Things Fall Apart

What is rural life really like in Africa?

This is a book  that was published in 1958 but with it’s help brought Africa global recognition. Steeped in colonial history, Ghana eventually gained independence and both France and Belgium began to understand that colonialism has finally come to an end in the African continent, but unknown to those European imperial powers that had colonised the place, independence began to torment Africans. Several European powers grew deeply interested in the “local power source” they could sense was abound in the African continent then and Achebe’s novel begins at this point in time, where you meet a young man, in a fictional Nigerian town, who suddenly goes from being a farmer to a wrestling champion of his African province.

The young man went by the name of Okonkwo and he was born to a father who, in his eyes, was lazy and he died ten years before fame found Okonkwo. Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, was in heavy debt, and all of his neighbours in some or the other way, was in want of important money from him. Okonkwo had limited forbearance for the tall, sorrow-filled, savage-like, flute-playing and stooped Unoka: whenever his father rarely had money, he would splurge it on palm-wine, drunk from gourds, invite the neighbours and indulge in merrymaking but his happiest days were when two or three moons following the harvest his entourage would bring down the instruments from their fireplace and play it with friends, make music, feast, go from one town market to the other as the sun would shine ever brightly.

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How is Africa’s colonial past in the flesh?

It is pretty clear that Okonkwo never got along with his father or had the desire to reserve kind words about him but the story isn’t about any of that: it is about how Okonkwo threw a fellow dominating wrestler, Amalinze the Cat, from his high horse and won. Amalinze was known as the cat because his back never touched brown earth and it was the most hotly contested battle since the founder of the town conversed with a wild spirit for seven days and seven nights. Amalinze, a smart professional, met his opponent Okonkwo, a slippery fish in water, and in the protagonist’s words, lost to him, in wrestling in a patriarchal and rural democratic town. Although that particular thought sounds so hard to believe when Amalinze seems to be a gifted wrestler, Okonkwo did defeat him in the end in his village surroundings, that magically remains preserved throughout time.

The book is interesting for bringing a correct picture of Africa to the West. Reading the book will enrich your idea of the kind of villages that build up the continent, overwhelmingly, and what life is like for the people who inhabit them. Okonkwo gets famous after he wins against Amalinze, an event that you understand, was more than twenty years ago. A mammoth man, Okonkwo is tall like his father, with bushy eyebrows and a wide nose. Severe and lacking zero tolerance for unsuccessful men, when Okonkwo naps his huge family can sense that he is breathing even though they live in separate village houses.

Stammering slightly, Okonkwo spent his whole childhood looking for a blue kite floating around a clear sky and if he met it, he would ask it if he had brought back any yards of cloth with him. Okonkwo, having grown up in absolute poverty because of his father, had to live a life where he barely ate, with people constantly making fun of him, and growing up exhibiting the same debt-ridden habits of Unoka, except that people trusted him much less than his father, when the question of borrowing even more money was raised. There is a lot of market environment in Things Fall Apart and it is worthy of a read to understand Africa during the 1800s so much better, from the inside.

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Author: Osmi Anannya

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