Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things Fall Apart: A Book Report Long-Coming....

"In the many years in which he toiled to bring civilization to different parts of Africa he learned a number of things. One of them was that a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting a hanged man from the tree. Such attention would give the natives a poor opinion of him".

I've started reading Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" maybe 4 or 5 times over the last 4 or 5 years, but never got around to finishing the entire thing until today. Maybe subconsciously I knew it would piss me off. This is the story of west African clans and people, and their life before, and during, their first encounter with the white man.

While reading this, some of the customs of the people of Umofia may seem ridiculous, and you may even wonder why they don't know any better. I mean, throwing away twins at birth because they're inherently evil? No one can excuse that. Nonetheless, you grow to understand them, and feel for them when their ways are threaten and their history is close to extinction. The outsiders, in this case, the white men, with their supreme God and their Queen, who is the "ruler of the world", come into the villages and homes and slowly disassemble the way of life of Umofia, and Mbanta, and Abame, and so on.

It is this preposterous idea that their way is best, and that they know all that irks me more than anything. They are destroying the very people they claim to "help" under the guise of religion. No one proclaimed anyone savoir of the Africans, or Black people. Or right here in America, in Minnesota, the Anishinabe didn't ask to be "civilized" by anyone. In fact, I'm pretty sure they just wanted to be left alone.

Still, in this story, and in all others, you will find one lasting trend; the outsiders must always find friends within the people they seek to change, to rule. They must win over converts to their way of life. And this is where the true blame lies. Sometimes it's light-skinned vs. dark-skinned. Other times it's Muslim vs. Hindu, or Southern vs. Northern. Either way, once we divide amongst ourselves, once a tribe is unable to come together against a common foe, it has already lost. So it is up to the people to stay together. We cannot continue to blame others when there is constant in-fighting. There must a clear understanding that when we tear one another down we are weaker as a whole. Then we can begin true community-building.



Next read: Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist".