How does one write the story that is the break down of the continent of Africa? How can one chronicle Africa’s deconstruction?
Chinua Achebe, master of the written word and powerful storyteller, boldly stepped forward more than fifty years ago with his beautifully crafted story Things Fall Apart. Father Chinua’s protagonist in the man Okonkwo of the village of Umuofia is the brave man who tried to face down the coming of the white man. Still Okonkwo’s bravery was no match for a type of deception and dishonor never before seen in Umuofia.
Okonkwo saw himself as a strong warrior in the tradition of his people. Even though he felt that he didn’t have a good solid start in life, due to the fact that his father was a dreamer moreso than a warrior and thus a weakling in his eyes, he by his own hard work and ingenuity was still able to build a prosperous and respectful life for himself. He lived by the code of valor of his ancestors and rejected all signs of weakness that everyone else seemed to be falling victim to.
Umuofia had always been a place where life had its ebbs and flows, its ways and rules, its culture and standards as set by many previous generations. The people of Umuofia lived as they always had. Their culture had been perfected as far as Okonkwo was concerned; Strong, immovable and fixed in its beauty. All was well until the day the when the people actually encountered the interlopers. At that point, it was only a matter of time before the white man’s deceptive powers confounded and slowly destroyed the thinking of the people of Umuofia .
As Okonkwo valiantly struggled against these changes, his own reasoning falters as he makes a series of fatal errors in judgement which start the downward spiral of his own life.
Chinua Achebe’s book is the grand story of the people of Africa and their struggle to “deal with the white man” as African Americans say. This grand yet devastating story is encapsulated magnificently in the story of the life of Okonkwo. Reading the book was like watching a film of which you knew the ending, yet still you held your breath till the very end. Very powerful.
The original motivation for the white man’s coming to Western Africa can be argued one way or the other – to save souls for God or to steal souls for greed in God’s name; but whichever way you argue it, the end result of their coming was the entire continent’s decimation. So complete was Africa’s devastation that to this day, the varies nations of people are yet to fully cleanse and right themself from the apocalyptic assault.
Although Okonkwo simply wanted to live his life as his ancestors before him had lived for centuries, the forces of time beyond his control came in and uprooted his plans. Though Mother Africa may have been content to remain as it was, outside malevolent influences came against her, took advantage of her naiveté, cornered her, and forced her to lie prostrate and endure the most brutal rape ever perpetrated.
Devastation is still being felt until this very day.
This is a marvelous work of art–beautifully and sparingly written, lavishly describing the beauty of the natural world and the subtle workings of the human soul. Things Fall Apart is full of the fine details of an ancient culture, marvellously crafted from centuries of lived out wisdom.