Culture is described as shared behavioral behaviors and experiences learned by socialization. Religion and diet are examples of cultural elements, as are dress, marriage, and people’s values. Many cultures have firmly ingrained traditions and convictions in ancient theology. Polytheism, polygamy, wife succession, and patriarchy are some of the traditional group values. Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” depicts one such society. Chinua has attempted to depict the contrast between civilizations between the Igbo and Western cultures in this captivating piece of art. The writer has employed the use of various linguistic styles such as imagery to capture the attention of his intended audience.
Polygamy and polytheism are part and parcel of the Umuofian clan’s custom. The role and responsibility of each family member is clearly defined. The men are portrayed as being overly domineering. The women and children is contrast are treated as being inferior in the society. Consequently they are often beaten and degraded by the dominant males. Life in Chinua Achebe’s Umuofia seems unbearable, languishing in the shackles of male chauvinism. Most of the cultural practices of the Umuofia people are simply archaic and have no place in the modern day Western culture (Achebe et al., 2010).
The setting of this excerpt is in the 1890’s, prior to the British Colonization. The novel is about the nine Igbo speaking villages of Umuofia which means the “people of the forest.” Umuofia is basically the village where Achebe’s protagonist Okonkwo has managed to secure his position as an influential and well-respected man in the village. His personal fame is first earned when he defeats Amalinze in a wrestling competition. Umuofia was traditionally known to be a powerful society feared by all its neighbors. The community’s medicine men and priests were more specifically revered far and wide. It’s most feared magic was called Agadi-Nywayi. It had its shrine set up at the center of Umuofia. The people of the forest were extremely loyal and devoted to the magic and the community’s religion. They believed that these ancient beings gave them power over their adversaries.
One cultural practice of the Igbo people very distinct from the Western culture is polygamy. Polygamy basically refers to the custom of having more than one wife. A man’s wealth in the Umuofian community was measured by the number of wives and children that they had. Okonkwo was not badly off. He had three wives and eight children. In sharp contrast the western culture does not practice polygamy. The culture instead advocates for monogamy. This is a form of marriage where one man marries one woman. According to the western culture having more than one partner is a recipe for divorce. In Umuofia however, villagers are encouraged to have as many wives as possible as long as they are able to cater for their needs.
Polytheism is another common belief practiced by the Igbo people. It refers to the worship of more than one god. Chinua states that, “a man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi.” “Chi” here referring to a personal god. Furthermore he states that Unoka was an ill-fated man. He had bad chi and evil fortune followed him to the grave. Here Achebe depicts how the chi or personal god was of great importance to the Igbo people. It could foretell the people’s future (Achebe & James, 2010).
Moreover, it was customary for the Igbo people to make sacrifices to the gods. Unoka for instance performed a ritual ceremony every year to appease Ani, the owner of the land. He did this before planting. This denotes the importance of religion and rituals among the Igbo. Okonkwo believes that his endeavors were successful because he often killed a couple of roosters for the ancestors but not because he cultivated good crops. In contrast, the western culture does not practice the ritual of sacrifice. In fact in most regions the killing of an animal for sacrificial purposes is considered to be a violation of the animal cruelty laws. Judaism a religion that initially practiced sacrifices has done away with the ritual, replacing it with a nonviolent rite.
Many of the members of the Umuofian community found flaws in the culture and way of life. Their religious practices and rituals often brought untold suffering to many members of the clan. This fueled their desire to convert to Christianity. Christianity offered them with an alternative, a spot that they could confide in. While the community’s religious practices offered banishment, degradation and hate, the western religion offered hope, love and acceptance.
The position of men and women in the Umuofian community as clearly defined. In the community men were considered to be leaders and overall family heads. Women on the other hand were viewed as objects of pleasure and submission. An example of a domineering male figure in this excerpt is Okonkwo. Okonkwo has established himself as a force to reckon with in the Umuofian society. He was a successful yam farmer. Yams in the Igbo society was an indicator of wealth. It depicted that Okonkwo could be able to sustain and feed his family from one harvest to another. AS long as Okonkwo continued to show his characteristics of a man; wealth, strength and courage, he could not be challenged by a lesser man.
In one of the communal gatherings, a villager attempted to contradict Okonkwo. Chinua wrote, “Without even looking at the man Okonkwo rattled; this meeting is for men.” The man felt deeply insulted. Calling a man a woman in the Umuofian community was degrading. His feelings of value and self-worth were hurt. Women were viewed as trophies. Objects of fantasy but not companions. The Umuofian women were expected to cook, clean and care for the children. If these duties were not performed the men were at liberty to batter them. The Igbo community championed for wife battering. There were several occurrences that we see women being battered by their husband’s. The first instance involves Okonkwo and his second wife. When his wife does not come home to prepare him an afternoon meal, Okonkwo felt provoked. When she returned later on she was heavily beaten. Secondly, Okonkwo beats Ojiugo again when she refers to him as a being a gun that never shot. In sharp contrast, wife battering is an unheard off practice in the western culture. Women are to be respected and dignified in the society. The massive role that they play in the society should not be underestimated. Instead they should be gloried (Films on Demand & Films Media Group, 2010).
Balance is one element that Achebe has managed to clearly capture in his piece of work. Okonkwo’s feelings are conflicted. Okonkwo is seen to be fond of his two daughters, Ezinma and Ikemafuna. We see him chasing Ezinma to the depths of the forest. This denotes that he was a caring, loving father. In contrast we see Okonkwo having no patience with anything considered to be womanly. In his eyes, his views his feelings towards his daughters as a sign of weakness. He goes on to murder the white man’s messenger because he thought that it was the right thing to do. He is resistant to cultural change. He wants to maintain his societal status. His quick to anger attitude is the cause of his ruin. He ends up destroying himself. Just like his father he is an absolute failure.
In a nutshell, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart clearly illustrates the cultural differences’ that exist between African communities and the Western society. Most of the cultural beliefs and religious values practiced in Umuofia could not have any place in the western culture. Okonkwo strived to fight weakness and resist change but in the end his conquest was unsuccessful. Societies should strive to ensure that men and women are treated equally. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. We should also be ready to embrace change as the saying stipulates, change is inevitable.
Achebe, C., Adichie, C. N., Achebe, C., Achebe, C., Achebe, C., & OverDrive, Inc. (2010). The African trilogy: Things fall apart ; No longer at ease ; Arrow of God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Achebe, C., & James, P. F. (2010). Things Fall Apart. Place of publication not identified: Clipper.
Films on Demand, & Films Media Group. (2010). Chinua Achebe. Lawrenceville, NJ: Films Media Group.