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How Successful Is Chinua Achebe In Representing An Image Of Africa That "Writes Back" To The European Coloniser?

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Autor:   •  April 25, 2011  •  3,198 Words (13 Pages)  •  514 Views

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How successful is Chinua Achebe in representing an image of Africa that "writes back" to the European coloniser?

Chinua Achebe was one of Africa's most influential and widely published writers. He was "Born on the 16th of November 1930 in Ogidi, an Igbo village a few miles from the Niger River in what was then the British-ruled colony of Nigeria" . Achebe was a prominent Igbo writer, infamous for his novels depicting the effects of Western customs and beliefs on a traditional African society. A much praised African classic "a great book, that bespeaks a great, brave, kind human spirit," first published in 1958, Things Fall Apart is an early narrative about the European colonization of Africa told from the point of view of the colonized people.

Published on the eve of Nigerian independence in 1960 when Achebe was twenty eight Things fall apart helped reshape literature in the English-speaking world and with selling over 10 million copies in 45 languages, it poignantly evoked the early experience of colonialism by a tribal leader in Nigeria.

The novel is told "from the inside" and relates to the destructive impact of European Christianity on pre-colonial Igbo culture amid the scramble for Africa in the 1890s. For Soyinka , Things Fall Apart was "the first novel in English which spoke from the interior of an African character, rather than portraying the African as exotic, as the white man would see him".

The novel represents almost a personification of the African people, it gives them a means of writing back by having an expression and an inner self that is portrayed the same way as an expression or an emotion from any "white man". The barbaric perception of the African People is abolished and they are therefore given an equal opportunity of expression.

Achebe juxtaposes between classic traditionalism and the "winds of change" in this bluntly ironic novel.

"The wind of change is blowing through this continent and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it".

Achebe wishes to express his cultural identity in order to write back to the European colonizer in Things Fall Apart. He does however take into account the "winds of change" in the sense that he clearly does not object to the discovery of and learning about new religions and cultures. He presents a strong argument in favour of discussion as a path towards understanding. An example of this mutual understanding is expressed in conversation between the missionary Mr Brown and Akunna, one of the tribal elders. They often spend long hours in discussion, and although

''Neither of them succeeded in converting the other ... they learnt more about their different beliefs'' (147)

This demonstrates a mutual relationship, in which both parties are equally eager to learn when approached on equal terms. Achebe does not wish to predominately scrutinize the Western traditions that are being imposed upon his society, however wants to write back to the European colonizer with respect to the Ibu way of thinking. He includes stories from Igbo culture and tradition with the use of parables and proverbs. Almost immediately in chapter 1 Okeye expresses that

"he who brings kola brings life".

This term is unfamiliar to a western reader however expresses an important ritual of the African culture with reference to hospitality. It allows readers all over the world to familiarize themselves with this culture. Achebe does not want to see the erasing of a pre colonial Africa and this is expressed throughout the novel not just with the Ibu way of thinking but also with reference to Ibu systems of customs, traditions and religions .

All too many Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering; therefore the colonized seemed condemned to loose its memory. Although Achebe himself was a Christian, Okwonko the central character was a firm follower of the Igbo traditions. When looking at the actions of the Africans throughout the novel the church first attracts those who are efulefu, "worthless men" without titles, not the core of Umuofia society. And Nwoye, Okonkwo's son, joins the Christian faith. The reasons why Africans were ready to accept this judgment was due to the white missionaries influence and manipulation.

The clash between mission Christianity and indigenous culture is a recurring theme in postcolonial African fiction .

Missionaries were dominant in pre colonial Nigeria and early colonial Nigeria. There aim was for changing the African culture to make the people favor Christianity and Western beliefs. Due to high cultural and tribal diversity of Nigeria, the missionaries could never quite be sure what to expect in different regions, or what sort of welcome they would receive. In many areas, their task must have seemed formidable. They specifically came to Africa to completely change the lives of the natives. This, they argued, was the whole point of conversion, everything had to change. From a Post colonialist viewpoint and indeed Achebe's this has often resulted in them being fiercely attacked for seeking to completely erase the pre-colonial Africa and start afresh. Achebe writes back to this point by expressing the attributes of the religious ideals of the Igbo culture throughout Things Fall Apart. The conversation between Mr. Brown, a Christian missionary in the village of Umuofia, and Akunna, a member of Umuofia, explains the Ibo religion very well. Akunna says that the Ibo believe in one supreme God also, but they call him Chukwu because

"he made all the world and the other gods ."

Mr. Brown makes the comment that the Ibo worship carved wood and Akunna replies by saying,

"The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all the minor gods were."

Akunna also says that the Ibo

"make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to they go to Chukwu .".

Therefore, Achebe writes back successfully with his expression of the Ibo religion, however the

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