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Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is the story of the post-colonial difference between Africa and Europe, as well as the difference between the Western way of doing things and the tribal awareness. It is the story of the psychological and social consequences of the shift from the tribal native society to the Western mode brought about by the Imperialistic takeover. Achebe's novel certainly foreshadows the end of a world: the invasion of the white man into the society of the African Ibo, and the following disbanding of the native culture. The image of things falling apart is a suitable one. We learn that from the author's point of view, Ibo culture is held together by one string -- its own traditions. This string will not break, but when pulled it will unravel or loosen; causing everything it holds together to literally fall apart.

Although his father was a lazy man who earned no titles in the Ibo tribe, Okonkwo is a considered a great man in his home of Umuofia, which consists of a group of nine villages in Nigeria. Okonkwo despised his father and did everything he could to be nothing like him. "And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father's contemptible life and shameful death." (Achebe, 1959, pg. 18) As a young man, Okonkwo began building his social status by defeating a great wrestler, and being named the strongest in the clan. This boosts him into society's eye as someone who should be looked up to. He is hard working and shows no weakness-emotional or otherwise-to anyone. Although rough with his family and his neighbors, he is wealthy, courageous, and powerful among his village. He is a leader of his village, and this place in society is what he has struggled for his entire life. It is evident that social status is part of their social customs. Because of his great wealth, courage, and social esteem, Okonkwo was chosen by his village to act as an ambassador of war and meet with another village to work out the terms for settlement when a woman from Okonkwo's village was killed by people from the neighboring village. While Okonkwo was in the village of the offenders he was treated with great respect because of his social status. However, his social status meant nothing when he was exiled for seven years for committing an effeminate crime by accidentally shooting an elder's son during his funeral.

The economy of the African Ibo tribe relied mainly on agriculture. Their lives revolve around the planting and harvest cycle. They were farmers and produced things such as palm oil, which they used to cook, and yams and foo-foo. Their houses were built with clay produced by their own hands and soil from their own harvests. Cowrie shells were also part of their economic system. Cowries were used especially when a family is marrying off a daughter. Cowries are presented as dowry.

As well as social and economic customs, religion was regarded with great seriousness. They are an extremely religious people who believe in a generous creator who created the visible universe (uwa). Apart from the natural level of the universe, they also believe that it exists on another level, which are the spiritual forces- forces for blessing or destruction, depending on circumstances. They punish social offences and those who unwittingly violate their privileges. Each person also has a personalized destiny, which comes from their creator, and returns to him at the time of death, a chi. This chi may be good or bad. They believe in Agbala, a greatly feared priestess full of the power of her God, and an Oracle of the Hills and Caves whom they consult with about their problems. Whenever villagers have questions about the source of their misfortune or the future, they consult the Oracle and learn the answer through its priestess.

They also believed that the spirits of one's ancestors keep a constant watch over you. The living show appreciation for the dead and pray to them for future well being. It is against tribal law to speak badly of a spirit. Those ancestors who lived well, and died in socially approved ways, were given correct burial rites. Those who died bad, shameful deaths, like Okonkwo's father, were buried in the Evil Forest, where bad souls are cast.

Shameful deaths were not the only things frowned upon in Ibo religion. Twins were considered bad luck. They were often left to die in the Evil Forest, and their cries can often be heard. Also, a woman who bears child after child only to see them die is plagued by the spirit of an evil child who will re-enter its mother's womb only to be born and then die again. The cycle can only be broken if the child's iyi-uwa, the stone that links it to the spirit world, is found and destroyed. Sometimes medicine men would try to discourage the child from returning by mutilating the dead body and burying it in the Evil Forest, so it would "Ð'...think twice before coming again, unless it was one of the stubborn ones who returned, carrying the stamp of their mutilation-a missing finger or perhaps a dark line where the medicine man's razor had cut them." (Achebe, 1959, pg. 79) Occasionally, the children were known to return with the scars of that mutilation at their birth.

While Okonkwo was away in exile, white men began coming to Umuofia and they peaceably introduced their religion and started colonizing Umuofia. The first signs of colonization come to Abame when the first white man appears. The elders of the village consulted the Oracle and were told that the white man would soon be followed by others like him and that he would destroy their way of life, so they killed him. "Ð''We have heard stories about white men who made the powerful guns and the strong drinks and took slaves away across the seas, but no one thought the stories were true.'" (Abeche, 1959, pg. 122) Not long after, other white men massacred the people of the village because they killed the first white man who came to their village. The white men soon sent in missionaries to instill a religion that encourages peace as the beginning stages of colonization. If they can change the primary beliefs of the tribe, then they can control the natives more easily. Already the introduction of a foreign element, in this case Christianity, begins to tear the structural fabric of the Ibo society. The presence of this new and foreign religion begins to grow and eventually it makes it difficult for the tribe to maintain order in its own community. The missionaries presented the people with the idea of God, the creator of men and women. The white men told them that their Gods were not real, that they were not alive; and that they had been sent by God so they can be saved when they died. Soon, people were captivated with the words spoken by the white men; one of whom was enthralled by the white men's words

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