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A village in Southeast Nigeria – around 1885

'We will drive out the whites now!'


for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Tom Miller)

Nigeria.

It is night. Okonkwo is already lying on his bamboo bed when he hears the iron gong of the village herald. Tomorrow morning, everyone has to go to the ilo, the big meeting place in the middle of the village. Okonkwo can not sleep anymore out of excitement. Finally, Umuofia, his village, will take action. It is high time! The whites have to be driven out.

Just a few years ago, the first white man appeared in Umuofia. A priest came with a translator telling them that their gods were false. He proclaimed his own god as the only genuine and much more. Most people had to laugh about the strange things he said. However, the priest still acquired some followers. Mostly people who had been cast out of the village and lived in the Evil Forest.


for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Tom Miller)

Nigeria.

After some time, the priest asked the village elders for permission to build a house of worship for his god. They wanted to turn him away but were afraid. They had heard the story of Abama, a village nearby. When a white man arrived there, the oracle told the villagers that the whites would destroy their gods and village life and devour everything, like grasshoppers. Out of fear, they killed him. A few weeks later, some whites, together with a group of native soldiers, came to the village on market day. They killed everyone they saw.

This prompted the village elders to give the priest permission to build a house of prayer for his foreign god. They hoped that would not be harmful. The weaklings from Umuofia who wanted to join in the new religion, could do as they please. In the village, they are useless.
Afterwards, the village life was going on as usual. The men toiled in the cassava fields, the women grew corn and beans. Village festivals went on, girls were married off, the oracle was consulted when someone was very ill, and there was a village meeting when problems arose.


for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Kikuno/IITA)

Cocoyam field in Nigeria.

However, the whites brought not only a new religion, but with it an administration. In a town nearby, they established a court of justice with white judges who didn't understand anything from the village customs. They also established a prison which became full of men who broke the laws of the whites. In the meantime, many villagers started working for the whites as boys or kotmas, court servants, and prison wardens.

Okonkwo sighs deeply, when he thinks about all of it. But fortunately today the gong summons everyone to come to a big village meeting. We will drive out the whites now, before it is too late!

_______________________

Source
In Things Fall Apart (1958), the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe first describes the village life carefully and lovingly. Then, he tells how the first white men arrived and seized control of the country step by step.



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Go to: chronological overview