Essay: Psychological Consequences of Colonialism

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Psychological Trauma of Colonization

The Psychological Trauma of Colonialism

Colonialism is one of the most traumatic events that can befall humanity. It takes a once peaceful existence and plunges it into chaos. Like a robber that breaks into a house, colonialism steals away the victim's sense of security. They can be ripped from their home, family, and everything that they know, having it replaced with a life that is less than human. Colonialism is more than economic loss, it is the loss of dignity and humanity. This research will explore the psychological trauma of colonialism using examples from Things Fall Apart and Petals of Blood. It will support the thesis that in order for a people to be colonized, there is a turning point in the psychology of every individual that must be reached.

Change Management and the Colonists

Colonialism means a drastic change from former lifestyles and cultures. Change is at first, met with resistance. Some will give in almost immediately and others will resist until they are broken, such as Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo never gave up his traditional culture and accepted the changes in his village and culture. In the end, he committed suicide, rather than to give up his culture and former way of life. He never adjusted to the ideals imposed by the white invaders.

Adjustment to colonialism reflects the coping mechanism in a person. The psychological adjustments that are necessary in colonization of another race are similar to the challenges that change managers face today. When a company decides suddenly to change the way they are doing business, or when new management takes over, it is similar to colonization. From the worker's standpoint, they cannot stop the change, but their daily lives are severely affected by it. These similarities make research into the psychological adjustments in Change Management applicable to the colonialism problem.

Colonialism, like change in the work environment involves the establishment of new norms within the culture. Old habits and familiar comforts are replaced with a new set of rules and norms. Colonialists of the African cultures did not know it, but they were experts in change management. They knew to expect resistance and how to overcome it. Missionaries came with a bag of strategies and plans to help them assimilate the other culture. In today's society, the colonialists would be experts in managerial change, as that is essentially what they accomplished with the native African tribes. They were very efficient at what they set out to do.

Affects on the Individual

Much like the workers in a hostile takeover, the native Africans suddenly woke up to find themselves in the presence of strangers. In Things Fall Apart, they were compared to locusts, which begin with one, then a few more come, and before long, there is nothing but locusts. Once the locusts are there, many changes must take place. The people are forced to adapt to their presence. However, unlike the locusts, the missionaries came to dominate and change the culture. They did not come to negotiate, but to destroy tribal culture completely and replace it with something different.

The theme of colonialism is not introduced until the last several chapters. The colonialists refuse to attempt to understand Igbo culture. It is a tale of sinking desperation as Okonkwo tries to hang on to his tribal ways. Throughout the novel, he watches them slowly fall apart and disappear until it seems that he is the only one who wishes to fight to defend them. The physical and social affects of colonialism are explained in direct terms. However, the author uses allegory to portray the psychological affects of colonialism on the people. For instance, the whites are described as locusts that seem insignificant at first, but that soon take over and consume everything

The ability of the individual to cope with changes comes in two forms: adaptive and maladaptive

. The stressor is an outside influence, such as the growing presence of white culture among African tribes. The individual cannot change the outside factor that causes the stress. They will adjust to it in some manner, regardless of whether the adjustment is positive or negative. Two reactions can be expected by those imposing change on a society. They can expect a large amount of resistance, but they can also expect a small portion of the society that will embrace the change.

Resistance to change is exemplified in the quote from Petal of Blood, "We wanted an African headmaster and African teachers. We denounced the prefect system, the knightly order of masters and menials

." According recent change management research, resistance to change occurs for several reasons from the employee standpoint. Resistance is a result of individual predisposition to change, fear of the unknown, a climate of mistrust, fear of failure, loss of status or security, peer pressure, disruption of cultural traditions and relationships, personality conflicts, lack of tact, poor timing of the change, and not seeing the benefits of the change

. One can see many of these elements present in the hostile takeover of the African continent, a described in African literature.

In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo fails to understand why some of his own people could just simply accept the changes that white society brought. This may reflect a difference in predisposition to adaptive strategies to change. Some of the tribe saw the economic benefits of the change and were willing to accept the changes in order to receive these benefits. Okonkwo saw it differently. He feared the unknown and was comfortable in their tribal culture and traditions. He also feared a loss of status. This was supported by the treatment of Umuofia leaders by the whites.

"The six men ate nothing throughout that day and the ... next. They were not even given any water to drink, and they could not go out to urinate or go into the bush when they were pressed. At night the messengers came in to taunt them and to knock their shaven heads

together

This treatment was meant to lessen the status of the leaders in front of their own people and to demonstrate that their status meant nothing to the white men. Okonkwo did suffer a loss of status under the new regime.

As more of the village began to accept white culture, Christianity, and the other changes that it brought, those who resisted had a more desperate plight. Peer pressure was a key to winning over more and more of the villagers. The more people that accepted the changes proposed by the whites, the more difficult it was to resist the new norm. This pattern was also seen in Petals of Blood. Those that could not see the benefits were most resistant to the change.

In both Things Fall Apart and Petals of Blood the central theme revolves around the changes in African culture that were a result of colonialism. Some of the same symptoms of resistance and adaptation to change are seen in both novels. Those that could see the benefits of the change were much more malleable than those that could not. Those that resisted were eventually overcome by marginalization by the rest of their society. As more and more of the tribe disintegrated into the new cultural norms, the resistance was weakened. In this way, colonialism served as both a destructive and creative force.

For the resistance, the case became more desperate as time went on. They lost more and more of their dignity and status. They also lost their ability to lead their people. Their status under white rule was wiped out and it became clear that they were no longer the leaders of their people. In Things Fall Apart, we find the following statement by Obierika as he looked upon his friend's dangling body,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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