The book Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe tells the story of a native living in Africa during the period of European imperialism. By placing the book during this time period Achebe can first explain the traditional Ibo culture and then talk about the effect that the white European evangelists had on Ibo society. The book dispels the commonly held view of Africans before colonization as savage and godless beings. Achebe explains the very advanced social order in Umuofia and the complex Ibo religion. In bringing together what I have learned about Europe and Africa during the time of Imperialism I will draw a comparison between the two continents politically, religiously, and economically.
Europe was ruled by a set of very powerful and competing monarchs during the time of imperialism. In these monarchies, a king and queen had supreme power over their countries. In Umuofia there was a democratic system of government with no one ruler and a complex system by which people could gain political power through economic success. I think it is very ironic that when the white missionaries came they lectured the natives on how everyone was equal in the eyes of God, but yet they had supreme rulers in their own countries and a very unfair social caste system.
Contrary to popular belief the Africans had a very complex religion before Christianity came. Everyone in the community was extremely religious, even obeying their religious leaders when they were told to kill their own children who were thought to be purveyors of communal misfortune. This seems very barbaric to us but their religion was strictly adhered to for what to them was the completely rational reason. There were a collection of gods for different occurrences in nature and life, such as rain and fertility. Overall the religion was adapted to suit the agrarian-based tribal society.
The Ibo religion contained a lot of superstition and strange rituals, which I think made its followers more vulnerable to Christian influence. The Europeans built their church on land that was supposed to be cursed, but when nothing happened to them a few people started to question their current beliefs. Overall, I think the main reason that the village and so many others all converted to Christianity was due primarily to social and economic pressures, and not a change in religious views from being “enlightened” by the Christians.
The economy of Umuofia and the surrounding villages was a very advanced one. The main product grown were yams, and Cowry shells were used as the main currency. In addition, there was a large market where all the tribes could trade amongst themselves. This system of towns and then centralized markets was pretty similar to that in Europe at the time and was perfectly suited for the environment.
In Europe, most people’s lot in life was determined by their parent’s wealth and status in society. In Umuofia Okonkwo was able to build up a large and prosperous farm and family even though his father was always in debt and was accorded little respect in the community. In many ways, the economy of Umuofia was more similar to the current free-market economy in the United States than to the primarily nobility-controlled economy in Europe.
The main point the book was trying to make was that there were a thriving culture and economy in pre-colonial Africa. In drawing a comparison between Ibo and European societies at the time of Imperialism I have detailed the ways in which the two societies were different and similar. Neither was superior to the other in the richness of religious life, the complexity of political structures, or the vitality of economic life. The Europeans had as their goal expansion and domination and they were able to achieve this with their military superiority and zealot-like religious motivation.
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