The relationship between the Western world and Africa has been long and interesting. Whether it is for its uncharted territories, its unknown peoples, or its political, economic or religious opportunities, Westerners have been venturing into the continent for centuries. During the era of Western imperialism, Africa was seen as the perfect breeding ground for new religious missions, and European empirical societies. Western imperialism, however, was not beneficial to Africa’s people; rather, it forever altered the naturally occurring, unique cultures and civilizations of many African societies.
This can be seen after reading Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” and examining pertinent ideas in the novel: Cultures, civilizations, and religious systems did exist in Africa and were effective in maintaining functional societies prior to the arrival of Western culture; the Western ignorance of these cultures and civilizations, and their desire to replace African systems of belief with Christianity led to a result that was destructive to the naturally occurring societies in Africa; and this result is unchangeable.
The culture and civilization described in the novel is most definitely one with many unique characteristics. It consists of functional systems used to deal with everything needed to sustain its population. It is indeed a society worth studying and preserving. The author uses the main character of the novel to explain this in further detail. Achebe introduces the protagonist early in the novel. Okonkwo is a man whose father was not well-respected in his community, and who was a great debtor.
Okonkwo is ashamed of this, and in order to have achieved his status and respect in his village he proved his strength by wrestling a great fighter, and bringing honour to his people. Lucky for him, it is not the practice of his village, Umuofia, to base a person’s reputation on that of their father (p. 3-8). Already one can begin to see how this society works. Beginning in the very first chapters, Achebe discusses some of the traditions and practices of the tribe on which his novel focuses – the Ibo. Okonkwo’s living conditions are also discussed.
The Ibo live in a village that is well established, and well respected by neighbouring villages (p. 11). Okonkwo has his own hut, and one for each of his three wives. He also has a barn filled with yams, which is a sign of wealth and prosperity since it is their primary crop (p. 14). Beliefs about spirits and gods are also discussed. For example, the Ibo believe that darkness brings evil spirits and dangerous animals and that twins are evil (p. 9). These are the main focuses of life for the Ibo – environment, agriculture and their belief system.