The Process of Colonialism: Narratives from Achebe and Boyden
The process of colonialism is the ongoing eradication of old practices and the exploitation of new practices, and often entails settlement into a foreign land, the introduction of new cultural practices, and the enforcement of religious practices. In the novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe uses the British colonization of Western Nigeria to demonstrate how one cannot win the power struggle between tradition and modernization. Likewise, Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda uses the French colonization of New France to demonstrate how those who reject and those who accept the reality of change are both condemned to death. Although the internal and external conflicts that colonialism causes differ between the characters of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Boyden’s The Orenda, both works use the process of colonialism to orchestrate each person’s demise. Whether one chooses to advocate for, resist against, or submit to the imposition of new culture, death is inevitable during the processes of colonialism.
Things Fall Apart demonstrates the process of colonization through the British settlement in the foreign land that is Umofia, the establishment of the English language, and the enforcement of the Christian religion. This settlement creates a disturbance between the people Umofia and the British. As the head commissioner confronts the clan leaders about their actions, he explains that, “I have brought you here because you joined together to molest others, to burn down people’s houses and their place of worship. That must not happen in the dominion of the queen… I have decided that you will pay a fine of two hundred cowries. ” (Achebe 194). Between the Umofian’s attack on the church and the British’s demand for money, it is obvious that there is conflict between those who resist the British colonization and those who advocate for it. The indigenous people believe that all aspects of colonialism are an evil that must be rooted out of their land. Protesters of the Igbo ancestral spirituality, like the head commissioner of the newly established church, are those who believe that “[the British] have brought this peaceful administration [to Umofia] because… it is the most powerful in the world” (Achebe 194). Not especially different from Crow’s character in The Orenda, the head commissioner defends his religious beliefs in the face of death. As a representative authority figure of his faith, “the [head commissioner is] fearless and [stands] his ground…” (Achebe 204) when challenged by the Umofian clan. During the struggle between religion and spiritual power, the head commissioner chooses to stand for his religion. However, “this is useless” (Achebe 204). In the head commissioner’s attempt to stand for the imposition of religion during the process of colonialism, his decision not to surrender to the indigenous peoples is the ultimate cause of his death.
In a manner similar to that of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Boyden’s The Orenda uses the French Jesuit missionaries to demonstrate the commitment and faith one must have in order to die for their religion. In this novel, the focus of the French colonization of New France is the imposition of religion on the Natives. During the process of colonialism and the imposition of religion, Crow’s death is organized by his refusal to commit blasphemy. As Crow settles in the Huron village, learns the Native tongue, and dwells with those who are skeptical of his beliefs, he does not experience any conflict with himself or the principles of Christianity. His resistance against all other spiritual customs goes as far as making the declaration, “I will die for [God] if that is what is requested of me” (Boyden 28). Although Crow may not feel any spiritual conflict, it is clear that the conflict brought by colonialism lies between the Jesuit missionaries and the Haudenosaunee tribe. Crow’s resistance against the Native’s way of life is most evident when Crow is kidnapped and tortured by the Haudenosaunee and he denies the opportunity to live. Given the choice to abandon the religious aspect of colonialism and “deny the story that when [he] is born, [he] must have water poured on his head to protect [him] … [and] deny the story that to speak to the great voice, [he] must wear a bright rope around [his] neck” (Boyden 477), Crow refuses. When presented with the option to submit to the lifestyleand live, Crow denies and is tortured to death.
Not only does the process of colonialism orchestrate the death of those who stand for the imposition of religion, it also causes the death of those who struggle with and eventually succumb to processes of colonialism. In the novel Things Fall Apart, Enoch submits to the process of colonialism by choosing to move into the British village, learning English, and converting to Christianity. Throughout the novel, Enoch is referred to as “the outsider who [weeps] louder than the bereaved” (Achebe 185). His devotion to his newfound his faith has grown greater than the faith of those who forced religion on him. The processes of colonialism in this novel creates conflict “between the church and clan in Umofia…” (Achebe 186). There is the option to conform to the British standard of living, join the Christian church, and live in the white man’s village, or to resist and continue the Igbo’s spiritually oriented way of life. In the Umofian culture, “one of the greatest crimes a man could commit was to unmask an egwugwu in public, or to say or to do anything which might reduce its immortal prestige in the eyes of the uninitiated. And this is exactly what Enoch did” (Boyden 186). Enoch’s convert to act of defiance against the clan’s ancestral gods proves that he has spiritually grown out of his old beliefs and has chosen to conform to Christianity. When the power struggle between the Christian leaders and the eqwugwu intensifies, the Egwugwu defend their land by burning down the church while Enoch is inside praying. In the British’s process of colonialism, the conflict between the newly established Christian church and the traditional Igbo clan forces characters to either submit to or resist against the imposition of religion. The cause of Enoch’s death is his bold act defiance against old spirituality and his submission to the new way of life.
The submission to a newly introduced religion during colonialism is the cause of Delilah’s death, but unlike Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, this processes causes internal conflict rather than external. In The Orenda, the Jesuits missionaries remove the Native’s customs in order to “bring Jesus into the lives of [the Natives]” (Boyden 28). In order to eliminate the indigenous people spiritual customs, Crow promises that those who convert to Christianity are rewarded with eternal life. This creates a spiritual ultimatum in the plot, either to carry on with the Native lifestyle or to achieve eternal life in Christianity. In a departure from Things Fall Apart, his aspect in the processes of colonization causes internal conflict. Even though Delilah believes she has the opportunity to “go directly to [God] and live in paradise forever” (Boyden 212), she also fears that she will be alone in death and “separated from everyone forever” (Boyden 212) in the afterlife. Delilah succumbs to the Jesuit missionaries’ imposition of religion and agrees to “try and do what [the Jesuit missionaries do], to try and live the way [they] tell [her] to live, in the one called Christ” (Boyden 212). In order to fulfill this new principle and be rewarded with eternal life, one must be free of sin and die in Christ. To ensure one ascends into heaven, it would be optimum for one to die after committing themselves into their religious belief. In the novel, Isaac agrees that “it’s best for [Delilah] to die now” (Boyden 462), directly after participating in the Lord’s Supper before she “acts for her oki” (Boyden 462) and commits another sin which is why he takes the initiative to poison her. In the processes of colonialism, the missionaries remove the concept of okies and instill the concept of Christianity into the Native culture. The decision to live by traditional spiritual belief or by new religion creates internal conflict within Delilah. Like Enoch’s character in Things Fall Apart, Delilah’s final decision to submit herself and live in Christianity is the ultimate cause of her death.
Through Okonkwo’s character in the novel Thing Fall Apart, Achebe exhibits how no matter how strong one resists the process of colonialism, it will be the cause of one’s death. Okonkwo’s opinion on the British colonization is clear when he addresses the people of Umofia at the elders’ meeting. He explains that
[The British] says that our customs are bad; and our brothers who have taken up this religion say our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our brothers have turned against us? 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 176).
Like Boyden demonstrates in his novel The Orenda, the process of colonialism creates conflict and raises the ultimatum to either submit or resist the British settlement and imposition of religion. Okonkwo chooses not to accept the reality of change and it is clear that Umofia’s surrender to the life that colonialism will bring disgusts him. In this novel, Achebe demonstrates that one who protests the imposition of religion cannot be part of a community that succumbs to this imposition. The British colonization of Umofia is the ultimate cause of Okonkwo’s death. His suicide is an act of resistance to being part of a community that succumbs to the change that colonialism brings.
Recalling Okonkwo’s character development, the process of colonialism is something that does not appeal to some of characters in The Orenda. Like the majority of the major characters in both novels, the decision to resist change is the cause of their deaths. During process of colonialism, lifestyle changes such as sobriety and celibacy are encouraged by the Jesuit missionaries. As a new convert, the internal conflict between wanting to follow both the principles of Christianity and the Iroquois customs, causes great havoc for Aaron. Aaron’s first act against the Christian religion is his sexual infidelity. After the fact that Aaron has been participating in the raping of the Iroquois girls, Crow ensures that Aaron and “those men punished severely for this terrible sin. The great voice will punish them for eternity” (Boyden 333). At this point, it is evident that Aaron has chosen to divert away from the Christian religion. When told to stop drinking, Aaron argues the fact that “[he] need[s] it” (Boyden 364). His need for alcohol proves that Aaron is unable to commit to the new lifestyle and is choosing to continue with the Native lifestyle. Like Delilah, the idea of converting to Christianity troubles Aaron. When Aaron voices his feelings about the concept he says, “I want to be with my family when I die….Father has told me that I will not see my loved ones when I die, that I will go to a good place but will be without my people”(Boyden 346). The idea of spending eternity alone in the afterlife is yet another reason to resist against the Christian religion. In his novel, Joseph Boyden establishes that “there is no middle” (Boyden 89) between the resistance and submission of colonialism. Like Delilah and Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, Aaron struggles the imposition of religion during the process of colonialism. When Aaron commits sexual and relapses into alcoholism, he ultimately refuses the Jesuit lifestyle. In contrast to Okonkwo’s approach in Things Fall Apart is the process of colonialism that causes disgust of Aaron’s own actions rather than the actions of his tribe members. Similarly, his final decision to resist Christian life is by escaping life itself and committing suicide.
In Things Fall Apart and The Orenda, it is clear that the processes of colonialism orchestrates each character’s death. Like the head commission who stands for the imposition of religion and Crow, who rejects the opportunity to live because of his beliefs, those who advocate for the imposition of religion during the processes of religion die. Through Enoch’s character, a man who was once a worshiper of ancestral gods but became strong in the Christian faith and Delilah’s character who converts to Christianity despite fear of the afterlife, Achebe and Boyden show that submission to the reality of change during colonialism will also lead to death. Both the characters Okonkwo, who refuses to be part of a clan that chooses modernization over and Aaron, who refuses to conform to the standards of Christianity die as an act of resistance against colonialism. Through these two novels, Achebe and Boyden prove that colonialism kills; whether this conflict is internal and external, it will inevitably cause death within the old order.