Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Other Side of the Jungle

In Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, the jungle that borders the river is a wall or barrier between the river boat our narrator captains, and the darkness beyond. This barrier is both real and metaphorical - beyond are black limbs and white eyes peering out and sometimes firing arrows and spears.

Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart, he says, as a response to Conrad. As a response, I find it more counterpoint than counter. It tells the story of a man in an Ibo village, with the first part coming almost entirely before any vestige of contact with whites, but the final grim conclusion impelled by the coming of missionaries and soldiers.

Obviously Achebe lived many years after Conrad, but I suspect we can trust his depiction of village life. The life he depicts is neither idyllic nor squalid, but eventful, human and highly organized by principles of community and ritual. It was also sometimes violent, brutal and to our eyes terrible - twins were always murdered by abandonment, for example.

It's a short but fascinating look at the lives of some of the people behind the jungle wall. A fragment:

“Somebody told me yesterday,” said one of the younger men, “that in some clans it is an abomination for a man to die during the Week of Peace.”

“It is indeed true,” said Ogbuefi Ezeudu. “They have that custom in Obodoani. If a man dies at this time he is not buried but cast into the Evil Forest. It is a bad custom which these people observe because they lack understanding. They throw away large numbers of men and women without burial. And what is the result? Their clan is full of the evil spirits of these unburied dead, hungry to do harm to the living.”

Achebe, Chinua (2010-10-06). Things Fall Apart: A Novel (African Trilogy) (Kindle Locations 357-362). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.