The Continuing Colonialism

Jason M. Smith '94 (English 32, Fall '90)

Although the mythical country of Kangan had shed its colonial bonds, the influence of its former British oppressors still remained. The political gap created by the departure of the white man was quickly filled by a government dominated by militant, totalitarian leaders equally as oppressive as the white colonists. Like their former masters, the elite, rich black leaders taunt and look down upon the poor people they rule. Gazing upon the masses standing in blistering noontime heat awaiting the public executions, Ikem wonders how the common man can bear to see shaded seats reserved for the VIP's remain wholly vacant. The situation evokes the imperialist rhetoric for the oppression of the poor, a rhetoric adapted by the new native government:
You see, they are not in the least like ourselves. They don't need and can't use the luxuries that you and I must have. They have the animal capacity to endure the pain of, shall we say, domestication. The very words the white master had said in his times about the black race as a whole. Now we say them about the poor. (p. 37)

Despite the changes in the government, the essence of the British attitude remained. The British philosophy and lifestyle continued because the country's new leaders were products of the imposed European culture. Ikem, Chris, Sam, and Beatrice were all educated in British schools, and they modelled their lives and beliefs after the lifestyle and philosophy they had been taught, the European British lifestyle. Through these characters' flawless English Achebe subtly underscores their British backgrounds. These characters close affiliation with the white man results brings them respect and maintains the wide gap established by the British between the government and the common people. The Attorney General's comments to Sam reflect this separation:

As for those like me, Your Excellency, poor dullards who went to bush grammar schools, we know our place, we know those better than ourselves when we see them. We have no problem worshipping a man like you. Honestly I don't. You went to Lord Lugard College where half of your teachers were Enlgishmen. (p. 22)

The connections to the British do not end with education; the new black leaders also seek to mimic the British life style. The close relationship Chris and Ikem share with Mad Medico, the only white character, illustrates their desire to emulate the British. Ikem comments, during his first interaction with the Brit, "We were enslaved originally by Gordon's Dry Gin. All gestures of resistance are now too late and too empty. Gin it shall be forever and ever, Amen." (p. 49) One senses he believes the British tradition has permanently permeated the Kangan elite culture and his life. However, of the three former school boy chums, it is Sam who especially admired his European predecessors:

He was fascinated by the customs of the English, especially their well-to-do classes and enjoyed playing at their foibles. When he told me about his elegant pipe which he had spent a whole morning choosing in a Mayfair shop I could see that he was not taking himself seriously at all . . . Of course one may well question the appropriateness of these attitudes in a Head of State. (p. 45)

Sam, however, is the only one to continue his worship of the British, and their intolerant, despotic rule. Ikem, transformed by the visit of the taxi cab drivers, later feels a new connection to the common people and rationalizes: "It [the cause of the unsuccessful government] is the failure of our rulers to re-establish vital inner links with the poor and dispossessed of this country, with the bruised heart that throbs painfully at the core of the nation's being." (p. 130) Thereafter Ikem seeks to bridge the gap between the rulers and the people by helping the people of his drought wrought homeland, the Abazon. After Ikem's death Chris undergoes a similar transformation, dying attempting to prevent the rape of peasant girl.

Achebe seemingly contradicts himself by having the characters who emulated the British lifestyle, Ikem, Chris, and Sam, murdered. The murder of Sam suggests the people do not endorse the British style of totalitarian rule, but the deaths of Chris and Ikem, new leaders of the people, suggest that the country is also not yet ready for democracy. The three murders reflect the political chaos of backward Kangan. Achebe, however, ends on a hopeful note with the birth of Elewa and Ikem's child. Named Amaechina, "May the path never close," one hopes the child will continue on the path followed by Ikem, the path to establishing an equitable government.

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Achebe OV Anthills OV