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Conflicts Between Modern And Traditional Culture Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1808 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Probably the most noticeable change towards society in the last few years has been the manifestation of the word “change”. We talk of changing our processes and ways of doing things, how to introduce new methods, products, and practices into a fast developing world, that can sometimes be resistant to change whether it is good or bad. However when we refuse to give in to this impending storm of modernity which is set out to change our well-established practices conflict arises. This conflict is being fought but countries all over the world who are on the verge of losing their deep rooted principles, its culture to modernity or westernization.

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Change or modernity can be used interchangeably they are be presented in two forms it’s either positive or negative. As a result of globalization some cultures and traditions are been lost. When change emerges in such a way that it condemns your own traditions viewing them as old and stale, such situations give rise to conflicts like in the case of Michael Obi. The fact that both modern methods and traditional ways are both important and valuable for our community cannot be over emphasized. What is it about tradition that makes it so important to people, that even as the respond to change they still don’t want to part with it? We usually think of traditions as something that is passed down through the generations, they can also be started again by doing the same thing for three years in a row to positive emotions and feelings of love. Traditions today are our most prized possessions that stay the same it reminds and links us to our past, our roots, and our family. Eventually as we yield to change we can only come to the realization that modern methods and traditions are both important to us, and with the help of our knowledge and experience we have gained over the years we can confidently say that a common ground can be established on which modernity and tradition can coexist in such a way that it benefits the parties involved.

Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path” is a short story, where the writer embellished the conflicts between modern and traditional culture of a society. For someone to understand this short story you have to dig deeper into the plot, the conflict, the characters, and the whole setting itself in order to fully understand what the writer is trying to convey to the readers. This story tries to highlight some aspects of human nature through the character of Michael Obi. Michael appears to have adopted the ways of the western world or the modern society. He has a very ambitious dream to “modernize” the school where he has been deployed. Mr. Michael Obi is a reflection of how blind the human mind can be at times. His aspirations have gotten into his head too much that he loses respect of other cultures which he himself is from by virtue of his name “Obi” which is an Ibo name. Obi’s high aspirations have certainly infiltrated his mind in such a way that in his conversation with the priest of “Ani” he condemns the traditions of the village when he says:

“The whole purpose of our school,” he said finally, “is to eradicate just such beliefs as that. Dead men do not require footpaths. The whole idea is just fantastic. Our duty is to teach your children to laugh at such ideas.”

Obi feels appalled at how their traditions “blot” the splendor of the school that he runs. He is too engrossed over creating a good image of himself and the inspectors, that he feels the inhabitants and their “petty” customs are a big obstacle to attaining his goal. Although the belief of the village people appears to be illogical and futile, any agent of change should be open-minded and respectful to their beliefs and practices. Michael Obi fails to accept the varieties of cultures existing in his community, and by imposing what he thought is right he gets his “reward”: a bad report from the government inspector. A man who couldn’t think of a more civilized way of achieving his dreams, thus, yielded to the bad influences of modernization and affecting the peaceful spiritual beliefs of the occupants in the village. In the character of Nancy, Michael Obi’s wife we are able to see that she has fully adopted modern ways of doing thing. He character symbolizes the western influence. The school represents the attempt to separate tradition from modernity, and on a greater extent eradicate superstitious belief completely from the future. The school is where young minds are molded and is a perfect place to begin inserting ideas of change. 

One of such similar situations was an incident that happened many years ago in my own native land. The name of my village is “amokwe” which means in our community which is called “ibuzor” there were many villagers who were pagans. This traditional worship had been in existence even after the missionary came in and built a church. Most of these traditionalists subsequently became parishioners at St Patrick’s Catholic Church. Some of the villagers denounced their beliefs and accepted Christianity and some swung both ways they still stick to their traditional beliefs and Christianity. During a certain period the parish had a new priest who openly preached about how diabolical the traditional beliefs were and how they hindered the progress of the people. The teachings of this priest infuriated some parishioners. They held a meeting with other members of the community and came up with a solution. The decided to strip him of his cloths and make him walk with his boxers round the village. Usually public disgrace was the highest form of punishment you could face. It basically entailed that you had to walk around the village with no cloths and palm fronds were tied on your waist and head while people followed you at your back and sang songs and flogged you occasionally. This happened to be the punishment that the meeting concluded. Some days later early in morning the villagers set out to the residence of the priest and subjected him to the above explained punishment. This went on for some hours till they reached the local government head quarters called UDI were through the advert of some policemen the priest was speared and released. The case was reported to the bishop of Enugu diocese. The bishop came in and took the priest along with the Blessed Sacrament. The act of taking the Blessed Sacrament meant that masses could not be celebrated at that parish. For one year the community was without Sunday service. After a while some elders came to an agreement and decided to go back and plead with the bishop to reinstate a priest to celebrate Sunday services and have the Blessed Sacrament retuned. Though the bishop agreed a meeting was held with the entire community was a conclusion was drawn. This solution was exactly what the priest of “Ani” said. “Let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch” which basically means let’s let everyone live. This meant that whoever chose to stick to their traditional belief was left to do what they wanted as long as they didn’t cross or condemn each other’s practices. They basically had to learn to coexist in peace and harmony. This coexistence was finally achieved with time and things gradually returned back to normal. Although today I can say 90% of the villagers are now Christians but there are still the remaining 10% that still practice these traditional religions. 

Traditions are very important but when these traditions start to affect us negatively its best we do away with the bad aspect of it or make an effort to modify it into something positive. In our lives today we can only posses maturity when we’re able respect the various beliefs of people around us; even if, we think it is absurd. These stories explained above re basically reminding us that tradition and modernity should not exist as exclusive entities; rather they should complement each other. It is necessary for Traditions to progress with modernity, yet it should not be destroy the past as was portrayed by Michael Obi when he said, “Our duty is to teach your children to laugh at such ideas.” We’ll indeed must look at the past with reverence than with disgust because no matter how modern one maybe our tradition makes us complete. There should always be an ideal blend of modernity and belief each person posses. The plot however is somewhat unfinished for full understanding it will depend on what the readers’ imagination may perceive.

Every now and then human beings become overwhelmed with joy that we forget that there are people around us who may be affected by our careless actions. Michael Obi is a foreigner to that place just like the priest but as a head principal or public figure he should have observed their culture and not impose his own way. Given the wrong education, the students may be detrimental to society, in the same way that Mr. Obi has been detrimental to the village people.

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In our world today, the younger generations are too busy trying to advance their everyday life by having everything explained scientifically. They tend to neglect the beliefs of their ancestors. However, the destruction of the school created a turning point for the people to accept that “the beliefs of the ancestors are as powerful as the innovations of the western world. No matter how powerful a structure may appear to be if its components are empty on the inside, there is practically no doubt that it will disintegrate. The obstruction of this path could mean that education in Africa becomes not a real education of impartial learning but a shrouded way of reaping of the people of their heritage and wealth. The school’s purpose becomes not to teach but to create wealth for the colonial masters. The school is a symbol of oppression to the people of Africa where they are mocked in the face by being referred to as some crude, backward and illiterate people, simply because they lack the optimism and contemporary thoughts of their colonial masters or the western world.


Gusfield, Joseph R. “Tradition and Modernity: misplaced Polarities in the Study of Social Change.”American Journal of Psychology 72.4 (1967): 351-62. Jstor, Web. .

Liscombe, Rhodri Windsor. “Modernism in Late Imperial British West Africa: The Work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, 1946-56.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 65.2 (June 2006): 188-215. JSTOR. Web. .


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