Rarely do I actually enjoy doing my reading for school, but we had to read “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe for Humanities, and as long as it was, I actually really enjoyed it. We’re going to discuss it in class tomorrow, so I thought I’d freshen up on what I wanted to say about it by posting my thoughts here… just a few thoughts that stuck out to me. I’m dedicating this post to my mom, because I made the mistake of telling her I don’t always ready my humanities reading. 🙂 Well. Now I’m reading, and actually thinking about what I read, too.
For those of you who haven’t read the story, it is basically about this African tribal man named Okonkwo, who is a very strong man and warrior. He adopts another child, is sent into exile, returns home, and we read a million little stories about him along the way. Okay so there’s not a lot of action, but there’s more to a good story than just a rushing plot, right?
The Cultural Idea of Strength/Respect
First of all, one idea that really struck me about this story was the ideas of strength. Laziness is associated with being weak. A hard work ethic showed the true marks of a strong man in this culture. A man’s strength was also judged by the way he treated people, including his wife. Okonkwo was harsh to people who were “less” than himself. The way men lived their lives also showed a great deal about them. “Age is respected, achievement is revered.” Once a man proved himself, he was treated differently and looked upon as a strong hero. Other factors of strength included how a man controlled his emotions. Showing emotion, except for anger, was a sign of weakness.
View of Women
Strength was seen as a quality in men only, and it was offensive for a man to call another man a woman because that meant he was being weak and, well, stupid. Okonkwo didn’t believe Ndulue (another man in the village) was a strong man because he had one mind with his wife. That was seen as an incredibly negative quality! Whenever someone showed emotion, they were acting like a woman, which was “bad”. A man often had multiple wives, who bore him several children. It was the wives’ job to take care of their husband and their children. Also, if a crime was committed accidentally, it was called a woman’s crime. For example, when Okokwonko commits a crime unintentionally, he gets a lesser punishment because it was seen as a woman’s crime. This shows the idea that women do not have control, and are naive individuals. A woman is also seen as the comforting one. Men run to their fathers and their villages when everything is prospering, but they go home to their mothers when they are hurting.
Everyone speaks with proverbs! They tell stories and parables, and they use short, wise, and witty sayings to get their point across. They don’t come out and say what they want right away. They ease into the subject. It’s kind of cool! Their communication would never work in our culture today, because people want to say what’s on their mind and move on. Or they don’t want to say what’s on their mind at all and ignore something that should be said. There’s no middle ground, no easing in, and there’s rarely any profound ways to word our ideas. At least, we don’t act like there is.
Okonkwo’s Driving Force
Okonkwo had one chief motivation: to be completely unlike his father. He had no greater desire in life than to be as different as he possibly could from his father. His father was incredibly lazy and died with large amounts of outstanding debts. Okonkwo was so determined not to be like his father that he worked hard to compensate. Okonkwo was successful, but unlike many of his friends, he had to work for his success. He did not inherit barns or anything from his father. All of his success was from himself.
A Man’s Chi
“Chi” is essentially the word for someone’s “personal god”. We kind of might think of this as a guardian angel of some sort. The Ibo culture had specific ideas about the chi, and one of which was when a man said ‘yes’, his chi also said ‘yes’. That’s kind of a cool way to say “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I believe that I have a “personal God”, but He’s the God of the entire universe, and he’s everyone else’s “personal God”, as well. I don’t believe that every time I decide to do something my God says “yes!”, and I’m exceedingly grateful that he doesn’t! But this is an interesting concept that the Ibo people believed with all their hearts. I am sure this gave them great confidence to face necessary battles and to achieve great accomplishments when they set their minds to it.
I’ve always grown up hearing stories about missionaries in the past who went to various tribes in South America and Africa and were punished and persecuted for their faith. These stories were horrible and almost unbelievable! I never doubted them, and while I still feel for those Christians who have suffered for the Gospel of Christ, this story showed me another side to missions. Many missionaries have a great approach to reaching people. They don’t come in obtrusively, they respect boundaries, etc. However, I don’t think all missionaries have always had the right approach. These missionaries in specific came into town and were all but cursing the Ibo gods and telling the people how wrong they were to worship them. If someone came and told me how wrong it was to worship my God and what horrible things I was doing, it was be very hard for me to listen to them, even if they were right. These missionaries were banning the new converts to talk to certain people, and banning certain people from talking to the new converts. Many of the Ibo families saw the missionaries as taking away their own children. The missionaries often overstepped their bounds. Not only did the missionaries bring a new “religion” to them, but they also brought a whole new government. Is it any wonder that they were not well received? This does not justify the persecution and harsh treatment that many missionaries suffer through, but it does provide as a warning to be careful and conscious about our approach to sharing the Gospel with others, especially of a different culture.
So there’s my two cents.