How is African culture influenced in Chinua Achebe's novel 'Things Fall Apart'?
The second part of the novel focuses mainly on this aspect. It becomes clear that the arrival of the missionaries, obviously of European descent, and the establishment of foreign forms of government creates conflict not only between the colonialists and the tribes but also within the different villages, their inhabitants, their families and amongst individuals. It also gradually eroded the natives' convictions. It is this conflict and erosion which directly impact traditional culture and lead to its breakdown.
The arrival of a few white people created confusion amongst the natives, but the matter was quickly dealt with after consultation with the oracles, as Obierika tells Okonkwo in Chapter 15, when he went to visit him in exile:
"...The first people who saw him ran away, but he stood beckoning to them. In the end the fearless ones went near and even touched him. The elders consulted their Oracle and it told them that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them..."
"...I forgot to tell you another thing which the Oracle said. It said that other white men were on their way. They were locusts, it said, and that first man was their harbinger sent to explore the terrain. And so they killed him."
The murder resulted in severe retribution by the white men, as Obierika explained further:
"...The three white men and a very large number of other men surrounded the market. They must have used a powerful medicine to make themselves invisible until the market was full. And they began to shoot. Everybody was killed, except the old and the sick who were at home and a handful of men and women whose chi were wide awake and brought them out of that market."
When Obierika returned for another visit, two years later, he told Okonkwo that the situation in his home village, Umuofia had changed drastically. The missionaries had built a church there and had already converted some of the inhabitants and were sending evangelists around to the other villages.
The missionaries also arrived in Mbanta and criticized the villagers' belief in dead gods of wood and stone who unfairly punished those who did not obey the rules and destroyed children. They were told of the holy trinity and the evangelists then burst into song, which enthralled many of the onlookers, especially Nwoye, Okonkwo's son.
Many of the villagers left and some of them mocked the new religion. However, an impact had been made and would later have serious repercussions on traditional life, since many of those who had been banished from their tribes would turn to the religion. Many converts would also be found in others, such as Nwoye, who had been affected by some or other painful trauma related to their own religion or culture.
When the missionaries were given land in the Evil Forest, many thought they would die, but they persevered and nothing happened to them. It was believed that they had a very powerful fetish and more converts were won. In this way, the missionaries gained more support, creating greater division amongst the villagers. The culture and beliefs of the natives were gradually being eroded in this manner.
The colonialists also introduced a new form of government and installed District Commissioners who introduced and exercised new laws. Certain cultural practices were outlawed, such as abandoning newborn twins in the evil forest. The perpetrators were arrested and imprisoned and were forced to perform menial tasks under guard. More serious crimes were punished by hanging. This form of control had a slow and debilitating effect on the villagers, which caused even more people to turn to the new faith, giving up their tradition.
Another factor which won many new converts, specifically in Umuofia, was the kindness and patience of Mr. Brown, the white missionary. He made the villagers believe that there was some value in the new faith, after all. He built a school and hospital in the village and, as the extracts below indicate, he won more and more support.
In the end Mr. Brown's arguments began to have an effect. More people came to learn in his school, and he encouraged them with gifts of singlets and towels.
And it was not long before the people began to say that the white man's medicine was quick in working.
It is in these ways that support for the white man's laws and his religion grew. Okonkwo was one of very few who saw the threat of the destruction of their culture. He was prepared to fight for his culture, but most did not have his fiery passion or conviction and gradually, Ibo culture was swallowed by a new belief system and a new government.
Okonkwo's suicide symbolizes the death of Ibo culture. He killed himself not only out of pride but also because he was not prepared to be dominated and ruled by something he could never accept. He would rather commit an abomination than commit to one.