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In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the District Commissioner is the reigning symbol of Western imperialism, an ignorant, condescending administrator who is brought to the area to mete out justice and impose the more enlightened culture of the West upon these uncivilized tribes. His manners bespeak an individual accustomed to treating the subjects of the British Empire as blessed by their fate. Having summoned the leaders of some tribes for a meeting to discuss an altercation that occurred during his absence, the District Commissioner has these tribal dignitaries seized and bound, explaining that their conduct has fallen outside the parameters of acceptable British behavior. Having tricked these men into believing they were invited to discuss the earlier incidents, they are instead imprisoned. The commissioner points out that “[w]e have brought a peaceful administration to you and your people so that you may be happy,” and that such conduct “must not happen in the dominion of our queen.” In short, the District Commissioner, representative of the European colonizers, is so inculcated with the notion of racial and cultural superiority that he cannot fathom that a separate universe with its own concept of “civilization” can possibly exist. It is in this context that Achebe tells us the book the District Commissioner will write will reflect his efforts, on behalf of the Crown, to “bring civilization to different parts of Africa.” He will title his book “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” To the civilized peoples of Africa, it is the European interloper who is uncivilized and barbaric in his arrogance and treatment of people he seeks to dominate for his own imperial aggrandizement. But to the District Commissioner, he is the personification of civilization and cultural superiority.
The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger
The term pacification is key within the title. The DC's role in Nigeria is to force the natives into submission under the white rule.
The word primitive is incredibly subjective. Achebe skillfully proves that the Ibo people are far from uncivilized. From the complex wedding and funeral celebrations to their judicial system, one could hardly say that their culture is a primitive one.
The title of the book the district commissioner is writing is "The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."
The very idea that the DC characterizes the people as "primitive" says a lot about how he views the clansmen: as lesser, as uncivilized, as needing to be "tamed."
The commissioner is responsible for putting the clansmen on trial for breaking the "white man's law." The DC will never be able to understand the people as he is completely without empathy or respect for their way of life.
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