
1986 The World of the Ogbanje publishcd. Achcbc awardcd thc
Nigcrian National Mcrit Award lor thc sccond timc. !n his
acccptancc spccch, Achcbc notcs thc csscntial rolc playcd
by litcraturc in thc comprchcnsivc goal ol a dcvcloping
nation such as Nigcria.
1987 Anthills of the Savannah publishcd.
1988 The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Polities
publishcd. Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, 1965
1987 publishcd.
1989 A Tribute to James Baldwin publishcd. Appointcd a
istinguishcd Prolcssor ol nglish at City Collcgc ol thc
City Univcrsity ol Ncw York. Rcccivcs Callaloo Award
lor his contributions to Vorld Litcraturc. Publishcs lirst
issuc ol African Commentary: A Journal for People of African
Descent, in Amcrica.
1990 Achcbc birthday symposium hcld at thc Univcrsity ol
Nigcria, Nsukka, undcr thc dircction ol dith !hckwcazu.
Achcbc also acccpts invitation to bccomc Charlcs P.
Stcvcnson Prolcssor ol Litcraturc at 8ard Collcgc. Many
ncw critical works on Achcbc arc publishcd.
1993 Achcbc travcls to Univcrsity ol Cambridgc in January to
dclivcr thc annual Asby Lccturc at Clarc Hall on Thc
ducation ol a 8ritish Protcctcd Child, which was
subscqucntly publishcd in thc Cambridge Review. Toward
thc cnd ol thc ycar, thc political situation in Nigcria has
dcgcncratcd, with thc military govcrnmcnt canccling a
schcdulcd clcction. !n Novcmbcr, Achcbc is awardcd thc
Langston Hughcs Mcdallion at a cclcbration sponsorcd by
thc City Univcrsity ol Ncw York.
2000 Publishcs Home and Exile, a collcction ol cssays prcscntcd
as thc McMillanStcward Lccturcs at Harvard Univcrsity
in 1998.
Chronology 203
2002 Awardcd Gcrman 8ookscllcrs Pcacc Prizc lor promoting
human undcrstanding through litcraturc.
2007 Awardcd Man 8ookcr !ntcrnational Prizc lor producing
a body ol work that has addcd signilicantly to world
litcraturc.
205
HARL 8LM is Stcrling Prolcssor ol thc Humanitics at Yalc Uni
vcrsity. Hc is thc author ol 30 books, including Shelleys Mythmaking (1959),
The Visionary Company (1961), Blakes Apocalypse (1963), Yeats (1970), A Map
of Misreading (1975), Kabbalah and Criticism (1975), Agon: Toward a Theory of
Revisionism (1982), The American Religion (1992), The Western Canon (1994),
and Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection
(1996). The Anxiety of Influence (1973) scts lorth Prolcssor 8looms provoca
tivc thcory ol thc litcrary rclationships bctwccn thc grcat writcrs and thcir
prcdcccssors. His most rcccnt books includc Shakespeare: The Invention of the
Human (1998), a 1998 National 8ook Award linalist, How to Read and Why
(2000), Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (2002),
Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (2003), Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? (2004),
and Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine (2005). !n 1999, Prolcssor 8loom
rcccivcd thc prcstigious Amcrican Acadcmy ol Arts and Lcttcrs Gold
Mcdal lor Criticism. Hc has also rcccivcd thc !ntcrnational Prizc ol Catalo
nia, thc Allonso Rcycs Prizc ol Mcxico, and thc Hans Christian Andcrscn
8iccntcnnial Prizc ol cnmark.
KVAV S!NYAM is a lccturcr in Alrican litcraturc at thc
School ol Alrican and ricntal Studics, Univcrsity ol London. His intcrcsts
includc Alrican litcraturc and nationalism and Alrican cultural studics with
rclcrcncc to thc Akan ol Ghana and thc !gbo ol Nigcria. Hc has publishcd
activcly on Alrican litcraturc.
Contributors
Contributors 206
. N. MKH!Z is in thc doctoral program in linguistics at thc Univcrsity
ol !llinois, UrbanaChampaign. Hcr scholarly intcrcst is in which socio
linguistic thcorics can bc applicd to thc analysis and undcrstanding ol thc
potcntial rolc that Alrican languagcs, with a particular cmphasis on Zulu,
can play in thc South Alrican lcgal domain.
PATR!CK C. NNRML is associatc prolcssor/chaplain in thc
dcpartmcnt ol philosophy and rcligion at astcrn Kcntucky Univcrsity. Hc
tcachcs courscs in thc Alrican cxpcricncc.
RA\!T R!CHMAN is thc Robcrt and Nancy Carncy Assistant Prolcs
sor ol nglish at 8rown Univcrsity. Shc has publishcd articlcs on Holocaust
tcstimony, law and culturc, lcgal charactcr, \irginia Vooll and torts, colo
nial law, Albcrt Camus, and thc Nurcmbcrg trials.
JSPH R. SLAUGHTR is associatc prolcssor ol nglish and com
parativc litcraturc at Columbia Univcrsity. Hc is author ol Human Rights,
Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law (2007).
MAC FNV!CK tcachcs at Trcnt Univcrsity in Pctcrborough, ntario.
His 2002 disscrtation at Quccns Univcrsity was Pcrilous Advcnturcs:
!magining thc schatological Unity ol Local and Global. Hc has writtcn
articlcs on postcolonial litcraturc.
L!\R L\SY is associatc prolcssor ol nglish at thc Univcrsity
ol 8ritish Columbia, kanagan. Hc wrotc The Clerical Character in George
Eliots Fiction (1991) and Ng u gwa Thiongo (2000).
FRANK SALAMN is prolcssor and chair in thc dcpartmcnt ol sociol
ogy at !ona Univcrsity. His books includc The Yanomami and Their Interpret-
ers: Fierce People or Fierce Interpreters? (1997) and Encyclopedia of Religious
Rites, Rituals, and Festivals (2004), which hc cditcd.
ANRA PVLL VLF is an instructor in womcns studics at 8all
Statc Univcrsity.
CARY SNYR is associatc prolcssor ol nglish at hio Univcrsity.
Shc wrotc British Fiction and Cross-Cultural Encounters: Ethnographic Mod-
ernism from Wells to Woolf (2008).
207 207
Agctua, John, cd. Critics on Chinua Achebe, 19701976. 8cnin City, Nigcria:
Agctua, 1977.
8cckham, Jack M. Achcbcs Things Fall Apart. Explicator 60:4 (Summcr 2002):
229231.
Carroll, avid. Chinua Achebe. Ncw York: St. Martins Prcss, 1980.
Counihan, Clarc. Rcading thc Figurc ol Voman in Alrican Litcraturc:
Psychoanalysis, illcrcncc, and csirc. Research in African Literatures 38:2
(Summcr 2007): 161180.
gudu, Romanus N. Achcbc and thc !gbo Narrativc Tradition. Research in African
Literatures 12 (1981): 4354.
kpo, cnis. Chinua Achcbcs arly Anti!mpcrialism in thc Court ol Postcolonial
Thcory. Commonwealth Essays and Studies 27:2 (Spring 2005), pp. 2743.
mcnyonu, rncst. The Rise of the Igbo Novel. !badan: xlord Univcrsity Prcss,
1978.
, cd. Emerging Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. \olumc 1. Omenka the Master
Artist: Critical Perspectives on Achebes Fiction. Trcnton, NJ: Alrica Vorld,
2004.
zcnwahacto. Chinua Achebe: A Biography. xlord: Jamcs Currcy, 8loomington:
!ndiana Univcrsity Prcss, 1997.
Fcnwick, Mac. Rcalising !ronys Post/Colonial Promisc: Global Scnsc and Local
Mcaning in Things Fall Apart and Ruins ol a Grcat Housc. Kunapipi:
Journal of Postcolonial Writing 28:1 (2006): 821.
Gagiano, Annic H. Achebe, Head, Marechera: On Power and Change in Africa.
8ouldcr: Lynnc Ricnncr Publishcrs, 2000.
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213
Acknowlcdgmcnts 214
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Numbcr 2 (Spring 2008): pp. 154174. Copyright 2008 Vcst Chcstcr
Univcrsity. Rcprintcd by pcrmission ol thc publishcr.
Index
215
Abamc (charactcr), 89, 131
Abamc (lictional villagc), 89, 106
Aba Vomcns Rcvolt, 147
Abcokuta (city), 146
Abraham (biblical charactcr), 124
Account of Travels into the Interior of
Southern Africa in the Years 1797
and 1798, 81
Adams, Phocbc, 163
Adcbisi (charactcr), 148
Adczc (charactcr), 158
Alrica, 6, 44, 54, 73, 76, 7981, 108,
115, 118, 127, 133, 159, 162, 170
historiography, 118
jurispudcncc in, 55, 64
litcraturc, 154
prccolonial, 178
Alrican Amcrican
music, 145
Alrican Association, 6970
Africans: A Triple Heritage, The
(tclcvision show), 161
Alrican Vritcrs Scrics, 23, 115
Alrica Vritcr and thc nglish
Languagc, Thc, 24
Agbala (god), 1517, 19, 43, 126,
188
Agreement between Onitsha and the
National African Company, 86
A!S, 163
Ajolia (charactcr), 90
Akc (villagc), 144
Ak, 141, 144
Akuckc (charactcr), 158
Akunna (charactcr), 129
Albcrt, Princc, 180
Amadiora (God, thundcrbolt), 34
Amalinzc thc Cat (charactcr), 8, 16,
42, 87, 122
Among Worlds, 101
Andcrson, H. P., 86
Ani (goddcss), 123
Anthills of the Savannah, 142
Anthropology, Social
8ritish, 183
Appiah, Kwamc, 120
Approaches to Teaching Achebes
Things Fall Apart, 179
Aptcr, Andrcw, 166
archacology
cultural, 120
Archaeology of Knowledge, The, 19
Arcndt, Hannah, 63
Argonauts of the Western Pacific, 184
Arrow of God, 23, 154, 158, 160,
162, 169170, 183
Asad, Talal, 185
Ashcrolt, 8ill, 127
8abcock, 8arbara, 16
8akcr, M., 27
8akhtin, Mikhail, 5
!ndcx 216
8antu
culturc ol, 118
Bantu Philosophy, 118
8arrow, John, 81
8arthcs, Roland, 10, 19
8asdcn, G. T., 116, 120, 122, 125,
127, 129, 131, 184
8assncttMcGuirc, S., 2425
8auman, Richard, 6
88C, 161
8clgian Congo, 80
8cnin (Alrican kingdom), 118
8cnjamin, Valtcr, 54
8crlin Act, 80
8crlin Conlcrcncc, 87, 96
8habha, Homi K., 102, 116
8ialra, 145
8iblc
allusions lrom, 110
Big Love (tclcvision scrics), 164
8ishop Strcct, 58
Bleak House, 62
8luc 8ooks, 72, 9192, 94
8ookcr, Kcith, 179
Booklist, 164
8ourdicu, Picrrc, 63
8oycc avics, Carolc, 162, 166
Brave African Huntress, The, 142, 148
8ritish Forcign llicc, 69, 82, 86
8road Strcct, 58
8rown, Mr. (charactcr), 184
8rown, Rcv. (charactcr), 120, 129,
131
8ull, Mary, 81
8ush ol Ghosts, 148
8utlcr, Judith, 9
8uzard, Jamcs, 187
Calabar Provincc, 92, 147
Can thc Subaltcrn Spcak:, 168
capitalism, 165
Caribbcan, 109
Carroll, avid, 179180, 183
Cary, Joycc, 6, 116, 178, 180
Cat (charactcr), 18
Catlord, J., 25
Chambcrs, Ross, 7
Chanock, Martin, 64
Chi, 143
Chiclo (charactcr), 1517, 19, 126
childbirth, 14
childrcn, 78, 160
Chinua Achcbc and thc !nvcntion
ol Alrican Culturc, 153
Chinua Achcbc at Scvcnty, 153
Chinualumogu, Albcrt (Achcbc),
180
Christianity, 51, 118, 162, 165, 181
Chukwu (Suprcmc 8cing), 3334
Circling thc ownspout ol
mpirc, 101
Clillord, Jamcs, 6, 132, 182, 186
climatc, 75
cocoa, 166
colonialism, 5, 40, 5354, 63, 65,
72, 7577, 90, 102, 119120, 144,
146147, 149, 162, 177
colonial law, 53
colonization, 111, 178
Colonialist Criticism, 73
Congo, 80, 133
Conrad, Joscph, 6, 83, 116, 132, 158,
170, 191
coopcration, 43
Covcr, Robcrt, 65
Cullcr, Jonathan, 10
cultural archacology, 120
aughtcr Kitc (charactcr), 89
avidson, 8asil, 118
avics, Carolc 8oycc, 17
awodu, 8cnjamin, 58
awodu, Jamcs, 58
Devotions, 109
dialogism, 5
ickcns, Charlcs, 62
!ndcx 217
Dilo di Maseke, 37
irks, Nicholas, 119
istrict Commissioncr (charactcr), 6,
28, 3132, 40, 47, 5253, 63, 72,
88, 90, 9293, 104, 106107, 109,
115116, 130133, 177, 191
ivisional Court, 59
Diwele Makgolela, 37
onnc, John, 109
ar (charactcr), 129
cducation, 181
kwcli (charactcr), 1419, 44, 85,
88, 127, 129
kwucmc, gbucli (charactcr), 90
Emile, The, 75
ngland, 51, 76, 108, 111
colonization by Romc, 111
Livcrpool, 69
London, 63
noch (charactcr), 90, 191
quiano, laudah, 95
thnoccntrism, 143
cthnographic rcading ol, 177192
uropc, 170
vil Forcst, 129
zcani (charactcr), 44
zcudu, gbucli (charactcr), 45,
125, 129
zculu (charactcr), 155, 157158,
160, 170
zidcmili (charactcr), 170
zinma (charactcr), 1415, 1718,
43, 78, 85, 123, 125126
zucdu (charactcr), 123
Fanon, Frantz, 7, 96, 120
Far Cry From Alrica, A, 108
Fcast ol thc Ncw Yam, 186
Fcla (musician), 146
lcmininity, 141
lcminism, 146, 155, 167
Fcrnca, lizabcth, 180
Fitzpatrick, Pctcr, 56, 64
Flint, John, 82
Forcc ol Law, Thc, 63
Foucault, Michcl, 13, 19, 76
Francc
pcasantry in, 75
Fuzc, M. M., 29
gcndcr, 142, 154
General Act of The Conference of
Berlin, 80
gcnocidc, 132
gcography, 75
Gikandi, Simon, 10, 125, 153, 171,
182, 184, 188189
God, 33
Goldic, Gcorgc, 69, 7172, 79, 82
Gowon, Yakuba, 145
Granqvist, Raoul, 13
Grcat 8ritain, 178
Guyana, 109
Haldar, Pivcl, 64
Harlow, 8arbara, 85
Harris, Vilson, 109
Hausa, 88
H8 (cablc T\ company), 164
hcadrings, 29
Heart of Darkness, 8384, 132, 158,
170, 181, 191
Hcgcl, Gcorgc Vilhclm Fricdrich,
117
Hcincmann (publishcr), 115, 127
Hcllman, Lillian, 145
Hcnrickscn, 8rucc, 126
Hcrmans, T., 25
hcro, plight ol, 3948
hctcroglossia, 5
Hillman, ugcnc, 160
history, 117
Hitc, Molly, 11, 13
Holt, John, 69, 72
hooks, bcll, 155, 157, 168
!ndcx 218
Horton, Jamcs Alricanus 8calc, 76,
95
House for Mr. Biswas, A, 102
Huggan, Graham, 126, 132
Hutchcon, Linda, 101
!bo (Scc !gbo), 115, 120, 126
!gbo, 5, 2324, 2829, 33, 36, 39,
76, 89, 91, 93, 105, 108, 115, 141
142, 147148, 154, 156, 159, 162,
177, 179180, 183, 185, 188
culturc ol, 520, 23, 40, 43, 105,
178, 191
!gbo Awtanzu (Awtanzu) Chicls, 93
!gboland, 31
!gbo Storytcllcr (charactcr), 104, 112
!gucdo (villagc), 53
!kcmcluna (charactcr), 42, 4546,
123125, 129, 189
!magc ol Alrica: Racism in
Conrads Heart of Darkness, An,
158
impcrialism, 5, 40, 115, 120
!ndia
8ombay, 186
irony, 99
Ironys Edge, 107
!sichci, lizabcth, 18
!taly
Romc, 96
!zcvbayc, an, 72
JanMohamcd, Abdul, 189
Jarndycc and Jarndycc (lictional
court casc), 62
Jcyilo, 8iodun, 90
journalism, 73
Journal of African Law, 55
Jussawalla, Fcroza, 11
Kortcnaar, Ncil tcn, 178, 185, 188
Kuncnc, anicl, 16
Kunhiyop, Samucl Vajc, 162
Kurtz (charactcr), 83, 116, 132
Kwafa Gula Linamasi, 23
LaCapra, ominick, 15
Lagos, Colony ol, 57, 65, 92
Lambcrt, J., 2526
Lamming, Gcorgc, 110
Lcda and thc Swan, 124
Lclcvcrc, A., 24
Lcopold, King, 80, 133
lcsbianism, 148
Lewis v. Bankole, 55, 5758, 6061, 63
Lindlors, 8crnth, 7
Livc 8urial, 145
Lowcll, Robcrt, 145
Lubiano, Vahnccma, 12
Lugard, Frcdcrick, 79 80, 84, 94
Lwadilikudonga, 37
Mabinuori, Chicl Fagbcmi, 58, 61
Mabinuoris Compound, 57
Macaulay, Thomas, 118
Macdonald, C. M., 71, 82
Magistratcs Court, 55
Malinowski, 8ronislaw, 182, 184
185
Man Died, The, 145
Mannoni, ., 31
manslaughtcr, 93
Marcus, Gcorgc, 6
Marlow (charactcr), 83, 85, 133, 158
masculinity, 9, 17, 78, 141149, 154
Matcli (charactcr), 155, 158, 170
171
Mazrui, Ali A., 161
Mbaino (villagc), 42, 87
Mbainos, 28
Mbanta (villagc), 7, 47, 88
Mbari, 133
Mbcmbc, Achillc, 117
McLccr, Annc, 166
Mcditation X\!!, 109
Mczu, Rosc Urc, 157, 169
!ndcx 219
Mgbalo (charactcr), 30
Mill, John Stuart, 74, 95
Millcr, Christophcr, 126
Minutc on !ndian ducation, 118
Miri, Angcla F., 187
missionarics, 47, 51
Mister Johnson, 116, 178
Modcrnism
8ritish, 191
Mohanty, Chandra Talpadc, 166
Moorc, Hcnrictta, 6
Morning Yet on Creation Day, 171
Mosquito (charactcr), 129
Mothcr Kitc (charactcr), 89
Msimang, C. T., 2829, 3132,
3435, 37
Mudimbc, \. Y., 116117
Mvclinqqangi (God), 33
Naipaul, \. S., 102, 110
Namclcss Town oll thc Quccr Vay
Homcward, Thc, 148
Narayan, Kirin, 186, 190
NasimiyuVasikc, Annc, 159, 166,
168
National Alrican Company
(Limitcd), 71, 86
nationalism, 171
Nativc Court ol Appcal, 55
Nativc Courts, 55
Ncw, Villiam, 101, 110
Ncw Alrica, 149
Ncwmark, P., 24
New Statesmen, The, 145
NgabohSmart, Francis, 117
Nigcr Company, 82
Nigcr clta, 69
Nigcria, 24, 51, 53, 55, 72, 7677,
86, 9195, 115, 118119, 141,
144, 162, 166, 178, 180
lcminist movcmcnt, 146
Nigcria8ialra Var, 147
Nigcrian Civil Var, 145
Niger Ibos, 120, 129
Nigcr Rivcr, 69, 80, 95
Nigcr tcrritorics, 72
Nivcn, Rcx, 94
Njoku, J. . ., 3334
Nncka (charactcr), 89
Nobcl Prizc, 145
Nok (Alrican kingdom), 118
No Longer at Ease, 23
Nomkhubulwanc (goddcss ol thc
carth), 34
Novclist as Tcachcr, Thc, 117, 154
Nri (Alrican kingdom), 118
Nwalo (charactcr), 155
Nwakibic (charactcr), 13
Nwolia (charactcr), 90
Nwoyc (charactcr), 46, 78, 88, 123,
125, 128130, 189
Nyoyc, 123
biako (charactcr), 1213
bicchina, mmanucl, 179
bicrika (charactcr), 8, 41, 43, 45,
47, 89, 125, 129130
bika (charactcr), 158, 160
chicng, Villiam, 118
duchc (charactcr), 155, 157, 160
gbaa, Kalu, 179
gidi (villagc), 86, 178
il Rivcrs Protcctoratc, 71
il Rivcrs rcgion, 82
jiugo (charactcr), 155
kalo, 88
kagbuc (charactcr), 127
kckc (charactcr), 161
kcrckc, Gracc, 14
kinawa (charactcr), 143
konkwo, S. N. C., 78, 10, 12,
1416, 19, 3948, 51, 53, 65, 71,
74, 78, 85, 8790, 9394, 104, 107,
115116, 122124, 127130, 132
133, 143, 146147, 159, 178, 190
koyc (charactcr), 1112, 159
!ndcx 220
kpcri (villagc), 160
kpcwho, !sidorc, 183
kuata (charactcr), 160
nitsha (villagc), 86
nitsha Markct Vomcns rcbcllion,
142
Onitsha Protectorate Treaty, 86
n Libcrty, 74
n National Culturc, 120
nuh, C. ., 2930
raclc ol thc Hills and thc Cavcs
(charactcr), 15, 34, 43, 106, 124,
188
oral history, 115
oral traditions, 6
Order of Things, The, 13, 76
ricntalism, 77
sbornc, Chicl Justicc, 60
wcrri Provincc, 92, 147
Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of
the Lower Niger, The, 52, 65, 72,
104, 177
Palace of the Peacock, 109
Palm Wine Drinkard, 142
Parrindcr, Gcollrcy, 184
Parrot (charactcr), 85
Parry, 8cnita, 167
Pcrham, Margcry, 81
Pctcrscn, Kristcn Holst, 169
poctry, 145
polygyny, 153171
postcolonial litcraturc, 115
Pratt, Mary Louisc, 81, 120
Pricbc, Richard, 12
Pricstcss ol Agbala (charactcr), 15,
43, 126
Pumpkin Lcavcs (lcast), 156
Purdon, Liam ., 45
Pygmics, 148
Qamata (God), 34
Quayson, Ato, 18, 179
racism, 170
RansomcKuti, Funmilayo, 146
Rcalism, 102
Rcprcscntation and thc Colonial
Tcxt, 102
Rcpugnancy Clausc, 55
Research in African Literatures, 153
Romc, 111
Rousscau, JcanJacqucs, 75
Royal Anthropological !nstitutc, 57
Royal Nigcr Company, 69, 79, 86
Ruins ol a Grcat Housc, 104,
107
Sacy, Silvcstrc dc, 77
Said, dward, 77
Sarr, Ndiawar, 44
Schippcr, Minckc, 165
Schwcitzcr, Albcrt, 73
Sccond Coming, Thc, 52, 131
Sccond Congrcss ol 8lack Artists
and Vritcrs, 96
Scnghor, Lcopold, 149
scxism, 158
scxually transmittcd discascs, 163
Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle,
148
slavcry, 71
Smith, anicl Jordan, 163
Smith, dwin, 57
Social arwinism, 120
South Alrica, 31
Soyinka, Volc, 141, 144147, 149
Spain
royal ordinanccs, 71
Spccd, Acting Chicl Justicc, 58
Spcnccr, Paul, 162
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 19,
168
Spun, avid, 73
submission, 43
suicidc, 53, 90, 94, 104, 132
Suprcmc Court, 55
!ndcx 221
Talbot, P. Amaury, 92, 184
Tangled Justice, 57
Tcmpcls, Placidc, 118, 126
Thcscs on thc Philosophy ol
History, 54
Thixo, 34
Todorov, Tzvctan, 70
Tomasclli, K., 24
Tortoisc (charactcr), 18, 85, 87, 126,
129
Tortoisc and thc 8irds, 87
Toury, G., 2526
translation, 24, 26
TrcvorRopcr, Hugh, 118
Trobriand !slandcrs, 185
Turncr, Margarct, 12
Tutuola, Amos, 141, 145, 147, 149
Uchcndu (charactcr), 89, 93, 129,
131
Udo (charactcr), 42
Ugoyc (charactcr), 155, 158, 170171
Umahia (villagc), 181
Umuaro (villagc), 160
Umuolia (lictional villagc), 7, 914,
16, 1819, 42, 4546, 48, 51, 74,
78, 87, 89, 94, 104, 116, 118, 122,
125, 130133, 178, 187, 191
culturc ol, 39, 42
Understanding Things Fall Apart, 179
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (1948), 96
Univcrsity Collcgc !badan, 120, 181
Unoka (charactcr), 8, 11, 13, 41, 122,
159
Uzowulu (charactcr), 30
\alladolid controvcrsy, 70
\an Gorp, H., 2526
\ictoria, Quccn, 180
Valcott, crck, 99, 104, 108, 111
Vasscrman, Julian, 45
Vcck ol Pcacc, 129, 187
West African Countries and Peoples, 76
Vcst !ndics, 111
Vhat has Litcraturc Got to o
with !t:, 96
Vhitc, Haydcn, 6
Villiams, Raymond, 8
Vilson, Christophcr, 118
VMSTL (cmail lorum), 164, 168
womcn, 9, 13, 18, 142, 146147, 160,
167, 172
Vomcns Studics, 164
Vorld Var !!, 144
Vrcn, Robcrt M., 89, 184
Vright, crck, 9
Xhosa, 34
Ycats, Villiam 8utlcr, 52, 124, 131
Yoruba, 166
culturc ol, 144
lolktalcs, 142
gcndcr rclationships, 148
music, 145
tolcrancc, 149
Zachcrnuk, Philip, 119
Zulu, 24, 2829, 3132, 3435