Critical Reflection on Values in Nigerian Literature: Pathways for Igbo Society.

AuthorAnyanwu, Chinekpebi
PositionCritical essay


The study focused on critical analysis of the Igbo value system and how it was represented or misrepresented in Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart', Arrow of God' and 'No Longer at Ease'. Igbo culture which is known as (Igbo: Omenala ndi Igbo) are a system of the customs, practices and traditions of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. It comprises archaic practices as well as new concepts added into the Igbo values either by cultural evolution or by outside influence. These values form a system of customs and traditions including the Igbo people's visual art, music and dance forms, as well as their attire, cuisine and language dialects.

Because of their various subgroups, the variety of their culture is heightened further. Therefore, to understand the values of the Igbo of Nigeria, there is a need to interrogate the way it was represented in Chinua Achebe's work. With my personal knowledge and experience as an Igbo person accompanied with the early works of Chinua Achebe selected for this study, the concern of this paper will enjoy a deep scholarly reflection.

In the light of the above, before engaging with the nature of value systems in Chinua Achebe's works as this topic stipulates, it is imperative to further attempt a clarification of the concept of cultural values and put the way cultural values was portrayed in these selected Nigerian literature on trial. From a literal perspective, cultural values could be synonymous to inheritance, legacy, birth right or even custom and tradition. It is necessary to note that the presence of value systems as manifested in culture in the books has not eliminated some of the controversies and the contestations about cultural values.

Rationale and Motivation for the Study

The pertinent question this research is trying to answer is why are Igbo in Nigeria so interested in western values and not on Igbo or African values? How values systems represented in the works of Chinua Achebe became a necessary choice is because some of his writing has become like a bible to schools and curriculum in Nigeria. The findings of this research will help to understand in the words of Achebe "where the rain started beating us" as African people. Recent findings has shown that the over importation of foreign ideas and culture is eroding Igbo values in modern Nigeria. Nigerians in general and Igbo in particular have gone through enough trials and transformation in the nation's values that younger generation should know about through literature.

However, the opposite is the case, the more people read these literary stories which were based on traditional African stories, and the more they lean towards western values. Therefore, in the context it is necessary to understand how African literature has the potential to play a significant part in the paradigm shift in Igbo society. This makes these Achebe's work a critical element in this discourse because its depiction of Igbo values and cultural heritage greatly affects or enrich the views of readers in the African society.

Furthermore, I am also keen to look beyond the selected works of Achebe and extend my search to what extent to which these neo-colonial influences have had on authors of these selected novels in the representations of Igbo value system as topics in these particular literature which situates the purpose here as a parameter to gauge how Igbo values are represented in Chinua Achebe's work.

Significance of Study

Igbo values were never an intended outcome of the study of literature under colonial rule. It was only after 1960 that issues of Igbo values started to be part of the public debates in education and other circles but in a neo-colonial manner. Therefore, this led to criticisms of biased interpretation of values and geopolitics by various authors. Looking closely at the content of the Nigerian literature reveals how Igbo value were represented in a negative light within a western narrative which always dehumanise African culture. More interestingly, is the fact that most literary writings revolve around the idea of white domination. Therefore, there was little effort to mention of teaching of Igbo values to children. And a review of some literature on value systems in Nigerian education reveals to me that Igbo values were never given a high place in the post-colonial discourse. Its omission and negativity leaves me with some pertinent questions:

* Why was it not mentioned in many colonial historical accounts?

* What is it all about?

* What is the purpose of the omission?

* Does it mean there was no Igbo Kingdom in the past?

* How did they survive with a king without being enslaved?

Considering this, it is my intention to add voice to the debates around Igbo values and its cultural significance in Chinua Achebe's works.

This is all happening at a time when western values and ideology together with the forces of globalisation has taken root in schools in the former British colonies like Nigeria, it appears that Igbo values in Nigeria has been eroded entirely from the books that are written in the post-colonial era. It now becomes necessary to embark on this research in order to reveal how and why Igbo values are represented by authors in the way they did. Therefore, this exercise is likely to add or contribute to the existing body of knowledge in the field of value systems within the officially published literatures. In addition, this research is meant to create awareness to the policymakers, politicians and the community leaders to put Igbo values system as a priority in their decision making and in the choice of content in literatures for readership. This is hoped to assist in the saving of a once neglected segment of Igbo culture and also prepare children as proud African people.

Review of Literature

The purpose of the literature review is to critically evaluate, analyse and synthesise existing knowledge relevant to the research problem (Hart, 2005). This is important in order to clarify the theoretical bases for the research and to show how it fits within existing knowledge. In other words, the literature review will contextualise the research within the existing relevant knowledge while identifying the gaps in the literature where the study can make a contribution.

It is noted that the Igbo are known for searching for a better life. However, some complain that they are too quick to assimilate and adopt to the culture of a host country, while others argue that this traveler spirit is something to be proud of. Assimilation isn't always easy, so I give credit to immigrants who succeed in doing so. But distance from homeland takes a toll on the old culture. Storytelling and proverbs are very important to the traditional Igbo way of life, and have always helped to sustain the language. Away from the elders, and away from the village square where the stories are told, it's easy to start losing contact with it, and there are some books in Igbo, but unfortunately, no newspapers.

The Igbo people have also faced more than just the cultural battering which is the norm in a world where English predominates. Nigeria and Igbo people have been here before, and it didn't end well. The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) in which the Igbo tried to form a separate state of Biafra which saw a million Igbo die, mostly through starvation. After the war ended, the Nigerian government declared "no victor, no vanquished" as a way to bury enmity.

But as a friend told me, the civil war was akin to a child being flogged, but told not to cry. Emotions are still raw as there's been no closure, no catharsis, and the Biafra war isn't taught in schools. This continued disaffection has given rise to secessionist groups such as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). While many Igbo I speak to are not necessarily in support of secession, they see these groups as standing up for Igbo rights, as all these issues are interlinked: fear of marginalisation, identity crises, and an endangered language. After the war, the Igbo lost status as a lingua franca that non-Igbo people like my mother would learn.

According to Onuoha (2011), Igbo traditions of origin differ widely throughout the Igbo area and most times, they do not provide a reliable historical source of accessing the Igbo past. Even when evidence of historical reliability is present in these traditions (Miller 1980; Vansina 1985), the main objective is often geared towards explaining the current social and political context, which tends to provide a legitimacy leadership claim vis-a-vis a neighboring Igbo community. For the purpose of clarity and scholarly tidiness, this work adopts Falola's (2005) categorization of Igbo traditions of origin into three phases.

The first is the tradition of 'oriental' origins, which has two strands: one identifies the Igbo as one of the lost ten 'tribes' of Israel; while the other traces their origin to ancient Egypt. While the claim to Hebrew origin is linked to the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano (1794, p. 25-28), as cited in Falola 2005), a former enslaved Igbo who wrote in 1789; and the work of Basden (1925) early in the 20th century gave it some credence by pointing to close resemblances between Igbo culture and Jewish culture, without affirming that the former necessarily descended from the latter. With some level of academic respectability, other contributions to the study of Igbo origin can be traced to the Nile Valley in Egypt to their present location, linking Igbo culture to the culture of ancient Egypt (Jeffreys 1946; 1956, p. 120-124).

Traditions in the second group trace the origin of the Igbo to their neighbours, like the Edo Empire of Benin and the Igala Kingdom of Idah, pointing to the linguistic similarities of the Igbo with these groups (Onwuejeogwu 1977). The third tradition of origin is one that claims autochthony and origin in the present...

To continue reading

Request your trial