How Does Achebe Depict Ibo Culture in ‘Things Fall Apart’?

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How does Achebe depict Ibo culture in ‘Things Fall Apart’?

Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, is a story of a traditional village in Nigeria from inside Umuofia around the late 1800s. This novel depicts late African history and shows how the British administrative structure, in the form of the European Anglican Church, imposed its religion and trappings on the cultures of Africa, which they believed was uncivilized. This missionary zeal subjugated large native populations. Consequently, the native traditions gradually disappeared and in time the whole local social structure within which the indigenous people had lived successfully for centuries was destroyed. Achebe spends the first half of the novel depicting the Ibo culture, by itself, in both a sophisticated and primitive light describing and discussing its grandeur, showing its strengths and weaknesses, etiquettes and incivilities, and even the beginning of cultural breakdown before the introduction of the missionaries. The collapse of the old culture is evident soon after the missionaries arrived, and here Achebe utilises two of the primary missionary figures, Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith, to once again depicts both sides of the Ibo culture between them, with Mr. Brown depicting the sophisticated and Mr. Smith depicting the primitive aspects.

The main focus in this novel is on one man, Okonkwo, the protagonist who symbolises the many Nigerians, or Africans who were struggling against the white missionaries, who brought their religion and policies and imposed them on Okonkwo’s and the other surrounding tribes. Achebe also shows how great the effect is when something as seemingly un-invasive, such as a church, is set up in a Nigerian or African Culture. Among other issues, Achebe illustrates clearly the way the white Europeans see things from their cultures perspective. An example of this is shown when the District Commissioner describes the Ibo as people from “...Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.”

Achebe starts off the novel portraying the Ibo culture as organised, with complex laws and customs, established over time which held the communities together. Even though the Ibo are described as ‘primitive and savage’ by Mr. Smith, one of the missionary church leaders, the tribesmen evidently show their etiquette through their mannerisms. Proverbs, a form of Ibo mannerisms, are used quite frequently throughout this novel as ‘the art of conversation is regarded very highly [by the Ibo], and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.’ (Achebe. P.5:1986) The Ibo people are also not as violent and savage as many of the missionaries believed. This is shown when a villager from the Mbaino village kills a woman from the Ibo village, the Ibo village elders and those with titles, instead of initiating war against the neighbouring Mbaino, reach a peaceful agreement on the reparations from the Mbaino tribe.‘… [A]t the end it was decided to follow the normal course of action. An ultimatum was immediately dispatched to Mbaino asking them to choose between wars on the one hand, and on the other the offer of a young man and a virgin as compensation.” (P.8)

Achebe also expands on the reflection of the Ibo peoples of being civil, depicting the civilised aspects of the Ibo religion. Another example similar to the peaceful reparation, previously mentioned, is the week of peace before the beginning of the harvest season, required of the Ibo villages. This was a sacred time for the Ibo people. Before anyone was allowed to plant their crops, it was required that they live in peace with their neighbours for one week to honour Ani, the great goddess of the earth. It was said that if this peace is broken then they will not receive a blessing from Ani and their crops will not grow. Achebe demonstrates how important this week was to the Ibo people through Okonkwo’s breaking of this law, by beating his wife Ojiugo, with the priest of the earth goddess, Ezeani, stating that “The...
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