Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Headstrong Historian

The Headstrong Historian by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (read the story)

This new short story was published in The New Yorker in the June 23rd issue. The story starts with the marriage of a Nigerian woman, Nwamgba, shortly before the arrival of the British- not to Nigeria, but to her own village and therefore the only world that matters to her. When her husband dies she sends her only son, Anikwenwa, to Catholic school so that he can learn English and one day defend his mother's rights against his scheming uncles. What actually happens is his cultural conversion, which pains her even more.

Anikwenwa's success in his new culture makes me wonder if the first Africans to adapt to their colonizers' language and culture weren't the ones whose children are well off even now. In my time in Monapo, I met some Mozambicans who worked in the banks or government offices, who were somewhat more educated and spoke better Portuguese. I wonder if they are in the positions they are in because at a very early age they excelled in school. Or was it that two or three generations ago their ancestors saw the advantages assimilation carried and were the first to press their children into school? Can their current success be attributed to their grandparents' decisions to learn Portuguese and work within the system?

As in this story, were the parents and grandparents saddened by the unexpected loss of the old culture?

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