Things Fall Apart: African Imperialism

Published 19 Aug 2017

Imperialism is one of the most significant events that changed the dynamics of world civilizations. Imperialism provided the foundation for today’s global society and made the world a much smaller place. Although imperialism is significant because it sparked modernity, imperialism has had many negative effects on societies. Imperialism was a tool that was used to oppress indigenous societies, so that imperialistic nations could gain access to their resources. One area that has been greatly impacted and is still recovering from imperialistic activities is Africa. Africa with all its great wealth and resources has been the center of imperialistic activities; providing slaves, gold, oil, diamonds, land and many other valuable resources for imperialistic nations. One story that captures the essence of the effects of imperialism is the novel Things Fall Apart. The novel Things Fall Apart illustrates the effects that imperialism posed on both Africans and Europeans, who struggled to adapt to the changes in African society to ensure that their own traditions and customs were the norm throughout Africa.

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Every imperialistic nation had its own imperialist motives and the novel Things Fall Apart depicted a few reasons why Europeans sought to colonize Africa. One of the major reasons why Europeans sought to colonize Africa was for its wealth. The novel was able to convey this motive with its description of the way the colonists immediately utilized Umuofia society’s natural resources. Umuofia society was a village that was the main focus of the story and the novel showed that shortly after their arrival the colonists established trading posts to generate money. The colonists “built a trading store and for the first time palm-oil and kernel became things of great price and much money flowed into Umuofia,” (Achebe, 1994, p. 178) before the colonists’ arrival palm oil and kernel were not used to generate money. Europeans also wanted to colonize Africa because they wanted to extend their power and authority beyond their borders. This concept was illustrated in the book when colonists who came in the form of Christian missionaries began setting up their own churches and systems of government. In which, “apart from the church, the white men had also brought a government. They had also [sic] built a court where the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance” (Achebe, 1994, p. 174). The colonists basically used religion as a tool to infiltrate and uproot traditional African values and customs in order to fulfill imperialistic goals that consequently impacted Africans.

European colonization of Africa had many impacts on Africans. One of the biggest impacts of colonization was the changing of traditional African customs. The novel illustrated how the colonists effectively used religion as a way of uprooting African society. The colonists preached to Umuofia society that their traditions and customs were wrong and challenged Umuofia’s religious practices. The colonists also lured Umuofia society’s outcasts to Christianity, who subsequently became the first converts of Christianity, which sparked change throughout Umuofia society. Another effect of imperialism on Africans was their forced participation in colonial governments. Africans were forced to obey foreign rules and regulations, instead of traditional African rules and laws. Africans also felt the impact of imperialism when, colonists set up courts and prisons to punish Africans, taking away the power of village elders who had traditionally governed punishment. Colonial rule had essentially taken away the right for Africans societies to govern themselves, forcing them to live by foreign rules and customs. One lasting effect of colonial rule was that it broke down religious foundations, which was hard for many Africans to accept because they knew the society their ancestors built was altered forever.

Although colonists were colonizing Africa for the benefit of their motherlands colonization also had an impact on colonists. Establishing a colony is no easy feat and the colonists knew it was not going to be easy to establish churches, governments, and trading posts, so they tried to do their best to win local people over to their cause. Ironically, one of the greatest effects that colonization had on Europeans was actually a positive effect in the eyes of Europeans. Europeans believed that they were doing a great service for Africans. Europeans believed that it was their obligation to control Africa’s resources, land, governments, and religion. This obligation was discussed in the novel, when the District Commissioner who arrested several elders of Umuofia society stated to them that, “we brought a peaceful administration to you and your people so that you may be happy” (Achebe, 1994, p. 174). Europeans truly believed they were improving the lives of African societies, and could not grasp the concept that their activities were actually destroying long established societies and religions.

The effects of Imperialism can still be seen throughout African today. In the wake of imperialism many African societies are currently in conflict and change. Imperialism has impacted the not only African societies negatively, but it has also impacted the world negatively and most people have come to realization that imperialism is an oppressive tool. Although the story of the Umuofia society is fiction, one can assume that if it were a real society, Umuofia society would have survived imperialism and would now be an independent society once again.


  • Chinua, C. (1994). Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books.
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