Change VS Tradition in Things Fall Apart

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Change VS Tradition in Things Fall Apart

Change is often resisted, especially when the person who is to be changed has had in their current status. This is the same thing that happened with Okonkwo and the communities mentioned in the things fall apart by Chinua Achebe. With the change that the white people wanted to introduce, there was a lot of repulsion from the communities since they already had their firm beliefs about what they believed to be accurate. They felt that it was an insult to leave what was authentic and close to them. This paper discusses colonialism and its effect on cultures where it was present, especially in the African context. It also looks into the story of family relationships and how the zeal to be perfect makes Okonkwo a less liked person along with male chauvinism, which contributed to this and the disproportionate influence of the whites and how this affected him.

Firstly, the remaking of any nation has its tragedies, and it never comes along quickly. However, at the same time, the remaking can be a negative remaking or a positive remaking. Even though the whites had a significant influence in the remaking of African nations, the debate goes on about their negative impact and actions. Whether then can be compared to the positivity they brought (Achebe, 200). The other question which can be asked related to that is whether if Africans were left on their own to find enlightenment if Africa could be better off now in terms of economy and other aspects, or will it be still left behind? There is also the question of how Africans would have integrated what the white people called enlightenment with their culture and whether the cultural degradation presence now would still be the same. By answering these questions, it becomes easier to ease the ongoing debate about the role colonialism played in the education and destruction of Africa. Even though it is not entirely possible to answer these questions, it is possible to hypothesize what Africa could be and discuss the colonialism effect on culture, social organization and education of the Africans, and virtues and taboos.

Chinua Achebe is one of the greatest writers of African origin, and his book things fall apart is one of the most-read books. Its main character is Okonkwo, and this character trait is used in many different writings of the same author, including the arrow of God, whereby Okonkwo is embodied by Ezeulu (Achebe, 94). Okonkwo is a true identity of what an African man should be even in the face of problems even though he fails his village severally. His masculinity falls out of place due to him never wishing to show weakness and being haunted by his emotions which he could not control. In his story, we see how the whites came into Africa and how they made it almost impossible to continue with culture since it was regarded as untrue and idolatrous, among other harmful aspects attributed to them. Achebe presents his beliefs about African culture through the book and leaves the readers to question if it was fair for the white man to take control of something he never invented or fully understood and regard it bad.

One of the essential parts of the change that the colonists did was the remaking of religion. Catholicism was using more restraint in most places and did not outrightly ban everything about culture as Margaret Ogola in her book the river and the source states how Catholicism accepted Akoko and her daughter. They did not throw them away or proclaim ‘loudly’ that the practices of their community were unpleasant and ungodly (Ogola, 112). In contrast, in things that fall apart, Reverend James Smith is very charismatic and very much against the culture and desire of the surrounding community.

The remaking of religion is seen as torture and being lost by the other villagers for those who get to join Christianity. However, the same is true for Christians who have converted as they see those left un-converted as not enlightened and kind of left behind. Therefore, there is a lot of misunderstanding as the two religions try to prove that what they are doing is right. This is all caused by colonialism, as colonists brought religion as a way to infiltrate Africans. Even though colonialism is seen in a completely different manner from the Christianity spread and activities to some extent, it is related in that colonists, and Christian missionaries did the same thing, to change the African person and remake them in the face of the European ideals (Achebe, 120). Christianity and the missionaries, in general, are the ones who did most of the work as the government and other parts of the colonization did very little and were against the Africans due to their skin color.

The whites highly disregarded the values and culture held dear by the African people, which caused a lot of pain to the African person. At some point, they burned the church enacted on their land when Enoch dared to unmask egwugwu, which is a taboo equal to killing an ancestral spirit (Achebe, 140). The church was burnt down, which caused the leaders of the village of Umuofia to be jailed by the district commissioner. Therefore this can be explained as one of the tragedies which arise when people’s culture is being changed, and one of the critics or fanatics of Christianity tries to disrespect the other culture where he came from. It is a clear example of how culture change can be violent, humiliating, and unfair.

Change and tradition are one challenging question to answer regarding whether change is good or bad to a culture. Peoples cultures have been changed from time immemorial; for example, in the united states, the original Indians had their own culture, which was changed similarly by missionaries who saw it unfitting to them when great Britain had colonized the 13 original states of what later became a union (Native American Cuisine Returns to Its Roots, 2016). It was a painful experience, and some Indians have tried to return to their culture and practice what they valued very much. This is a clear depiction of how a person’s origin is essential. To think that a person wants to destroy what holds life together could not be fathomable to Umuofia individuals.

However, even though it was an unfair practice by the whites to try and change the ways of the Umuofia people, the question of whether it was utterly aimless or un-beneficial arises. For example, education is introduced to the community, and the western way of life is brought into the community. This kind of life is utterly unknown to the African man, and to some extent, they admire and like it; however, it is not who they are and they are trying to copy other people’s way of life, which is most of the time seen as wrong. This issue raises many questions not only after reading Chinua Achebe’s work but even in real life after observing what kind of life Africans live in the present and what they had before (Achebe, 40). There is the question of whether it was necessary and reasonable for the people to understand English and Christianity when they had their language like Igbo and had their kind of worship. These kinds of questions lead anyone analyzing to question the intention of the whites and whether it was really for the betterment of Africa or they just wanted to take possessions within the African countries that were not highly regarded due to the lack of knowledge about their value.

After the release of the prisoners, the Umuofia people decide to resist the whites. Okonkwo, filled with bitterness, kills the white people’s leader messengers hoping that the rest of the village would join him in the uprising. However, this does not happen, and he realizes that he has done something horrible. After being banished out of the village for killing Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s 16-year-old son, he faces many tragedies in the desire to be a better man (Achebe, 150). The killing of the white people messenger’s leader makes him regret the most, which ends up killing himself. The struggles Okonkwo goes through can be compared to the works missionaries and whites go through in their journey to enlighten the African man who is utterly uneducated from their perspective. The same can apply to the African people who go through a lot to protect their culture, religion, and values against the invention of the white, which they are so much against.

In conclusion, the debate between change and culture is not easy for a specific answer to be brought forward. However, culture held so dearly to its people should not be banished and done away with, especially if it is a good one that brings people together and advances social connectedness. However, a culture that separates people and hurts others has to be done away since it is not beneficial to society. The most important question to ask in the change versus culture issue is how the Europeans would, and mainly the British at that time, respond to a colonizer more potent than them who would have wanted to change their culture and beliefs they held dear?

Works Cited

“Native American Cuisine Returns to Its Roots.” Culture, 23 Nov. 2016,

Achebe, Chinua. “Things fall apart. 1958.” New York: Anchor 178 (1994).

Achebe, Chinua. The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart; No Longer at Ease,[and] Arrow of God. Vol. 327. Everyman’s Library, 2010.

Ogola, Margaret A. The river and the source. Nairobi: Focus Books, 1994.