Broken Traditions

Two entirely different cultures are brought together in unique fashion in Courtney’s The Power of One, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and Costner’s Dances with Wolves, to reveal a common theme. When two cultures collide, the infringing and more imposing civilization generally retains its customs while either altering or destroying aspects of the weaker culture’s way of life. Peekay demonstrates this theme through his childhood and adult experiences in The Power of One. Okonkwo and lesser characters are able to endow this idea in Things Fall Apart, and likewise, Lt. John Dunbar is able to do so in Dances with Wolves. When two cultures come together, religion, politics, and views of intolerance are all affected.

Religion has been the bearer of wars and strife amongst civilizations because of the enormous role it plays in defining a society. Therefore, when two cultures come together, the more dominant culture’s religion will typically prevail. This scenario is evident in The Power of One, on occasion. The most obvious instance of this occurring is when Peekay returns home from his amazing adventure with Hoppie and cannot find his Nanny waiting to embrace him. Peekay proceeds to question the members of the household in an attempt to discover the whereabouts of his Nanny, of Zululand descent. His mother is relatively uneasy to tell Peekay the truth. However, the boy’s persistence coerces her to disclose what really happened to his Nanny who had been with him from birth, when she was deported to a facility for the mentally unstable. Apparently, Peekay’s Nanny had been banished to her homeland because she refused to remove her defining amulets and accept Christianity. Peekay does not truly understand his Nanny’s ostracism and realizes that there are many new changes with Dee and Dum, the two housemaids, as well. It is now obligatory for them to remove their religion oriented jewelry and read from Bible under the newly instated policy of Peekay’s authoritarian mother.

There is evidence of religion being affected drastically in Things Fall Apart as well. The encroachment of the English serves as a catalyst to the collapse of the Ibo tribe’s pillars of faith and philosophy. At first, the white men are nothing more than a humorous attraction with amusing stories of a single God. However, there are a few members of the Ibo tribe who embrace this awkward religion. Nwoye, son of Okonkwo, is of those who are attracted to Christianity, primarily because it preaches the necessity to cherish and respect women; a concept which lacks in the idol worshipping religion of his people. The author focuses on Nwoye in order to demonstrate the deterioration of the black man’s religion and philosophy. Nwoye and others like him are beginning to realize a greater place for women in society, whereas earlier in the novel, women are mere subjects of men, who are barred from major social events. The beliefs of the Ibo people continue to shatter like glass when they allow the establishment of the church in the evil woods. They believe by allowing the English to reside in the foreboding and unseen woods, they will consequently be quelled. Nonetheless, when this scenario never occurs, it is lucid evidence that there is something wrong with their philosophies. Okonkwo begins to see the weakening of his people with the killing of the sacred python and egwugwu spirit by a Christian disciple. This feebleness is moreover shown when Okonkwo and his comrades are disgraced by a white judge for retaliating with the destruction of a church. The ultimate demonstration of the Ibo people’s debilitated state is when they refuse to follow in Okonkwo’s footsteps and wage war upon the white men. Okonkwo later hangs himself in utter disgust, symbolizing the noose which strangled the Ibo tribe’s religion and philosophies.

Lieutenant John Dunbar, the protagonist of Dances with Wolves, undergoes a transformation in his beliefs after discovering the culture of the Sioux. John Dunbar is assigned duty on the western front after becoming a wartime hero while attempting suicide. To Dunbar’s surprise, his post is vacant and he is inclined to become acquainted with the wilderness as well as with the awkward Indians. At first, the Sioux tribe and Dunbar are reluctant to befriend on account of the poisonous views which plagued their outlooks on account of their exceedingly different upbringings. Soon, however, the two cultures come together, and eventually Dunbar becomes a tribesman and is given the name, Dances with Wolves. He learns their philosophies about the buffalo and its unique quality to sustain an entire tribe. Every part of the buffalo can be used to create useful tools, shelter, and food for the Indians. Dances with Wolves also learns to respect the animals instead of killing them purely for sport. Another philosophy that Dances with Wolves discovers from the Sioux is the purpose of fighting wars. Rather than engaging in battle on account of pointless political issues, the Sioux would only do so to protect their land, food, and families as they did against another tribe. Due to a lack of this astute concept and a feeling of uselessness, he almost committed suicide as a Union officer. However, Dances with Wolves now realizes the necessity and importance of fighting and is more than willing to lose his life to defend the tribe’s wellbeing. During his stay with the Sioux, Dances with Wolves acquires an animosity for the imposing white men who look to steal Indian land. This profound hatred is shown when he is captured by the settlers. He refuses to feed the commanders information on the whereabouts of the Sioux and in addition, he is eager to slay his captors and escape.

Cultures are redefined politically in order to dominate their opposing counterpart in any way possible during a clash. This theory is ascertained in The Power of One through the apartheid that was established by the government to create a separation between whites and blacks in South Africa. This is a policy which Peekay experiences first hand on many accounts. As a young boy, Peekay is familiarized with segregated shops which were specifically designed for blacks or whites, but does not understand why. However, as Peekay matures, he begins to realize that the segregation that he has gradually grown accustomed to is on account of the politically instituted edict, apartheid. Supposedly, the segregation laws were designed so that each tribe of South Africa could develop to its absolute potential independently. However, apartheid only brews evil within the hearts of the people and creates ideas of superiority. Such an act gave the small number of Europeans dominance over the blacks who were much more prevalent in South Africa by subjecting them to unjust laws. Although black people were the majority, they were forced to inhabit secluded lands, carry passes when going places, and maintain a curfew. Any breakage of these rules could lead to arrest or brutality. The apartheid movement seems to give Borman, a violent warder at the Barberton Prison, a reason to kill Geel Piet because he refuses to provide incriminating information. Peekay is devastated by the death of Geel Piet because he was a true friend and mentor. The quickly maturing boy does not believe it right that Geel Piet should have died simply because of a foolish ideology of white supremacy, which originated from the apartheid. Later in the novel, Peekay and his friend, Morrie, fight the system of injustice by starting a night school for black people. Their motivation for beginning such a school is due to the fact that the type of schooling for blacks during the apartheid was not up to par. The apartheid was a political decree that was intolerant and designed to impose white supremacy across South Africa.

The political actions a civilization takes place to maintain authority is further shown in Dances with Wolves. In the film, the white settlers are keen on running out the Indians by continually expanding on the western front, which is home to thousands of them. Before long, the Americans assume position over the fort which was assigned to Lt. John Dunbar. They plan to root out the scattered Indians and exterminate them as a political move towards complete power. The Sioux know that the settlers are coming but are unsure of their campaign. When Dances with Wolves is compelled to reveal his knowledge, he is somewhat reluctant, not wanting to dishearten the Indians. He tells them the truth however, asserting that the invaders are coming in numbers as large and staggering as the amount of stars in the sky. Dances with Wolves’ assertion eventually takes place, and the Sioux tribe is driven from their land and made captive by the overbearing explorers in their quest for dominance and glory.

When cultures collide, the ignorant will discriminate for little or no reason. Peekay is an excellent example of this. Peekay withstands a most enduring stay at the Boer boarding school because he is “rooinek” or English. Peekay is hated for something he cannot control – his ethnicity. The hate that Peekay’s peers direct towards him stems from the eventful Boer War, where 28, 000 Boer women and children were savagely killed by English troops. Although Peekay had nothing to do with this sad occurrence, to the students at the boarding school, Peekay embodies the English massacre and therefore, he is targeted. One boy in particular, known simply as the Judge, takes the lead in tormenting the five year old “rooinek”. He bestows the belittling name “Pisskop” to Peekay because he can not help his bet wetting stages. The Judge makes Peekay do grueling tasks and even assembles a concentration camp designed just for Peekay. The devilish Judge even kills Peekay’s beloved pet, Grandpa Chook. During his stay at the boarding school, Peekay is viciously abused mentally, physically, and emotionally out of sheer ignorance.

As in The Power of One, discrimination is seen on numerous occasions in Things Fall Apart. Hatred is primarily noticed when Reverend James Smith replaces Mr. Brown as missionary. Smith is unkind, callous, and disrespectful to the religious beliefs of the Ibo tribe. Additionally, Smith insists on an absolute obedience to the Bible and his intolerant character is a major factor that drives Enoch to unmask an egwugwu. On the other hand, Okonkwo demonstrates bigoted actions as well. Okonkwo is disgusted with the invading culture and wishes to dispose of them using force. To him, their lifestyle and philosophies are strange and therefore erroneous. Okonkwo is apart of the majority of the conflicts that arise with the settlers due to his overwhelming hatred for them. Rather than sharing the land, philosophies, and customs of each others cultures, the characters are subjected to racism because of their ignorance.

Some aspects of cultures are retained while others are discarded when two societies intertwine. In all cases, aspects are always changed. This can be seen in The Power of One, Things Fall Apart, and Dances with Wolves, where religion, politics, and views of intolerance are all affected in one way or another. Man’s innate characteristics include a desire to fight and achieve superiority, which is why culture clashes will by no means cease to exist.




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