ANALYSIS OF CHINWE ACHEBE'S WRITINGS
Rev. Khandi Paasewe
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Chinwe Achebe Books Analysis Outline
Thesis: Discussion of three works by Chinwe Achebe: Girls At War, Arrow of God and Beware Soul Brother; of the cultural dynamic problems that the author presents in his writings and the challenges presented to the reader to analyze these challenges from an Afrikan centered perspective; and of the colonial impact and cultural conflict. Tools for this Afrikan centered analysis include: the Asili, and its components with their definitions and how they are a part of the ideological core of the matrix of Afrikan culture are discussed to help define cultural conflict, which has within its confines colonial impact and its effects upon all aspects of Nigerian life.
I. Key terms
II. Author's Note
III. Definition of Terms
IV. Supportive information and analysis of writings of Achebe
Disclaimer: (Author's note) all spellings of amerika, overstand vs. understand, "i" in lower case and We in capital, british and european in lower case, etc. are totally intentional and seek to exclude the author as victim to conforming to the euro-psychopathology that is dialectically in opposition to the Afirkan centered ethos of which this author subscribes.
Discussion of Problems Presented by Achebe
As an Afrikan born in amerika, reading any writings written by authors born on the Afrikan continent or from an Afrikan centered perspective always presents the reader with some unique challenges of analysis. Those challenges include but are not limited to identifying the problems that are introduced in writings by the author. Chinua Achebe presents some cultural dynamic problems which include favoritism, laziness, tardiness, water resource strategies, drunkenness, disunity among villages of the Ibo nation, colonial impact and cultural conflict in Arrow of God. Beware Soul Brother addresses such themes as foreign cultural conflicts, western influences on Afrikan cultural traditions, patience, masculine feminine divine principles of Afrikan culture, religions contradictions which are discussed. Girls at War and Other Stories includes such themes as madness as a permanent mark even when cured, ancestors bring wealth, and how the folklore of Afrikan people reflects their lives. Cultural conflict, which has within its confines colonial impact and its effects upon all aspects of Ibo and Afrikan life, and the tools for use in the challenge of analysis will be explored.
Chinua Achebe introduces the problem of the evolution, the process of imposition with the characteristics of cultural beings who find it necessary to impose british will on Ibo peoples, and presents the cultural conflict in chapter one of Arrow of God. Ezeulu agrees to send his son to "join those people because my friendship to the white man Wintabota... asked me to send one of my children to learn the ways of the people and i agree." What Ezeulu fails to overstand is the very nature of the process of imposition demands that the Ibo "leave the duty of their households" and ideological, cultural and shared ethos. The very presence of Ezeulu's so called "white friend" challenges the design for living and patterns fro interpreting Afrikan reality which include ideology, ethos, world-view, ontology, cosmology, axiology, behavior, values, and attitudes which are the elements of Afrikan culture.
The poem, "Christmas in Biafra" in Beware Soul Brother by Achebe, reveals the foreign cultural imperialist constructs in Biafra in the following passage:
"gathering sorrows in the valley would yet become in another year a lost christmas irretrievable in the heights its exploding inferno transmuted by cosmic distances to the peacefulness of a cool twinkling star..." "jesus plump wise-looking and rose-cheeked; one of the magi in keeping with legend a Black Othello..." (p. 13)
The european cultural constructs are symbolized in the "lost christmas" as if this is an Afrikan centered value; the "peacefulness of a cool twinkling star" over a starving people is a ironic cruelty; "jesus...with rosy cheeks" is a savior symbol that does not have an Afrikan centered asilic matrix at its base.
Achebe's Girls at War and Other Short Stories contains a story titled "The Madman" where the reader is taken through the post colonial effects of colonialism which drives Nwibe mad. And colonialism is symbolized by a nameless character that is never defined other than through Nwibe. Only Nwibe has the vision to see this nameless entity and the cost fro his vision is his sanity. And though Nwibe is cured of his madness, he is never fully accepted in society because madness is a permanent mark even when cured in neo-colonial Afrika. Nwibe is one who is expect to deny the nameless character (colonialism). This internal cultural conflict is what drives Nwibe mad and maintains his status as such in society.
Further, culture is ideology since it possesses the force and power to direct activity, to mold personalities, and to pattern behavior. Ideology used in cultural sense denotes the iconography by which the Ibo (in Arrow of God) represent themselves in order to achieve communal purpose. In other words, the market place and the day of Eke are the iconography of the Ibo people which was changed in eke Okperi market due to the market having "grown because the white man took his merchandise there." (p. 21) Achebe has a character question "why did he take his merchandise there?" which allows the reader to evaluate the problems of change in the cultural values and ideology of the Ibo as a result of the participation and imposition of the british.
Another iconography by which Afrikans represent themselves in order to achieve communal purpose is described by Chinwe Achebe in the poem "Air Raid" Beware Soul Brother. Instead of being able to invoke the forces of Anyanwu or Ala (both earth spiritual energies of the Ibo pantheon of cosmic divine forces), the symbol instead is of "bird of death" and "evil forests" which come from european constructs (soviet technology). Where greetings are valued and a ritual for Afrikan peoples, the introduction of such raids renders the men crossing the road, too preoccupied with other worries involving european invasion to greet his friend and shake his hand.
Within the confines of colonial impact/cultural conflict is the land ownership question, another problem presented by Achebe in Arrow of God. There is a reference made about generations working the land until the "white man came and reminded them." Achebe has the characters ask "if the land is theirs." This problem of land ownership is not Afrikan centered. Land in the Afrikan cultural matrix belongs to everyone. The european construct exemplifies individualism and ownership. Such is the contrast between the two cultural Asili.
Asili is defined by Marimba Ani in her text Yurugu An Afrikan-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior as the logos of a culture, within which various aspects cohere; the developmental seed/germ, the ideological core, the matrix of a cultural entity which must be identified in order to make sense of the collective creations of its members. (p. xxv) The Asili and its components, Utamawazo and Utamaroho are vital tools of analysis when reading works written from an Afrikan centered perspective. The Utamawazo is the culturally structured thought. It is the way in which cognition is determined by a cultural Asili. It is the way in which the thought of members of a culture must be patterned if Asili is to be fulfilled. (Ani, p. xxv) The Utamaroho is the vital force of the culture, set in motion by the Asili. It is the thrust/energy source of Afrikan culture; that which gives it its emotional tone and motivates the collective behavior of its members. Both the Utamawazo and Utamaroho are born out of the Asili and affirm it. Neither should be thought of as distinct from the Asili but rather as its manifestations. (Ani, p. xxv)
Achebe constantly focuses on the difference in the Asili of Afrikans versus the Asili of the cultural other (europeans). The Asili of europeans is one of aggression and destructiveness both most extreme, where they simultaneously limit their collective self destruction on a conscious level while imposing cultural imperialism on others.
In Arrow of God, Ezeulu's power to control and function as head of his family and community (on a personal level) flies in the face of british rule resulting in yet another example of cultural conflict. The Ibo nation war of Afo between the Umuaro and the Okperi (is the representative of the "Afrikan political system, with its checks and balances" which Achebe speaks of) was ended by the white man. The level and concept of war for the Ibo was not on a mass destructive level like that of the white man. Only seven men died in the Ibo war of Afo. this level of war is dialectically opposed to the concept of war known to white men where hundreds of thousands die in the name of war. Without being allowed to fight on the level that Ibo peoples settle their difference, ("Wintabota brought soldiers to Umuaro and stopped it"), the Ibo's power to control and function as self reliant and self determined, was challenged.
Achebe addresses the resynthesis of the masculine-feminine divine principles. This precolonial Afrikan concept is multidimensional, consists of many complementary elements and is spiritually and psychologically wholistic for Afrikans. In the poem "Love Cycle" in the collection Beware Soul Brother, Achebe refers to the sun as "his" and the earth as "her" and "the earth perfumed" and "his mellowness" and "her power" all of which reflect the masculine-feminine divine principles. (p. 26)
In Arrow of God, christianity causes another cultural conflict, a spiritual conflict in the villages via converts. Achebe states that the whites thought of Afrikan's spiritual traditions as "heathen filth." (p. 54) Oduche (Ezeulu's son) betrayed the tradition of his father and his people by plotting to kill the Python who was sacred to the Ibo because the christians said that it was savage and heathen. This concept of "bad customs" of the Ibo were internalized by Oduche which allowed him to be a perfect character example of what colonization does to the various cultural, spiritual, and intellectual foundations of Ibo cohesion. Oduche is a perfect example of how european cultural thought is assimilated by all which it seeks to oppress. The process of Oduche's assimilation occurs when Ezeule sends Oduche to learn with the whites. Thus whites teach Oduche as follows:
1. cultural logic of europeans and world view taught
2. special members of the culture (intellectuals, scholars, theorists) retrieve the logic/view as universal (ex. Blackett, a West Indian missionary)
3. european world view has ideological force
4. parochial and axilogics of euro-colonialism remains well hidden
As a result, Oduche learns (is indoctrinated into) british culture without overstanding the ramifications of the amalgamated state thus giving the british imperial authority over the Ibo through him. Herein, lies the meaning of cultural imperialism.
"Generation Gap," a poem in the collection Beware Soul Brother, challenges the christian concept that only jesus reincarnates. Afrikans see themselves as reincarnating beings and reflect this Asilic concept in the "naming ceremony of his grandson." Naming ceremonies render such names as Iyabo (she who has the spirit of her mother's mother returned). In this writing, the grandfather awaits his opportunity to come again and see this returning as a "feast." (p. 32)
Finally, there's a contrast between christian belief systems and Afrikan centered belief systems in the short stories: "Chike's School Days" and "Marriage is a Private Affair" both in the collection Girls at War and Other Stories. The character Sarah, in "Chike's School Days," has a daughter Chikwe who is "brought up in the ways of the white man which meant the opposite of traditional." (p. 37) Sarah has euro-pagan views of Afrikan traditions and Asilic cultural matrix. She, in Achebe's writing, has "taught her children not to eat in their neighbor's houses because they offered their food to idols." (p. 37) For an Afrikan to have a european world view is cultural imperialist and damaging to the Afrikan psyche/ethos. In "Marriage is a Private Affair," Nnaemeka attempts to convince his father what a wonderful woman he has chosen to marry by stating that she is a "good christian woman." Nnaemeka's father uses euro-christian concepts to discuss his disapproval of his son's marriage by stating that "whoever put this idea into your head ...is satan's work." Since Afrikan spiritual belief systems in pre-colonial Afrika did not include a "devil/satan," this is yet another example of the cultural conflict and cultural impact upon Afirkan peoples' spiritual belief systems.
In conclusion, the problems and Afrikan centered concepts that Chinua Achebe introduces in the first four chapters of the novel Arrow of God, Beware Soul Brother, and Girls at War and Other Stories are varied in that they show that the hardest aspect of european culture to analyze which are the various parts of nucleus of imperialism (colonization). The parts of the nucleus of imperialism include but are not limited to institutionalized religion, euro language values and the them of universalism. These parts all form a solid supportive network which allows for european power to manifest as an overwhelming persistent theme. Achebe's works lay the groundwork so that the reader overstands what the introduction in Arrow of God states as "the fastening upon a colonial people of the rule of those who claim to be their masters."
Arrow of God. New York; Anchor/Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1969.
Beware Soul Brother. London; Heinemann Ltd., 1971.
Girls at War and Other Stories. New York; Anchor/Doubleday & Co., 1972.
Ani, Marimba. Yurugu An Afrikan-centered Critique of European Cultural
Thought and Behavior. New Jersey; Afrika World Press, Inc., 1994.
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