The Evolving Postcolonial: Conflict as a Mechanism of Change

Giridhar Mallya '99, English 27, Brown University, Autumn 1997

Using the term postcolonial as an adjective to describe a former colony that has completely separated itself from the influences of its former colonizer implies that postcoloniality cannot exist, for a colonized place and its institutions, a people and their lifestyles, adapt to colonial influences and may continue to adapt to those influences that persist. In contrast, using the term to describe a place and its people affected by the institutions and lifestyles of the colonizer implies that postcoloniality comes into being not after the colonizer has departed but rather as soon as he arrives. These two definitions of postcolonial together describe the ways African authors conceive of the term. A close analysis of the texts, Aké, A Forest of Flowers, and Anthills of the Savannah, shows that the authors write at a time when the colonial structure ceases to exist yet about a time when the colonial influences that persist were established through the colonial structure.

In the autobiographical Aké, written about thirty-five years after its occurrence and about twenty years after Nigerian independence, Wole Soyinka recounts his years as a child in the town which provides the name and setting for this novel and also acts as a participant in cultural, economic, and moral changes precipitated by pervasive colonial rule. In A Forest of Flowers, which was completed in 1986, Ken Saro-Wiwa utilizes the many narrative voices of the Nigerian town Dukana and its surrounding regions to portray the diversity of individual and community struggles with the invasion of traditional life by Western colonial influences. Within a year of the previous work, Chinua Achebe wrote his Anthills of the Savannah, a novel which details one cycle of political rule by Nigerian officials within a colonial hierarchy and the tensions experienced by these officials and their relations when independence movements threaten to separate colonized from colonizer. Soyinka, Saro-Wiwa, and Achebe view the postcolonial era as one which began when Nigeria was first colonized and which continues to exist.

Having defined the bounds of the term postcolonial, one must determine how the works of these authors utilize such a construct. The idea that the postcolonial involves a collision of two sets of values�notions about what modes of living are and are not worth preserving and promoting�implies that individuals and communities must resolve the conflicts inherent to this situation. These authors present a range of resolutions to these conflicts with characters that represent the prevailing attitudes of different groups within a community, those of unusual yet believable individuals, and their own attitudes as men who have dealt or continue to deal with such conflicts. Since conflict defines the postcolonial, resolutions and reformulated conflicts dictate its future definition. Therefore, conflicts and their resolutions enable the author to create, and the reader to discover, the nature of the evolving postcolonial.

A young Wole continually redefines his postcolonial reality with the stories he creates that seem to explain every contradiction that confronts him. When the teacher uses the big rock behind the school, his "own very secret habitat", as an object of comparison to describe the size of the whale that swallowed Jonah, Wole claims that she has "intruded into a private abode." Although he must deal with "the passing of a unique confidant," Wole thereafter addresses the rock as Jonah, a name which reminds him of all the rock means to him. (Aké, 64) Similarly, characters in A Forest of Flowers and Anthills of the Savannah must deal with conflicting realities. Ezi from "The Stars Below" and Ikem both realize that their positions within the political hierarchy inhibit them from directly connecting with their fellow Nigerians in less privileged classes yet still hope to join with the masses in a movement against the colonizer. This issue of disunity seems to be the conflict that looms within all elite educated Nigerians that desire political upheaval. Upon deep introspection, they discover spiritual visions that resolve this conflict. Ezi sees that "he [i]s only one of the crowd pressing forward with one ensure that they all�the beggars, the lame, the deaf, the dumb, the weak and the strong alike�arrive there safely" (A Forest of Flowers, 106). Ikem resolves "for good or ill" to remain himself but with a "deliberate readiness now to help and to be helped." (Anthills of the Savannah, 131) With these resolutions, the characters have redefined their postcolonial reality and hope to redefine that of the future.

The postcolonial as defined through its conflicts and resolutions also enables the author to leave the reader with a final situation that will dictate the evolution of a system of values for the future beyond the text. Aké and Anthills of the Savannah dramatically climax with the women�s tax revolt and the political uprising initiated by Ikem. However, Soyinka does not reveal the result of the revolt and Achebe tells of the crushing of the uprising. The plots seem to have died, but these abrupt resolutions carry far-reaching implications. In both works, the indigenous people reformulate their conceptions of postcolonial community. The women�s revolt led by Wild Christian and Beere and supported by all the women of Egbaland brings together women of all socioeconomic classes in hopes of creating a society in which men and women enjoy the same rights. This movement attacks both the colonial regime and the social structure it helped to establish and transforms the traditional hierarchy of gender. Similarly, the deaths of Chris, Ikem, and Sam, bring together a group of people that had once been separated by class, religion, and gender. In the naming ceremony for Elewa�s baby, this group of fortune and misfortune calls for the creation of a new community to deal with the new reality collectively. Saro-Wiwa also presents a vision of a hybrid ideal as Papa, the eighty-year-old Coca-Cola dealer who shuns all automotive modes of transportation, in "A Legend on our Street." Papa has resolved his conflict between the traditional and colonial conceptions of identity and value.

The limitations of the postcolonial resonate less clearly. Whereas the three authors in the cited texts have criticized colonizers for their disrespect for and disregard of traditional values and questioned indigenous peoples for their lack of resistance to colonial influence, they also comment on some aspects of precolonial life. Because of the lack of context, these comments prove difficult to interpret. In Anthills of the Savannah, Achebe notes the brutality and furtiveness with which Abazon was most recently captured by Nigerian tribal forces. Similarly, Wole provides a graphic description of the stoning of Sorowanke in Ake�s town square. Saro-Wiwa devotes two entire stories to the seemingly senseless killings of the Mad Beggar and Nedam. Although these references seem to question the ethics of indigenous communities, the postcolonial paradigm fails to provide any clarity.

Authors writing postcolonial literature define the term postcolonial by their writing. To understand the message of these authors, the reader must identity the particular definition of the term. In the case of Soyinka�s Aké, Saro-Wiwa�s A Forest of Flowers, and Achebe�s Anthills of the Savannah, the reader should view the postcolonial as that which puts two sets of values, colonial and traditional, in conflict and by means of its resolution defines the new conflict and the new postcolonial reality.

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Ake OV

Last Modified: 19 March, 2002