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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe This is a novel about the clash of Nigerian traditional culture with British colonial power at the turn of the 20th century. The author is Nigerian and wrote the book about what would have been the experiences of his grandfather's generation. This book does much to do away with the perception of African traditional societies as being primitive, simple and backward.

The first part of the book is filled with numerous short stories that show how Nigerian society functioned prior to the arrival of the Europeans. It elaborated on their religion, government, system of money, art and judicial system. However, it is an honest description of traditional society that includes its less desirable features such as infanticide, mistreatment of women, ritual killings, and patriarchal traditions that honored and praised male violence. When this traditional culture begins to be changed by colonial intrusions, some native Nigerians were open to change and others indifferent. The main character was a rigid fundamentalist and refused to change.

The second and third parts of the books tells the story of British colonial powers gradually replacing traditional Nigerian governance with their own system of laws. Some of the British were flexible and sensitive in dealing with traditional culture. Others were rigid in their dealings with Nigerians and showed no respect for traditional ways.

I appreciate that fact that the book portrayed the two sides as neither all good or all bad. It provides another example of the fact that change happens, and the story of life is dealing with it.

When it comes to colonial power versus traditional African culture, we all know who came out on top at least in the short term. Of course Nigeria eventually won its independence in 1960. But it could be argued that some of instability and internal violence that country has experienced since then may have been caused by the loss of traditional social structures.