Nigerian Colonialism and the Igbo People

Defined as the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically, the residues of colonisation continue to loiter over a modern Nigeria. Joseph Conrad’s classic tale Heart of Darkness (1899), one of the most celebrated novels of the early twentieth century, presents Africa as a wild, “dark,” and uncivilized continent. Through the success of Nigerian authors, novels such as Things Fall Apart and Half of a Yellow Sun battle to counteract Conrads perception of the other and tell the story of colonisation from the perspective of the victim, providing a voice for the voiceless.By revealing a sophisticated and complex Nigerian society before European arrival, it exposes the deeply engraved destruction of the country’s social, cultural, and political fabric.

The style of narrative in both Half of a Yellow Sun and Things Fall Apart acts as a purpose to humanise a society that the Western World has demonised throughout history. Both Achebe and Adichie use free indirect discourse to develop the relationship between reader and character. Achebe shifts between this indirect discourse and the omniscient narrative; whereas Adichie slips into the consciousness of three different characters, separating each character by chapter. Consequently both stories are not told explicitly, as our perception is tainted by the stance of the character and therefore a personal connection is developed. As Achebe recalled in an interview once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface its far removed from your situation. It is this personal association that allows a Western audience to sympathise with a Nigeria that was once ignorantly stereotyped as uncivilized.

Achebe and Adichie excelled in constructing novels that exposed colonisation in a different light; whilst simultaneously identifying the importance of the individuals story. By employing narrative techniques that differ from colonial or European writings that are prevalent of the time, both authors succeeded in crafting characters with complex emotions and relationships, supporting the argument that Nigerian citizens weren’t merely half devil as European writers such as Rudyard Kipling claimed. Adichie wanted to write about characters that are driven by impulses that they may not always be consciously aware of, unrestrained by the margins of truth and untruth which historians are bound to, she was able to produce a multidimensional version of the Nigerian Civil War that debunked the incorrect, stereotypical Western view of the East as The White Mans Burden. The reader is fully exposed to the effect colonisation has upon the individual emotionally, as opposed to being limited to merely the shift in Nigeria politically and economically as a result of colonisation.

Both authors use structure to create a substantial contrast of the Igbo pre and post colonisation. The reader is immediately introduced to the main characters, Ugwu (Half of a Yellow Sun) and Okonkwo (Things Fall Apart) and indulges into a beautifully complex Igbo society; where Ugwu was youthful but keen to learn everything fast and Okonkwo, who brought honour to his village. Achebe explores in depth the concept of tradition and the functioning of the complex and sophisticated clan prior to colonisation; it is this technique that sculpts the foundation of his novel and exposes the emotional and physical struggle of Igbo life post-colonisation. An extensive introduction allows an audience to familiarise themselves and develop affection for the Igbo culture, consequently when the coming of the white man occurs even a Western audience is traumatised. It is notable that writing in 1959 and while lauding the authenticity in the novel, Bishop Obumselu criticized Things Fall Apart for its failure to capture the spirit of the Igbo village. Arguing that I am in particular disappointed that there is in Things Fall Apart so little of the lyricism which marks our village life. He also accuses Achebe of merely imitating a European artistic form, rather than converting and infusing it with an African essence. However, Achebe executes African oral culture in Things Fall Apart with great distinction; showering the text with Igbo phrases and concepts such as a mans chi and the evil spirit obanje; not only adding Igbo flavour to the text, but educating a European audience and enforcing the notion of the tribal language being sophisticated.

Comparatively, Adichie’s pendulum movement of narrative acts as device that draws parallels and creates contrast, implying the physical, mental and emotional changes characters such as Olanna and Ugwu, endure. Adichie explained I wanted to write about love and war, because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra she believed the form of multiple narrative was the favourable way to achieve this, as it allows an audience to connect with numerous perspectives of one story. Critic, Isibor Odegua Elizabeth writes the particular selection of these characters was impressive, as they represented a broad cross-cut of experience this remains undeniably true, as a reader can relate to, at minimum, one of the characters. Empathy is present when concerning characters of the novel, as Adichie chooses to focus on European characters such as Richard; rather than in Things Fall Apart, where although eventually we feel deep sorrow for Okonkwo, sympathy exists on a greater scale regarding culture as an entirety. While Achebe and Adichie adopt different narrative techniques, both triumphantly execute landmark novels that depict the story of the Igbo through the voice of the suppressed and offer truth as to how it has affected Nigeria politically, economically and emotionally throughout history.

Igbo society witnesses dramatic changes in the seventy year period between the 1890s, when Things Fall Apart is set, and the 1960s, the time era in which Half of a Yellow Sun is based; arguably, this is a result of the demolition colonisation has created. However Achebe chooses not to paint the white man as evil; neither does he deny the beneficial resources that the missionaries provided. Instead Achebe draws attention to the abduction of the natives power and status. Okonkwo returns to his fatherland and is deeply grieved at how the clan had undergone such a profound change during his exile that it was barely recognisable. Achebe’s decision to associate Okonkwo with the verb to grieve is powerful as Okonkwo isolates himself from the concept of emotion prematurely in the novel. Therefore relating the two creates a deeply rooted sense of destruction and mourning in society. The colonists were a dominant force and gained control in a short time period, resulting in the Igbo culture to effectively fall apart as Achebe foreshadows through the title of his novel. As Michelle James observes in her analysis of Nigerian Literature, ‘The greater the British power, the less the people were heard.’ Consequently this is proven true as the patriotic Igbo that are established at the beginning of Things Fall Apart are suppressed in their innate society, and no longer exist with the same status by the end of the novel.

Colonialism forced an irreversible change in the framework of Igbo dynamic. This is witnessed seventy years later following Things Fall Apart, in Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. The upper and middle classes unconsciously model themselves on western ideals of being civilised or rich. When Mohammed recognises Olanna isnt wearing a wig he labels her with the insult bush woman and says I prefer your wigs he has adopted the mentality of the coloniser and demonises the lower class bush people, implying they are unsophisticated. Although Sade Adu, a Nigerian nationalist, argues that there isn’t a class structure in Nigeria; there’s a tribal structure and prestige as far as money is concerned it would be wrong to conclude this as fact. Adichie presents the collapse of Nigeria, and consequently the tribal hierarchy system, during the civil war where the upper class Igbo are able to flee the country and the lower classes suffer in severe poverty. Subsequently, Igbo society, culture and government are now recognisably more European. In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart Okonkwo’s fame once rested on solid personal achievements whereas elements of Half of a Yellow Sun parallels European culture: it celebrates characters such as Olanna and Kainene who are born into wealth, rather than the concept of personal accomplishment.

An important element of Adichie’s novel, which cannot be dismissed when discussing colonialism, is the extracts from Ugwug book. The reader is lead to believe Richard is writing an account of his experience in Biafra, Adichie achieves this by using complex syntax: the colonial state was authoritarian, a benignly brutal dictatorship designed to benefit Britain. She undermines the Eurocentric assumption that the White Man is intellectually superior, as is it presumed that a simple bush boy would be incapable of writing about such complex ideas. When Adichie reveals that it was Ugwu who had been writing throughout, we are left to question our own prejudice. Without this revelation, there would be no need to question our own discriminatory preconceptions. When asked what effect did you want within this book to have on Half of a Yellow Sun Adichie specified I wanted a device to anchor the reader who may not necessarily know the basics of Nigerian history. And I wanted to make a strongly-felt political point about who should be writing the stories of Africa. She was not afraid to question the subtle racism that lies beneath Western ideals and by challenging this notion was victorious in debunking the stereotype imposed upon the Igbo throughout history.

?It could be claimed that the colonizer initiated a reform in gender dynamics in Igbo culture; witnessed through Adichies strong feminist stance in Half of a Yellow Sun. In Achebes Things Fall Apart there is a phallocentric notion that women must produce many hardy, male progenies to be valued within their cultural milieu. A female body was for pleasure of the male he trembled with desire to conquer and subdue. It was like the desire for a woman although the verb desire connotes passionate emotions, there is an absence of loving as it sexually objectifies women, they were a prize and their bodies were objects to conquer.

Comparatively, seventy years later in a post-colonised society, Adichie paints Odenigbos dialogue as celebratory of the worlds first woman prime minister!. By presenting Kainene and Olanna as intellectual and well educated sisters, it reinforces the argument that a shift in dynamic has occurred. Although Achebe concluded his novel leaving us with a broken society, as is explicitly referenced in the title Things Fall Apart, latter Nigerian literature, like that of Adichie, shows that this falling apart allowed for a rebuild that launched the concept of gender equality. Nicole Smith, a feminist critic, wrote A womens role in this vital activity of Igbo society, changed gender dynamics, family relations, and the very concepts upon which Igbo culture was founded although to some extent this is true, females still did not find themselves equal in all aspects of culture. Again Adichie uses free indirect discourse to taint the narrative with a female voice; Olanna wondered, too how her parents had promised Chief Okonji an affair with her in exchange for the contract confirming although tradition has evolved, further future progression remains key to uphold equality of the sexes.

It would be irrational to conclude anything other than the success that both Achebe and Adichie have conjured when concerning the issue of providing a voice for the voiceless.

Prior to Achebes Things Fall Apart Adichie feared the concept of the single story, stating that it creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. In these circumstances, the only story was that of the coloniser and not the colonised. Neither authors motivation was to condemn the West, but to restore Nigeria with well-deserved dignity and pride. As proven, both novels succeed in telling the story of the other that was so often ignored by European literature of the time. It was not Adichies primary motive to present the effects of colonisation in Half of a Yellow Sun, yet Achebes literary daughter successfully weaves them into the cultural and political fabric of her work. Whereas Achebe intended to explicitly tell the story of colonisation, which he was victorious in doing so. Conclusively, both authors have destroyed the metaphorical wall that conformed Nigeria to the single story dominated by Eurocentric notions; bringing to history a lucid intelligence and compassion that humanises Igbo culture. Thus it is through Nigerian literature, both old and contemporary, that the Western reader can begin to truly educate themselves with the story of the colonised.

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