During our class discussion Monday on the end of “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, we poked at the idea of whether colonized populations have any blame for their situation, or for the actions of the colonizers against them. When Okonkwo and his fellow villagers ruminate on what happened to them, they’re led to understand the situation as: they allowed the white man to come into their land; they weren’t suspicious enough of him at first; and their acceptance of his presence created their society’s downfall. In this understanding, the cultures, societies and existences of the British society and Ibo society are distinctly different; the most overlap occurs when some members of Okonkwo’s tribe convert to Christianity, but otherwise, there is no sharing of lifestyles or information that passes between the two groups. They remain separate, for the most part, with no give-and-take transfer of information between them.
So does Achebe abstain from giving us a full image of the colonial experience? Based on what Ann Stoler and Frederick Cooper write in “Between Metropole and Colony,” it seems as if Achebe provides us with the introduction to what happens during colonization, but ends the story at Okonkwo’s suicide. Although we can hypothesize, based on our own historical knowledge, that Christianity will continue to spread, the British will continue to grow more brutal in their treatment of the African population and soon palm oil, palm wine and other resources will be exported for the British colonizers’ financial gain, those possibilities aren’t explicitly described by Achebe. Instead, we’re left to infer that these further blows against the Ibo will occur, and, as Stoler and Cooper write, that “the otherness of colonized persons was neither inherent nor stable; his or her difference had to be defined and maintained.” Through “Things Fall Apart,” we aren’t privy to the British colonizers’ opinions on the Ibo, except for the book’s final paragraph; therefore we don’t know how they changed their thoughts on the Ibo’s “Other” status. It’s only clear that they thought of them as an “Other,” one which could accept “pacification.”
Also interesting to think about is Stoler’s and Cooper’s suggestion that “‘Caste’ in India and ‘tribe’ in Africa were in part colonial constructs, efforts to render fluid and confusing social and political relationships into categories sufficiently static and reified and thereby useful to colonial understanding and control.” Through previous readings for this class, we know about how the three different regions in Nigeria were treated in differing ways by the British, with the predominantly Muslim North receiving indirect rule and the other two regions dealing with more direct rule. But in “Things Fall Apart,” it seems like Achebe is accepting of the term “tribe” to describe the people of Umofia’s customs, traditions and lifestyle. He does not suggest any other terms for Okonkwo and his men; therefore, is he accepting the British term? Or are Stoler and Cooper exaggerating the use of the word, giving it more of a negative slant than is necessary when describing Africa? Can the word “tribe” be acceptable and separate from colonial rule, or are the two tethered together? It’s a question to ponder as we consider “Things Fall Apart” as the first African novel — if it is, is Achebe’s lack of argument against the word “tribe” tacitly accepting the very colonialism the book stands against?