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When I envision Africa, particularly my village of Umuofia, I saw a land whose people coexisted peacefully irrespective of the challenges therein. A rich cultural heritage that defines people in a society that is closed to the outside world. A land where leaders are respected for the positions they hold and the role they play in guiding their communities. These experiences seemed admirable, especially to young boys my age. As the saying goes, however, change is the only constant in the life of human beings. It implies that some of these experiences could stand the test of time when Europeans set foot in my village while others could do. I saw it as a struggle between maintaining our tradition and embracing the promise of change that the missionaries came along within the colonial era. Therefore, I believe that the outsiders brought a new religion, a new system of education, political ideologies, and economic systems that reinforced the tradition of the Igbo community while eliminating retrogressive cultural practices.
Religion formed an integral part of our culture as with any community in Africa. In Umuofia village, we worshiped gods of war and bravery who led warriors to victory and watched over the community. The bitter truth is that these religious practices changed in the full glare of our people. The European missionaries viewed our religious practices as immature, dull, and evil. For example, they demeaned our warriors and martyrs by shaming their actions. Umuofia village used to worship superhuman forces such as the sun and rain. In contrast, the missionaries brought Christianity, a religion that worships one Supernatural Being called God. The number of Christians was too low in Africa let alone my village at the time the first Europeans came to our continent. However, things changed dramatically after their invasion. Many people were converted to Christianity in Umuofia, including me, the son of a great villager Okonkwo.
The power the Christian faith came into play when the leaders allowed them to build a church in the Evil Forest. The presence of the Church gave me answers to questions that have been pondering over my head for many years. Against the expectation of many people in my village including myself, the Christian priests survived the horrors of the Evil Forest, thereby challenging the cultural beliefs about it. In particular, I was persuaded that the new faith healed the scars that the demise of Ikemefuna left in my heart and the terrifying voices of the twin children from the evil forest. When my father returned from exile, he became very agitated upon learning that I heard changed to Christianity. This experience demonstrates the first instance of social disintegration that Christianity brought to Umuofia. Unfortunately, our family fell the first victim of this social collapse when I revolt against my father.
The missionaries introduced formal education in our village. Many people in our village did not know how to read and write in a different language from our own. The missionaries built schools where they taught new ways of farming to our people. I perceived the teachings at by the missionaries as a big threat to traditional methods of harvesting, building, and cooking that formed the fabrics of the culture in Umuofia. I attended a missionary school in Umuru where everything was taught in English. They abandoned storytelling and Igbo language, which was part of the tradition in our village. The schools further contributed to social separation since our leaders had the privilege to acquire a formal education because they acted as a point of contact with the local people.
Education changed the view of work for many people in my village. From a personal perspective, I can say that I went to the Christian school because D.C promised employment to those who could read and write. He also promised wages for those who would work alongside him. This idea of paid work after education challenged our traditional view of work. Teaching new things in a completely different language and style. Mr. Brown succeeds in getting people to send their children to the Christian school. Therefore, in Umuofia, those who managed to go to the mission schools were considered intelligent and capable of leading, thereby undermining the use of storytelling in the Igbo language.
The outsiders also introduced us to the idea of a trade. The opening of a trading post enlightens the people to engage in income-generating activities. People began making a profit from the sale of local products. A community that initially grew crops for subsistence and exchanged goods for goods could make money from the commercial activities at the trade center. The colonial administrator's signed trade agreements with local chiefs allowing free trade in Umuofia. I was surprised by how fast roads were being built through the Village. However, declaring that all roads would be free for traders changed the way community leaders would collect taxes. The white man subjected a community that never used to pay tax to taxation. Therefore, the introduction of a trading post forced people to pay tax from their proceeds.
Additionally, the outsiders brought with them new laws, laws that oppress and undermine traditional justice. I do not doubt that the dominance of D.C was an attempt to introduce a new system of governance. The district commissioner took over from the village council, making every final decision that touched on the affairs of the community. The idea of the court downplays the significant meaning of justice to us. Igbo laws and mode of punishment preserved justice, but justice could not be achieved under the new system of administration. The DC demonstrated ignorant to the local ways and instead promotes different perspectives of justice that exacerbate social disintegration. The way the DC denied the leaders of our clan to administer justice for those who burned the Church meant social injustice to me. Umuofia clan lost the power to make collective decisions on matters of justice. The power was concentrated within the district administration.
The arrest of my father together with five other clansmen was a clear indication that our social justice system had lost ground to the new court system. My father, his colleagues, were sentenced to imprisonment with a fine of two hundred bags of cowries. The penalty was increased to 250 bags by the kotma, and this shows how the court system is corrupt. The DC used court messengers to stop clan meetings, and I can guess that this move was intended to eradicate collective decision-making in Umuofia. The inevitable suicide of my father was not just a personal tragedy but also the tragedy of his people. No member of Umuofia could touch his body because suicide was a crime against the earth goddess and hence, only the outsiders could handle my father. My father's tragedy was inevitable because his people had betrayed him. Therefore, I can now state without fear of any contradiction that the arrival of the European indeed means that "things fall apart" in my clan.
Achebe, C. (2010). The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart; No Longer at Ease, [and] Arrow of God (Vol. 327). Everyman's Library.
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