During the Colonial era, European methods and pervasive Eurocentric attitudes changed the way that indigenous cultures operated, permeated their local communities, dominated their commercial systems, and had powerful influence on their religious beliefs. Colonization brought both enhancements and detriments to the continent of Africa that were not only impactful, but were likely harmful, and permanently altered the natures of the civilization and the tribes that existed on the continent.
The broad effects of the European influence on indigenous cultures civilization structure and religion is evidenced in China Achebe’s book, “Things Fall Apart”, as the lead character Okonkwo attempts to keep traditions and tribal culture alive during great turmoil inflicted upon the local clans by missionaries that arrived on the scene. Tribal cultures, like those of the Umuofia, had many gods, were superstitious, and believed strongly that the dead participated in community life as much as those alive. Superstition ruled their civilian life and directed such things as marital life and whose hut was to be used for marital sex. But, the Christians brought new ideas that directly conflicted with such notions, such as a sovereign God, and the Trinity, offering salvation from the inherent sin of the world’s inhabitants. Okonkwo loses his son, Nwoye, to the new faith when he finds more approval from the Europeans than he does his own father, Okonkwo (152). Ultimately, Okonkwo takes his life in response to losing tribal faith when the Christian missionaries take a leading role in the land and force their laws upon the native territory. Through this story, Achebe demonstrates, that the influence of Christianity was closely linked to overriding rule and oppression of the local communities and tribal structures.
Additionally, the European invasion of markets and trade economies in Africa wielded great changes in the dynamics of local communities, labor markets, and capital money flows, but maybe even greater changes in the power structure of local and state political elites. Ronald Robinson conveys, in his essay, “Non-European Foundations,” that colonization would not have been successful in Africa without the complicit behavior of the ruling elites, the monetary support of European institutions, establishment of solid trade infrastructure, and collaborative African labor forces (Robinson 119-124) …all of which were negotiated by the European regimes. Further, African commercial and financial policy then shifted to suit the market demands of the most dominant commercial industries-backed by the political elites that were paid (bribed) to ensure the policies were suitable. The system became so well-entrenched that the Europeans needed to do little to ensure cooperation from the masses (Robinson 124).
Moreover, where tribal culture divided communities by age, clans, guilds, wards, and other cultural attributes, European colonization introduced an overlaying hierarchy of “class,” determined by material wealth (Iliffe 166). Supported by new technologies like advanced firearms, rapid land transport, and large militias backed by paid State leaders, the Europeans had a well-establish patrimonial bureaucracy that dominated interior life and tribes by the sheer force of market wealth. Northern Africa, especially after vast diamond discoveries, became dominated by rich peasants, whom were supported by the poor sharecropping underclass (Iliffe 168), and thus, a new hierarchical society was born out of the influence of European Imperialist and their market-backed monopolies.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: First Anchor Books, 1959. Print.Iliffe, John. Africans: The History of a Continent. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print. Robinson, Ronald. Non-European Foundations of European Imperialism: Sketch for a Theory of Collaboration. Longman, 1972. Pdf.
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