Anthills of the Savannah is Chinua Achebe‘s forthright vision of contemporary African politics. Through the powerful fusion of angry voices, the novel depicts the problems faced by newly independent African states. The corrupt political set up of the fictional West African state of Kangan is one of the most prevailing themes of the novel. The Kangenese government fails to fulfil people’s desire for peace, change, and prosperity. The common masses are insecure and devoid of their basic social amenities. The novel doesn’t merely highlight the prevailing social issues and conflicts, but also suggests effective means and measures to cure the society. The title of the novel ‘Anthills of the Savannah’ has a great significance in this regard.
The title of Anthills of the Savannah highlights the importance of a strong community. It gives people the message to overcome the history of suffering by inculcating a strong sense of community among them. The nation of Kangan is their homeland, strength, and protection, just like an anthill is for ants. Let’s discuss the title significance in detail.
Significance of the Term ‘Anthills’ in the Novel’s Title
Achebe’s title Anthills of the Savannah is very relevant to the novel both symbolically as well as metaphorically. The term ‘Anthills’, in particular, has a special significance in the story.
Anthills are the mound-like nests where ants live and organize their lifecycle. They are generally formed when ants collectively dig underground colonies and deposit the extra soil in one spot. These anthills demonstrate ants’ commitment to work and become symbols of hard work and protection. Moreover, anthills further symbolize cooperation and productivity among co-workers. Thus, the term anthills refer to the collections of workers who live together, cooperate, and treat one another non-aggressively.
Furthermore, the inhabitants of the anthills, the tiny ants, are symbolic of discipline, determination, hard work, and endurance. They give us a message that we can’t achieved anything in life without effort, diligence, and willpower. By putting the term ‘anthill’ in the novel’s title, Achebe gives his people the message of cooperation, perseverance, endurance, and struggle. He encourages them to build a strong community and bring a social change in their nation.
Thus, Anthills of the Savannah aims at bringing a social change within the Nigerian society. According to Achebe, it is the common masses who, if work collaboratively like ants, can build a strong nation. Their collaboration, struggle, determination, and hard work can lead them to build collective spaces where they can live happily and securely, as ants live in their anthills.
The Symbolic Significance of title Anthills of the Savannah
The title of Anthills of the Savannah has a symbolic significance as well. Ikem’s “Hymn to the Sun” says, “The trees had become hydra-headed bronze statues so ancient that only blunt residual features remained on their faces, like anthills surviving to tell the new grass of the savannah about last year’s bush fires.” Here the ‘anthills’ symbolize the elders of Abazon. According to Achebe, it is these elders who are the repositories of communal memory and ancestral wisdom. The colonial rulers and western cultural influences have penetrated almost every sphere of life and severely affected African heritage and identity. This annihilation of the tradition and culture has severely ravaged the savannah (African society). As a result, the people are living a rootless existence.
But the Abazon elders, in spite of the adverse socio political conditions, have survived to tell the coming generation—’the new grass’—the past stories of struggle, conflicts or crisis—’last year’s brush fire’—and thus inspire them to strive for social reformation. Thus, the title of the novel Anthills of the Savannah also symbolizes hope and renewal.
Additionally, the title is also symbolic of unity, strength and protection. As we know that anthills are colonies of ants, where black, brown or red ants work and live together. Similarly, the Nigerian people, according to Achebe, can create a strong communal society regardless of their racial, ethnic, gender or religious differences. In this way they will remain united and thus protected since no outward power will be able to divide and rule over them.
The Metaphoric Significance of Title
The words ‘anthills’ and ‘savannah’ in the title have a metaphorical significance as well. ‘Anthills’ is a metaphor for the survivors or indicators of regeneration. Whereas ‘savannah’ as used in the title of the novel metaphorically refers to a state in West Africa, specifically Nigeria. If we analyze the title from a metaphoric point of view, here arises a question: who are the ‘anthills’ (survivors) of the ‘savannah’?
Ikem’s ‘Hymn to the Sun’ tells us the resilience and ability of anthills to survive brush fires. This ability also makes them a symbol of massive power. Both ‘brush fires’—poor governance—and ‘anthills’—massive power—are familiar features of the ‘savannah’—African society. The ants who remain united in the anthills are always untouched by brush fires. These ants are the survivors that will build further anthills (strong communities) in future.
Thus, the ‘anthills’ of the ‘savannah’ are the survivors who are the mixture of highly educated citizens, urban working classes, and government officials—represented by Beatrice, Elewa, Emmanuel, Adamma, Braimoh, Captain Abdul, etc. Like ants, they are also under the rule of a queen, Beatrice. All these survivors herald the possibility of potential regeneration and better African future. They would tell the new grass—Amaechina, a symbol of hope and regeneration—about the sacrifices made by their ancestors, Ikem and Chris, to save the nation. These survivors, when threatened by the poor governance, will band together in droves (like ants), and overthrow it to restore the nation to its rightful status.
Thus, the title of Anthills of the Savannah is a metaphor of the survival and resilience of African societies. The anthills in the African landscapes (or savannahs), instead of succumbing to brush fires, prefer endurance, determination and struggle. These abilities ultimately make them secure and certain that new grass will grow.
Anthills of the Savannah from Ironic Point of View
We can also see the title of the book Anthills of the Savannah from ironic point of view. ‘Anthills’ are known for their well organized and harmonious ant world. But the human world depicted in the novel is extremely chaotic and disillusioned. It is filled with corruption, exploitation, and disappointment. Here, Achebe highlights the comparison between ants who have a good sense of communal relationship, and men who take delight in exploiting and suppressing their fellow men. This comparison emphasizes the fact that there is a dire need of change in the African societies.
The novel Anthills of the Savannah tells us that in order to achieve success and freedom people must have to be united like ants and fight for their rights.