Summary and Analysis
Following the killing of the messenger, the District Commissioner goes to Okonkwo's compound and, finding a small crowd, demands to see Okonkwo. Obierika repeatedly says that he is not home. When the Commissioner threatens the men, Obierika agrees to show him where Okonkwo is, expressing the hope that the Commissioner's men will help them.
Obierika leads the Commissioner and his men to an area behind the compound, where Okonkwo's body hangs lifeless from a tree — a victim of suicide. Obierika asks the Commissioner if his men will cut Okonkwo down from the tree and bury him. According to tradition, the people of the clan cannot touch the body of a man who killed himself — a sin against the earth. Obierika angrily accuses the Commissioner causing the death of his good friend. The Commissioner orders his men to take down the body and bring it and the crowd to the court.
As the Commissioner leaves, he thinks about the book in which he writes about his experiences in civilizing the people of Nigeria. He will possibly write a chapter, or perhaps an interesting paragraph, about the man who killed a messenger and then killed himself. The Commissioner will title his book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
The book's final confrontation between the District Commissioner and the Umuofians is almost anticlimactic. It serves to demonstrate once more the deep cultural gulf between the Europeans and the Igbos. This difference is dramatized not solely by the events but also by the language of the chapter. For example, notice the sudden appearance of several literate words relating to the Commissioner throughout the scene: infuriating, superfluous, instantaneously, resolute. He imagines himself to be a "student of primitive customs," listening to the explanation of the "primitive belief" about handling the body of a suicide. His warning about the natives playing "monkey tricks" may reflect his views that they are, in fact, animalistic — perhaps like primates in the wild.
In preparation for the final paragraph of the novel, Achebe dramatically shifts the narrative style from an omniscient, mostly objective point of view to the personal point of view of the District Commissioner, whose thoughts in the final paragraph become the final irony of the book. The Commissioner sees himself as a benevolent ambassador to the natives — one who must maintain his dignity at all times in order to earn the favorable opinion of the natives. He prides himself on having spent many years toiling to bring "civilization to different parts of Africa," and he has "learned a number of things." The Commissioner feels that his experiences allow him the privilege of writing the definitive book on The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
Primitive is, of course, his British point of view. The Commissioner, like other colonialists, cannot imagine that he understands very little about the Igbo, especially that they are not primitive — except perhaps from a European technological perspective. In the meantime, the novel has revealed to its readers the complex system of justice, government, society, economy, religion, and even medicine in Umuofia before the British arrived.
Finally, the Commissioner seems unconcerned about the ironic fact that the colonialists' methods of pacification are often achieved through suppression and violence — themselves essentially primitive means for achieving nationalistic objectives.
superfluous being more than is needed, useful, or wanted; surplus; excessive.
monkey tricks possibly a racial slur directed at the natives.
resolute having or showing a fixed, firm purpose; determined; resolved; unwavering.
abomination anything hateful and disgusting.
Yes, sah Yes sir; the form may be Pidgin English and illustrates how the native-born court messengers submitted to the orders of their white bosses — at least on the surface.