The Catechism in Chike’s School Days

            In Chike’s School Days, author Chinua Achebe paints a picture of British colonialism in Nigeria during the first half of the 20th century. Chike, the main character, is the only boy in a family of five daughters. He has three names:  John (Christian name), Chike (familiar name), and Obiajulu (formal name). Even though Chike is an Osu, the lowest social class in the Igbo tribe, he is not considered lower class by the British because of the Christian education he receives at the British school.

One of the important tools used by Chike’s teacher in the story is the catechism, or the book that taught Christian principles in the form of question and answer. For example, Chike’s teacher would ask the class who Caesar was, and the students would say that he was chief of Rome and that he ruled the whole world (referring to the Mediterranean region). However, they answered through song and dance. This immersion of African musicality into the Christian lesson shows the difference between the two cultures. Another aspect in which Achebe displays their differences is in the teaching of English vocabulary. Chike is fascinated by the “explosive vocabulary” of his teacher, and he liked to copy out long words from the Chamber’s Etymological Dictionary (which, ironically, is used today in America to punish students in detention rather than to improve their vocabulary).

Although some of the story focuses on Chike’s love for school and the new world opened to him through his English education, another part of the story focuses on the clash between British and Nigerian customs. Not only is the Nigerian hierarchy flipped around after the British arrive, but many Nigerians convert to Christianity, gaining glares from their neighbors and family members. Achebe, in a stroke of genius, managed to convey this ethnic and cultural struggle through Chike’s family and surrounding circumstances while keeping in the front of the reader’s mind innocent Chike sitting at his school desk and copying out of a dictionary.

The following journal entry (if you would like to call it that) is my attempt to look at the world through Chike’s eyes. Since Chike is in primary school at the end of the story, you will see spelling and grammar errors in this entry to reflect his grade level.

   i luv skool

   i luv claping my hands as we sing ceasar was the cheif of rome the rulr of the hole world

   i ask my teachr if caesar rules our village but he laugh and told me to sit duwn

   i luv learning English wurds  their not like Igbo wurds

   i goed home yesturday and ask mom if caesar rules our village  she said if caesar is white then he does

   i goed to the children next door to play  there mom come out and I ask her if caesar rules our village  she laugh and tells me go away osu

   i dun’t like math lessons at school

   my teacher teach us wurds like periwinkle and damascus

   he say periwinkle means blue but its also a sea snail in a place he calls Europe  he say damascus is a place too

   i think my teachers periwinkle eyes are prety

   i think my black skin is prety too

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