Taking a glimpse into the lives of natives from the Ibo society in Africa, including villages such as Umuofia, the high regard which is held for traditions is quite evident. It was a way of life. Religion was something that was taken very seriously, regarded as sacred; it helped define many of their customs. These customs were undoubtedly understood throughout the village, and followed without question. With this kind of structured society the specific outcome for any turn of events was made clear, the future was made certain – until a new religion was unexpectedly introduced by the Europeans. The white man’s beliefs flooded the land and changed the course of the forthcoming within their society.
The invasion of this new way of life brought about changes, both positive and negative, to the Ibo culture. After the Europeans learned more about the culture of how the Africans worked, they built up a school and hospital in hopes to educate the people and create potential leaders. Here, both young and old were taught to read and write, and the results were quickly evident. Court messengers, clerks and even teachers arose from the educated. The schools expanded in other regions also bringing with them the church and religion. Since faith was the foundation of their education, those who attended the school were taught the way of the white man, including their beliefs, which helped to spread this new form of religion – Christianity.
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A certain stability was also derived from this new education. “If Umuofia failed to send her children to the school, strangers would come from other places to rule them.” (Achebe, p 181) Knowledge gained would help the people protect themselves against any outsiders. It would give them a better understanding on how to defend themselves both physically and as a people. Since they were a culture based almost solely on what was known to them from past experiences, and being unsure of the outside, they would have had no defense against any intruders coming into their land. Examples of this are highly evident in the case of the white man coming in. The introduction of such a religion also brought about many “personal” changes, good and bad, to the people of this area.
Equality was something unperceived by the Africans. They had a certain standard for living. Some people were considered outcasts by society and forbidden fellowship with the free man; twins were given up to the Evil Forest for death and thought of as evil. The white man, however, brought with him more of an open-minded sense of acceptance to all people.
Those who were unaccepted were taken in; those who were given up for dead were rescued. While this may not have made a real impact on those who led a “normal” life because this way of hospitality was not forced upon them, it did alter and even save the lives of those who were converted. Primarily, the first to heed the white man’s offer were those who had nothing to loose but could only gain from such changes, the poor, the title less, and socially unacceptable. As the word spread, however, even respected men and women turned over to this new lifestyle. Over time, as more and more of the clansmen turned to this faith, the society outlawed anyone who followed the white man’s ways. They were “excluded from the life and privileges of the clan,” (Achebe, p 159) including being restricted from areas such as the stream for retrieving water, the quarry for dirt, and even the market place.
Such measures had never before been taken. In addition to the tension introduced to society, strain was very real within the family as well. A man’s achievements defined who he was and how prosperous his future would be. For someone to throw away such a potential and follow this new way of uncertainty was looked upon as feeble. A strong man would be able to fend for himself and be tough. However, someone turning to God as a place of condolence for the pain of life was considered weak and even perceived as a disappointment to his family.
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Along with their religion the foreigners brought with them their form of government as well. This new legal system protected those who followed their beliefs. To uphold this, a new prison housed many prisoners who had “offended against the white man. Some of these prisoners had thrown away their twins and some had molested the Christians.” (Achebe, p 180-1) Although some of their punishments were for what they would consider a custom, there were powerless to fight their convictions. The white man even overruled the punishments decided by the Ibo culture. For manslaughter, it was customary that the accused was sent to exile, but the new way was set to execution.
Although there was no superiority in this changed law over the prior standards, the missionaries believed the original way to be inferior and insisted that everyone follow their new principles. These two groups of groups fell into an uneasy truce. Throughout this, the white man was still suffocating any existing hints of the Ibo culture. All hope of protecting the independence known in this society had disintegrated. Continuing customs, passing on traditions, and living in the comfort of the familiarity that had been for so long comfortable to them, was no more. The Europeans held no respect for the way of life already established among these natives.
A major social and individual downfall took place. The old ways disappeared little by little as the new ways slowly took over their lifestyle, and there was a major collapse in both the social and individual level. Life was turned into European way.