Globalization is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the attempt to unify the world into one culture, and one society, usually due to one culture imposing itself onto others. The concept of a globalized society is not a new one, in that ever since cultures have attempted to conquer each other, globalization, whether stated or not, has inevitably followed. However, today globalization is specifically propagated by those cultures whose way of life is prosperous, and based on expansion, more accurately, those who embrace capitalism, like current day American culture or Western European culture. In the novel Things Fall Apart, the imposing culture is group of European, Christian missionaries, spreading their way of life, and the culture that is imposed upon, and eventually displaced is a clan of Ibo tribesmen in Nigeria. The European culture and way of life is so openly accepted by the native culture that it effectively replaces, or appears to be on the way to replacing the way that their society functions. The message of globalization, as seen from Chinua Achebe’s point of view in Things Fall Apart, is of something that can destroy entire cultures, for it is a tool of cultural homogenization, affecting everything from religion, government, and basic tradition based values, thereby eliminating diversity between peoples.
The first section of Things Fall Apart is spent almost entirely on explaining the details of the Ibo culture. Achebe goes into great detail talking about the more subtle cultural aspects of the community, highlighting crop rotation, the customs of feasts and communal activities, and sporting events to immerse the reader in the Ibo way of life. When the Europeans are first introduced in the book, they are described by the Ibo tribesmen as being distinctly different like nothing they have ever seen before, using devices and accessories that are completely foreign. In fact, the first white man introduced in the novel is mistaken as an albino, and his bicycle was referred to as an iron horse (Achebe, 138). This misunderstanding in cultures is used to show the distinct differences between the two cultures, and how the natives were initially captivated with the novelty of the differences between the two peoples. The Ibo’s infatuation with the European culture eventually led to them mimicking them, as seen when the Christian missionaries came to the village, and started to spread their beliefs.
One of the first aspects of life in the Ibo's land of Umuofia to be affected by the arrival of the missionaries is religion and religious based values. A perfect example of the Ibo’s religious beliefs cam be found when the priestess Chielo took away the character Ezinma, for she was a changeling, and was likely to be put to death. Despite the fact that she did not want this to happen, Ezinma’s mother Ekwefi allowed her to be taken, knowing full well what Chielo intended to do, were it deemed necessary. While Ezinma’s abduction was something that could have potentially meant her death, Ekwefi honored the traditions of her people, and did not voice any protest when the decision to do that was made. The power that Chielo held is evidenced in the quote: “How dare you, woman, to go before the mighty Agbala of your own accord? Beware, woman, lest he strike you in his anger” (101). Also, the Ibo believed in many gods, with a god for different things. For example, Ani is the earth goddess, and is responsible for all things related to the earth, like the well being of crops, and the general well being of the tribe (Achebe, 30). Also, each person had his or her own personal god, or chi, which protected each individual (211). These beliefs starkly contrasted the traditional Christian monotheistic belief of there being only one God. The missionaries took it upon themselves to correct the natives’ false beliefs, and make them better prepared for an afterlife in heaven. By spreading the word of their bible, and openly denouncing any of the native beliefs, they claimed that there was no way that the Ibo could be correct, for there was only the Christian God. It was not long before this idea spread among the Ibo, and eventually became the popular belief concerning spirituality.
The means through which the Europeans implemented their religious takeover started small, by first having only one church, that was too occupied with it’s own affairs to draw attention from the Ibo clan (Achebe, 155). However, the Christian church began its rise to power when it broke one of the native norms, namely that of accepting individuals that were normally thought of as outcasts. By showing that their religion did not discriminate against those that were normally persecuted by the Ibo, and by being able to defend the decision of God through the church, the Christians were able to amass a greater pool of followers. Mr. Kiaga, the priest of the small church demonstrated his faith, and was the turning point for many coverts, as shown in this quote: “Mr. Kiaga stood firm, and it was his firmness that saved the young church. The wavering converts drew inspiration and confidence from his unshakable faith” (157). While this confidence generated support for the church, it also created a shift in the acceptable norms and taboos of the native tribe, thereby changing the Ibo culture, and making it more like the European culture.
Another social system drastically affected by the arrival of the European missionaries was the form of government in Umuofia. Traditionally, the government was run such that every person knew the rules of the tribe, and adhered to them, for they knew that it was how their ancestors lived, and was therefore right for them. Take for example the tradition of the week of peace. In that week it was strictly forbidden for anyone to say a harsh word to his neighbor (Achebe, 30) let alone strike another for any reason. Ezeani explains this well known tradition to Okonkwo after he breaks the week of peace: “We live in peace with our fellows to honor our great goddess of the earth without whose blessing our crops would not grow” (30). When Okonkwo broke this he knew that he had violated a traditional rule of the tribe, and met with the Priest of Ani for his punishment, which he willingly accepted. Another example of the governing system of the village can be found when the village was attending Ezeudu’s funeral, when a piece of Okonkwo’s rifle accidentally broke off and pierced the heart of Ezeudu’s eldest son’s heart, killing him. Despite the fact that this was an accident, Okonkwo accepted the rule of the tribe, and willingly went into exile for seven years (124). The normal system of actions and consequences changed however, when the missionaries came to Umuofia. Along with the Christian religion, the missionaries instated a European governmental structure, complete with a court system, and judges (176). This drastically changes the way that the villagers act, for now they adhere to laws or rules because they fear the consequences that this foreign court might impose, rather than adhere to traditional laws because they knew that they were the right things do to.
Many of the older laws or rules that the people of Umuofia abide by were passed down from generation to generation, and were held in high regard because that was how it had always been done. This sense of tradition was another significant part of the native lifestyle that was effectively eliminated or at least significantly altered by the missionaries. One example of a traditional belief that was altered by the missionaries was that of the power of the evil forest. The Ibo believed that that forest was a great source of evil power and should be avoided at all cost, unless for religious reasons (Achebe, 32). When the missionaries came though, the only area in which the tribe would allow them to set up a large camp was partially inside the forest. By simply defying the mythos of the forest, it gave the Ibo reason enough to question the power behind one of their oldest beliefs. The Ibo also held in very high regard the distinct gender roles and personality traits that each gender was supposed to possess. For example, men were supposed to be strong and responsible, and not waste time with feminine things like singing. However, Okonkwo’s eldest son was more inclined to such feminine things, which made him an outcast among his people, or at least his father based on their traditional beliefs. The Christians though, did not believe that singing was a distinctly feminine thing, to they took him in, and supported him where his father would not (152). If anything, by taking in Okonkwo’s son only further encouraged to Ibo people to embrace this new culture, for it did not punish those who did not adhere to their rigid traditional value system.
Another strongly held traditional Ibo belief was that of the honor of warfare, or at least the ability to partake in it, should the opportunity arise. It was considered a great feat to take another’s life in the heat of battle. However, at the very end of the novel, Okonkwo urged his people to rise up against their oppressors, and stave off their way of life, thereby preserving their own. His call to arms was met with pacifism, brought on by the Christian way of thinking, and obliviousness to the erasure of their own culture. What is more, after Okonkwo single handedly stood up against the missionaries and took one of their lives (Achebe, 204), his tribesmen could not discern any logical reason for him having taken that action, showing just how drastically their views had changed from what they once were, as can be seen in the following quote: “They had broken into tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking ‘Why did he do it?’” (204).
As seen in Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, if a culture’s form of governance, religious beliefs, and traditional value system are challenged by a more prosperous one whose aim is to assimilate it, the results can be quite disastrous, possibly resulting in the elimination of the imposed upon culture, or at least a decrease in the cultural diversity. All of these things are an example of globalization, as seen by Chinua Achebe. With any hope, this novel will show people the detrimental aspects to taking on a foreign culture in place of one’s native one, and encourage people to embrace their heritage. This seems like something that should be remembered, especially now, in a time where cultural diversity is supposedly held in such high regard.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1959. 30, 32, 101, 124, 138, 152, 155, 157, 176, 204, 211.
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