Cultural Change transformed Indigenous tradition: Colonial Encounter

The stereotyped Colonised discourse of negative connotations is that we had no culture, history or past, and colonisation was part of the ‘civilising mission’

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have witnessed a cultural imposition by colonial expansion by British, French, and other imperial powers over the indigenous tradition and culture of the Pacific, Africa and Asia.

The cultural changes were so forceful that they transformed the tradition, culture and values.  The story of the resistance to these changes is unheard popularly, but post-colonial literature revisited them in one such novel of Chinua Achebe’s [1930-2013, born in Nigeria]  Things Fall Apart (1958) [TFA] who is an African writer (especially Nigeria).

It attempts to decolonize Africa’s culture, identity, history and values; and resist change, colonialism and values imposed by western values. This is writing of a colonial history of Africa through a perspective of African that is a civilised world view. This article provides the snipped view of this novel through historical interpretation and understanding, which implies in every colonised nation during that time and space.

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“Things [Tradition, Culture and Values] Fall Apart”

Achebe’s TFA known as a modern classic that gave recognition to African writer’s work in world literature as a colonial encounter. This highlights the manner in which Africa is represented in European-colonial representation.

Cultural Change transformed Indigenous tradition; Picture Source: @CANVA

Africa’s image has been stereotyped as negative in western historical discourse for many centuries; this European stereotype image was countered by TFA. The colonisation of Africa by European powers reached its height in the late nineteenth century where European powers wanted to exploit parts of Africa (1880-1914).

The colonial discourse has constructed the negative image of Africa as a place and also manufactured a negative connotation about the people of Africa, equating it as a dangerous and savagery place in western discourse and mass media.

Cultural Change transformed Indigenous tradition; Picture Source: @CANVA

Another novel, Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Canrad has influenced Achebe and helped him to evolve as a critical writer of Africa, as he criticised the impact of colonialism. But, Achebe also blamed Canrad for denying the identity of Africa in history, language and having civilization, like that of Europeans; while accepting of western representation of Africa by Africans (as inherent racism).

Another work of Achebe Image of Africa: Racism in Concad’s Heart of Darkness (1988), stated the construction of a barbaric, uncivilized, savage image of Africa by Europeans. This was considered to be due to the need of the west or ‘western enlightenment. Thus, Europeans portray themselves as superior in contrast with Africa.

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Cultural Change transformed Indigenous tradition; Picture Source: @CANVA

The construction of this negative image of Africa for many centuries by dominant European literature was countered by TFA. The novel postulates the presence of civilization in Africa; and enlighted Africans about their historical past, culture and civilization. He accused colonialism enforced Western culture and values over non-western society as the only accepted vision that disrupted the process of evolution of African culture.

The work analyses the tradition and modernity, as in colonies, it was seen as colonial modernity that is different from European. He attempts to resist the changes and even preserve the traditional values but could sustain himself against change in tradition. He uses a dialogue of the western genre of the novel between indigenous African notions with Western’s expression in colonial English language. The title is taken from Irish Poet William Butler Yeats’ poem titled “The Second Coming” (1919) which talks about the evolution and collapse of civilization.

TFA’s is a tragic story of resistance against cultural changes brought by the colonization, the main character Okonkwo (self-made warrior and manly character, coming from Igbo community in the fictional village of East Africa around 1890s) who rose as a leader among his community due to his hard work in the first part of the novel and later part shows his perishment in context of resisting the variety of changes introduced by Colonisation.

Many of his community members embrace the Christianity of the coloniser to get better standing in the new society. Generally, villagers will in a dilemma between resisting and embracing change brought by the missionaries. This novel shows the Swifty the abandoning of traditional cultural values in favour of British values leads to the extinction of traditional values.

Cultural Change transformed Indigenous tradition; Picture Source: @CANVA

The tragedy is a decline of the traditional way of life, cultural values and community itself due to the superimposition of western culture through colonisation. Similar themes are raised by Achebe’s other early novels No Longer At Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964) known, as three of them are known as the ‘African trilogy’.

Counter View ‘White man’s burden’ agenda

The stereotyped Colonised discourse of negative connotations to Africa and Africans of having no culture, history or past, and colonisation of Africa was a part of the ‘civilising mission’ of these savages; this was countered by Achebe. He countered the expression of white man’s burden referred to black African.

TFA emphasis Africa has a long history of rich cultural traditions, and an economically, socially and politically prosperous society way before the contact of Europeans. This work also highlights the inflexible perspective of the main protagonist Okonkwo, who refuse to recognise or resist the changes coming from modern realities that resulted in his sad demise. Achebe tries to bring forward the identity and culture of Africa and Africans in world literature.


Resistance and contestation are applicable around most of the colonised nations, i.e. Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The indigenous cultures these places were forced to change or adjust with coming off their respective colonisers’ values. Africa, known as the Dark continent, Asia related to poverty/uncivilized, and Pacific as Cannibals/exotic have been seen as objects during the colonial times in colonial discourse.

Post-colonial studies and Pacific scholars are trying to revive the lost history and indigenous languages of the Pacific. If these values and customs are not revived, they will become a part of history without any voice. Decolonization of the mind is essential in academia to develop unbiased perceptions. But the mass media has stereotyped these images in the mind that needs deconstruction.

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science, College of Humanities and Education, Fiji National University.

Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied
Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. dr.sakulkundra@gmail.com