In Things Fall Apart, Achebe displays the people of Umuafia as a fairly civilized and organized tribe which strongly combats the stereotypes the white people created. These people were criticized as being “savages” running around the wild mindlessly hunting and killing each other. These comments seem to be very inaccurate according to how Achebe has portrayed the tribe in Things Fall Apart through the African’s perspective.
The definition of the word the white people are using to describe these people consists of ones such as “uncivilized”, “wild”, “barbaric”, and “rude”. These are all characteristics that seem to resemble to that of an animal or wild beast roaming aimlessly, without instruction, acting only through natural instinct. They were being criticized of having no government, no manners, and no religion to guide them. These people are making comments that not only are not backed up, but are totally proved wrong by the way Achebe has shown in this novel.
These people show their establishment of a form of government when they give the enemy tribe an ultimatum after defeating them in war. They gave them a choice of being invaded and taken over or sacrificing someone for their village. Ikemefuna was their answer to this which shows that they didn’t simply invade them but instead negotiated like a government would do. The men who are usually seen as the leaders in tribe are those who have physical strength , have many wives, and can support a large family. The practice of polygamy may seem as unusual to our culture but in reality they are still only living by the way they were taught and shows how responsible they are of supporting a large family. This alone shows how they have values and expectations rather than living ungoverned.
Another interesting observation from the novel was how they did have religious festivals referred to as The Week of Peace. This was a week of the year that the whole village would refrain from any act of violence, including hitting their wives which was normally accepted. They felt that they should dedicate a time of no violence showing how they do not act savagely by doing whatever they want whenever they wanted. They did this, not for themselves, but to show inclination to something superior to them I interpret as a God. This is the form of religion that Achebe shows which contradicts the accusations of the Africans being uncivilized people. Unfortunately we see how the Ibo culture was being taken over after the white people brought Christianity in but it shows that they were civilized and accepted a religion to guide their lives.
The Ibo seemed to have a very structured social order. Everything from the way one attains status in the village to the way the people receive their guests leads me to believe this. The use of titles in the village to determine status demonstrates that they had a hierarchy of sorts in place, much like we have judges, mayors, senators, and a president. For instance, the egwugwu acted as judges by passing sentence in disputes between the people. Their use of titles also seemed to make up a sort of government.
Along the same lines, the way they interacted shows that they were a civil people. They seemed to try to settle everything peaceably, if at all possible. As Achebe pointed out, they believed that a “war of blame” was an unjust thing. Also, the way they interacted between each other leads me to believe they were not the “savages” the English had thought. The sharing of the kola nut and palm wine between neighbors shows a mutual respect for each other. They seemed to have a deep feeling of kinship not only among their families, but with the clan as a whole as well.
Although it may be considered somewhat primitive by English standards, the Ibo had an existing economic system as well. Their economy was based on bags of cowry. They also had different economic classes among them. Okonkwo was portrayed as being pretty well off in his clan. Their economy was based mainly on agriculture, specifically the yam, and it seemed that the good farmers were considered among the richest people of the clan. The economy also relates back to the titles, because titles were purchased within the clan. The mention of markets also supports the idea of the Ibo having a strong economy.
Lastly, I observed how these people did in fact have some etiquette and manners when they would visit each other. These people would never visit each other empty-handed. They believed that they should bring something of importance that they could enjoy to show respect to one another. That is a solid sign of manners these so called “savages” had in their culture which can easily mean they practice manners regularly.
These observations are sufficient to prove the white men wrong about their descriptions of the Africans. Achebe clearly shows the African people to be self controlled human beings that can live in an organized society normally. Their culture might be unusual to us or any other but they are essentially living the way their ancestors taught them but still having values and morals about how one should live their life. We can’t criticize a culture we have little understanding of because then we would simply believe everyone else, other than our own culture, is uncivilized. The Ibo were not savages, but people standing up for their beliefs. Suffering a lack of communication between the white man and the Ibo seemed to be the biggest reason for the problems between them.