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Role of Christian Missionaries in Things Fall Apart

In the novel Things Fall Apart the life of the characters especially Okonkwo fall apart due to the arrival of Christian missionaries and European colonizers. These Christian missionaries enter the village to preach Christianity and influence the people to accept the religion by leaving their own. They preach the believes of Bible and influence the villagers to worship there one God instead of worshipping multiple gods. The African native people who wish to accept this new religion are baptised and recognised as Christians.

     The story is set in the late 19th century when a lot of European countries where eager to dominate over Africa. They tried to do this by spreading the Western religious values and cultures and amidst the Africans. The entered Africa with a motive of ‘enlightening’ the natives with education and transforming them into civilized beings. However their actual motive was to take control over Africa and exploit its resources. The idea of the Christian missionaries was to convert African tribes into Christianity. Their goal was to overtake the culture of the region they wanted to control and convert the native people so that it becomes easier to take control over.
      There is quite a difference between the two words ‘colonization’ and ‘mission’. Colonization refers to taking the control over an area for economic proposes. However Mission is related to religion and beliefs. Colonization also means setting up their new government like the European colonizers established their own government and judicial system to rule over the local people. But if looked closely both mission and colonisation affect the native culture. Due to the influence of Christian missionaries the local tribes lost their own cultural ideology and traditions. In the novel Things Fall Apart the villagers oppose to the dominance of the missionaries and colonizers since the beginning. Mr Brown is the missionary who comes to the village in order to spread the values of Jesus and Christianity in the novel.

Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe – Mariam Alkhulaifi

        Mr Brown is accompanied by an Igbo interpreter Mr. Kiala, who is a black man that converted into Christianity. Mr Brown lets the black man speak first, considers him as an equal to show the Christian ideology on how every human was equal irrespective of their colour caste race etc. This shows Mr Brown’s respect for Igbo cultures. Mr Brown is described as a firm man who is respected even by the clans men. He developed friendship with the elders of the village, and tries to learn religious values and stories from them. Even the natives have a sense of respect for Mr Brown, as he is presented with a carved elephant tusk which is the sign of dignity and rank. His name Brown indicates a mixture of black and white. Thus, Mr Brown acts as a mediator between the natives and Europeans. Mr Brown’s successor Reverend James Smith is a contrasting character to Mr Brown, as he is a man who judges everything on the basis of black and white where black stands for evil. Mr Smith doesn’t co-operate with the Igbos like Mr Brown did, instead acts strictly with them. He even openly criticizes Mr Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation. As the original missionaries like Mr Brown slowly become lesser in number, the European colonizers become harsh towards the locals. Mr Brown was indeed selfish in terms of religious dominance but he was benevolent and affectionate towards the native people. However by the take over by
Reverend Smith, things fall apart. Under Smith’s leadership, a conflict arises between the Church and the clans of Umuofia. The elders of the clan burn down the church that was built by Mr Brown. However it is not just the mere church building that they demolish but also his policies an ideas.

     Although the missionaries had a different aim, they often depended upon the support of the colonial power. They were financially supported by the colonial administration. Therefore indirectly the missionaries were encouraging a sense of imperialism, by encouraging religious dominance over the people. The colonizers benefited from the works of missionaries, their educational work helped in the establishment of a colonial government.
     We might conclude that the missionaries caused a number of changes in the lies of the villagers. They introduced new values, unheard stories and tales and rejected the native customs and their gods. Mr Brown is popular for his speaking skills. In the climax when the Umuofia elders burn down the church they are imprisoned and tortured. It becomes a political conflict between the clan and the colonial government. The role of missionaries in Things Fall Apart is a complex one. They brought changes to the predominant Igbo society, like the love of God towards every individual irrespective of their race, caste etc. and the disbelief in the power of spirits and ancestors. There is a conflict between church and clans since the start, but Mr Brown manages to keep the situation calm. The conflicts rise up during Reverend Smith’s leadership. The eruption of violence towards the end of the novel and Okonkwo’s that are related to the change in the role of missionaries over the course of the novel

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