The Confluence of Religion and Economic Class in the Anthills of the Savannah

Laura Pilar Gelfman '00 (English 27, 1997)

Ikem's speech in the twelfth chapter of Anthills of the Savannah indicates the slew of problems that Nigerians face under the elite's power. Ikem proves that those who are in power ignore the needs of the masses. The ruling class plays by a different set of rules than those which they preach. Using religion and money as tools to maintain their power, they enslave the masses to their culture. As a result of the change from colonialism to independence and the changes caused by a meeting of two cultures, Nigerians assimilate to a form of the English culture. The relationship between religion and economic class exemplifies this confluence of culture and replication of English practice ("Religion and Class among the Colonized"). As a storyteller, Chinua Achebe voices his criticisms of the distributions of Nigerian power with storytelling devices such as irony, characterization, style, ethos, and setting.

Ikem claims that Nigeria's problem, as described in the fictional Kangan nation, lies in the oppressive ruling class rather than the external threat of colonization. He criticizes the elite for perpetuating the governmental corruption by remaining ignorant to the common people's problems: "Those who preside over the sabotage of the nation by their unproductivity and fraud' are the real villains, the real oppressors, who make sure that all the rural inhabitants of Kangan remain powerless and in poverty" ("Ikem on True Radicalism"). Even though they sit in the center of power, the elite still describe the nature of their governmental system as appalling. Essentially, Your excellency, a military figure, rather than a civil leader, governs without a system of checks and balances. The Postcolonial government rules blindly by avoiding the problematic issues: "Anything inconvenient to those in government is NTBB [Not To Be Broadcast]" (Achebe 55). Instead of dealing with these "inconvenient" issues, the government silences them. Because Ikem exemplifies a NTBB issue, the government restricts his power.

The government silences Ikem for speaking out against this corruption. He describes the social scale descending from the elite to the common people. Using the European technique of prophetics, Ikem attacks the establishment and the people as a means to drive the people into action. He attacks the system for letting the corruption perpetuate and the people for not acting against the system:

The sweeping, majestic visions of people rising victorious like a tidal wave against their oppressors and transforming their world with their theories and slogans into a new heaven and a new earth of brotherhood, justice and freedom are at best grand illusions. The rising, conquering tide, yes; but the millennium afterwards, no! New oppressors will have been readying themselves secretly in the undertow long before the tidal wave got really goingÖReform may be a dirty word then but it begins to look more and more like the most promising route to success in the real world. (Achebe 90-91)

With the potential improvement of society, Ikem instills a sense of hope in his people and in doing so, he unifies himself to their cause.

Achebe ends his narrative with the story of the naming ceremony; his method of story-telling creates a national unity among the elite and the masses. The ceremony, symbolic of democracy, closes the gap between the elite and the poor because the rituals cross-class lines; it also represents Achebe's vision of a cross class unity with people from different religions and social classes in attendance. Prior to the ceremony, Beatrice, who comes from an elite, Christian fundamentalist background, looks down upon Agatha, a Muslim servant, with condescension and disrespect. The ceremony portrays Beatrice's newfound respect for those different from her religiously and economically.

Beatrice welcomes Elewa, a member of the masses, into her home exemplifying her effort to raise the Kangan nation by uniting herself with those she once shoved down. Her compassion conveys the message of Ikem, a martyr to the cause of freedom. Given the honor of naming the daughter of Elewa and Ikem, Beatrice expounds:

There was an Old Testament prophet who named his son The-remnant-shall-return. They must have lived in times like this. We have a different metaphor, though; we have our own version of hope that springs eternal. We shall call this child AMAECHINA: May-the-path-never-close. (Achebe 206)

The child represents the culmination of Ikem's ideas because she is a product of his union with Elewa, a woman of a different religious and economic background. This unification provides the impetus for further unification.

The ceremony closes with the image of Beatrice, the elite Christian, Elewa, the poor Christian, and Aina, the poor Moslem, congregated in song and dance. As Elewa's uncle completes the sacramental breaking of the kolanut, he praises this unification of spirits to the Christian God:

May this child be the daughter of all of usÖMay these young people here when they make plans for their world not forget her. And all other childrenÖWe have seen too much trouble in Kangan since the white man left because those who make plans make plans for themselves only and their families. (211-212)

As he reiterates Ikem's message, the uncle unites his hopes for the Kangan nation with his hopes for his niece's future.

As shown by Achebe, traditional storytelling threatens the people and ideas in power. In a fictional setting, Ikem shows how the Nigerian government handles such opposition; he was fired from his editorial position for commanding his people to do: "Go home and think" (145)! In present day Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed for bringing Ikem's proclamation to reality. The government silences Ikem and Saro-Wiwa for spreading the idea: "that we may accept a limitation on our actions but never, under no circumstances, must we accept restriction on our thinking" (Achebe 207). Both of these leaders use speeches and the written word to spread their message. As Achebe tells his story, he sends a message which forces the reader to ask questions. Ironically, he tells his message in the English language, the language of his colonizers, which most Nigerians cannot understand; he appropriates his Postcolonial thought to the English language. He applies the traditional method of storytelling to untraditional stories about colonial oppression. By using technique to enforce theme, he guides the reader through the shift from the elite to the poor. Not only does this bring the reader deeper into the novel, it also shows the effects of Postcolonialism on the Nigerian culture.


Postcolonial Web Africa

OV Nigeria OV Achebe

OV Anthills

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