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Section Replica

Dr Amir Aziz

Post-Colonial Literature

9th May, 2020

Depiction of Native Culture through the Use of Language in


Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Language is one of the most prominent aspects of a culture. It manifests the richness and depth

of any culture. Proverbial language and rich vocabulary are the symbols of growth and

development of certain cultures. Proverbs are famous and short sentences which convey some

moral values, laws and advice. Such sayings help in civilizing behaviors of individuals. So,

proverbs can be used to assess the intellect and wisdom of certain cultures. Plain language does

not seem to be a part of refined culture. So, Chinua Achebe has used the proverbial language of

the native Igbo culture in particular and African culture at large. Proverbs are in abundance in

Things Fall Apart. Whether it is the discussion amongst the indigenous tribesmen or with the

white imperialists, language depicts subtle elements of the African way of life and interaction.

Moreover, so-called primitives not only use rich vocabulary, but their discussions are also

backed by argumentation. As is evident from the meeting between the elders of Umuofia and the

white men. Folk-lore and storytelling occupy the central role in this novel. Nwoye and

Ikemefuna is mostly found narrating stories to each other. Mothers tell stories to their children;

fathers imbed norms, principles and traditions in their sons by narrating age-old folk-lores. Even

their religion is entwined with stories.


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Chinua Achebe himself has firsthand experience of missionaries. He was born in Nigeria

at a time when it was under the rule of imperialists. During his education, he grew disenchanted

with the distorted and biased depiction of his region by white men. So, his main purpose for

writing Things Fall Apart (which was his first novel) was to highlight the discrepancies in the

stance of imperialists. He has deployed an African writing style with the repetition of certain

idioms and phrases. Meanwhile, he makes us realized that there are certain African ideas which

just cannot be explained well in English. He believes that non-African authors who do not have

experience of ground realities cannot tell true details of the realities of native people dwelling in

Africa. Such writes can only write distorted and false accounts of incidents. Achebe reveals that

the native culture of African is not so savage as is portrayed by some Western writers. Rather it

is startingly much more civilized than is considered by others. He associates power with the

English language which he shows his readers: how learning of the Imperialist language was

deliberately patronized, as financial incentives were awarded to those who had some know-how

of English. They were given priority in recruitment in clerical and other jobs. The language was

also an element by the use of which the social and political order of the Igbo tribe was broken.

Things Fall Apart is glutted with proverbs because Achebe wanted to demonstrate the mental

prowess of the so-called uncivilized primitives of Africa. Well-structured language simply means a well-

developed civilization. Achebe has used a lot of proverbs to enhance the effect of some of the points which

he wanted to be emphasized. For instance, a proverb is deployed in the novel which says “A man who pays

respect to the great paves the way for his greatness”. Similarly, Okonkwo does not like the mentioning of

his father so while talking to Nwakibie (when his father is discussed) he says that “An old woman is always

uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb”. Talking about hostility Achebe writes in the proverb

which says “Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then you know something is after its life”.
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And after the imprisonment of the village elders in the meeting with the imperialists, it is said “Eneke was

asked why he was always on the wind and he replied: “ Men have learned to shoot without missing their

mark and I have learned to fly without perching on a twig.” So, from this proverb, it is obvious that they

impart some advice or an important idea. Moreover, the intellectual appeal of a saying is increased

manifolds when it is not said plainly but in proverbial language.

Achebe thought that art can be the reformer of the world. He reiterated this belief

multiple times in his life. Rather he considered it as a tool to change the course of history. He

used to say that the folklores which we hear from our forefathers are dense with meaning and

purpose. So, to be great, writing should be purposeful and should have a considerable message in

it. He deemed the penmanship as a weapon with which to influence others. It is not an

exaggeration to say that he changed the perception of a large segment of readers all around the

world regarding colonialism. He preached that the Nigerian nation is great contrary to what

westerners proclaim. Achebe deliberately wrote his novels in English, while doing so he

incorporated certain traits and ideas of African language in it. To spread his ideas all around the

globe in a language that is comprehendible to almost everybody he uses English rather than local

vernacular. Now and then, he used local words to establish a relationship between African

culture and the whole world. For instance, while talking about his father’s failure, one of

Okonkowo’s playmate says that Okonkowo’s father was an “agbala”. Here it is obvious in its

meaning that agbala means failure.

It becomes obvious due to the way Achebe uses it in his passage and sentence.

Otherwise, we would have been ignorant of its meaning. All the names in the novel are African.

He gives an inside view of the African society, unlike any other author. Achebe himself is an

African is an attestation to the fact that the preconceived notions that Africans are ignorant and
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barbarous are false. By bringing the developed culture of Africans to the surface he discards the

theory that it was British who educated and civilized, otherwise brutal and savage Africans.

Englishmen proposed that they did not hypocritically exploit the colonised subjects of inhuman

African land rather they tamed them; as if the natives were savage animals before the arrival of

imperialists. Achebe wrote this novel as an antithesis to these theories of colonizers.

Certain mannerisms and morals are shown when it is said that “Those whose palm

kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.” It

manifests the moral of humility as well as it has a piece of implicit advice that arrogance should

be discouraged. Most of the ideals and beliefs of Umuofia are translated into English proverbs in

a very pithy style. Dwellers of Umuofia believe that if a man is willing to do something

wholeheartedly then even gods support his endeavors. Similarly, they believed that if someone

digs a hole for others, he falls into it. Storytelling by elders to their youngsters is also a source of

messages and advice. As Ekwafi gives Enizma the moral lesson of “Greed is Curse” by narrating

the story of a tortoise who suffers due to its excessive greed. Here again, he defeats the European

stance that Africans were ignorant and utterly primitive. Achebe is widely known as the father of

the African Literary world. He told the world through his writings that Africa was not so dull

place before the intervention of Europeans. Rather it had its traditions, religions, laws and justice

systems which might not be perfect like European systems which are also not impeccable.

Achebe shows that natives had their town-meetings and councils of male elders which

served as their justice system and settled their disputes according to their conventional laws.

Religion was also a viable force to keep people in control. Meanwhile, Achebe depicted

Europeans as intruders who are intolerant of others. As is evident from the approach of Reverend

Smith who is not pragmatic at all. Moreover, British white men are dishonest as they trick the
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elders of the Umuofia into imprisonment by summoning them for reconciliation and settling of

disputes. Achebe does not give a false account of the native people. He truthfully shows the

loopholes of their laws and social order. He does not hesitate to show the excessive patriarchal

mindsets of the men of that society. The Umuofia people are shown to be living from hand to

mouth. They are utterly dependent on natural cycles for their livelihood because there are no

well-established trade networks in their society.

Most of the postcolonial works ridiculed Africans or showed their dehumanizing aspects

and attitudes. It has always been shown that individuals suffer from tyrannical political regimes.

For instance: Joseph Conrad emphasized that African are devoid of culture and political

understanding. Contrary to that Achebe shows that the subjects of African society do possess

political system in which considerable liberty is dispensed to the individuals. Achebe used

multiple proverbs and words from the indigenous culture of Igbo society to establish the point

that Africans also had a civilized culture. He showed that there was a justice system based on

their customs and religious laws. Even their religion is portrayed to tame individuals. Things Fall

Apart shatters the theories which talk from the view-point of colonizers.

Citations:

[1] Achebe, Chinua. (1994). Things Fall Apart. New


York: Anchor Books.

[2] Alimi, S. A. (2012). A Study of the Use of Proverbs as a Literary Device in Achebe’s Things
Fall Apart and Arrow of God. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and
Social Sciences. 2(3), pp.121-127.

[3] Gallagher, S. (2010). Linguistic Power: Encounter with Chinua Achebe. The Christian Century.
New York: State Writers Institute. pp. 260-271.

[4] Lindfors, B. (ed). (1991). Approaches to Teaching Achebe's Things Fall Apart. New
York:Anchor Books
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[5] Obiechina, E. (1992). Narrative Proverbs in the African Novel. Oral Tradition, 7(2), pp. 197-
230.

[6] Rhoads, D. A. (1993). Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. African Studies Review.
36(2), pp. 61–72.