Chinua Achebe
Simplified Map of the Peoples in Nigeria. Source
Blue Bar

Chinua Achebe (1930-) is one of Africa's most important writers. His novel, Things Fall Apart, first published in London in 1958, has sold over eight million copies in fifty different languages (Random House Teacher's Guide).

There have been societies and cultures inhabiting the region of Nigeria in West Africa for over two thousand years now. The Igbo (Ibo)--speaking the Igbo language--are an ethnic group living mainly in the southern and southeastern parts of present-day Nigeria. Before the British arrived, the Igbo never really established a centralized kingdom. Instead, they existed as loose groupings of independent tribes. In the nineteenth century, the British became increasingly active in the Niger delta region and eventually reached into the interior of Nigeria--the lure of palm oil. At that time, Christian missionaries descended on the area, and most of the Igbo converted. (This is described by Achebe in the novel.)

Achebe himself was raised in a Christian, Igbo family in southern Nigeria and grew up influenced by both traditional Igbo culture and British Christianity--not to mention the British language. By all accounts, he was an exceptional student and eventually attended Nigeria's first university, University College (now the University of Ibadan).

Some of my points about Things Fall Apart

  • Achebe wrote the novel (and all of his other novels) in English, and he has been criticized for that. Achebe acknowledged that there are pros and cons associated with his use of English (a "language of colonizers"), but he has defended the use of English as the only way to reach across language barriers.
  • Note how Achebe describes the insidious destruction of traditional Ibo culture occurs at the hands of the British. It was not disciplined, British riflemen slaughtering hundreds of Zulu warriors at the defense of Rorke's Drift mission, nor was it the hand of disease (measles, smallpox, etc) as it was in the Americas.
  • One aspect of the British colonial process was the way that the British always found some element of the native society that was willing to be co-opted into supporting and cooperating with the British in setting up a colonial regime. This happened time and time again around the world.
  • If you don't get the irony of the Commissioner's proposed title for his book at the end of the novel, then you have missed much of the irony of what Achebe has written.

Let me say something further about Nigeria, which has remained the setting for Achebe's later novels. The country's history since independence in 1960 has been rather checkered, to say the least. Soon after the British granted independence, tensions flared between the different ethnic groups in the country. The tensions were partly a result of the artificial administrative and territorial divisions that had been established in Nigeria by the British. (This reminds me of what happened in South Asia with the independence and Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.) In Nigeria, there have been military dictatorships, civil war, ethnic violence, and the Biafran Civil War. In May 1967, the southeastern region of Nigeria seceded from Nigeria to form the Republic of Biafra. The Nigerian army (with British support) attacked Biafra to re-integrate it into the country. Achebe became a firm supporter of Biafra, but the secession was not a success, and in 1970 the war ended with the region again part of Nigeria.

After the Biafran civil war, Achebe moved, with his family, to the United States where he taught for a while at the University of Massachusetts. After returning to Nigeria to teach at the University of Nigeria, he eventually returned to the US in 1990 to teach first at Bard College and, in 2009, at Brown University.

I have some resources for further study listed below.

Blue Bar

Information about Nigeria

Information about Igbo (Ibo) history and language

Information about Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart Study Information:


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