Things Fall Apart

Culture of the Igbo society in the light of the novel Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall ApartAnswer: Things Fall Apart is a novel written in English by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. The novel depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia – one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria inhabited by the Igbo people. It focuses on his family and personal history, the customs and society of the Igbo and the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community during the late nineteenth century.

Through Achebe’s use of language, it is apparent how unique the Igbo’s culture is. By using traditional Igbo words, folktales, and songs into English sentences, the author shows us that African languages are comprehensible. Achebe is noted for his inclusion of proverbs from Igbo oral culture into his writing:

“The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said
he would praise himself if no one else did.”

Okonkwo, explains his capacity for hard work before Nwakibie, his sons and neighbors.

“The Feast of the New Yam” is an occasion of joy throughout Umuofia to convey thanks to Ani, the earth goddess. Every year the Igbo people celebrate the event before the harvest commences. On the occasion, a large number of people are fed with vegetables soup, fresh yam foo-foo and so on.

In the Igbo society, a man is known for his own achievement and activeness and here a man who fails to progress beyond the junior title is a man without status in the eyes of his people and such a man is called  an ‘agbala’ meaning a woman. The father of the protagonist is called so as he attains no title. In the behaviour of the protagonist, the sense of self-respect is traceable.

Because of the great value placed on masculinity, women are, to a great extent, inferior to men in the Ibo society. Wives’ main duty is to serve their husbands. Women’s value is directly tied to their ability to produce children, as shown by the fact that the birth of children is “a woman’s crowning glory”. Wife beating and domestic violence are very common practices. Okonkwo constantly beats his wives for some very trivial matters such as forgetting to prepare meals for him. In one occasion, Okonkwo nearly killed Ekwefi with his gun. Often women are merely properties of men who are even inferior to yams. The value of a man is measured by the number of yams and wives he has, with the former bearing more importance than the latter. When a man suits a woman, he negotiates a bride price using “a small bundle of short broomsticks,” showing that women are only treated as properties and commodities in Ibo society.


They had a sharp sense of community, ‘The Week of Peace’ comes at the end of the carefree season and before the harvest and planting season. During the ‘Week of Peace’, Okonkwo breaks the peace and is punished, as is the custom, by Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess. He told Okonkwo, even though his wife may have been at fault, he commits a great evil. During the ‘Week of Peace’ one has to live in complete peace no matter what the circumstances. The community fears that the evil he did could ruin the whole clan.

Many a superstition runs through the Igbo society as we observe regarding the twin-born babies. They believe that it is a sing of evil omen. For this reason, they cast away the twins in the ‘Evil Forest’ as soon as they are born. Similarly Okonkwo’s father’s aliment invites the same consequences and he is not buried with the traditional respect and rituals because a diseased person in the society is left in the forest to die.

The lives of the Ibo people revolve around great traditions and supreme beings. The Oracle in the mountain is greatly respected and feared by the villagers. His decisions are viewed as edicts that people who defy them will be damned. The powerful clan of Umuofia never goes to war unless its case was accepted by the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. After the Oracle decrees Ikemefuna’s death, Okonkwo, despite his affection for Ikemefuna, obeys and kills Ikemefuna. When Chielo the priestess, sent for by Agbala, comes to Okonkwo’s hut to get Ezinma, even the fearless Okonkwo gives way after incessantly pleading Chielo to allow Ezinma stay.

Religion has been the integral part of the Igbo society, as they believe in a supreme god, Chukwu, who has created all things and demands obedience. In “Things Fall Apart”, the mask, the earth, the legends and the rituals all have significance in the history of the Igbo culture. According to Baldwin:

“Religion looms large in the life of primitive man.”

First, there is the use of the mask to draw the spirit of the gods into the body of a person. A great crime in the Igbo culture is to unmask or show disrespect to the immortality of an egwugwu, which represents an ancestral spirit. Toward the end of the novel, a Christian convert unmasks and kills one of his own ancestral spirits. The clan weeps, for“it seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming — its own death.” They also believe in ‘chi’ a man personal god and many other gods and goddesses.

To conclude the discussion, it can be said that the Igbo society was much enriched but as soon as the colonizers came to their land, their society, and cultural values commenced falling apart and the old way of life gets disrupted.