Impact of European Imperialism on Ibo Society
The onset of the European nations’ imperialistic activities during the colonial period led to the emancipation of significant impacts on the African nations’ societal values. In the West African context, European imperialism had one the most fundamental effects especially in Nigeria.
As a result, Chinua Achebe, a literalist emerged as a centre of criticism focusing on the changes that have occurred in the Ibo, which was a domineering ethnic tribe in Nigeria’s geographical setup. In essence, European imperialism led to the occurrence of social disintegration, development of entrepreneurship instincts, weakening of the Ibo traditional political hierarchy, and replacement of the Ibo traditional religion.European imperialism led to the formal disintegration of the Ibo social norms. This is revealed through the irony presented in Achebe’s view on the well calculated tactics employed by the European’s entrance into the Ibo social setting. Achebe narrates that, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion.
We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (Achebe, 152). Religion was essentially used as a tool to change the people of Ibo’s previously stable interaction, which was strongly embedded on their cultural structure. As a result, there was a significant impact on the people’s belief systems, which had a strong influence on the people of Ibo’s cultural expression. El-Dessouky admits that, “Okonkwo’s tragedy described in Achebe’s novel is thus the tragedy of the Ibo culture itself that falls apart under the new dominating white wave.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith are both instruments for this destruction” (El-Dessouky, 106). This serves to expose the level of penetration of European imperialism through use of representatives who fostered the establishment of a new social dimension.The people of Ibo acquired beneficial entrepreneurial instincts as a positive factor emanating from the significant influence of European imperialism. This is because European imperialism led to the development of new forms of trade that were initially nonexistent under the traditional Ibo establishment.
In the ‘Arrow of God’ Achebe narrates that, “Unachukwu was a carpenter, the only one in those parts. He had learnt the trade under the white missionaries who built the Onitsha Industrial Mission” (Achebe, 48). The development of the self inspiring entrepreneurial skills can largely be attributed to the informal training sessions that were offered to the Ibo. In a predominantly interdependent society where people took close concern of the welfare of their close associations, there was a sudden change of attitude towards the acquaintance of self reliance traits among the people of Ibo. Achebe further adds that, “As the only carpenter in the neighbourhood Moses Unachukwu built almost single-handed the new church in Umuaro.
Now he was not only a lay reader but a pastor warden although Umuaro did not have a pastor yet, only a catechist” (Achebe, 49). In essence, the new entrepreneurial approach led to the strengthening of the feeling of belongingness as those who had acquired certain skills sought to extend similar benefits at the community level. This led to the development of new economic trends that became essential to the Ibo community for survival.The entrance of Europeans led to the weakening of the traditional Ibo political hierarchy that was essentially embedded in the existing traditional cultural associations. “The political functioning of the tribe was alien to the British colonists, who believed that all civilizations progressed as theirs had from tribes through monarchy and finally to parliamentary government” (El-Dessouky, 106). Initially, when the European colonialists set foot among the Ibo, they expected to interact positively with the traditional hierarchies.
Specifically, when the British missionaries arrived in Mbanta, they had high expectations of meeting a ruling tribal king (Achebe, 138). The lack of a ruling king meant to the Europeans that there was no central power wielding control among the Ibo people. This fundamentally led to the European’s formation of new centers of power in the name of district commissioners and court messengers who were not derived from the existing traditional government. “These court messengers..
.were greatly hated in Umuofia because they were foreigners and also arrogant and high-handed” (Achebe, 160). As a result, the traditional political structure among the Ibo was slowly overridden by the new structures despite the fact that the people did not welcome them. In the end, a forceful transition took place among the people of Ibo leading to the formation of a new political representative system.The promotion and teaching of European values embedded in Christianity led to the replacement of the traditional religion due to the adoption of Christianity. This is primarily because the traditional religion had elements, which had a direct conflict with Christianity.
Achebe remarks that, “He saw things as black and white. And black was evil. He saw the world as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in mortal combat with sons of darkness. He spoke in his sermons about sheep and goats and about wheat and tares. He believed in slaying the prophet of Baal” (Achebe, 130).
Hence, the Europeans approach was to project the image of the traditional Ibo religion as a tainted one. As a result, the people of Ibo took the misconceptions as real and slowly gave up their traditional beliefs due to their ignorance. Achebe observes that, “Mr. Smith was greatly distressed by the ignorance which many of his flock showed even in such things as the Trinity and the Sacraments. It only showed that they were seeds sown on a rocky soil. Mr.
Brown had though about nothing but numbers. He should have known that the kingdom of God did not depend on large crowds. Our Lord Himself stressed the importance of fewness” (Achebe, 169). The adoption of the concept of trinity into the Ibo religious context elementally saw practices like belief in the dead fade away. Eventually, this led to a positive impact with regard to civilization of the Ibo people. European imperialism essentially led to the occurrence of social disintegration, development of entrepreneurship instincts, weakening of the Ibo traditional political hierarchy, and replacement of the Ibo traditional religion.
These changes eventually led to a significant impact on some of unique elements that defined the Ibo way of life. More specifically, there were changes seen in the mode of interaction among the community members. These were largely attributed to the incorporation of the concept of trinity into the traditional religion through missionary teachings; learning new forms of trade and specialization; adoption of a new leadership/governing system, for instance, court clerks; and the modernization of the local culture leading to new social norms.