Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a story based on the traditional beliefs and customs of the Ibo tribe. Achebe portrays a realistic view of Africans, particularly the Ibo tribe, which opposes the view that a reader may have formed after reading other works, such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Although Achebe describes the fact that the tribe does not primarily consist of savages, the reader still needs to keep an open mind about the ideas that are presented. The reader may at first be appalled at some of the beliefs, but it should be brought into consideration that they are lead chiefly by traditions and customs. Many of these traditions and customs derive from their ideas on certain events, being patriarchal, and religion.
The Ibo culture involves a number of celebrated events. The Week of Peace comes at the end of the relaxed season and before the harvest and planting season. This is a time where all members of this society shall live in complete peace no matter what the circumstances. If this peace is broken, it is to be called a great evil and consequently will be punished. Achebe provides a case in point, which will be discussed later in the essay. Another Ibo occasion is the Feast of the New Yam, which resembles Thanksgiving in the American culture. This feast is to honor their earth goddess, Ani, as the American holiday is celebrated to give thanks and honor our God. “Men and Women, young and old, looked forward to the New Yam Festival because it began the season of plenty-the new year”(page 36).
This excerpt from the introduction of chapter five shows the significance of the occasion. Following the New Yam Festival is the popular wrestling match. This event is more of a tradition as it occurs annually on the second day of the new year. “There was no festival in all the seasons of the year which gave [Ekwefi] as much pleasure as the wrestling match”(39). This supports Achbe’s effort to express the excitement for the friendly competition. By these examples, the reader may infer that the Ibo tribe can be described as somewhat mundane, but Achebe also goes into detail about the people of the tribe.
The Ibo tribe can be depicted as profoundly patriarchal. This is where the reader may begin to feel repelled as Achebe describes man as being venerated as leader and describes women as gentle, weak and obedient to their men. The women’s job was in the house cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. The men’s job was out hunting, fighting, and raising difficult crops such as yam. The men were also allowed to beat their wives, who in return could not defend themselves. A prime example of this masculine dominance is the main character, Okonkwo. Okonkwo defies any sign of weakness, including the female race. The Ibo society defines a man who is weak or acts feminine as agbala, which means “woman”. “But [Okonkwo’s] wives and young children were not as strong, and so they suffered. But they dared not complain openly”(13). This quote reinforces Achebe’s idea of masculinity. Although the Ibo culture may express dominance in the male race, their power does not exceed that which is given to the many gods they worship.
Religion in the Ibo culture can be illustrated as polytheistic. Their tradition has a God for every phenomenon. This society does not use kings or police to discipline its people, like many other societies, but instead they use spirits. Their highest spiritual and judicial authority is Egwugwu. There are not any written laws so the decisions on punishments rely on the gods. “Okonkwo broke the Week of Peace by beating his wife and was punished, as was the custom, by Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess. Okonkwo was said to “have committed a great evil”(30). “The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish”(30).
This shows how much the tribe respects and depends on their gods. The Ibo religion also comes with many superstitions. The largest of the superstitions is their personal chi, or Supreme Being. The chi is unique for each tribe member and allegedly determines his or her success and character. “Man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi”(131). It would be of no value to challenge one’s chi. Other superstitions includes warning the children not to whistle on dark nights for fear of evil spirits.
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is about the specific culture of Africans, in this case the Ibo tribe. It portrays an accurate analysis for those who may have believed Africans as being savages. The Ibo society value an adherence to their cultural traditions, as do other cultures, which makes them greatly civilized. Although some of the traditions practice may seem quite shocking to the reader, the society cannot be described as mindless or barbaric. The Ibo tribe is a very complex society with unique values and meaning. Achebe fulfills his purpose in disclaiming the stereotype of ferocious Africans.