English / The Death Of A Culture: An Analysis Of The White Man'S Influence Over The Igbo Clan

The Death Of A Culture: An Analysis Of The White Man'S Influence Over The Igbo Clan

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Autor:  anton  31 December 2010
Tags:  Culture,  Analysis,  Influence
Words: 1274   |   Pages: 6
Views: 436

“We shall not do you any harm,” said the District Commissioner to them later, “if only you agree to cooperate with us. We have brought a peaceful administration to you and your people so that you may be happy. If any man ill-treats you we shall come to your rescue. But we will not allow you to ill-treat others. We have a court of law where we judge cases and administer justice just as it is done in my own country under a great queen. I have brought you here because you joined together to molest others, to burn people’s houses and their place of worship. That must not happen in the dominion of our queen, the most powerful ruler in the world.” (p. 194)

The Death of a Culture:

An Analysis of the White Man’s Influence over the Igbo Clan

The District Commissioner in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart tries to put forth the image of himself as a humanitarian, with the best interests of the Igbo at heart. However, his statement reveals that he is actually just an arrogant, hypocritical, power-hungry man. The District Commissioner, along with the other white missionaries, breaks up the community of the clan by damaging everything that held them together. By creating a world vision in which whites are superior, the District Commissioner enables himself and his fellow missionaries to destroy the culture of the Igbo people. Through this, Achebe highlights the flaws of British colonialism and questions the qualifications that make a society civilized.

The District Commissioner’s statement reflects the hypocrisy of his actions. He promises the Igbo people that if “any man ill-treats” them, the whites will come to their rescue. The words “any man” here include the white men. However, the white men are personally responsible for the suffering of the Igbo people and without their presence, the Igbo would not be in need of any “rescuing”. Instead of bringing the “peaceful administration”, as the District Commissioner claims, the white missionaries actually initiate many primitive practices themselves, such as severe beatings, sudden imprisonments, and executions. Rather than being open about their intentions, the District Commissioner says what he wants to be true. It is possible that he even believes it himself, as he seems quite convinced that they are improving the lives of the Igbo by eliminating such practices as “burn[ing] people’s houses and their places of worship.” He tells the Igbo people that the whites will not do them any harm, but he fails to realize that they have already done a great deal of harm by tearing the clan apart.

The District Commissioner makes his claim with an incredible sense of arrogance. The overall tone of this statement evokes the image of someone threatening to discipline a child, which is, in a sense, how he views the Igbo people. The District Commissioner references his own culture’s “great queen”, claiming that she is “the most powerful ruler in the world.” With these two direct references, the District Commissioner shows his belief that his own culture and way of life are superior to that of any other nation. The District Commissioner is creating a world vision, which includes his image of an ideal leader.

By describing the queen of England as “the most powerful ruler,” the District Commissioner makes a position of power something to aspire to. This idea of total control becomes the motivation behind the actions of the white men. This true incentive contradicts what he claims to be their goal—to make the Igbo people happy. The District Commissioner attempts to gain a sense of control over the Igbo by presenting them with a sort of ultimatum—“we shall not do you any harm, if only you agree to cooperate with us.” In saying this, he implies that if the Igbo choose not to go along with the new administration, they will suffer. He also warns them that if they ill-treat others, they will be punished. The structure of the entire passage is one in which the District Commissioner seems to be looking down on the clansmen. The District Commissioner has given himself the authority to rule over the entire clan, forcing them to abide by his rules or to pay the consequences.

The District Commissioner’s false sense of superiority leads him to believe that it his duty to civilize the Igbo people, ignorant of the fact that the Igbo are already civilized. Although the white missionaries view the Igbo people as primitive and childlike, the presence of community within the clan proves otherwise. A sense of community is necessary for successful society, and the Igbo people take the notion of total community involvement very seriously. For example, the cow incident in which a cow is let loose in the village, causing a great disturbance, proves that the Igbo society has this sense of community because every woman of the clan is required to help in the chase after the cow. The Igbo people also prove themselves to be more civilized than the whites give them credit for by upholding a society with structure, rules, and accountability. The clan demands a fine to be paid by the owner of the cow, showing that people are held accountable for their actions and that the rules are abided by. The District Commissioner boasts of the new administration’s “court of law where [they] judge cases and administer justice just as it is done in [his] own country.” He seems to think that a sophisticated justice system is a new idea to the Igbo, while, in actuality, they have their own justice system that works in sync with their culture.

Nonetheless, in order to gain a true position of power over the clansmen, the whites have to take power away from the clan. This disempowerment is mainly achieved by dividing the community. Due to the fact that the whites have completely overlooked the presence of community within the clan and convinced themselves that the Igbo are not a civilized people, they are thus able to effectively employ various methods of dividing the clan, which include the use of religion, the “superior” justice system, and an extensive trading system. The destructive effect of the white men’s influence is evident in the actions of the court messengers. The court messengers are very corrupt in their jobs, accepting bribes, stealing, and beating unjustly. These court messengers are actually Africans who have been influenced by the Europeans and convinced to act on their behalf. In essence, the European influence has stripped the court messengers of their own cultures and persuaded them into beating their fellow Africans. The District Commissioner is threatened by the clansmen when they “joined together” as a community to act in ways that went against the interests of the whites. As Obierika so eloquently puts it, “he has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (p. 176). In doing so, they divided any hope of the Igbo surviving the hand of the white man. Once the community of the clan has been destroyed, there is no longer any hope that the clan itself will survive and everything that Okonkwo and the other clansmen live for falls apart.

The Igbo people had all of the aspects that are necessary for a civilization, including community, structure, and a fair justice system. The white missionaries claimed to be bringing civilization to the Igbo tribe, but in the end, they only brought violent beatings, corruption, and lies. The Igbo were not in need of any form of influence or colonization, and the British interference caused the rich culture of the Igbo to become destroyed.

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