illustrated portrait of Igbo Nigerian author Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe

Start Free Trial

What does Achebe mean by saying, "Of a tribe, they say fate has chosen for slow extinction," in "The Bull and Egret"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Chinua Achebe poem "The Bull and Egret" discusses the speaker's complex feelings about the Biafran War. The Biafran War was a civil war in Nigeria in which the southeast region, referring to their territory as "Biafra" and themselves as "Biafrans," attempted to secede from the country. The three largest tribes that resided in Nigeria were the Hausas/Fulanis in the north, the Yorubas in the southwest, and mainly the Igbos in the southeast. Each of these tribes had distinct cultural histories and distinct political systems. These differences had been exploited by the British, so they could establish and maintain their colonial rule.

As the British decolonized Nigeria, they continued to agitate these differences, positioning the Hausas/Fulanis, the tribe most amenable to continued British influence, to take leadership of the country. The Igbos and other smaller tribes who joined to form Biafra resented this leadership and led an aggressive rebellion. This movement is symbolized by the bull and egret; the bull is the rebels, while the egret is the supporters of the Biafran movement. For years before the rebellion, the Hausas/Fulanis had pogroms during which they killed thousands of Igbos, yet the tribe continued to flourish, remaining one of the wealthiest groups in Nigeria. This contradiction of the Igbos' continued survival in the face of consistent persecution is expressed in the poem's line, "A tribe, they say fate has chosen for slow extinction."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team