The Effects Of Colonialism On The African Identity

The Effects Of Colonialism On The African Identity

Colonialism and its effects have been a predominant theme in African literature. African dramatists, novelists and even poets have often times showcased these ideas through their writings in order to reveal the evils of colonialism on the African identity. For example, Kaine, in his novel, Ambiguous Adventure, brings to light what effect colonialism has on the African identity. His protagonist, Samba Diallo is exposed to the western culture through education. In other words, he is colonized by the Europeans through education and this exposition brings him between two opposing cultures. Sambo Diallo tries to fuse these cultures and consequently lost his identity.

It is clear and glaring that when most Africans come in contact with this European culture, they tend to forget or let go their cultural heritage for the European culture and this most times affect their psyche. The persona in Gabriel Okara’s “Piano and Drum” is left in dilemma as a result of the seductive power of the western culture which is represented by the piano. He is to make a choice between his African heritage and the western culture but such difficult choice remains unresolved till the end of the poem (lines 23-29). Unfortunately, this has been the pitiable experience of many Africans who as result of the innovations of the western culture, cast into the abyss, their African heritage.
Modern African Poets have also inculcated this idea in their poems and this article critically examines such idea using Gabriel Okara’s “The Fisherman’s Invocation” and J.P Clark’s “Ivbie” as its reference poems.

Both Okara’s “The Fisherman’s Invocation” and J.P Clark’s “Ivbie” portray the effect of colonialism on the African identity. In other words, they dramatize the psychic trauma of the African emerging from colonial rule. Based on this fact, they can be termed psychodrama.

Psychodrama is an action method often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing and self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives. A psychodrama is best conducted and produced by a person trained in the method called a psychodrama director. Psycho treatment is the talking cure; you don’t cure by giving injection or medicine. Also, a psychodrama has a psychoanalyst and a patient. The patient suffers from the psychic trauma whereas the psychoanalyst gives him the talking cure.

Gabriel Okara, through the fishing expedition in his poem, “The Fisherman’s Invocation”, dramatizes the psychic trauma of the unskilled fisherman (the new African) who has emerged from colonialism. There are two fishermen in the canoe: the unskilled/inexperienced/patient/new fisherman who is culturally sick and the skilled/experienced/psychoanalyst/old African who is still rooted in his culture. The African emerging from colonial domination has as a result of his peculiar colonial indoctrination, abandoned his ancient tribal tradition and old beliefs for foreign ways. This results in a loss of identity. He suffers from alienation; he has lost his skills. 

On the other hand, the old fisherman represents the old African who teaches the new African about the ways of his people which he has forsaken for foreign ways as seen in the opening lines of the poem:

Cast your net to the right side
Cast it to the left side
   (The Fisherman’s Invocation, p.3)

From the above lines, the new fisherman does not know how to fish; he is being taught by the skilled fisherman. This connotes that the new African who emerged from colonial rule has lost his identity. He does not know the ways of his people anymore. He has abandoned his ancient tradition and old beliefs for foreign ways. The symptoms of this malady: severe emotional disturbance, excitement alternating with tearfulness and depression, delusion which indeed are symptoms of schizophrenia, are exhibited by the unskilled fisherman.

The argument in “The Fisherman’s Invocation” is whether the Back (the traditional African culture) should be taken along with the front (the imported Western ways) to form the child front which is the new projection for our contemporary situation as in the lines below:

Then cast it to the back of the canoe
and draw gently and carefully
while I paddle the canoe forward

In the third movement of the poem, the unskilled fisherman suffers from delusion which is concerned with his own impotence:

Where are your Gods now
Gods of the Back that have
brought forth this monster?
Throw it away, throw it into
The river and let the mermaids
Carry it on their songs.
Throw it away to the Back
and let the Back swallow it in its abyss
And let the Gods remember their lives are in my hands.
   (Fisherman’s Invocation, p.103)

Similarly, towards the end of J.P Clark’s “Ivbie,” there is also a new African who has emerged from colonial rule. This new African is the impetuous boy who has drunk the white man’s tea. In this case the tea of the white man is education and it is evil as seen in the fourth movement of the poem:

I cannot sleep I cannot sleep
Though not acting 
Fierce floodlights flash focus me
Our fathers rightly or wrongly
Properly drugged slept at least
And you say I ought to on his
Cup of tea
But all night I walk to and 
Fro dung-polished floors.

The above lines depict how evil the white man’s tea (i.e. the white man’s way of life or education) is. The impetuous boy is telling us that he cannot sleep as a result of the white man’s education or way of life he is practicing. This shows that he is emotionally disturbed (which is one of the symptoms of a person suffering from psychic trauma). The impetuous boy just like the unskilled fisherman is exposed to the white man’s culture through colonialism. He wants to be like the white man but at the end of the poem, instead of being like the white man, the black boy suffers from what Clark called “Magnificent Obsession.”

Both the unskilled fisherman and the black boy in Okara’s “The Fisherman’s Invocation” and J.P Clark’s “Ivbie” respectively, suffer psychological trauma because they forsake their African tradition for the Western culture. They lost their identity and this makes them emotionally disturbed.

However, J.P Clark’s “Ivbie” unlike Okara’s “The fisherman’s Invocation” also deals with the theme of slavery and colonialism and its effects whereas Okara’s poem is majorly concerned with the effect of colonialism(psychic truama) on the African identity.

In sum, everybody is identified by his/her culture and every culture has its uniqueness. Therefore, trading your culture for another culture only makes you an orphan who is adopted by parents who are not his. Culture is us and we are culture. Embrace your culture today!