When you live in a world that is caught up in a never-ending rat-race, you find a book like ‘Things Fall Apart’, a nice little escape from what they call reality! After all, as Nabokov put it to us in ‘Lolita’, ‘reality’ is ‘one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes’.
This book was my first exposure to African literature. And if this story is anything to go by, I would be hunting for my next book on the African Writers Series soon! I find the need to state the fact that I ordered for the book a day or two before the author Chinua Achebe departed.
If my experiences with my friends of different nationalities have taught me anything at all, it has been that, at the end of the day, humans are all the same in their hopes, dreams and fears. This story of Okonkwo only goes on to reaffirm my faith in this.
The story is set in one of the nine villages in Umuofia in Nigeria. It offers a peek into the lives of the ethnic groups in Africa; an exotic group of people who one readily terms as primitive. As the story progresses, we see the English come in and set up churches and try to establish a political structure complete with a white District Commissioner and all!
If Achebe had a ‘moral of the story’ in mind, it would probably have been that, no two cultures are similar but that does not necessarily mean that one is better than the other. The story also brings out the fundamental flaw of Christianity that I could never really reconcile with ~ its outright abnegation of all other religions.
So, maybe some of the practices of the people of Umuofia were plain superstitious, but that does not mean that you go to them and ask them to forego all that they lived by and held dear and give them a new religion and a political system and feel better about yourself! You see the wisdom of the members of the tribe in a conversation between Mr. Brown (a white missionary) and Akunna (a villager), where Akunna all but convinces Mr. Brown that their religion and faith was equally reasonable.
At the end of the story, the turn of events leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. You wish that the English had seen sense and stopped preaching and forcing their system and belief on the rest of the world. ‘Secularism’ stems from the idea that man should be free to practice the religion of his choice. Faith and cultural practices are very personal matters, and one should not hinder into another’s affairs regarding religion to state what is right or wrong. That way, it was not really ‘White man’s burden’ as much as, the white man was a burden to the rest of the world!