Colonization is a theory explaining why some groups of human beings exploit others. The novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe depicts the act of colonization of the Ibo people of Nigeria by the English during the late nineteenth century. This story is about a powerful leader named Okonkwo living in an Ibo village located in Nigeria, Africa. He leads a fine life until he found himself and his village being intruded on by English men. These English men tried to take control of the Ibo people and imposed their values upon them; this is colonization. The colonization of Nigeria is inherently racist, according to the examples given in Chinua Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart. Three characters, Mr. Brown, Reverend James Smith, and the District Commander, will be used as examples in support of this claim.
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Racism is the belief in which certain groups of people are considered superior (or inferior) because of their skin color. One example of racism is the Ibo peoples’ stories of the British men. These stories mock the white skin the English men have – the Ibo villagers call them lepers and albinos. (Achebe, 138-139 and 74) In this example the Ibo people believe they are superior. In other cases, it was the English who thought they were superior and thought of the Ibo people as uncivilized, using words like “primitive” when describing them. (Achebe 209) Exploitation of a group of people is a main part in the process of colonization.
The first example is of Mr. Brown who shows how “othering” contributes to colonization. Mr. Brown, an English Christian preacher, has a paternalistic view of the Ibo people and feels he was sent there by God to help them. He dismissed the Ibo peoples foolish beliefs in many gods, and told them his God is the only God. “There are no other gods,’ said Mr. Brown. ‘Chukwu is the only God and all others are false” (Achebe 179). Mr. Brown uses Christianity to establish claims of superiority through medicine and education. Though racism is not obvious in his words, he still demonstrates racism because he is telling the Ibo people the white man’s way is superior.
Reverend James Smith took the place of Mr. Brown (after Mr. Brown left Africa for health reasons). Even though Reverend Smith also wanted to convert the Ibo people to Christianity, he did it differently than Mr. Brown.
He condemned openly Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation. He saw things as black and white. And black was evil (Achebe 184).
Reverend Smith clearly implies white is good and obviously superior, however he tries a kinder approach in persuading the Ibo people to worship the correct God unlike Mr. Brown. The fact that he saw the world as black and white, and black being evil shows how deeply rooted racism is when it comes to colonization. Not only were the English men’s opinions racist, but also they used religious metaphors that were embedded with racism. “He saw the world as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in moral conflict with the sons of darkness” (Achebe 184). The children of light represent white skinned children (because light is often thought of as the color white) and the sons of darkness represent black skinned boys (because darkness is often thought of as the color black). This is a clear representation of the racism impressed on the Ibo people during colonization.
The third example is the District Commissioner. The District commissioner is an English man who is a low-level government administrator. The District Commissioner is also an amateur anthropologist; his contribution to “othering” is that how he saw the Ibo people as objects of study. “Colonial governments discriminated against the employment of Africans in senior categories; and, whenever it happened that a white and black filled the same post, the white man was sure to be paid considerably more. this was true at all levels, ranging from civil service posts to mine workers. (Rodney 151). He fancied himself an expert on the Ibo people’s customs and intended to write a book on them.
As he walked back to the court he thought about that book. Everyday brought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. (Achebe 208-209)
The fact that The District commissioner said he could almost write a chapter, or at least a paragraph, on Okonkwo’s life is very belittling. It also shows how little he values the lives of any non-white people, like the Ibo. This is evidence of “othering” as well as implied racism. Another example of the District Commissioner’s “othering” is the title he decided to give his book about the Ibo people: ‘The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger’ (Achebe 209). The key word is “primitive”. He obviously considers the Ibo people to be uncivilized which, again, connects to racism because anything other than the color white (for skin) is evil and primitive.
In order to colonize, a group of people must have more advantages than those they are colonizing. Jared Diamond, a scholar, spent years studying colonization and ended up publishing a book on it titled “Guns, Germs, and Steel” which was later made into a series of films. Diamond has spent his life developing his theory for how people have been able to colonize throughout the years and have advantages over those whom they are colonizing. He believes that it is all about geography. It all depends on where an individual lives, what materials are accessible in that region, and the potential for building immunity to disease. In England there is a colder climate, which required more tools to create shelter and defense. Also, because of the cold climate, crops grown would die sooner, meaning the English had to rely on hunting and fishing for food. This led to the domestication of animals. By living in closer proximity to animals, this increased their chances for immunity to disease. In Nigeria, Africa there is almost a year round warm climate, which made it easier for the Ibo to obtain food for themselves (this mainly consisted of yams) and gave them more time to spend on building shelters. Also tools were created mainly for crops rather than hunting wild game. Weaponry was also not needed much because of a feeling of safety among the villagers. Based on Jared Diamond’s theory, the difference between the Ibo people and English men is all about geography, not skin color.
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The examples using three characters of: Mr. Brown, Reverend James Smith, and The District Commissioner are evidence of racism in Achebe’s description of colonization. As Diamond’s theory shows, there is no reason for one race to be considered superior to another. Exploitation of a group of people is a main part of the process of colonization. This is unethical behavior. Trade is a respectable and ethical way for two cultures to come together and exchange goods and raw materials. The title of Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, illustrates the harm caused by colonization and racism.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York, NY: Random House Incorporated, 1994. 209. Print.
Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Great Britain: London and Tanzanian Publishing House, 1981. 312. Print.
Guns, Germs, and Steel. Tim Lambert. Lions Television (PBS and National Geographic), 2005. Video.
* Angelou, Maya, Poems, “Africa.” New York: NY: Random House Incorporated, 1973.
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