“Before the twentieth century, it would have been incorrect to speak of the Igbo as a single people” (XIX, Achebe). Although all these people lived in Igboland, there were hundreds of different variations of Igbo, resulting in cultural differences and differences in language so great, that one Igbo group could be misunderstood by another only thirty miles away (XIX). Colonialism, a disease that spread through Africa causing destruction, disarray, and fear, was also directly responsible for the overall unity of the Igbo people observed throughout the twentieth century.
Although colonialism broke up the unity of villages and forced different political, social, and economic lifestyles on the groups of Igbo people, colonialism also had a direct impact in forming national unity; in forming “a common Igbo identity” (XIX). Although colonialism diminished the values each Igbo group held dear to them throughout the generations, this was necessary in the development of the identity of Igbo people as a whole as they were becoming part of a new, industrialized world.
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, showed both how destructive colonialism was and how detrimental it was to the close-knit Igbo villages. Destruction of entire clans by massacre was not out of line for white men during the beginning of colonialism, as this was the punishment of the Abame clan for killing the first white man they saw. The Umuofia and Mbanta clans knew better than to kill any white men before discovering their purposes, and reluctantly allowed the white, Christian missionaries to enter their villages.
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Okonkwo, a strong, important man from Umofia, was serving his seven-year exile in his motherland Mbanta when these missionaries became more profuse and active. He despised the white men and their new religion, and wanted action to be taken against them. At first, the churches were only able to attract people without a title, however, as time progressed, outcasts were attracted and women who despised their village laws, such as throwing their “abominable” twins away, also joined (101). Christianity appealed to the people who had nothing if they followed their village’s culture and beliefs.
It eliminated the emotional burdens women had to face if they had twins, allowing the twins to live freely, rather than to be disposed of in a forest of death. During his exile, Okonkwo’s own son, in spite of his father, joined the missionaries in his hatred of village law, especially the fact that innocent children could be killed so easily, such as the boy Ikemafuma, taken prisoner by Umuofia and eventually killed. When Okonkwo returned to an unrecognizable Umuofia, his hatred of the white men increased. Real trouble began after a man from the Christian church unmasked one of the sacred egwugwu, an ancient god.
This led to the council of chiefs from Umuofia to take action and burn the church down, leading to their imprisonment by the white District Commissioner, leader of the white law. The ex-leaders of the village were shackled at the leisure of white men. No longer did these esteemed Umuofia chiefs hold the power; they were not the “men” of the village anymore. The white men were more powerful than them, subjugating them to their religion and law. Politically, white men now ruled Umuofia, with punishment settled by the white men in command, rather than a council of chiefs.
After the release of the chiefs, an assembly of men met in the village to decide what they would do in response to these latest happenings. A group of white messengers arrived at the meeting and informed everyone that the District Commissioner said the assembly was to end. Okonkwo, in his anger, killed one of the messengers, and when no one else reacted, letting the others escape, he realized there was nothing he could do. White men were breaking up his community, and no one was man enough to take action and fight.
Inside “he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women” and he realized his community was lost to colonialism (129). Okonkwo knew that all of his hard work for power had been for nothing. He lived in a town filled with people readily allowing their selves to be taken over by foreign men implementing their own beliefs, religion, and power, and as a result he ended his own life. In the early phases of colonialism, it is easy to see how destructive its effects were on the idea of community; the churches separated people from each other, while the colonial law stripped the village of its power.
Buchi Emecheta’s, The Joys of Motherhood, not only shows how Igbo communities are broken up, like Things Fall Apart, but it also shows how Igbo groups are brought together. In the time of Nnu Ego, wealth was not determined by the amount of wives a man had or how big his farm was, as it was in pre-colonial times. Instead, wealth was measured with money, money earned from hard labor, usually serving the white men and women or working for the government. People of Igbo groups, like Nnaife, Nnu’s husband, moved from farming lands to cities to attempt to live “better” lives. Moving to these cities, many different groups of Igbo people were iving together and had to learn to get along, because as Igbo people realized, although they may speak a little different, it was extremely difficult to live in a new place without being able to relate with anyone. In Lagos, the British colony where Nnaife and Nnu lived, Yoruba people and Igbo people did not get along well, practicing very different beliefs and ideas. With tension from other cultures, there was no need for any tension among the subgroups of Igbos, which is why regardless if they came from west or east Igboland, they would be understanding of each other.
Being friendly with people of other Igbo groups provided a sense of family in a place where family did not exist. The Igbo people met in the cities, regardless of the clan they were from, became the “brothers” and “sisters” of the newcomers, who left their real family in their homeland, far away. Igbo groups living in cities merged together, not seeing each other as different groups, which was common in their own lands, but recognizing each other as Igbo; another who understands the same language and beliefs.
Although moving to cities assimilated to Western culture was beneficial to Igbo people as a whole, the idea of family was greatly diminished, especially in the eyes of women. At a young age, Nnu Ego felt being a mother was an extremely important part of her life. She felt it was her purpose to have many kids, because they would eventually take care of her and bring her happiness. However, she discovered how hard being a mother actually was in a society dominated by Western beliefs and culture.
In a farming society, such as Ibuza, having more kids meant having more help around the farm and the house. In an industrial society, like that of Lagos, the more kids meant more mouths to feed, more clothes to buy, and more money spent on education. Not only did the Nnaife have to work, but Nnu also had to devote all of her energy to earning money, specifically to make sure her kids received an education to be successful. As a result, children growing up in these societies lost their sense of responsibility for their family, an important part of Igbo beliefs.
With all the hard work and suffering Nnu put forth for her children, just to have food in the house, her two oldest sons she sent to college didn’t even show their thanks and send anything back to her (224). Her idea of a family and happiness coming from her children was only a dream, and Nnu died a lonely death on the side of a road. Socially, western culture viewed it to be more beneficial to achieve self-success than care for family, which eventually drove Nnu’s family apart, and led to Nnu’s death. Colonialism affected every Igbo person, whether they liked it or not. It gave women different outlooks on life, on being a mother.
It stripped men of their power and manlihood. It brought a different religion, with a single god and different morals. It brought a new type of wealth, and education. Colonialism changed the ways of the Igbo forever. The groups were not all separate anymore, if you were Igbo, you were Igbo. That was all that mattered in a society run by Europeans, filled with people of many cultures for different reasons. Colonialism took away unity, but it created a new kind of unity. Colonialism not only introduced it’s economics, politics, and lifestyle; it also gave Igbo a reason to come together, which is important in an ever-changing society.
For a culture that took generations to build, it is surprising that within a matter of a century, the distinguished characteristics of each Igbo clan were diminished, as each clan assimilated into the Western way of living (XLVIII, Achebe). However, in the larger scheme of things, maybe the Igbo knew they were placed in a war they could never win, unless they gave in to their opponent; unless they gave in to change. Works Cited Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. South Africa: Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann Educational, 1996. Print. Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. New York, New York: George Braziller, Inc. , 1979. Print.
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