Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is there a flip-side to transculturation?

It is difficult not to be objective while reading Achebe's Things Fall Apart. When stepping away from the story you start to think about the Ibo people, especially Okonkwo: can I relate myself to Okonkwo? He is a huge African warrior/farmer during the 18th century who has three wives and some eight-plus kids. Simply put: no. Quite frankly if I met Okonkwo I would be scared out of mind-- and I think I would have a right to be so. Why should I feel any kind of compassion for a man who values violence and superiority over spending time bonding with his own children, let alone wives?
But this is the beauty of the story; it drags you in. Okonkwo is not a very likable person, but through Achebe's telling we are able to understand where he comes from and how in so many ways he is simply a reflection of his culture. We feel compassion for his children, Nwoye and Ezinma, and the life struggles they go through trying to live up to their father's impossible ideal. We are able to realize that Okonkwo truly loves his family but his culture--his experiences with a shameful father--have taught him that "love" is a weakness. And how can we as readers feel contempt for a man who is doing what he thinks to be right?
When the white man comes in Part III of Achebe's novel, we the readers know it is not going to end well for Okonkwo. How could it? We are taught in schools about European dominance and their need to conquer. Even now I am hesitant to admit that "we", Americans, did the same thing to the Indians driving them west and then ultimately out (in many ways). I am hesitant to associate myself with such an atrocity. But what Ashcroft's article "Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies" he wants to remind readers that even in many ways colonization was inevitable to occur (the world was too small for cultures to not overlap), the ways of going about it that are vastly different. In Things Fall Apart we see the peaceful approach of Mr. Brown, how although from the Igbo's perspective they did not like what he was doing, but they could deal with the methods he was going about it--peacefully and patiently. However we knew this couldn't last long, hence Reverend James and the destruction of Okonkwo.
An aspect of Ashcroft's article which I found pertinent was his discussion on transculturation. It seems that in most all instances when different cultures assimilate, the recessive population is the only one that changes--why is that? Did the white man sit down and try and learn the Igbo's songs, gods, orcustoms? I think not. It is the idea that the dominant people can just subject their beliefs to somebody else and just expect them to accept it. How do we really know who is write in the subject of God, I mean really know? Ultimately the white man's lust broke Okonkwo; it drove him to the brink of existence. He betrayed everything that he had grown up believing was right so that he could preserve everything that he had grown up believing was right. In the end I think we can feel sympathetic toward Okonkwo, a man who put his people before himself. At the end of the novel we see that Okonkwo's friend, Obierika, is disgusted with the white men for driving his friend so far. We can assume that for a little longer the sting of Okonkwo's death will prevent the white man from suppressing their Igbo tribe. But not for long, which is sad.

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