What if Oroonoko's Tribe Practiced Tribal Scarring?
Alpha Behn spends a lot of time discussing Oroonoko and Imoinda's beauty. Her ideal of beauty, however, is based on the Eurocentric ideals of the western world. "The most famous Statuary cou'd not form the Figure of a Man more admirably turn'd from head to foot...His Nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat. His Mouth, the finest shap'd that could be seen...The whole Proportion and Air of his Face was so noble, and exactly form'd, that, bating his Colour, there cou'd be nothing in Nature more beautiful, agreeable, and handsome" (13). Of course, Behn's characterization of Oroonoko and Imoinda was necessary to convince her Eurocentric audience that these characters were worth caring about (Brown). How receptive would Behn's audience have been if Oroonoko's tribe had practiced the method of tribal scarring that Sembene Ousmane portrays in his short story "Tribal Scars" (Ousmane)?
In "Tribal Scars", Sembene Ousmane presents a theory of how tribal scarring first began. It begins with a group of men sitting around a table drinking tea and discussing current affairs. When the subject of tribal scarring comes up, the table erupts into a melee of confusion with everyone wanting to add his opinion of how the practice first started. The story that is eventually accepted by all is that African tribes began scarring themselves so they would not be taken as slaves, and ever since then, tribal scarring has been a symbol of freedom (See text page on "Tribal Scars").
If Oroonoko's tribe had practiced tribal scarring, Aphra Behn would have had trouble convincing her readers that the African's were worth saving. The practice of tribal scarring would most likely have reinforced to her readers that Africans were savages and unlike Europeans in any way. This would not have helped Behn's cause to fight slavery. For the sake of her book and her cause, Behn had to create characters with European characteristics and behaviors.
How They Treat Their Women: A Comparison of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko and Achebe's Okonkwo
There has been some discussion about whether Imoinda was actually sold into slavery or if she just exchanged one form of slavery for another (See discussion question 2 below). In Imoinda's tribe, women were owned by their men. They had no rights of choice. When Oroonoko's grandfather beckoned, Imoinda's only recourse was to obey. Yet, the power she held over Oroonoko was so strong that this most powerful warrior of the land was reduced to a blubbering idiot when he lost her.
On the other hand, when Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart, he created a world where women, although they have certain privileges in the tribe, hold very little influence over their men (See Things Fall Aparttext page for more information). How can these two authors, writing about the same people (the Ibo), portray such different perspectives regarding gender?
Both Behn and Achebe concentrate on the qualities that make their characters most believable to their audiences. Behn was writing for a strictly European audience and Achebe was writing for an audience that consisted of Westerners and colonized Africans who had been immersed in Western ideology.
We must also consider the gender of the authors. It is evident that Behn, a woman and a romance writer, would want to create female characters who held power over their male counterparts. Achebe, on the other hand, writes from a man's point of view and could not let his character be sidetracked by foolish sentimentality. If Achebe had instilled a romantic bone in Okonkwo's character, it would have detracted from the overall message that Achebe set out to achieve. He was not writing a romance fiction. He was writing a story to make people more aware of the effects of colonization then, and the lingering effects of colonization on Africa still today.
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