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Colonialism in Africa:

Discussing Things Fall Apart and The African Experience

Samantha Laird
Research Paper #3
AFS 3610-The Africans

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
--W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, finds inspiration from Yeats
poem, The Second Coming, for the title of his novel. Achebe describes the chaos of the
collapse of the African tribal system, where order is lost and as if balance does not exist.
This novel depicts the African tribal society prior to the European colonization. Achebe
wrote, in 1958, describing the Nigerian society and its conflicts, different ideas and
beliefs, and intolerance between British colonialism in the 1890s. This novel describes
the life of Okonkwo, while focusing on the culture and customs of the Igbo society. The
Igbo society was indeed influenced by British colonialism throughout the nineteenth
century. The story of Okonkwo is centered on the first connection between his tribe and
the European missionaries and colonial governors. The novel was intended for literary
purpose of forever telling their side of the African experience, the mistold and the
Okonkwo is a well-respected tribe leader within the Igbo community. He is
determined to bring honor to his village and personal fame, while making a powerful
name for himself. He first begins earning excellence by defeating Amalinze the Cat in a
wrestling contest. Okonkwos father, Unoka, is described as a lazy, pathetic man, full of
debt. Unoka neglects any work for his family to provide the support they need. His father
created a lifestyle for himself, who included mostly debt so we could withstand his social
status, If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of
palm-wine, called round his neighbours and made merry (Achebe 4). His family was
poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat. Okonowo, feared of being like
his father, at a young age began to provide for his family and obtain characteristics of
how to behave and work hard. After starting his own farm to acquire wealth, his biggest
ambition was to become a powerful elder of the tribe. He disregards his fathers feminine
ways and begins creating his own masculinity, which is taken to extremes. Hard work
proves his success throughout the novel until things fall apart, so to speak. Okonkwo
becomes upset and worries that his own son, Nwoye, will end up like his grandfather. His
son begins to slip with the expectations of becoming a man, Nwoye, was then twelve
years old but was already causing his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness
(Achebe 12). Nwoye is more interested with his mother than what his father wants for
him. Nwoye begins to reject the Igbos values, and uniquely become interested with the
Christian religion for the main reason of its acceptance of everyone; this devastates

The father-son relationship remained unhealthy and successfully was summed up
in the first chapter of the novel. He stands in the light of his family and becomes a stern
and violent man, who indeed rules his family with a heavy hand (Achebe 18). His
father left nothing behind for him following his death, simply because he had neglected
everything he should of cared about. His fear of becoming a failure like his father drives
him even further to constantly prove his manhood to not only himself, but the Igbo
society as well. Gender is balanced between a man becoming strong and warlike and a
woman becoming supportive and mother like. Okonkwo fails to see the importance of
balance of the two genders in the overbearing male-dominate society of the Igbo.
Okonkwo is given a speech by his uncle, Its true that a child belongs to its father. But
when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mothers hut. A man belongs to his
fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness
he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you (Achebe 78). A
mother provides sympathy and concern, and a gentle touch, which is not in a male figure
of the Igbo society. Okonkwo shows no sympathy or emotion after accidentally killing
Ezeudus son because to show affection was a sign of weakness. Okonkwo was exiled
for seven years, as a punishment for killing Ezeudus son, to his Motherland. His
masculine outlook infects his understanding that women really do play an astounding roll
in society. Okonkwo continues to retract himself from society by not acknowledging the
important significance of women.

Okonkwo returns home with confidence in hopes of regaining his social status.
When he arrives and realizes that the church had done so much; he barely knew what he
left behind. The Ibo religion is centered on male figure gods and their ancestors. He
offended goddesses in order to save his masculine image by beating his wife during the
week of peace, and when he kills Ezedus son. The religious organization has members
called the egwuwu and they are the most respected men. Women play a role with the
oracle, which is a male god, and this is the primary influence that women have with this
religion. The introduction of the white man, or Christian religion, begins to draw many
of the clan members who become dissatisfied of the Igbo religion. Christian beliefs
include universal acceptance. Okonkwos son was drawn to this religion following the
killing of Ikemefuna, which he believed was wrong. Eventually, the traditional beliefs of
the Igbo begin to fail as most of the tribe becomes converted. Achebe uses the religious
aspect of his novel to show how things fall apart. Their way of life is changed by the
influence of the European missionaries. Part two of the book introduces these
missionaries, where it displays the affect of societal changes on the members of the tribe.
The success of the missionaries over the tribe results in Okonkwo committing suicide
because he is unhappy with the result of his village. Missionaries took over the tribe of
Okonkwos while he was exiled and the colonization of Africa by the European countries
began to spread. Okonkwo tells us about the meddling religious presence and the
insensitive European government causing his tribes world to fall apart. The weakness
of the Igbo tribe lead to Europeans seeking out their flaws in order for a successful
takedown. Between their weakness and the forceful colonization within the Nigeria
society, their history began to crumble.

Two of the largest colonial influences in Africa were France and Britian
(Khapoya 99). The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 gathered European countries and
their imperial power to discuss the boundaries to avoid conflict. Germany lost any wealth
in the decisions following World War I. Ali Mazrui told the purpose for Europe wanting
Africa to us. A lot of adventure and mystery was held in Africa, simply because it was
unknown territory for the Europeans. This first reason entails the need for scientific
knowledge about the unknown. The explorers noted what they saw and wanted more.
Tales of these mysteries lie in the explorations of Joseph Thompson, John Speke, and
Richard Burton, just to name a few. They studied the African people and their way of
life, they searched upon rivers and lakes they never heard of and undoubtedly helped the
African people themselves to find out what even they did not know. The second reason
was to spread their traditional religious Christian views among the African people.
Africans have a wide range of their own religious beliefs, so this was a great way for the
Europeans to instill their own by taking over. The missionaries, as discussed previously,
began to take over by translating the Bible to Africans in their native languages.
Christianity led to many significant upbringings for the African people. The third reason
is based on imperialism. The Europeans desire to continue on their countrys greatness on
far away lands, such as Africa. Each individual explorer claimed land as their own and
for their highest power at home. Once the colonial rule was established, colonial Africa
became decisive by missionaries and colonial government. The idea was that the
European presence was by far what Africa needed in order to gain control of themselves.
The missionaries began to dictate the use of African languages, any cultural influences, in
order to give Africa a new identity. The benefits of this takeover led the African people
to knowledge they never had. The demand of education was remarkable. The idea was to
civilize Africa without letting them become equal with the British, French or
Portuguese people. They wanted everyone to be just like them.

Greed and imperialism had everything to do with colonialism and the economy.
The land was important to the African people. The right to use it was exercised and not
the right to own it. Europeans swept in and put an economic factor on the land where it
could be bought and sold. The quality of the land was crucial for the economic aspect of
the government. They wanted fresh, rich soil for farming in the future. In West Africa,
the climate was not beneficial for European settlers, and not much of the land was taken.
Areas of perfect climate control were taken over and this land issue became apparent.
Once settlers held land, they realized that the only way work as to be done was by the
Africans themselves. The white farmers determined wages for the Africans, which lied
next to nothing; and only the male workers were compensated with either cash or food.

Taxes were introduced for two reasons: raising revenue to pay for the cost of the
government and to force more Africans into the labor market. This led to Africans unable
to decline work. The hut tax was applied to each hut and made it difficult for Africans to
live. The poll tax effected African males aged sixteen and older. Failure to pay the tax led
to young men being taken to work so they could pay off the tax. These taxes discouraged
Africans to become successful in any way. The labor conscription included all healthy
men, which did not benefit the work to be done in the villages. Cash crops or commercial
crops were of main interest to the whites. These crops included cocoa, coffee, tea and
cotton. These crops were easy to produce, and the countries of the west coast flourished.
These crops had a lot of land devoted to them, and the other food crops were becoming
neglected and so were the people, increasing famine. The amount of rules that the
Africans had to follow did not allow them to benefit themselves in any way. More rules
were set for trading, which inter-African trade was prohibited and only your colony could
trade with your corresponding country in Europe. Europe began controlling all
communications through this colonial power set in Africa. The European currency was
used and this made it difficult for Africans to trade or obtain anything. The European
powers made everything difficult for every day life in Africa. This continued through
labor policies with the British and Asian contract laborers who swept in. The Asians and
the Indians dominated Africas local economies. As time went on European colonization
never integrated a way of moving forward. Modernization was never an apparent goal for
the colonization of Africa. Near the end of World War II the colonial rule began to
decline in hopes of the new emerging leaders in Africa.

Trying to piece it all together to say whether or not the drawn out attempt for all
of African to become a European colonization scheme was worth it or not is hard to say.
Resources were depleted, unfair taxing occurred, and industrialization was never
accomplished, just to name a few. Many scholars can agree on the benefits of the
colonization of Africa though. Many do suggest that Western medicine was a huge break
through, and not to mention the education that went with it. The missionaries provided
health care and many places of education for the African people. They also agree that
some structure was defined in building national institutions. They provided railways,
telephones, electric power, and the creation of small urban areas with water and sewage
access. Another attribute includes the African people taking to the Islamic and Christian
beliefs and integrating them into their own backgrounds to become one. And the last
contribution was the marking of territories, which led to individual countries.

All along, Achebe created what we can see as a traditional experience throughout
the Nigerian people. He expresses the community as a whole and how the Igbo put forth
so much effort to provide and balance their culture. This vision insists the social role of
Achebe and how important it was to withhold the African experience throughout time.
Europes way of colonization can be argued in various novel about Africa, but they were
just as curious as the Africans were when something new was presented in front of them.
The representation of Africa is depicted in Achebes novel and is apparent for all of us to
see. The works of Things Fall Apart is given to us in a language inherited from the
colonial power that shows how individual characters and how the society deals with the
changes they faced. Achebe argues that when balance is lost, chaos ensues and indeed,
things do eventually fall apart. We have taken so much from this and need to continue to
realize where we once were, and where we are now.

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.

Khopoya, Vincent B. The African Experience. 3rd ed. N.p.: Prentice Hall, 2012. Print.