The Headstrong Historian: Heimat
Heimat struggle in The Head Strong Historian One is not born free to completely choose one’s path. Through different bonds that come from one’s family and community, a connection with certain characteristics are stuck to each person. This phenomenon is commonly known as heimat. Even though this Germanic word can be associated with homeland, it does not have a direct translation to the English language. Vilem Flusser, a Czech Jewish author, describes how in order to be free one must detach oneself from these heimats in his article “The Freedom of the Migrant”.
Here, he explains how each person is tied to his or her own heimat and furthermore talks about how these bonds are in one’s unconscious, “We are attached to heimat by many bonds, most of which are hidden and not accessible to consciousness” (Flusser, 3). Vilem Flusser truly believes that one’s freedom is created by one’s detachment from these bonds; this idea is represented through a variety of examples in Adichie’s short story “The Headstrong Historian”. Most human beings don’t have the opportunity to grow up with the chance to experience different cultures; for that matter different heimats.
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Most of today’s population does not have the means to travel and perceive other communities and ways of life. For that reason, it is very common for the average human being to grow accustomed to their traditions and feel that their native heimat is their ultimate heimat, in other words, the “right” heimat. Seeing as they do not know anything else, they cannot compare the quality of different things, “Those who are settled in a place confuse heimat with home. Because of this they sense that their heimat is nice and pleasant, in the same way that we think of our home as nice and pleasant.
And then they confuse prettiness with beauty” (Flusser, 13). This creates a sort of barrier of incomprehension towards another person’s way of life. An uncomfortable feeling grows inside of people when they are in a setting that is unfamiliar to them. With this, Flusser pushes the idea that a free person is one that liberates him or herself from their original heimat, and creates a freedom to feel comfortable in the heimats of his or her liking. In Adichie’s short story, she shows how her main character, Nwamgba, a widow from a small town in the south of Nigeria has never experienced a culture other than her own.
For that particular reason she was baffled when the white men started colonizing towns closed to her home. At first she was completely against assimilating to this new culture, yet because of problems with her deceased husband’s family members she started to accept them. Her heimat did not change despite the fact that these colonizers gained more power every day. She decided to enroll her son in a Catholic school since a young age and for that reason the bonds that linked him with his native south Nigerian heimat were not as strong as his mother’s. Nwamgba’s granddaughter was born with two very strong links to two different heimats.
Her father and mother were extremely catholic and carried a lot of European ideals, while her grandmother kept her south Nigerian traditions. Afamefuna, Nwamgba’s granddaughter, was taken from a young age to a catholic secondary school in which she lived with the ideals that her parents though were good for her. She even carried her English name, Grace. Afamefuna later grew up to be a very curious person; she visited great diverse cities like London and Paris, became one of the first females in Nigeria to graduate from university, and married a Kings College engineer.
Through all her experiences Afamefuna was able to separate herself from all her birth bonds and see the world as a migrant. She was able to differentiate and compare between different heimats. And even though in the end she decided to attach herself to her grandmother’s way of being, one that was taught to her since childhood, she was free. This is because she had a choice between many different heimats that she had the opportunity to distinguish. Heimat is not necessarily talking about a physical place; it is much more than that.
To begin to understand Heimat, one must first comprehend that the environment one is born into has a dramatic impact on the human relationships one develops during childhood. Normally, day by day these relationships begin to fortify, creating a stronger bond between oneself and the people important in life; parents, brothers, grandparents, etc. One can see how in “The Headstrong Historian” Ngwanba’s son Anikwenwa was born with a certain heimat, one that tied him to his mother, father, cousins, etc. Consequentially it made a bond with their traditions.
As he was a small boy his decisions were made depending on his mother’s wants and expectations. During the story it seemed that he liberated himself from his original heimat. He became a Catholic, but one could see that there was a constant struggle in his relationship with his mother, which was the only thing that tied him to his south Nigerian culture. This portrays how feelings of love and friendship connect people and maintains people, who try to take different paths, connected with their heimats. On the other hand hatred can also be a big bond to a person’s heimat.
Adichie shows this in her story as Ngwanba was originally tied to her husband’s cousins when he was still alive. She believes that they were the ones who poisoned her husband, for monetary motives. This hatred inside her linked her with them for the rest of her life as within herself she wanted revenge. “I am not mysteriously enmeshed with others but have freely chosen my relationships. These relationships are not less emotional or sentimental than those enmeshments, but they are more freely entered into” (Flusser, 6).
Vilem Flusser explains how there is not emotional or passionate difference between a relationship that one is born with compared to one that one creates. Different enclosed heimats create a sort of competition when dealing with morality and values. This competition develops a kind of heimat patriotism in which people with similar values unite to, in a sense; attempt to belittle other heimats with different sets of values. Although “belittle” might not necessarily be the best word choice in this context, people from different heimats have a tendency to portray an attitude that their own heimat is superior, consequentially belittling others. She went to the Oyi stream and and refused to remove her clothes because she was a Christian, the women of the clan, outraged that she dared to disrespect the goddess, beat her and dumped her at the grove” (Adichie, 213). Adichie explains how a transformed Christian, Ngwanba’s daughter in law, did not want to take of her clothes while bathing in the river. This small act created a chaos in the town between her husband, Anikwenwa, and the people of the town in southern Nigeria.
Even Ngwanba was against her daughter in law as her traditions and values are sacred to her. Ngwanba probably felt that another heimat’s action might be an attack against her own. This sort of patriotism described in the “Freedom of the Migrant” portrays that prejudices can be formed from the idea that one’s heimat is better or more profound than the other. In today’s world one can see clear examples of prejudice because of different traditions and morals; these prejudices can be because of sexual preferences, race, religion, etc.
Through experiences with different heimats one can learn to accept and comprehend different traditions and cultures, yet Flusser describe how for one to really comprehend other heimats one must liberate oneself from one’s heimat. In other words take away the unconscious being inside that binds a person to their heimat of birth. Though this does not mean that one’s heimat must be completely forgotten it just means that one needs to be able to observe it from the point of view that one observes heimats other than one’s own, in order to make a non-bias judgment on the path one is really meant to take.
Adichie’s “The Headstrong Historian” provides clear illustrations of how people, place, religion, pride, etc. create each person’s heimat. Adichie’s story and Vilem Flusser’s “The Freedom of the Migrant” both serve to portray that prejudice is formed because of the differences between heimats. As a person grows in age their exact heimat begins to form, day by day creating a larger barrier with others. This barrier is without doubt the creator of prejudice. Flusser expresses that in order to stop this prejudice one most detach oneself from these bonds and look at life through non-bias eyes.
He also explains that by separating oneself from these bonds one is actually free. These non-bias eyes are undoubtedly a metaphor for freedom. Work Cited Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Headstrong Historian” The Thing Around Your Neck. New York and Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf. 2009. 198-218. Flusser, Vilem, Kenneth Kronenberg, and Anke K. Finger. The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2003. Print. I pledge my honor that I have neither received nor provided unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work _________________