Ibo-ny and Ivory: The Inharmonious British/Ibo Relations
“Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe and aren't even aware of…” Ellen Goodman’s survey of tradition’s persuasiveness could not be truer of the Ibo culture and the African slave trade with regards to British influence. Clearly, the Ibo people instinctively held closely to their customs in reaction to English presence; plausibly, their intent in so doing was to hold as closely as possible to their status quo. Remarkably enough, their true effect was the facilitation, not prevention, both of the British slave trade in the mid-eighteenth century and of British colonization in the late nineteenth century. As the Ibo provided this ingress for “the white man” to gain power on African land, the Ibo people had some choices to be made that would definitively shape their chi, or destiny. To be sure, the story of Olaudah Equiano as well as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart provides evidence contrary to the common conception of the superior British strong-arming the inferior Africans to the point of submission. Specifically, both accounts show intelligent African societies ma
This rift in African resolve was enough to allow both the eighteenth-century slave traders and the nineteenth century colonists to divide Ibo with intent to conquer; in doing so taking the most important thing to a human, freedom. Achebe feared that such discarding of the native language for English could mark the beginning of the Ibo culture"tms pitfall. These best interests were centered around the concept of freedom. British slave traders capitalized upon the rivalries amongst the numerous and highly competitive political entities of eighteenth-century Africa with the purpose of capturing slaves. Achebe shows how those who were outcasts of tribes and long scorned by the more powerful clans found solace within the ideals of Christianity, which were introduced to the Ibo people by British missionaries (Achebe, 151-152). The British saw this successful extension of their culture as a primary basis for predicting continued development of British colonies. Overall, the centuries-old Western conceptions of British relations with Africa must be revised. Essentially, both the cooperating Ibo tribes and the slave traders capitalized on mutual preferences. The British used the power of politics to fulfill the wants of the cooperating Africans, while simultaneously accomplishing their own goals. Little did the Ibo people know that less than a century later, the British would return to take over the land that some tribes greedily set out to obtain. Those who did make such decisions, however, did so through reasoned cost-benefit analysis in conjunction with their current inferior social status. Achebe depicts the conventional Ibo systems, though at one time necessary for subsistence, as partially ritual while completely disposable. No comparison could be made between the British processes and the traditional Ibo methods; the British ways were far more advanced. Achebe makes clear the vital importance of the Ibo language for a myriad of traditions, showing as one example the drum rituals as part of funeral ceremonies (Achebe, 120-121). With regard to the African slave trade, it is important to understand that there was indeed a logical rationale for African agency against fellow African; converse to a popular perception, British slave traders did not simply force the Ibo people into submission.