An Analysis of Culture in Things Fall Apart
The novel “Things Fall Apart” written by Chinua Achebe, is a tale based on the traditional beliefs and customs of an Ibo village during late 1800’s Africa. Through the telling of this story, we witness the remarkable depth of Igbo culture through its functions of religion, politics, judiciary and entertainment. One of Achebe’s challenges was to illustrate the Ibo’s religious system. Even though the Ibo people had little contact with the outside world, they had developed their own beliefs and practices that became essential elements in their everyday lives.
The Ibo religion played a role in the way they raised their families, communicated, entertained, and governed their society. Similar to those of the early Egyptian and Greek religions, the Ibo’s believed in several gods and goddesses that have been inspired from nature and its elements. Since the Ibo culture is dependent on agriculture and farming, they believe making peace with the gods will ensure a good harvest. This is illustrated on page 17 when Unoka is being told that, “…when a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm. This also demonstrates how the Ibo people believed their ancestors played an important role in religion, often consulting their spirits for advice and approval. It was believed that through good deeds and devotion to their gods and ancestors, that good fortune would follow. On page 27, Achebe introduces a proverb told by the Ibo, “…that when a person says yes, his chi says yes also,” demonstrating the Ibo belief that if one believes in their chi (another name for personal god), that they will support and ensure ones protection.
But it was also believed that if one were to sin or do anything to offend the gods, that punishment might follow. A good example of this can be found on page 30 after Okonkwo beats his wife during the Week of Peace—a sacred time for the Ibo people. The priest of the earth goddess, Ezeani, tells him, “The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish. ” He then tells him to, “…bring to the shrine of Ani tomorrow one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries,” in an effort to repent to Ani, the earth goddess.
As well as maintaining good morals and values, the Ibo people further connected with their gods and ancestors through the act of sacrifice. The Ibo people would sacrifice anything from fruit, small animals and in some instances, people. On page 17, Unoka explains that, “before I put any crop in the earth, I sacrifice a cock to Ani, the owner of all land. It is the law of our fathers. I also kill a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, the god of yams. ” Although some of the practices of the Ibo religion may seem harsh, its primary goal is to maintain a peaceful and just society.
Just as the Ibo celebrate religion with their gods, they also celebrate with each other. Later on page 97, Tortoise explains that he has, “…learned that a man who makes trouble for others is also making it for himself,” which demonstrates how the Ibo people followed principles similar to that of the “golden rule” found in many other religions of the time. Achebe also illustrates the Ibo judiciary and political system throughout the entire story. Similar to those in other cultures, the Ibo people had a very structured social order.
In the beginning of the story on page 18, Achebe describes Nwakibie’s status in the Ibo village by stating he, “…had taken the highest but one title which a man could take in the clan. ” He is described as very wealthy, with “three huge large barns” and “nine wives and thirty children. ” When the missionaries later arrive to the Ibo village (on page 148), they ask to speak to the king, but where told, “…there was no king. We have men of high title and the chief priests and the elders. ” In the Ibo culture, men of high power were said to be given a high “title”.
This system of hierarchy is similar to the ranks that governors and senators hold in the United States—and it appears that promiscuity is still common in both political systems (take John Edwards for example…). Whenever Ibo villagers needed to settle disputes, they would call upon the spirits of their ancestors (called egwugwu) to make communal decisions in court. On page 87, nine egwugwu are summoned to settle a dispute between a husband and his wife, Mgbafo. The trail is centered around what’s called the “egwugwu house” (equivalent to the home of a judge) judged by the leader of the egwugwu, named “Evil forest. On page 89, Achebe describes the beginning of the trial, “He (Evil Forest) took the first of the empty stools, and the eight other egwugwu began to sit in order of seniority after him,” which is very similar to the practices of the modern day US judiciary system when the judge is seated and members of the jury do so afterwards. In this case, Mgbafo has been accused of leaving her husband without returning her bride-price (money paid at the wedding) after he had beaten her. On page 92, it is states, “The law of Umuofia is that if a woman uns away from her husband her bride-price is returned,” which verifies that the Ibo people had laws just as any other culture would. Evil Forest heard the testimony and, “the nine egwugwu then went away to consult together in their house,” just as a modern-day jury would. Evil Forest soon returns and states, “We have heard both sides of the case…Our duty is not to blame this man or to praise that, but to settle the dispute,” and declares Mgbafo the winner, claiming she did it out of self defense. For disputes that are more political, the courts may be disregarded.
For example, on page 12, a dispute arises between a neighboring clan and Umuofia after a Umuofian woman is killed. Umuofia then engages in a war against the neighboring village, and justice is served with a compromise, “at the end they decided…that the girl should go to Ogbuefi Udo to replace his murdered wife. ” For disputes that are more spiritual, the Ibo villagers often consulted with the “Oracle of the Hills and the Caves” (a spirit that speaks the word of god) for advice and decisions. On page 16, Achebe describes how, “people came from far and near to consult it.
They came when misfortune dogged their steps or when they had a dispute with their neighbors. ” Earlier on page 12, Achebe writes, “…there were indeed occasions when the Oracle had forbidden Umuofia to wage a war,” which describes how the Oracle has also taken part in the Ibo political and judiciary system. Not only does Achebe elaborate on how the Ibo maintained a functional religious, political and judiciary system, but he also illustrates how they enjoyed daily life. The Ibo had a very efficient economic system, similar to that of a modern day society.
Agriculture was very important in the Ibo society and was considered one of the best paying jobs. Farmers spent most of their days cultivating yams and selling them in local markets in exchange for their currency, named the “cowry”. But when the Ibo people weren’t on the field, they were celebrating with song and dance. Whether they spent their days enjoying a wrestling match, or preparing for the New Year’s festivities, they always found a way to entertain themselves. To mark the beginning of each New Year, the Ibo village would hold a special feast called “The Feast of the New Yam. On pages 37 and 38, Achebe describes the feast as an, “…occasion for giving thanks to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. ” Members of the Umuofia village enjoy “Yam foo-foo and vegetable soup” and know that in the past, “…there was always a large quantity of food left over…. ” Achebe describes how Okonkwo’s wives, “scrubbed the walls and the huts with red earth until they reflect light,” and “…drew patterns on them in white, yellow and dark green,” in an effort to add decor.
The people also decorated their bodies, “painting themselves with cam wood and drawing beautiful black patterns on their stomachs and on their backs. ” The following day marks the day of the great wrestling match between Okonkwo’s village and the neighboring clan. On page 46, Achebe describes the event, “They stood round in a huge circle leaving the center of the playground free,” painting the picture of a special occasion. An image of drummers, “…beating them with sticks, working feverishly from one drum to another,” appears, to which Achebe describes them as being, “possessed by the spirit of the drums. Spectators watch the match as the wrestlers fight to the rhythm of the roaring crowd, until the entertainment is over. During the regular year, the Ibo villagers still find time for entertainment. At various times throughout the year, small traditional celebrations are held for the various gods. These celebrations are enjoyed with food and often kola nuts, which are offered to each member’s chi. At various points in the story, the elders of the community also tell traditional folk tales and use proverbs to spread wisdom to the community.
On page 100, Ekwefi and Enzima share a story about Tortoise and Cat. She even begins with, “Once upon a time,” just as many Europeans begin their own stories. In conclusion, Achebe provides evidence throughout “Things Fall Apart” that the Ibo people had an established, moral culture before the arrival of the Europeans. Achebe has shown that Ibo were an extremely spiritual, political and hard-working society, filled with function and pursuit—the perfect ingredients to a peaceful and just society.