The Colonization of Africa An introduction to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Scramble for Africa • (1880-1900) - a period of rapid colonization of the African continent by European powers. • By the beginning of the 1880s only a small part of Africa was under European rule, and that area was largely restricted to the coast and a short distance inland along major rivers such as the Niger and the Congo.
What Caused the Scramble to Happen? • There were several factors which created the impetus for the Scramble for Africa, most of these were to do with events in Europe rather than in Africa.
#1 - End of the Slave Trade • Britain had had some success in halting the slave trade around the shores of Africa (Inland the story was different -- Muslim traders from north of the Sahara and on the East Coast still traded, and many local chiefs were reluctant to give up the use of slaves). • Reports of slaving trips and markets were brought back to Europe by various explorers, such as Livingstone, and abolitionists in Britain and Europe were calling for more to be done.
#2 - Exploration • Triggered to a great extent by the creation of the African Association by wealthy Englishmen in 1788 (who wanted someone to 'find' the fabled city of Timbuktu and the course of the Niger River). • As the century moved on, the goal of the European explorer changed, and rather than traveling out of pure curiosity they started to record details of markets, goods, and resources for the wealthy philanthropists who financed their trips.
#3 - Henry Morton Stanley • A naturalized American (born in Wales) who of all the explorers of Africa is the one most closely connected to the start of the Scramble for Africa. • Stanley had crossed the continent and located the 'missing' Livingstone, but he is more infamously known for his explorations on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium. • Leopold hired Stanley to obtain treaties with local chieftains along the course of the River Congo with an eye to creating his own colony (Belgium was not in a financial position to fund a colony at that time). • Stanley's work triggered a rush of European explorers, such as Carl Peters, to do the same for various European countries.
#4 - Capitalism • The end of European trading in slaves left a need for commerce between Europe and Africa. • Explorers located vast reserves of raw materials, they plotted the course of trade routes, navigated rivers, and identified population centers which could be a market for manufactured goods from Europe. • It was a time of plantations and cash crops, dedicating the region's workforce to producing rubber, coffee, sugar, palm oil, timber, etc for Europe. And all the more enticing if a colony could be set up which gave the European nation a monopoly.
#5 Suez Canal • The British wanted to protect the Suez Canal in East Africa along with the route to the east. • Control over the Suez Canal allotted them to have financial superiority and comfort. Britain wanted to control Africa in order to be financially secure. • Opened in November 1869, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigating around Africa or carrying goods overland between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea
Rules for Dividing Up the Continent • The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 laid down ground rules for the further partitioning of Africa. • Navigation on the Niger and Congo rivers was to be free to all, and to declare a protectorate over a region the European colonizer must show effective occupancy and develop a 'sphere of influence'.
Africa – 1890s Black and White Images from the Winterton Collection at Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies Northwestern University
Things Fall Apart • The story of Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart takes place in the Nigerian village of Umuofia in the late 1880s, before missionaries and other outsiders have arrived. • The Ibo clan practices common tribal traditions—worship of gods, sacrifice, communal living, war, and magic. • Leadership is based on a man's personal worth and his contribution to the good of the tribe. Okonkwo stands out as a great leader of the Ibo tribe.
Originally written in English and published in 1958, Things Fall Apart was one of the first African novels to garner worldwide acclaim. • Though mostly fictional, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe claims that the book documents Africa’s spiritual history – the civilized and rich life the Ibo lived before the arrival of Europeans and the ruinous social and cultural consequences that the arrival of European missionaries brought. • Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart as a sharp criticism of imperialism, or the European colonization of countries outside of the European continent (especially Africa and the Americas).
Why Should YOU care? • Ever been afraid that you might turn out like one of your parents? • One of the most fascinating parts of Things Fall Apart comes from watching Okonkwo's ongoing battle against being like his father. Okonkwo doesn’t respect anything about his father, which is a bit extreme. • It’s common for people to fear being like their parents, and overcompensate by behaving in the completely opposite way. Okonkwo, however, is an example of what happens to a person who concerns himself more with avoiding his father's traits than with living his own, independent life.
Thematic Subjects • Custom and Tradition • Choices and Consequences • Alienation and Loneliness • Betrayal • Change and Transformation • Good and Evil • Culture Clash
Nigerian Independence • British colonial rule in Nigeria lasted only fifty-seven years, from 1903 to 1960. Although Nigerians had long called for self-rule, it was not until the end of World War II that England began heeding these calls.. • On October 1, 1960, Nigeria attained full status as a sovereign state and a member of the British Commonwealth. But under the Constitution of 1960 the Queen of England was still the head of state. She remained the commander- in-chief of Nigeria's armed forces, and the Nigerian navy operated as part of Britain's Royal Navy. Nigerians felt frustrated by the implication that they were the subjects of a monarch living over 4,000 miles away. In 1963, five years after the publication of Achebe's novel, a new constitution would replace the British monarch with a Nigerian president as head of state in Nigeria.