This page last revised 29 April 1998
The vast majority of administrators had little notion of what to expect in Nigeria. It appears as if their ideas of Nigeria were as vague as the Nigerians' views of England and Englishness, a fact well represented in Mister Johnson. Neither the coloniser nor the colonised had any real insight into the alien cultures they were faced with.
A major obstacle to overcome were the huge distances involved. Yet the problem was not just coming to terms with the vast geographical distances involved, but also the huge cultural gulf. Britain and Nigeria were entirely different worlds, with nothing in common other than a history of slavery. One important area of postcolonial studies is establishing some status of relationship between coloniser and colonised, whether the relationship is manufactured, or whether it is naturally present and needing only to be developed. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the relationship between Britain and Nigeria was manufactured to suit British demands. It seems inevitable that Britain achieved more out of the relationship than Nigeria ever would.
For European administrators, arriving in Nigeria in early colonial times was like stepping back into European history and encountering an almost medieval society of feudalism and patriarchy. Abdul JanMohamed has noted that it was ''an atmosphere of idealistic, paternalistic despotism'' (Manichean Aesthetics, 18). There was a completely different feel to Nigeria than Europe, and the administrators soon felt their king-like presence in this barbaric land. It seems inevitable that disillusionment would follow such elevated expectations. Due to problems of language and finances, many administrators ended their time in Nigeria disillusioned, isolated, and highly ambivalent in their opinions of both natives and the Imperial project.
The language barrier presented problems to indigenous peoples and Europeans alike. It presents a potent reflection of the shortcomings of Europeans administrative training. As Abdul JanMohamed has noted, when Joyce Cary arrived in Nigeria as a colonial employee of the Nigerian Political Service, he understood virtually nothing the natives were saying. Ironically, before leaving England, he had confidently passed all his Hausa language courses. This rendered even simple conversations with the natives an immediate problem. Postcolonialists have often harshly criticised the European employees for making little attempt to interact with the Nigerians. Yet perhaps the language was a major factor in this apparent unwillingness. Achebe's Things Fall Apart is instructive in showing the real difficulties encountered due to language. In Chapter 15, the natives kill a white man who did not even know enough of the language to survive the encounter. Achebe states ''He said something, only they did not understand him'' (116).
The Nigerians themselves suffered in a different fashion due to the language barrier. In their predicament, they realised that being on good terms with the British was the only way to get along. Knowing even basic English soon became essential. Even Cary realised that a native who could speak English had a distinct advantage over those who could not. Yet, as JanMohamed notes, speaking English often made a Nigerian seem childish and foolish. The issue of language could be seen as one of the most significant factors involved in the formation of Manichean Opposition, placing the assumed superiority of the Europeans as an undeniable fact beside the inferiority of the natives. The whole Imperial project revolved around this opposition, and language was one legitimising argument for it.
The colonial administrators also had to face the inadequacies of the colonial bureaucracy itself, particularly concerning finances and funding. More than any other area, financial issues display the hypocrisy and self interest which moved the Imperial project. Any pretences of civilising the natives and colonising them for their own benefit, are exposed as utter facades. Basically the colonial project in Nigeria was a business venture, and was run in as profit-orientated a fashion as any other business.
The image of Britain as peacemaker and civiliser in Africa was absolutely fundamental to the Imperial project. It was one of the key legitimising factors which brought much needed domestic support.
Yet as the administrators were soon to discover, despite the wealth of the British Empire, finances were not forthcoming for improvements in African society. As Ranger states, ''While life was being restructured in Britain itself ... most European activity in tropical Africa, whether official or unofficial, had remained tatty, squalid, rough and inefficient'' (''The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa'', 215). The only society visibly benefiting from Nigeria's submission to an alien power, was that of Britain.
Such was the financial stringency that administrators often had to resort to various forms of embezzlement to make some sort of headway in their regions. Cary's Mister Johnson provides an interesting of this activity. The reader can easily judge that the form of embezzlement Rudbeck uses to get money to build the road is common throughout Africa. Johnson refuses to see it as a crime, and casually acts as if it were simply a fact of life. If the Treasury was so stringent towards roadbuilding, an important aspect of the project, one can imagine the stringency involved in matters affecting only single localities and regions. It is little wonder the situation in Nigeria remained depressing for its European administrators.
In spite of these difficulties, the majority of administrators, including Cary, believed that on the whole, colonisation was good for Africa. As Mahood tells us, ''Cary did not share the sense of guilt which is commonly found among critics of colonialism. He viewed the race for Africa which took place between 1874 - 1900 as a historical phenomenon, the inevitable expression of the time's popular imperialism in all its forms - nationalistic, romantic and evangelical'' (Joyce Cary's Africa, 73).
This project was completed under the direction of Dr Leon Litvack as a requirement for the MA degree in Modern Literary Studies in the School of English at the Queen's University of Belfast. The site is evolving and will include contributions from future generations of MA students on other writers and themes.
This page was written by Richard Bleakley. E-mail me with your suggestions.
The Imperial Archive Project is supervised by Leon Litvack. E-mail me with your suggestions.
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