Issues of Identity and Culture in ‘ Things Fall Apart’
2.1. Issues of Identity in ‘ Things Fall Apart’
2.1.1. Social Identity
2.1.2. Masculine Identity and Igbo Ethnicity
2.1.3. Feminine Identity and Igbo Ethnicity
2.1.4. Beliefs and Judicial System
2.1.5. Religious Identity
2.1.6. Cultural Identity
2.1.7. Pacification and change after colonialism
2.2. Issues of Culture in ‘ Things Fall Apart’
2.2.1. Oral Tradition
2.2.2. Festivals and Ceremonies
2.2.5. Worship and Trials
2.2.7. Dislocation of culture after colonialism
Chinua Achebe’s first novel Things Fall Apart (1958), as the title suggests the
identity issues of Igbo society, which has a great cultural past to boast of, like any
other ancient civilization in the world. Structured on a lim ited frame of 152 pages, the
book, which is no more than a novella, successfully reflects th e issues of identity and
the values of unspoken and unheard of phases and facets of Afri can life. It is set in the
1890s and portrays the clash between Nigeria’s white colonial government and the
traditional culture of the indigenous Igbo people. It shatters the stereotypical
European portraits of native Africans. Achebe effectively c ounters the persistent and
self-serving European stereotypes of African identity, par ticularly the notion that
traditional African identity of the Igbo clan. It is howe ver, a society that cannot
survive and unaltered in the modern world. Like W. B. Yeats ‘The Second Coming’
(1919) from which the novel takes its title, Things Fall Apart as an ironic and
apocalyptic vision of the failure to maintain order and balance .
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (Yeats,1919: verses 1-4).
The title of the novel is sarcastic resting on the distort ion of Igbo identity by
the invasion of missionaries and resulted into the pacifi cation of Igbo tribe. It
represents the complex, advanced social institutions and arti stic traditions of Igbo
identity prior to its contact with Europeans. Achebe rightly s ays that the novel
” Things Fall Apart was an act of atonement (or rather, “at-one-ment”) with my past,
the ritual return and homage of a Prodigal Son” (Achebe, 1965:38). The sentiment
expressed by Achebe retrospectively about the novel. It focuses the Igbo rituals and
identity with allusions to the Bible, especially to Jesus Chr ist’s parable of the prodigal
son in St. Luke’s Gospel, (Navarre, 1999-2005: verses 18-32).
Kwame Anthony Appiah declares that ” Things Fall Apart as Africa’s best-
loved novel”. He further adds that it is “archetypal modern Af rican novel in English”.
(Appiah, 1994: ix) His focus upon the late nineteenth-century portraya l of Igbo
culture by Achebe in the novel is commendable and can serve as an appropriate
starting point for full-fledged investigations into the issues of the portrayal of African
culture, the process of colonization and the resultant issues of identity and hybridity,
in the light of postcolonial critical theories. The columnist, Fafa, Foofo says;
“Achebe introduces the various aspects of any civilization in “Things Fall
Apart”: an economy, family, a system of justice, language, socio-cultural
relations, foreign relations, warfare, sports etc. He also introduces the many
values of traditional and modern African society: honesty, self- determination,
hard work and humility” (Foofo: 2013).
In this chapter, the major presumption is that Achebe has elucidated the native
pre-colonial issues of identity and culture with the suggesti on that they existed for
reform and change, introduced by the missionaries, because of t he inherent flaws and
weaknesses of Igbo clan. The study means to point out that Acheb e has penetrated the
native African identity and culture in his narrative, along w ith the portrayal of the
weaknesses of that culture and society. Further, the novel i s a fine manifestation of the
instance of reflecting issues of identity and culture in ever y sense of the word.
Things Fall Apart (1958) is divided into three parts. The first part of it rel ates
to the pre-colonial Igbo Clan in Nigeria. The second part revea ls the social identity,
judicial system, and customs of the clan, banishment of Okonkw o to Mbanta village
and the arrival of missionaries in Nigerian villages. The third part distinguishes the
disruption of Igbo culture, the clash between new faith i.e. Chr istianity and traditional
Igbo social patterns, pacification of Igbo clan and the things fa ll apart at the end by
the tragic end of the protagonist Okonkwo. Achebe reveals the fric tion within the
individual and the friction between the individual and Igbo societ y and the way both
account for the transformation of identity and culture throughout the nov el.
2.1. Issues of Identity in the Novel ‘ Things Fall Apart’
The Igbo people historically called as Ibo are an ethnic group of s outh-eastern
Nigeria. They are known as one of the largest ethnic groups of Af rica. In rural
Nigeria, Igbo people are mostly craftsmen, farmers and trad ers. Before colonialism,
the Igbo people were living in politically fragmented groups. The first part of Things
Fall Apart (1958) deals the pre-colonial identity of the Igbo people in the nine
villages of Nigeria. Achebe mirrors the pre-colonial aspec ts of the Igbo people in the
novel by featuring the beliefs and social patterns of the soci ety which are deeply
rooted in the primitive culture. Don C. Ohadike points out;
“The Igbo myths point to the origins of agriculture, the antiquity o f the family,
and “Above all, since this myth makes no mention of migrations from distant
places – as opposed to the majority of African traditions of or igin – it suggests
that the Igbo people have occupied their present locale for a v ery long time, a
suggestion that is confirmed by archaeology” (Ohadike, 1978: ii).
The pre-colonial Igbo communities were known as extremely democrat ic, yet
they had no centralized governments. The five most important c ross-cutting
institutions were the councils of the elders, age-groups, and coun cils of chiefs,
women’s associations and secret societies. They used to bel ieve in the God ‘Chukwu’
at the centre of their religion and the ancestral spirits a nd the wooden gods names
‘ chi’ are the messengers of it. There were the four titles in the clan. They were known
as the ‘honours’. The elder people of the society were the m embers of the judicial
system, who were known as the Egwugwu. The people used to come to the temple of
the God of Hills and Caves to ask about their failures or the different aspects of t he
health and farming. The celebrations of the New Yam Festival, the arrangement of the
wrestling matches, were the social patterns of the Igbo people before colonies.
Achebe explains the urge of the Igbo people to develop and progre ss, it deals
with the prosperity of Okonkwo;
“During the planting season Okonkwo worked daily on his farms from
cockcrow until the chickens went to roost’. Okonkwo’s prosperity was visible
in his household. Apart from his own hut or ‘obi’ he had three more huts built
for his three wives, near the barn, he had a ‘medicine house’ or a Shrine where
Okonkwo kept the wooden symbols of his personal god-Chi, and his anc estral
spirits. He worshipped them with sacrifices of kola nut, food a nd palm wine
and offered prayers to them on behalf of himself, his three wives, and eight
children” (TFA: 11).
The Igbo people consider ‘ Yam’ crop as the tribe’s respect for the physical
vigour. Among Igbo people, a person was not known by his father’s ide ntity but by
his own. ‘In Umuofia, Age was respected among his people, but his achievement was
revered’ (TFA: 6).
Achebe reflects pre-colonial Igbo people, which refer the tradi tional ethics,
religion, democratic way of justice and beliefs on thei r strength. The Igbos have been
depicted as simple and innocent beings in the nine villages suc h as Umuofia, Aninta,
Aneto, Umuru, Isike, Abame, Mbanta, Ire and Mbaino as the autonom ous
communities, where people lived peacefully with one another. The Igbo respect and
honor achieved status more than ascribed status. The individual achi evements
determine a person’s social position in the community. They ar e very assertive and
proud of their achievements, and they raise their children not to fail in life. In effect,
the Igbo material culture is engulfed in ingenuity and creativ ity. All of these
characteristics of the Igbo make the impact in the nature of their laws, judiciary, crime
prevention methods, and offender disposal mechanisms.
2.1.1. Social Identity Things Fall Apart (1958) relates the social identity of the Igbo people in
Nigeria. The first part of it focuses on the pre-colonial structure of Igbo society. They
had no centralized political structure. They lived in autonomous villages and towns
ruled by their elders. Don Ohadike points out the Igbo social struc ture as:
“There were the lineage groups and on the basis of the linea ges formed a
compact village or a town named as ‘obodo’. Relationships were ba sed on the
blood ties, and each person traced his or her descent to three g roups. First, a
person belongs to the smallest social unit known as uno, or house. T his was a
natural family, consisting of a man, his wife, or wives, and their children. The
second group was a umunna, or lineage, composed of a number of re lated
houses. Finally, a group of lineages formed a concept of villa ge or town,
Obodo” (Ohadike, 2009: xix).
Though, the Igbo communities had no centralized government they w ere
known as democratic by social and political structures revol ved around the idea of
‘cross-cutting ties’. The most significant social markers of Igbo society are the unique
system of honorific titles. The titles are not conferred by higher authorities, but they
are acquired by individuals. The critic Stuart Hall points out that identity can be
invented. It is constructed within the ‘play of power and exclusi on’ (Hall 1996:5). The
story of the wrestling match between Amalize, the cat and Okonkwo is an instance of
the identity of the village that used to be decided through the wrestling contests.
Achebe puts in,
“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. H is
fame rested on his solid personal achievements. As a young ma n of eighteen
he had brought honour to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Am alinze
was a great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to
Mbaino” (TFA: 1).
Okonkwo distinguished himself and got the honour to his village, he
impressed all the villagers by his reputation as a wrestle r throughout the nine villages
of Umuofia.The wrestling match is to honour the concept of identi ty of the Igbo
people in and around the nine villages of Nigeria. The value o f physical power is
considered not only in the wrestling matches but also in farmi ng and rural activities.
Achebe writes ‘Okonkwo’s prosperity was visible in his household. H e had a large
compound enclosed by a thick wall of red earth’ (TFA: 11). As a prosperous farmer
Okonkwo entitles the repute and “the elders, or ndichie, met to hear report of
Okonkwo’s mission……..Okonkwo was, therefore, asked on behalf o f the clan to look
after…..for three years Ikemefuna lived in Okonkwo’s household “(TFA: 10).
In Igbo clan, the man, who fails to progress beyond the most junior titles was
a man without status in the eyes of his people. Unoka, father of Okonkwo died
without a title as he didn’t work hard. subsequently, he lost his reputation in the clan.
Achebe reveals that the man having more wives can be calle d a reputed man in the
society. He points out the reputation of Okonkwo as:
“There was a wealthy man in Okonkwo’s village that had three huge barns,
nine wives and thirty children. His name was Nwakibie and he had taken the
highest but one title which a man could take in the clan. It was for this man
that Okonkwo worked to earn his first seed yams” (TFA: 15).
The identity of a wealthy person in the clan is considered by the number of
wives, children and, more important, yams. Yam is the mai n crop in Igbo villages as it
is considered as the ‘king of the crops’ (TFA: 18). The Igbo clan in Nigeria has a patriarchal social identit y. The women are
supposed to be the followers of the men. There are the rigorous beatings of the
women. The violence is prohibited during the sacred Week of Peace. It makes to note
that the violence is accepted if there is no celebration o f the sacred Week of Peace.
2.1.2. Masculine Identity and Igbo Ethnicity.
The masculine identity of the Igbo people in Things Fall Apart (1958) is
reflected by order and hierarchy. Both concepts are related to their change and the
issues of chaos in society. The arrival of the missionaries is regarded as the main
cause of the chaos resulting from their encroachment in Igbo cul ture and tradition.
The blend of the traditional cultural patterns and ethical power is attributed mainly to
men by the patriarchal society. The pride of male power is affected with the various
aspects of order and hierarchy, particularly honour and the sens e of duty, which are
the attributes of men. Moreover, those attributes constitute the repute, respect, honour
in the name of prestigious titles in Igboland. Williams Raym ond relates about the
masculine identity differ with the certain projection of reality. He puts in:
“Dominant traditions often aspire to ‘an active and continuous se lection and
reselection’ and ‘a projected reality’, with which we have to come to terms on
its terms, even though those terms are always and must be the valuations, the
sections and the omissions of men”(Raymond, 1980:16).
The Igbo patriarchal society afflicts with the male power a s an important
aspect to construct their identities. The male power is not only associated with the
physical value, but it appears in the mode of social identity also. The masculine
identity is heralded by Okonkwo. His “fame is rested on his sol id personal
achievements, as a young man of eighteen he had brought honour to his village by
throwing Amalinze the Cat” (TFA: 1).
Derek Wright points out;
“Okonkwo’s cult of virility, by mistaking the nature of courage a nd confusing
gentleness with weakness, upsets the sexual equilibrium that m aintains a
delicate between male values and female and maternal ones”(Wr ight,
The obsession with masculinity is an essential shield marke d by excessive
indulgences expressed in Okonkwo’s assertiveness. But there is no any place for a
man who is improvident. “When Unoka died he had taken no tile at a ll and he was
heavily in debt” (TFA: 6). the person, who appears to be lazy is looked upon
as agbala , meaning a womanish in the Igbo clan.
The novel threads the pre-colonial and colonial masculine iden tities of Igbo
people in Nigeria by featuring significant moments of the ‘s ocially structured’ issues
of Umuofia and Mbanta. The masculine traditions operate as f orms of consciousness
that act particularly the power of village with specific powers and values of Umuofia.
It is ‘not only ‘feared by its neighbours. It was powerful in magic’ (TFA: 8). Achebe
predominantly explains the powerful men of magic, war and medic ine and other
dominant figures are mainly men.
At the social level, the certain amount of commitment of a p erson is evaluated
by the clan. As the greatest warrior of Umuofia Ogbuefi Eze udu was known as ‘a
great and fearless warrior in his time, and was now accorded a great respect in all the
clan’ (TFA: 41). It penetrates the kind of ‘honour’ in the orga nised Umuofian system
is attributed to the people, who are likely to play a great role in the leadership. The
man, who fails to achieve power, loses the identity as a me mber of the clan. The
researcher, Azado observes that “In the Umuofia community of Things Fall Apart,
Igbo men are constrained to achieve and flaunt (male superiori ty), in order to be seen
and respected”(Azado, 2004:50). The masculine identity manifests itself at all levels
in the novel. The females are marginalised and treated as merely the commodities of
men. In the trial of Uzowulu, a large crowd gathered and “It was clear from the way
the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men. There w ere many women, but
they looked on from the fringe like outsiders” (TFA: 64). Judith Butler asserts:
“Limits are always set with the terms of a hegemonic cultural discourse
predicated on the binary structures that distort what is assum ed to be true
about the formation of identity and subjectivity and restricts the imaginable
and realizable gender configurations within culture”(Butler, 1990:9) .
The dilemma between individual and society leads Okonkwo to believ e firmly
in the necessity to recapture his lost identity. For the purpose, he imposes himself
some poignant principles to which he tries to stick. Okonkwo be comes an individual
fighter in Umuofia. His success and failure repose on his a bility to make an
appropriate synthesis of the three values that make up his personality: male power,
honour, and sense of duty. At the end of the story, Okonkwo realises that ‘the greatest
obstacle in Umuofia,’ is that coward, Egonwanne….Tomorrow he w ill tell them that
our fathers never fought a war of blame” (TFA: 151). It resulted into his suicide,
which represents the physical aspect of his own violence. In return, the novel ends
tragically with the death of both the white man and masculinity of the Igbo clan with
certain ‘honour’ to the duty-boundless action. Okonkwo prefers to hang himself rather
than fall into captivity. Rather than assuming his actions, he tries to save a little
honour that remains for him. But in doing so, he casts off that honour he tries to keep
all by cost.
Okonkwo is rejected even as a dead man simply because, as one of the
clansmen said, “It is against our custom.’ said one of the men. “It is an abomination
for a man to take his own life. It is an offence against the Earth, and a man who
commits it will not be buried by his clansmen” (TFA; 151). Howe ver, the narrator
expresses some compassion through the character Obierika:
“Obierika, who had been gazing steadily at his friend’s dangling body, turned
suddenly to the District Commissioner and said ferociously: “T hat man was
one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himsel f; and now
he will be buried like a dog…” He could not say any more. His voice trembled
and choked his words” (TFA: 151).
It gives an insight that the Igbo people continued their beliefs till the arrival of
the missionaries in Igboland. The tragic end of the protagonist is a result of the
masculine issue of the identity as Okonkwo realises that the people of his clan are
failed to resist the rules of the missionaries, and they had started to behave as women
loosing the power of war or resistance with missionaries.
2.1.3. Feminine Identity and Igbo Ethnicity
The identity of women in Things Fall Apart (1958) reveals the patriarchal
society. Gender identity of Igbo people is ‘concretised’, st ructured in terms if the
spatial organisation: Men, and especially men with social status, live in their own obi
or huts, where women come to them as and when they required w hile women live in
smaller huts or cook out. Achebe puts in, ‘Okonkwo’s prosperity was visible…..each
of his three wives had her own hut'(TFA:11).There is also a kind o f hierarchy among
the women and they either give respect to each other or fol low the married or elders
meekly. The identity of the women in Igbo society is considered as t he ‘lower’ or the
‘second rate’.There are certain titles (honours) in the name of men. There is a
distinction between masculine and feminine actions and responsi bilities. Respect and
success in the clan are based on the manly activities a nd accomplishments. On the
other hand, women are supposed to be the head of household duties by taking care of
the children and hens, scrubbing the walls and growing the crops li ke coco-yams,
beans, maize, melons and cassava which are inferior and the c rop Yam, ‘the king of
yams’ is grown by men. The instance of the hierarchy in wome n is dealt by Achebe in
the novel. A man can have many wives, as many as nine. The elder wife of Nwakibie
has the right to drink the palm wine at first as she holds the position as the head of the
family being the first wife of Nwakibie. Achebe writes;
“Anasi was the first wife and others could not drink before her, and so they
stood waiting…….she went back to her hut. The other wives drank in the same
way, in their proper order, and went away” (TFA: 15-16).
It is noted that there is a proper seniority of the women i n the Igbo
society.The gender inequality in the Igboland is further reinfor ced by the economics
of marriage, the rites of exchange and circulation of women i n the society. The
murdered wife of the Ogbuefi Udo is replaced by a virgin from th e Mbaino village.
She was brought by Okonkwo as a compensation for the Ogbuefi Udo’s murde red
wife to avert the war and bloodshed. Achebe points out; ‘The e lders, or ndichie, met
to hear a report…….At the end they decided …….the girl should go to Ogbuefi Udo to
replace his murdered wife’ (TFA: 10). The virgin brought by Okonkw o is forcibly
separated from her family and she is made the wife of Udo without her consent. A
woman bought and sold for a bride price: so many cowries cells f or her, They are
treated as commodities of the husband and she may obediently do h er man’s bidding
for the rest of her life, When the Igbo woman dies, after ma ny years of service to her
man, her corpse is sent back to her ancestral village and her kinsmen. It is decided the
duty of her kinsmen to give a dead woman a decent burial. The decent burial was
given to Okonkwo’s mother in his motherland by Mbanta villagers . The instance of
such a burial ceremony of the woman is traced in the novel. “Uc hendu, and it was he
who had received Okonkwo’s mother twenty and ten years before when she had been
brought home from Umuofia to be buried with her people”(TFA:95). If a man grumbles at the women in Igbo society, he is known as a good ruler
of the household duties. The control of the men over women is a significant part of
the Igbo society. It means that the women had been given the subordinate place in the
society. When Nwoye, the son of Okonkwo began to grumble at the w omen Okonkwo
was pleased with his actions and believed that his son show s the sign of manhood.
“Nwoye would feign annoyance and grumble aloud about women and their
troubles. Okonkwo was inwardly pleased at his son’s development… ..He
wanted Nwoye to grow into a tough young man capable of ruling his fa ther’s
household” (TFA: 38).
The manly changes are understood among people of Igbo clan if they are
good at controlling the women. It stamps a question of the identity of the women in
the clan. The pre-marriage ceremony in the Igbo clan penet rates the contrast between
the women as they are set against each other i.e. married w oman versus virgin. The
virgin is expected to confess her chastity and charity befor e her marriage and this has
been done in the presence of the whole kinsmen. The elder s ister of the bridegroom
ceremoniously and ritually enquires in the full view and audience of the male kin, the
embarrassing question: ‘How many men have you lain with since my brother first
expressed the desire to marry you?'(TFA: 97). Before this sha ming question to the
bride, she is warned, ‘Remember that if you do not answer tr uthfully, you will suffer
or even die at childbirth’ (TFA: 97).The kind of contrast betwe en a married and a
virgin is the example that the questioner here, Amikwu’s e lder sister must have been
exposed, in a similar fashion in the same ceremony and she me rely grills her youngest
brother’s ‘New wife’. It means that the ritual of moral c onfessions continues among
the Igbo people generation to generation. The Igbo custom regarding the identity and status of the women is c omplex as
there is a question on the virginity of the women being test ed before marriages by
asking the embarrassing questions to the bride. Ekwefi, the vi llage beauty and the
second favoured wife of Okonkwo leaves her husband and shacks up with Okonkw o,
as his second wife. Achebe writes;
“Okonkwo’s second wife Ekwefi…..Okonkwo had won her heart by throwing
the cat in the greatest contest within living memory. She didn’t marry him
because he was poor to pay her bride price. But a few years la ter she ran away
from her husband Anene and came to live with Okonkwo” (TFA: 29).
It is interesting to note that this relationship is accepted without any murmur
by Igbo people. It seems that the Okonkwo’s heroic deeds among Igbo h ave got the
relaxation in the matters of man-woman relationships, within and according to rules,
and by community acceptance at large. There are the differences regarding the ‘feminine’ and ‘masc uline’ crimes in
the Igbo society. When he killed the son of the greatest wa rrior Ogbuefi Ezeudu
inadvertently is known as the ‘female’ crime. So far that the crime is considered as the
‘Feminine’ (unintentional) and, therefore, it deserves the ‘l esser’ punishment of a
seven years exile from the village. In the same way when the Mbaino villagers killed
the Ogbuefi Udo’s wife on the market day, it was considered that the ‘Masculine’
crime and the Mbaino village was punished for the replacem ent of the murdered
woman with a virgin along with the murder of Ikemefuna by Umuofi an people
including Okonkwo whom the lad Ikemefuna used to call ‘father’. But the son of
Okonkwo joins Christianity and converted himself as ‘Issac’ it w as known as an
‘intentional’ crime against the Igbo society, and there wa s a kind of doubt on the
morality of Nwoye’s mother. Achebe writes;
“Okonkwo was popularly called the ‘roaring flame’………How t hen could he
have begotten a son like Nwoye, degenerate and effeminate? Perhaps he was
not his son. No! He could not be. His wife had played him false . He would
teach her!”(TFA: 112).
It means that if the son is not obedient and the follower of the ancestral spirits
the moral identity of his mother is doubtful.
2.1.4. Beliefs and Judicial System ‘The beliefs are the core of who we are, what we do, and the s uccess that we
acquire’ (Online Dictionary). Claude M. Bristol writes;
“There is one common strand woven throughout the many cultures and
religions, all people, whether primitive or civilized, hav e shared a particular
philosophy that is central to their culture”(Bristol,1991).
In all the ages and the social patterns, human beings have laid down certain
judicial system along with their beliefs. The beliefs regul ate the actions of the society.
The beliefs make human beings to find the causes of the soc ial norms and either
support or uplift the certain rules of the society. The belief s are the parts of the
judiciary system of the society. The society set certai n rules to justify the law and
order for the survival of the social norms to monitor the day to day life. For
harmonious living of the society, the rules laid down by the soci ety are expected to be
followed by all the people of the clan. The judicial system plays a significant role in ‘resolution’ or ‘redressal’ of the
society to set the social order in the form of justice. Ike nga K. E. Oraegbunam points
out in the research paper;
“In order to discover the primordial sense of justice among the traditional
Igbo, it may be necessary to first and foremost, analyze th e Igbo words for
justice: “akankwumoto” and “ikpenkwumoto”. While “akankwumoto” denotes
justice as a virtue of a particular person, “ikpenkwumoto” or ” ikpeziriezi”
refers to the expression of this virtue in practical judgment at the event of
dispute. The latter can also be described as truthfulness i n making judicial
decisions” (Oraegbunam, 2011:56).
The beliefs and the judicial system are the cardinal pill ars of any society,
group or ethnicity. But the judicial system mainly follows the a cclaimed reasons for
imposing penalties include: Retribution -Punishment imposed as a response that
satisfies the aggrieved party, their loved ones, and society . The researcher from
Nigeria, Columbus Ogbujah explains:
“Deterrence-To the individual (through fear of further punishment), and to the
general public (potential offenders warned as to likely cons equence of
Rehabilitation – To reform the offender’s behaviour Incapa citation – Offender
is made incapable of committing further crime to protect the general society
Reparation – Repayment to victim(s) or to community
Denunciation- Society expressing its disapproval to crimes, reinf orcing moral
boundaries” (Columbus Ogbuja, 2014: 44).
Things Fall Apart (1958) explores the beliefs and the judicial system of the
Igbo clan even before the arrival of missionaries. It als o reveals the high sense of
respect for authorities and the elders. “Everyone, who wanted to progress in life
should follow the ancestral and elder people for the beliefs on just ice” (Ogbujah,
2014: 45).As noted, an elder was respected not only because he wa s an embodiment
of wisdom due to his vast experiences, but because his white hairs depicted his
closeness with the ancestors – the custodians of the land. Thi s moral sense was
epitomized in the central character Okonkwo, who capped his dee ds with this
unmistakable apothegm: “Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands and so he ate with
kings and elders’ (TFA: 7). Igbo clan represents polygamy of the justice by the description of a wealthy
Nwakibie when Okonkwo goes to the house of him to fetch the yam seeds. An
instance of hierarchical order is explored by Achebe that the e lders are respected in
the Igbo society in such a way even in the women; “Anasi was the first wife and others could not drink before he r, and so they
stood waiting…….she went back to her hut. The other wives drank in the same
way, in their proper order, and went away” (TFA: 15-16).
Okonkwo was punished by the Igbo elders when he had violated the Week of
Peace . The belief of the Igbo people doesn’t permit to speak the ha rsh word to
another person during the week of peace, but Okonkwo beats his wife Oji ugo for
delaying his meal. His violence during the sacred Week of Peace casts him a
punishment of the one she-goat, one hen, a length of a cloth and a hundred cowries.
He questions that ‘If you came to your obi and found her lover on top of her, you
would still have committed a great evil to beat her’ (T FA: 23). The wife beatings
during the sacred week are prohibited and it makes to think th at the wife-beatings are
allowed if there is no sacred Week of Peace.
The general sense of purity among Igbo is penetrated by the kind of crime
committed by clansmen inadvertently. It is treated as the de struction to the society.
“It was a crime again the earth of goddess to kill a c lansman, and a man who
committed it must flee from the land….the crime was of two kinds, male and
female. Okonkwo had committed the female because it has been inadvertent.
He could return to the clan after seven years” (TFA: 91).
The belief behind the punishment is if the clansmen would not punish h im for
inadvertently killing the sixteen year old son of Ezeudu. The wrath of the earth
goddess would be let loosed on all. Hence, the punishment for Okonkwo was forced
to flee from the land for seven years. “A large crowd of m en from Ezeudu’s quarter
stormed Okonkwo’s compound, dressed in grabs of war.They set fire to his houses,
demolished his red walls, killed his animals and destroyed his barn”(TFA: 91).In such
a way, people were effectively deterred from acts that c ould lead to the murder of
their kinsman. The murder of Ogbuefi Udo’s wife, the ‘daughter of Umuofia’ is on e of the
instances of the judicial system of the Igbo people who redress ed in an open market
place. Everyone was informed by the town-crier by beating the dr um (hallow metal).
The mutually acceptable “resolution” or “redressal” to the di spute was found on the
advice of the community. The punishment was directed by the elders of the Igbo
people by believing that the’ Oracle of the Hills and Caves h ad forbidden Umuofia to
wage a war’. (TFA: 10) It was decided that the Mbaino vill agers should compensate
the crime by giving them a virgin, a 15 years lad to avoid the bloodshed. The narrator
“Umuofia sent Okonkwo as an imperious emissary of war to Mbaino, asking
them to choose war or to offer a young man and a virgin as com pensation, on
the other. The people of Mbaino choose to offer them a lad of fif teen called
Ikemefuna, and a young virginto avert the war. The virgin was given to
Ogbuefi Udo to replace his murdered wife” (TFA: 10).
The Goddess of Earth ‘ Supreme Mother’ is at the centre to justify the crime
and the related punishments to the Igbo people as per rules lai d down by the
community. In the judicial system of the Igbo people believe in ‘Chukwu’ , who is
supposed to be the creator all things and expect obedience. The coun cil of the elders
discusses the affecting lineage members at the meetings and passes the judgments.
The novel depicts Egwugwu trial for the settlement of the dispute between
Uzowulu and his wife’s family. The Igbo people had the judicial s ystem, where the
disputes were brought and the jury system constituted by the nine Egwugwu, who are
supposed to be the masked ancestral sprits and respectable community leaders.
Okonkwo is one of the ancestral spirits of Umuofia village, whereas the other eight
men represent the other eight of the nine villages. The brie fs were taken, testimonies
of witnesses were received and the judges evaluated the matters before pronouncing
judgments. After Uzowulu’s complaints and Odukwe’s response were ta ken, two
other witnesses were brought into give their testimonies.
“The egwugwu retreated in consultation for a moment, and when they
emerged, the Evil Forest delivered their judgment, asking U zowulu to go beg
his wife with a pot of wine” (TFA: 67).
Mgba fo, the wife of Uzo wulu is not permitted to spe ak for herself at
the trial. The trial come s to an end with a solution among those who invol ved
in the case to cement the social bonds without impr i sonm ent or viole nt
punishment . The j udicial system of the Igbo people is sophisticated and
perhaps more merciful than that of the white m an.
The Igbo people especially elders simply choked in a system wi th high ethical
standards of the white men exemplified in the character o f their District
Commissioner. In his absence, one of the overzealous converts – Enoch stoked
conflict with the people by unmasking one of the Egwugwu. The people went to
destruct the church, where Enoch took refuge. When the Distric t Commissioner
returned, he invited the elders of the clan for a peace meeti ng with these words:
“I have asked you to come, ‘began the commissioner,’ becaus e what happened
in my absence. I have told the few things, but I cannot believe t hem until I
have heard your side. Let us talk about it like friends and find a way of
ensuring that it doesn’t happen again” (TFA: 141).
These soothing words made the elders lose their guard and settle for a
reconciliatory meeting without knowing it was a ploy to disarm and arrest them.
Before they could realize it, they were arrested and thr own into the guardroom and
were given neither the opportunity to explain what happened nor to de fend
themselves. It resulted in a demand of a fine of two hundred bags of cowries to
release them from the custody of the missionaries. The Igbo judi cial system was on
the toe of disruption from the missionaries.
2.1.5. Religious Identity Religion is the main arena and an influential part of any society. It shapes the
moral and ethical boundaries to regulate the act and actions of human beings into a
particular mode of existence. The religious identity among Igbo people plays a pivotal
role in day to day activities. The Igbo people lived in the v illages surrounded by their
farms till mid-twentieth century. They focused on their re ligious beliefs on three types
of supernatural beings: God, spirits and ancestors. Things Fall Apart (1958) deals
with the supreme God ‘ Chukwu’ among the people. ‘Chukwu is seen as a powerful,
munificent God, the one who holds the knife and the yam and provides people with
wealth, rain, and children, and who is merciful toward ri ch and poor, male and
female, child and aged. Every morning the father of the fa mily offers prayers to the
Supreme Being. “Chukwu does not intervene in the minor details of human existence,
however; such matters he leaves to the spirits and ancestor s, who are often described
as his messengers” (Encyclopedia of Religion: 2005). The supreme God ‘ Chukwu’ does not intervene in the minor problems of
human existence in the Igbo families, however; such matter s are left to the spirits and
ancestors, who are often described as messengers of ‘ Chukwu’. There are the personal
Gods of the Igbo families named as ‘ Chi’ these are the personal wooden gods and the
Igbo people worship their wooden gods which are known as the ancestors for the well
beings. The spirits are powerful in three dimensions such as space (sky) earth (land)
and ancestral world. The space spirits exist through thunder, li ghtening, sun, and
moon. The earth spirits exist through nature spirits, rocks, hil ls, cave tress and farms.
The guardian spirit of the earth is ‘ Ani’. The ancestral spirits serve as a guardian of
hunters, farmers, fishermen, medicine men and other profes sional guilds.
It is also believed that the ancestral spirits called ‘ chi’ evaluate the fate of an
individual. During festivals, they visit the human world as g uests in the form of
masquerades or incarnation. But the spirits of evil people roam as the ‘ogbanje ‘ or the
ghost. ‘ Ogbanje ‘ spirits are normally the possession of the female bodies. M ichael
“The earth-spirit sanctions the prohibitions or moral norms and t he ancestors
communicate same to the living…The living makes sure that t hese
prohibitions are not broken” (Mozia, 1982:222).
It seems customary for the Igbo people to pray God ” Chukwu’ when there is a
kind of danger or rejoice among the people. The Igbo clan belie ves that the time is
cyclical and the rites of the naming ceremony, marriage c eremony, membership in
secret and open societies and funeral with honesty to the communa l values are judged
by supreme God. The ‘ill-fated’ lad Ikemefuna was killed mer cilessly by the
Umuofian villagers including Okonkwo. The villagers believed that it is an order of
their God of Earth. Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man of Umuofia comes to Okonkwo
and instructed him about an order of the Oracle of Hills and Cave s. Achebe puts in;
“That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death.. ….yes, Umuofia
has decided to kill him. The Oracle of the Hills and caves h as pronounced it.
They will take him outside Umuofia as is the custom, and kil l him there”
Okonkwo didn’t go against the religion and custom of his clan though the
child was calling him father.
According to Michael Mozia;
“The relationship between earth-spirit and the ancestors with G od is that the
ancestors are the custodians of public morality and the laws of the land. In this
regard, they serve as the intermediaries between God and th e living members
of the community, whereas the earth-spirits, “act as the indi rect mediator to
whom the ancestors are directly responsible” (Mozia, 1982:182).
Okonkwo was punished for his violation of the custom during Week of
Peace.he was told by the clan, “the evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The
earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her in crease, and we
shall all perish” (TFA: 23).The arrival of missionaries in Nigeria destroyed the
religious identity of the people by convincing them that there i s only one god in the
world i.e. Jesus Christ further remarked that “All the Gods you have named are not
gods at all. They are gods of deceit……Your gods are not ali ve…..they are pieces of
wood and stone” (TFA: 107).The conflict between New faith i.e . Christianity and
traditional religion of Igbo went on and ended with the conversi on of the people into
2.1.6. Cultural Identity Cultural identity is one of the aspects that go to change to sui t the changing
needs and conditions. However, in all the societies there are ce rtain basic values that
constitute the culture and these need to be perpetuated becaus e the loss of culture
would mean a loss of identity for that society. Things Fall Apart (1958) mirrors the
cultural identity of the people through the multidimensional panorama of the Igbo
society. However, ‘culture can be transmitted or acquired th rough information or
symbol. ‘Cultural identity is those attributes, behavioural patte rns, lifestyles, social
structures and norms that distinguish a people from other peoples’ (Omekwu,
2003).The harmonious existence of Igbo in the nine villages of Nig eria perpetuates
the cultural aspects of their own. The arrangement of wrest ling matches is one of the
parts of it that used to be decided the identity of the village. The columnist, Michael
Dirda says that ‘ Things Fall Apart has long been revered for its imaginative re-
creation of Ibo culture just before it collided with Br itish colonialism’ (Dirda: 2008).
The arrangement of the New Yam Festivals makes a sense o f the unified kinsmen in
the Igbo society and their beliefs towards rejoice. The fel low feeling of brotherhood is
a typical one when Okonkwo invites his kinsmen to a moonlight dinner t o offer his
‘Kola nut’ for their kindness.
The changes in the social patterns and the ethics make the dr astic changes in
the identity of the people. Nwoye, the son of Okonkwo works hard to help his father
during the planting season is an instance of pride for Okonkwo. But whe n the ‘ill-
fated’ Ikemefuna killed mercilessly by the villagers. Nwoy e shifted his focus from the
Igbo ethics to Christianity. The arrival of the missionaries in the Abame village is
another example of the change in the social pattern. When the missionary entered the
Abame village, the Igbo people ‘killed him and tied up his iron horse to the silk cotton
tree’ (TFA: 102). The protagonist Okonkwo is treated respectfully by the elders b ecause of his
affinity towards the culture and heritage of Igbo people, ther efore Okonkwo’s identity
rests upon the cultural ethics of the society. David Carroll s uggests:
“It would be quite wrong, however, to give the impression that the tribal
society of Things Fall Apart is formidably monolithic. This is far from
Achebe’s intention. He is anxious to display the flexibility of t he social
structure; for only by understanding this can we understand the lif e and death
of the central character, Okonkwo. What at first sight appear to be rigid
conventions invariably turn out to be the ritual framework within which debate
and questioning can be carried on” (Carroll, 2009:389).
The cultural identity is reflected as per the flexibility of the social structure of
Igbo people. The protagonist of the novel Okonkwo signifies his attri bute towards the
cultural patterns of the Igbo tribe right from the beginning of the novel. But his doom
at the end of the story is remarkably related to the patt erns of the culture of the Igbo
which he wanted to preserve though there is a disruption of the ethics caused by the
missionaries. The sort of relations of the human being with tr adition and the farming
activities are displayed in the novel through the culture of I gbo.
The priestess chielo sums up the symbolic relationship betw een the Man, the
Yam and tradition. ‘And 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 ar m’ (TFA: 14). It is
referred with the sort of culture the person follows the s ame will decide the cultural
identity of the man. The respect to the god and the ancestor s can make a difference in
the life of Igbo people. The cultural identity of the Igbo people was known for their
integrity, morality and the commitment to the prosperity. The se, however, were the
characteristics of the cultural glory. The arrival of the m issionaries caused the changes
and the innocence regarding worldly matters replaced by the downfa ll of the Igbo
through their disintegration. The change in the cultural identity of the Igbo people is des cribed at the end of
the story when Okika, a great man and the Orator of Umuofia addresses to the
assembly of the clan.
“All our gods are weeping, Idemili is weeping. Ogwugwu is wee ping. Agbala
is weeping, and all the others. Our dead fathers are weeping be cause of the
shameful sacrilege they are suffering and the abomination we all seen with the
eyes” (TFA: 148).
The change in the cultural aspects drives the Igbo clansmen i n the pacification
2.1.7. Pacification and Change after colonialism The identity issues of the Igbo people pacified after colonia lism in Nigeria.
The arrival of the missionaries and the new faith in Chri stianity weakens the identity
of Igbo clan. Ancestral worship, customs, elderly advice regarding justice and religion
fostered the pre-colonial identity of Igbo people but the convers ion of the Igbo people
to Christianity involves a partial rejection of the Igbo str ucture and social identity of
the Igbo people. The response of Nwoye to join the missionary sc hool is an instance
of losing Okonkwo’s control over him ultimately he loses his identit y as ‘a roaring
flame’ Mr. Kiaga reacts that ‘blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for
my sake’ (TFA: 112). It denotes an idea that the Igbo people are pacified their identity
in order to accept the Christianity. Achebe does not present a clear-cut dichotomy of the white rel igion as evil
and the Igbo religion as good. The belief about of ‘Evil Forest ‘ made downfall of the
Igbo identity when the missionaries succeeded to build the church and the court in the
villages to destroy the Igbo beliefs. Consequently, the vill agers come to believe that
the Christian god of the missionaries is more powerful than th eir ‘Chukwu’ and ‘Ani’
who were at the religious power of the Igbo people. The identi ty of any society is
grounded on the culture and beliefs and the well-established id entity tolerates the
changes, unfortunately, the Igbo people didn’t follow the change in the social patterns
and it resulted into their pacification. The psychologist Eric Erikson points out the issues of identity in the chapter
‘Identity and Uprootedness ‘ of the book Insight and Responsibility (1964);
“The key problem of identity, then, is (as the term connote s) the capacity of
the ego to sustain sameness and continuity in the face of chang ing fate. But
fate always combines changes in inner conditions, which are the result of
ongoing life stages, and changes in the milieu, the histori cal situation. Identity
connotes the resiliency of maintaining essential patterns in t he process of
change. Thus, as strange as it may seem, it takes a well -established identity to
tolerate radical change, for the well-established identity has arranged itself
around basic values which cultures have in common”(Erikson,1964:95–96).
Mr. Brown respected the Igbo clan and tried to understand t he Igbo beliefs.
His reactions with Igbo people regarding the harmonious relations, he debates with
Ogbuefi Akunna without insults or violence. It made him to bring the necessary
changes in the attitudes of the Igbo people. He convinced them t hat if Igbo people
accept the colonial government, they won’t lose their autonomy. T he colonial
government punishes individuals according to European cultural and re ligious values.
The government pronounces the abandonment of newborn twins a punishable cri me.
It was a setback to the Igbo customs and the religious identi ty of the Igbo people was
destroyed by missionaries in the name of ‘outdated superstitious beliefs’ of the Igbo
The social identity doesn’t make the ‘honoured’ man/woman of the socie ty to
accept the changes and it always carry a certain amount of pride to identify him/her to
preserve the ethics of the society. Okonkwo’s desire to respond v iolently to the
Christian church is not completely motivated by a desire to pr eserve his clan’s
cultural traditions. He has been fantasizing for many years about making a big splash
with his return to his village, but the church has changed things so much that his
return fails to incite the interest that he has anticipat ed.
On the other hand, the protagonist Okonkwo acts violently, and his slaying of
the court messenger constitutes an instinctive act of self -preservation of his identity
and the identity of the clan as it is noted in the beginning of the novel ‘Umuofia was
feared by all its neighbours. It was powerful in war and magi c’ (TFA: 9). At the end
of the novel, the same power of war is in the doubt when all t he clansmen gathered to
decide about the ill-treatment given by the missionaries to the ‘titled’ men of
Umuofia. They lost the power to resist the missionaries and w hen Okonkwo killed a
court messenger the people of Umuofia. ‘He (Okonkwo) heard voices asking: “Why
did he do it?” (TFA: 149). The Igbo clan is viewed as cowardly.
There is certainly an element of self-destructiveness in a way of the
pacification of the Igbo clan by the colonial power. The unwillingne ss of the
leaders of Umuofia to convince the villagers about resistance to t he
missionari es is related with the loss of identity as an integrated clan. As a
result, Okonkwo willingly embraces because the alternative is to submit to the world,
law, and new order with which he finds himself inexorably at odds . The suicide of
Okonkwo is not merely the tragic end of the protagonist, but it is t he example of the
lost identity of the Igbo clan. The disintegration among them caused to ‘fall apart’.
In other words, ‘things fall apart’ of the Igbo society due to the white man’s
failure to understand African customs or the language. The miss ionaries didn’t
understand that ‘Okonkwo is ‘one of the greatest men in Umuofi a’. When his body
was dangling to the tree.Obierika says that ‘he will be bur ied like a dog’ (TFA: 151).
The District Commissioner reacts that ‘the story of this m an who killed a messenger
and hanged himself would make interesting reading, one could almost write a whole
chapter on him. ‘Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable parag raph at any rate’
(TFA: 151-512). It makes a point to note that the issues of id entity in the novel
Things Fall Apart (1958) resulted into a failure of two systems to understand each
2.2. Issues of Culture in the Novel ‘ Things Fall Apart’
Culture is an integral part of the society to shape cer tain ethical values; it is
being transmitted from one generation to another either in cha nging patterns or static.
But the general assumption is that the culture is fluid and it changes time to time.The
critic Schaefer comments; “Culture is the totality of learned, socially transmitt ed customs, knowledge,
material objects and behaviour. It includes the ideas, valu e, customs and
artefacts of a group of people” (Schaefer, 2002).
The first part of the novel reveals the pre-colonial events in Things Fall Apart
(1958). It takes place in the late 1800s and early 1900s, just befor e the arrival of
missionaries in Nigeria. The details are furnished about the pr e-colonial African
culture much different from western culture. Achebe reveals the aspects of Igbo
culture such tradition, symbols of honour (titles), indicators of wealth (yams and
cowries), marriage rituals, social rituals, music, ent ertainment, food and drink.
The social patterns of the pre-colonial Igbo culture lay on the un ity and
togetherness on various occasions. The Igbo believe in the social patterns of their
culture such as festivals, religious ceremonies and practice s. The people live in
relation to their livelihood-farming and therefore their celebrat ions are animalistic
rituals, which they celebrate contain the amusement and com mitment to their ethics.
They have their personal gods, they worship them wholeheartedly . Moreover, the
people consult an oracle- the Oracle of the Hills and the Ca ves, which is also known
as ‘ Agbala’ . There religious festivals named as Week of Peace, New Yam Festival,
Isa-Ifi ceremony and Funeral Ceremony exhibit the harmonious co-existence among
them. The family group or clan is made of many members, where the husband is the
patriarch of the family and he has several wives who bear ma ny children. Each family
has their own farm, separate huts or obi and the compound where they live and work.
The head of the clan does work and he works hard and so do the women, but they
each have differing roles in the social activities as women are treated as the
marginalized groups.There are the instances in the novel about the ‘masculine’ and
‘feminine’ works, stories, crime and behaviours, Where women are always treated
inferior. Anyone, who is described as cowardly also has the description of being
‘womanly’ (TFA: 148).
In this novel, place has importance only as a defining structure o f one village
in respect to another. Their village is seen as one which i s better than another but due
to their lack of outside influence; their village is the only place they know. It is the
place where they were born, where their parents died, but the re is no semblance of
real nationalism. Achebe describes the village in these comparative terms with other
villages: “Umuofia was feared by all its neighbours. It was powerful in war and
magic, and its priests and medicine men were feared in a ll the surrounding country”
(TFA: 9-10). The idea of “place” is not as important in this nov el as is the concept of
culture and the Igbo people of Nigeria are primarily centre d on the culture and social
patterns of the society.
2.2.1. Oral Tradition Achebe explores the issues of culture in Things Fall Apart (1958) which are
associated with the Igbo culture and society. Moreover, it pr esents a good sense of
African language and its euphemisms in the form of oral trad ition and proverbs,
which are enjoyable as well as giving insights about the gre at cultural heritage of Igbo
people. Therefore, he uses the cultural twists in the novel to illustrate the oral culture
of Nigerian villages. Harold Scheub, points out;
“Vital to African literature is the relationship betwe en the oral and written
word’. Oral culture is a cultural component that ‘distills the essences of human
experiences, shaping them into rememberable, readily retrieva ble images of
broad applicability with an extraordinary potential for elici ting emotional
response” (Scheub, 2011:1).
The epigrams, poems, songs, and folk tales are all spoken and re cited by
Achebe to mirror the exactness of the Igbo wits through the lang uage. The oral
tradition projects the various facets of the culture of the Igbo clan through proverbs,
songs and folk tales. The proverb is used by Okoye when he visits Unoka “He who
brings kola brings life” (TFA: 5). It asserts that the kola nu t is used for many things
by Igbo people as a part of their tradition to keep the friendshi p survived.
The culture is cumulative and it is passed from one generation t o the next
generation in the form of cults and proverbs. Its pertinent know ledge gradually
changes, but it is useful to the society. The proverbs are si gnificant to the Igbo people
because they explain the advice passed down through the years by their elders. It is
reflected in such form in the narration that ocuurs “as t he elders said” before the most
of proverbs. The proverbs state the customs, social structure, family structure and
basic information about the religion of the Igbo people. The prover b “when the moon
is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk” (TFA: 8). It d enotes the idea in the
text about someone is doing shameful during the night when no one fi nds him out in
such act according to the Igbo people.
Nwakibie, a very wealthy man in the clan, who convinces Okonkwo about the
humanity and cooperation among each other, while giving the yam seeds to Okonkwo
with the proverb;
“We shall all live. We pray for life, children, a good harv est and happiness.
You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good f or me. Let
the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no t o the other, let his
wing break” (TFA: 15).
He uses the proverb to describe his attitude towards those who would borrow
yam seeds from him. He says, “Eneke the bird says that si nce men have learned to
shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching” (TFA: 17). He believes
on the abilities of Okonkwo and encourages him for being a prosper ous farmer by
saying that the man who works hard never forgets his duties towa rds the clan.
Okonkwo is described by an old man with the proverb “looking at a ki ng’s
mouth one would think he never sucked at his mother’s breast” (TFA : 20). Such a
proverbial descriptor defines Okonkwo’s quickness in prosperity from poverty and he
is known as one of the respected men of the clan. The proverb makes his character so
much more vivid and alive than any other literary device. Okonkwo praises the
victory of Obierika’s son Maduka “When the mother cow is chewing the grass its
young ones watch its mouth” (TFA: 51). When he contested the w restling match,
Okonkwo says that the young lad Maduka has imitated the culture fr om his father.
When Okonkwo was in Mbanta village, Uchendu says that the’Mother is
Supreme’ (TFA: 98). It means that the child belongs to its father and when the father
beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut, so t he mother is called supreme.
Okonkwo takes a refuge in Mbanta during his banishment from Umuofia for seven
years. He also asserts the proverb of Igbo “Never kill a man who says nothing” (TFA:
103). It denotes the idea that the Abame people should not have killed the missionary.
As a result, the village is wiped out by them. When there wa s a farewell event for
Okonkwo from Mbanta village, he says remorsefully about the act o f his son Nwoye
that the ‘hunter’s dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his mast er’ (TFA: 122).
There was a saying in Umuofia that as ‘a man danced so the dr ums were beaten for
him’ (TFA: 135). It mentions the furious steps of Mr.Smith when Enoch unmasked
one of the egwugwu, the drums were beaten for the same; it me ans that the people
destructed the church for the guilty of Enoch.
The use of traditional songs as the oral tradition of the Ig bo people elicits the
sense of culture and affinity of the Igbo people with nature.The song is sung by the
children: “The rain is falling, the sun is shining,
Alone Nnadi is cooking and eating” (TFA: 26).
The song expresses cultural and traditional imagery. The overj oyed children
thank the rain for having stopped and allowed them to play free ly as they do not stay
indoors for a long. The song is sung by people in the village during th e wrestling
matches: “Who will wrestle for our village?
Okafo will wrestle for our village.
Has he thrown a hundred men?
He has thrown four hundred men.
Has he thrown a hundred Cats?
He has thrown four hundred Cats
The send him the word to fight for us” (TFA: 37).
The following songs uttered by Iekemefuna, when he was taken to the forest
by Umuofian elders, which is only one left un-translated in t he novel.
” Eze elina, elina!
Eze ilikwa ya
Ikwaba akwa oligholi
Ebe Danda nechi eze
Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu
Sala” (TFA: 44).
In the marriage ceremonies, the certain songs are sung by the dancers in the
Uri function of the Igbo people. When the bride joins the dancers, comes f rom the
inner compound to dance holding a cock in her right hand and prese nts the cock to the
“If I hold her hand
She says, “Don’t touch!”
“If I hold her foot
She says, “Don’t touch!”
But when I hold her waist beads
She pretends not to know” (TFA: 87).
Uchendu narrates the bad time of his past life, he had s ix wives and his
twenty- two children died at the time of birth. There is a song that is sung when the
woman dies. “For whom is it well, for whom is it well?
There is no one for whom it is well” (TFA: 99).
The habit of singing songs and investing lyrics with soulful tunes r emain the
same with the people of Umuofia even after the appearance of t he white man in the
midst. When titled men are imprisoned and made to work, the younger men sing
songs of rebuke and ridicule addressed to the court messengers nonchal antly, in tune
with the strokes of their matchets cutting grass.
“Kotma of the ash buttocks,
He is fit to be slave
The white man has no sense,
He is fit to be slave” (TFA: 128).
The folk tales describe the culture related issues to give depth to certain
characters’ inner working and psyche. Okonkwo narrates the masculi ne stories such
as war, violence and bloodshed. Nwoye is interested to know the masculine stories
but he loves the stories told by his mother too. “The stories of the tortoise and his wily
ways and of the bird eneke-nti-oba, it challenged the whole world to a wrestling
contest and was finally thrown by the cat and story of the vult ure and the sky” (TFA:
39). Nwoye prefers stories like the Vulture and the Sky which ar e much more
interesting and less violent.
The folk tale used in the novel is one that is a mother’s t ale; the story of
tortoise. The folk tale within the story of the novel shows the behaviour of certain
characters, especially their knowledge and interest in the story, but also how African
people use the stories to explain certain natural phenomena like why ‘the tortoise’s
shell is not smooth’ (TFA:76-77). It denotes the idea the greedin ess of someone may
cause the crisis and the price has to be paid in the form of its return.
On the whole, Achebe illustrates the different dimensions of Igbo culture
through the proverbs, songs and folk tales.
2.2.2. Festivals and Ceremonies Achebe mirrors the ceremonies, social gatherings, and ritu als of Igbo people
that help them to connect culturally, spiritually and socia lly, with each other. Tiffin
says that Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart (1958) exposes the festivals and
ceremonies as the communal culture.
“The complexity and communal density of the people’s culture wer e exposed
through festivals, rite and rituals are established … his novel focuses on the
Ibo society and his use of style rely on the Ibo traditions and r eputation of
rituals and festivals” (Tiffin,1988: 60).
The Feast of New Yam is one of the events that Igbo people celebrate every
year before the harvest to thank the goddess, ‘Ani’, who is the source of all fertility.
The celebration symbolizes the upcoming of the new yam of the ye ar. According to
the Igbo people the goddess ‘Ani’ has a close communion with the depar ted
forefathers of the clan. It’s a festive mood for all the c lansmen and the preparation of
it goes for three-four days. Achebe puts in, ‘the Feast of the New Yam was held every
year before the harvest began, to honour the earth goddess and t he ancestral spirits of
the clan’ (TFA: 27). The Igbo show the symbolic rebirth of the year by throwing out
old food, washing everything and celebrating with fresh new ya ms.
The Bride Price ritual in which a price is decided for w hich the bride’s family
must pay to the groom’s family in regards to the bride’s hand in marriage. The bride’s
family presents a bundle of sticks to the groom’s family, whi ch represents the number
of bags of cowries paid to the groom’s family. In return, the groom’s and the bride’s
family exchange the bundle back and forth, without uttering a word in a very
respectable manner until the decision is finalized. An insta nce of the ritual is
described in the bride price ritual of the Obierika’s daughte r, “Obierika then presented
to him a small bundle of short broomsticks. Ukegbu counted them. ‘th ey are thirty?
He asked……bride price was settled at twenty bags of cowries” (TFA: 52-53). The
king of bargaining is made in a friendly manner to respect each other.
The Isa-ifi ceremony is the final rite of the marriage. That evaluat es the charity
and chastity of the bride in a form of confession as per the tradition of the Igbo
people. In the ceremony all the kinsmen surround the bride in a circ le and it proceeds
with the questions of her faithfulness to her husband, in whi ch the bride answers and
swears on the staff of her father. The bride is threatened by saying that ‘Remember
that if you do not answer truthfully you will suffer or die at child -birth’ (TFA: 97).
The funeral ceremony among Igbo people is to pay honour to the respecta ble
members of the clan. It’s a kind of lamentation by beating the drums violently in a
frenzy mood and dancing unsteadily the funeral steps of the tri be. Many of the
attendees wear smoked raffia skirts and have their bodies pai nted with chalk in
charcoal. The Egwugwu pay a visit to honour the deceased. When the greatest warrior
Ogbuefi Ezeudu died the people of Umuofia paid a great honour to the person during
his funeral ceremony.
“It was a great funeral so befitted as a noble warrior. As the evening drew
near, the shouting and the firing of the guns, the beating of t he drums and the
brandishing and the clanging of the matchets increased” (TFA : 90).
The Igbo people believe in the superstitions. They warn their children not to
whistle at night because they are afraid that the evil spirits come out. They even think
that the dangerous animals become more sinister during the night . ‘A snake was never
called by its name at night because it would hear. It was called a string’ (TFA:
8).There is a belief that the ogbanje, which are wicked children who usually die at an
early age, and then re-enter their mother’s womb to be born a gain. They believe that it
is the evil spirit of the same child that just comes in the form of many different
infants. Then there is special kind of a stone called ‘iyi-uwa’ that is buried near the
ogbanje infants buried. If the child’s ‘ iyi-uwa’ were found again and destroyed the
ogbanje spirits do not come again as the evil spirits. Achebe describes, ‘where did you
bury your ‘iyi-uwa’? She asked in return……Where they bury childr en’, she replied’
The silk-cotton tree is believed as a sacred tree because they believe that the
good spirits of the children waited to be born from the silk – cotton tree. ‘On the
ordinary days young women who desired children came to sit under it s shade’ (TFA:
34). The Week of Peace is celebrated by Igbo people. No work is don e during the
Week of Peace. People call on their neighbours and drink palm wine. By doing so, ‘it
brings a good luck for a good crop season’ (TFA: 24). However, some one breaks the
Week of Peace, and then there are the chances of a bad crop season subse quently the
most of the crops die.
The royal python is supposed to be the most revered animal t o the Igbo clan. It
is addressed as ‘our father’ and is allowed whenever it goes even into the beds of the
people. “If a clansman kills a python accidently, he made sac rifices of atonement and
performed an expensive burial ceremony such as was done for a gr eat man” (TFA:
116). Agbala, The Oracle of Hills and Caves when gets possessed by the spirit. The
people come to consult the oracle about their fortune and misfortune. Sometimes a
man came to consult the spirits of his dead father or relative. It was said that when
such spirit appeared, the man saw it vaguely in the darkness, but never heard its voice.
‘Some people even said that they had heard the spirits flying and flapping their wings
against the roof of the cave’ (TFA: 13).
Every clan and village had its ‘evil forest’. In it were buried all those who died
of the really evil diseases, like leprosy and smallpox. It w as also the dumping ground
for the potent fetishes of great medicine-men when they die d. ‘An ‘evil forest’ was,
therefore, alive with the sinister forces and powers of darkness’ (TFA: 109)’ The Igbo
people believe that the evil forest is a kind of place where the sinister forces live. If
someone challenges the sinister forces that person dies suddenly within four days. The
reason is that they gave such a battle to the missionaries to build the church and
nothing happened as they built the churches and the court in the ‘e vil forest’ if a titled
clansman commits a suicide they do not touch the body of him. They believe that it is
an abomination against their god. At the end of the story, Okonkwo commits a suicide
but nobody touches his body by thinking that it is an offence against the goddess of
The customs of Igbo people thrive from the indigenous beliefs and g eneral
attitudes in the society. They transmit and store the values of their experiences by
following the customs as a part of their identities. Ngugi s ays;
“Culture embodies moral, ethical and aesthetic values through whi ch they
come to view themselves and their place in the universe.’ This set of values is
‘the basis of a people’s identity’, on which our individual identi ty is built”
(Ngugi, 1994: 441).
Therefore, besides personal factors, our culture and history play an important
role in shaping our individual identity. One of the customs of Igbo pe ople is to present
a ‘Kola nut’ to welcome the guest and to respect the person in a polite manner.
“One day a neighbor called Okoye came into see him…He im mediately rose
and shook hands with Okoye, who then unrolled the goatskin which he carried
under his arm, and sat down. Unoka went into an inner room and soon
returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some all igator pepper
and a lump of white chalk. “I have kola,” he announced when h e sat down,
and passed the disc over to his guest.”Thank you. He who bring s kola brings
life. But I think you ought to break it,” replied Okoye, passing back the
disc……’No, it is for you, I think,” and they argued like this for a few
moments before Unoka accepted the honor of breaking the kola. Okoye,
meanwhile, took the lump of chalk, drew some lines on the fl oor, and then
painted his big toe” (TFA: 5).
Unoka prayed to their ancestors for life and health, and for prot ection against
their enemies. The second custom of the Igbo people is that when there is something
to inform to the villagers, the crier beats hallow meta l instrument ‘ogene’. It rhythms
as; gome , gome, gome, gome , then the town-crier passes the message to all regarding
an emergency. The villagers are informed to gather in the market place to discuss the
issue of the ‘murdered wife of Ogubefi Udo by the Mbaino villag ers in the market.
The other events like the death of Ogbuefi Ezeudu and the deci sion regarding react to
the actions of the missionaries are informed in a similar wa ys. Achebe puts in,
‘Okonkwo had just blown out the palm-oil lamp and stretched himself on his bamboo
bed when he heard the ogene of the town crier piercing the still night air . ‘Gome,
gome,gome, gome , boomed the hollow metal. Then the crier gave his message, and at
the end of it beat his instrument again’ (TFA: 8).
It is customary to make animal sacrifices to the earth goddess, when planting
crops, yet again; ritual is used to respect the earth goddess , who is at the centre of the
success of yams crops. The narrator says;
“Every year,” he (Unoka) said sadly, “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. I cle ar the bush and set
fire to it when it is dry. I sow the yams when the first rain has fallen, and stake
them when the young tendrils appear…” (TFA: 14).
The respected elder people, who help others in the difficult condition, are
called ‘our father’ ‘After the kola nut had been eaten Okonkwo broug ht his palm-wine
from the corner of the hut where it had been placed and stood it i n the center of the
group’. He addressed Nwakibie, calling him “Our father.” Acheb e describes;
“Nna ayi,” he (Okonkwo) said. “I have brought you this little kola. As our
people say, a man who pays respect to the great paves the w ay for his own
greatness. I have come to pay you my respects and also to ask a favor. But let
us drink the wine first” (TFA: 15).
The celebration of the ‘ Feast of New Yam’ is a festive mood among Igbo
people. It’s an occasion to giving thanks to the goddess ‘Ani’ w ho is known as the
source of the fertility and prosperity. The goddess ‘ Ani’ is considered at the centre to
judge the morality and conduct of the Igbo people. It’s the custom of them to worship
the goddess ‘ Ani’ by celebrating the Feast of New Yam.
The Igbo people respect each other and even the Egwugwu respect the people
at the time of the trial and they refer the people as ‘bodi es’. It makes a sense that the
‘ Egwugwu’ are more spiritual and less fleshy than the men so they refe r human beings
as ‘bodies’ an instance is given in the novel during the Uzowul u’s case. ‘Uzowulu’s
body, I salute you.’ he said. Spirits always addressed humans as “bodies” (TFA: 66).
The bridegroom’s prosperity is evaluated by the ability to ta p the palm-wine
and the hard work in the farming. The bridegroom brings the pots of palm-wine to the
bride’s house. The bride price is sent through the pots of palm-wine. P roviding many
pots of palm-wine is the kind of value the bridegroom’s family p ays towards the
bride. When the bride price of Obierika’s daughter settled the bridegroom brought
forty-five pots of plam-wine.
“They dare not bring fewer than thirty pots,” said Okonkwo. ‘I shal l tell them
my mind of they do.”… Obierika’s relatives counted the pots as they came.
Twenty, twenty-five. There was a long break, and the hosts l ooked at each
other as if to say, “I told you.” Then more pots came. Thirty , thirty-five, forty,
forty-five. The hosts nodded in approval and seemed to say, “N ow they are
behaving like men” (TFA: 85).
Achebe explores Africa an undifferentiated wasteland by the use of customs as
a part of shaping the identity of the Igbo people and the ritu als of the ethical values of
them. The columnist, Howard W. French comments that
“In passage after passage he (Achebe) remarks on differenc es both subtle and
dramatic between the customs and laws of various clans in his Igbo ethnic
group, and less frequently with references to the world beyond”(F rench,2009).
2.2.5. Worship and Trials The Igbo people are the great worshippers to worship their gods, dei ties and
the ancestral spirits. The supreme god of them is known as the ‘Chukwu’ who is at the
centre of their worship and the ancestral spirits and the woode n gods names ‘chi’ are
the messengers of it. The people used to come to the temple of the God of Hills and
Caves to ask about their failures or the different aspect s of the health and farming.
Every activity of the clan starts by worshipping the gods. E ven the regular Kola nut is
provided by their clansmen as a part of respect that is offe red to the ancestral spirits.
The Igbo people worship their god with ‘yam’ crop, palm-wine and the goats and hen
The ‘trial’ among Igbo people is known as a part of justice give n by the jury
through ‘Egwugwu’ . The Egwugwu are known as the jury which are formed on the
basis of the secret agencies of the Igbo people to settle the disputes between two
families or parties on an open place of the village. They a ppear from the “evil forest’
the underworld land of the Igbo having masks on their faces represe nting the nine
founders of each village so no one recognizes the identity of them. Everyone is
allowed to attend the event. The elders of the village s it in the front rows of stools
with a row of nine seats in front of them. The leader of th e egwugwu is known as the
‘Evil Forest, addresses both groups and receives their sides of the conflict. Then, the
nine egwugwu spirits consult in the hut and then come out and give the verdict.
Achebe depicts the Igbo as a people with great social instit utions; the culture is heavy
in traditions and laws that focus on justice and fairness. In one of the verdicts passed by the Egwugwu in the Uzowulu’s c ase, ‘Go to
your in-laws with a pot of wine and beg your wife to return t o you’ (TFA: 68). In a
very sophisticated way, the trial goes on and the judgments a re passed keeping in a
view to foster the social bond and harmony among the people as co mpared to the
justice of the missionaries.
2.2.6. Sacrifices The sacrifices among Igbo people are known as the remedies of the ir destitute
or to get a favour of their deities, gods and ancestral spirit s. The Igbo people are
advised by the priestess of the ‘Agbala’ for doing the sacrifices. Unoka goes to the
temple to consult ‘Agbala’ about his failure as a farmer. He told that ‘I also kill a cock
at the shrine of ifejioku’ (TFA: 14) and he was given an instruction to do the regular
sacrifices to the goddess ‘Ani’. Achebe writes that Chika, the priestess of Agbala told
Unoka that offering sacrifices to the reluctant soil is not e nough but the hard work is
also required. It makes a point to argue that the sacrifices are not the solutions of
The sacrifice of Ikemefuna, an ill-fated lad from the Mbai no village to avert
the war between the two villages is also a kind of the custom Igbo people followed by
the order of the god of Hills and Caves. The protagonist, Okonkwo v iolates the Peace
of Week and he was asked by the elders of the village ‘You will bring to the shrine of
Ani tomorrow one she-goat, one hen, a length of a cloth and a hundred c owries'(
TFA:23). The sacrifices of the she-goat and a hen are sugge sted the remedies of peace
for his crime. During the exile of Okonkwo in the Mbanta villag e, he gives a farewell
feast to all the kinsmen of the Mbanta village, at the t ime slaughtering the goats for a
farewell party is assumed as the sacrifice to the pers onal gods like ‘chi’. A number of
instances have been referred by Achebe about the sacrific es of the Igbo people. Some
of them are about the cruelty such as throwing the twins into t he ‘evil forest’ is an act
of superstition. However, the sacrifice rituals are resona ted with indigenous thoughts,
values and the part of their cultural identity.
2.2.7. Dislocation of culture after colonialism The dislocation of the Igbo culture after the arrival of the m issionaries is an
important aspect to focus on the disintegration of Igbo societ y in Nigeria. The white
men challenged the established myths when nothing happens to the w hite men despite
their stay in the ‘Evil Forest’ even after the prescribe d period. It was the beginning of
their pacification by misjudging the situation. As a result, t he missionaries attracted
the three converts, who believed that there is no reality in the wrong beliefs. Nwoye, a
son of well-reputed man Okonkwo, Nneka, the wife of Amadi, who was a prosperous
farmer and Ogbuefi Ugonna, who had taken two titles, by cutting the anklet of his
titles joined the missionaries. The cultural aspect by considering python as the most revered ani mal was
killed and eaten by the Enoch, the son of snake priest. The vill agers didn’t tolerate the
act of Enoch. Achebe writes that ‘It was Enoch who touched off the great conflict
between church and clan in Umuofia’ (TFA: 135).Moreover, during the annual
ceremony, he unmasked one of the Egwugwu in the public when someone stroked
him with a cane.’ Enoch fell on him and tore off his mask. The ot her egwuwgu
immediately surrounded their desecrated companion, to shield him from the profane
gaze of women and children and led him away’ (TFA: 136). As a result, the church of
the missionary was destroyed by the clan, where the Enoch had taken refuse. The
missionaries treated the titled men of Umuofia harshly a nd the villagers paid a fine of
two hundred and fifty bags of cowries for the destruction of the c hurch to release the
six titled men of the clan from the custody. Ezinma, the daughter of Okonkwo broke ‘her twenty eight day vis it to her
family of her future husband, and returned home when she heard t hat her father had
been imprisoned, and was going to be hanged’ (TFA:143). It is als o against the
culture of the Igbo people to break the visit to the future husband . Such instances as
the above encompass the dislocation of culture and cultural identi ty of the Igbo people
after encroachment of the missionaries to distort the peace ful culture.
Toynbee Arnold points out that ‘cultures once born do not continue to ev olve
automatically but have to be rejuvenated periodically’ (Arnold,1972: 83).The Igbo
people didn’t accept the continued change in the culture; subsequentl y they were at
the centre of the issues of culture and identity. Achebe wr ites that Okonkwo’s friend
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peacea bly with his
religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him t o stay. Now he
has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a
knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen a part” (TFA: 129).
Achebe shows not only the beauty but also the cruelty of Igbo lif e, which
included the physical abuse of women and ritual murder. He al so presents Christianity
as a refuge for the isolated, the oppressed and the outcast, even while describing how
the church and the British government gradually dislocated the enti re culture.
2.3. Summary Things Fall Apart (1958) is indeed a classic study of the issues of identity and
culture because it focuses on the conflicts between the Igbo peopl e and missionaries
pertaining to a great transition in Nigeria after colonialism . Achebe intensifies to
mirror a sense of identity of the Igbo people with their past and pride in it. It is also
intended to make the rest of the world to know about Africa’s ri ch culture and
heritage. The novel puts across, in convincing and authentic fict ional terms, that the
African societies had a great culture of their own. The i ssues of identity and culture
are successfully portrayed to uphold the systematic process of destruction wrought
upon the Igbo identity by the colonial power and alien culture of them.
Finally, it is an evident from the close exploration of the iss ues of identity and
culture in the novel Things fall Apart (1958), the study assumes that identity can be
invented because it is not fixed, but fluid as well as the c ulture of any society has its
own changing social patterns and it changes as per the chang ing need and conditions.
If any society or person does not accept the changes the issu es of identity and culture
cause the disintegration, disruption and pacification.
1. Chinua Achebe mirrors the issues of identity and culture in th e novel Things
Fall Apart (1958)
2. Identity formation of any society or a person is not static it is fluid.
3. Culture changes as per the changing social patterns and helps to identify the
people or society with differences.
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