Week 9: Colonization and (when) Things Fall Apart

In his TED talk Chris Abani says “Language complicates things; we often think that language mirrors the world in which we live. I find that’s not true. Language actually makes the world in which we live”

Do you agree? I’m on the fence, I find that this would be situational, if not a matter of perception. I can see where one may infer that language doesn’t always portray a particular world as it truly is, because that would differ based on the one giving us the particular language. But, how would language make “the world in which we live”? Does language deserve that much credit? Or is it that there is a universal language that does indeed shape us and world we live in? There is no denying that language is important; it’s how we learn of faraway places and people we’ve never experienced ourselves. But whose language are we learning from?

When I hear the word Africa the words that come to mind are: Unknown, deadly, culturally rich, resilient, beauty, spears, untamed wild, and escape.

 

 

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I’m okay with my list, I don’t know much about Africa, and what I do know I’ve read from the prospective of others. I can safely say that the day I read Heart of Darkness is the day I started questioning my education. Why is this a required piece? I won’t dare to not admit to Conrad’s talent as a writer, but why do I want to sit and analyze the droll and racist ramblings of a man of his time?

 

“I had no idea of the conditions, he [the harlequin] said: these heads were the heads of rebels. I shocked him excessively by laughing. Rebels! What would be the next definition I was to hear? There had been enemies, criminals, workers—and these were rebels. Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to me on their sticks.” -Joseph Conrad in “Heart of Darkness”

 

Good book, bad representation.

 

 

Chinua Achebe’s book “Things Fall Apart” was rather entertaining and enlightening. I’m not much a fan of the writing style, but I enjoyed what I learned from the novel. I mean, yes, it was a sad novel. It was like a domino effect of bad things constantly happening one after the other.

A domino effect of tragedy.

Okonkwo is by far my favorite character. Mostly because it is from his struggle that I gained one of the most important lesson of the novel; what is cowardice? What is strength?

Okonkwo was known as a great and respected leader in his tribe. Doing all that was expected, and more, at a young age. All driven to escape being compared to his father. By circumstances of -their- life Okonkwo adopts two children from a neighboring town, one of which was Ikemefuna. A boy who is later sentenced to death and murdered…with the help of the man he loved as a father, and worse, a man who claimed to love his as a son: Okonkwo.

The novel from there spirals into Okonkwo’s life of unfortunate events; accidental murder -not to be confused with the intentional one-, exile, colonization, loss of his son to Christianity, imprisonment, murder again, and finally suicide. Quite the life. I found it incredibly ironic that Okonkwo was beside himself to not end up like his “coward and lazy” father, but at the end ended up being someone of worse character; a coward with no regard for loyalty or love or strength to do what was right.

Intriguing was the role colonization played in the novel as well. For the tribes in Achebe’s novel colonization wasn’t about civilized living or correcting “savagery” but, rather, it was about strangers from afar imposing their lifestyle, forcibly.

I think this is where language plays an important role, but more so: Mr. Meanen was my 8th grade language arts teacher and I remember him making us chant “know your source. Know your source. Know your source” over and over and over. Until we learned to know our source.

I remember days when I was taught Heart of Darkness, and more infuriatingly, days where I was taught about colonization. Colonization was painted as a favor the colonized did for those who didn’t know any “better.”

These days I am after the story of the hunted, rather than that of the hunter. I truly want to understand the hunt.

 

chinua-achebe-quote

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1 Comment

  1. Awesome post, really enjoyed it. The question of language constructing the world we live in is interesting when I think about the many ways in which the European claimed these African tribes were different. Most of the customs, traditions and political systems that they brought imposed of these tribes were those which they believed them not to have. In their mind they were savages, but in reality most of these things already existed in the culture, just under a different name, in a different language. So yes, I agree with you, it’s a little difficult to peg Abani’s statements as true, but, for me, they definitely kind of help to make sense of the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

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