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THINGS FALL APART: REPRESENTATION OF TRIBAL LIFE AND CULTURE _____________________________________________________________________________

Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 just prior to Nigerian independence, but it depicts pre-colonial Africa. Achebe felt it was important to portray Nigerians as they really were-not just provide a shallow description of them as other authors had. The story takes place in the typical tribal village of Umuofia, where the inhabitants (whom Achebe calls the Ibo, but who are also known as the Igbo) practice rituals common to their native traditions. In Ibo Culture, a sense of tradition was highly significant. The Ibo people would carry out the various traditions that had been passed down from their ancestors centuries ago in their everyday lives. These traditions or customs that came in the form of funeral ceremonies, ones manners, rites of passage, and more were the backbone of the Ibo culture. They brought the tribe closer by allowing the people to come together and take part in activities as a group. One of the most notable Ibo traditions is the rite of passage for young girls and boys maturing into adulthood. This rite of passage is not a sudden acceptance into adulthood but rather a series of rites they must go through over time before they become a true adult. Only eight days after birth, a child goes through the rite of circumcision. Every boy and girl must be circumcised in order to be part of the Ibo culture. Boys and girls must also complete the rite of wearing cloths. This entails going from wearing nothing to being completely covered in clothes, signifying social status as well as individual improvement or transformation. The next rite of passage is Iru-mgede (fattening a girl before marriage). This custom is done to promote healthy offspring as well as a healthy marriage. Itu Anya is the fourth rite of passage, lasting for eight days, where one becomes a Diviner. During this time, the child has time to think, reflect, and even communicate with spirits in order to gain the power, knowledge, and courage that is needed to become a Diviner. The last rite of passage for a child in Ibo culture is Igba-Mgba or wrestling. In this activity one shows his true strength and courage and with success he becomes a real warrior and in turn, a man. The Week of Peace is a sacred time for the Ibo people. Before anyone is allowed to plant their crops they must live in peace with their neighbours for a week to honour Ani, the great goddess of the earth. It is ordained that if this peace is broken than they will not receive a blessing from Ani and their crops will not grow. Achebe demonstrates how important this week

is to the Ibos through Okonkwos beating of his wife, Ojiugo. The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan, says the priest of the earth goddess, Ezeani. It was a shocking moment for Ibo people when they heard of Okonkwos actions because it was the first time for many years that a man had broken the sacred peace. Another similar tradition in honoring the gods is the New Yam Festival. At this time of the year, before the harvest began, the Ibo people celebrated the joy of a new harvest year. The Feast of the New Yam was held every year before the harvest began, to honor the earth goddess and the ancestral spirits of the clan. New yams could not be eaten until some had first been offered to these powers. It was an occasion for giving thanks to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. Ani played a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. At night they would throw away the yams of the old year and all of the cooking pots and pans were thoroughly washed. This was also a time to honour the earth goddess again and the ancestral spirits of the clan. Aside from ceremonial traditions, the tradition of telling stories was one of great importance in Ibo culture. It was not only fun but also educational because through these folk tales, myths, riddles, and proverbs the young Ibo children could learn about their ancestors and allow them to understand the importance of various customs. And so nature was not interfered with in the middle of the rainy season. Sometimes it poured down in such thick sheets of water that earth and sky seemed merged in one gray wetnessAt such times, in each of the countless thatched huts of Umuofia, children sat around their mothers cooking fire telling stories, or with their father in his obi warming themselves from a log fire, roasting and eating maize. The Ibo worshipped gods who protect and chastise them and who are represented by priests and priestesses within the clan. For example, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves granted knowledge and wisdom to those who were brave enough to consult him. No one had ever seen the Oracle except his priestess, who was an Ibo woman but who has special powers of her own. Not only did the gods advise the Ibo on community matters, but also they guided individuals. Each person had a personal god, or chi, that directed his or her actions. A strong chi

meant a strong person; people with weak chis were pitied. Each man kept a separate hut, or shrine, where he stored the symbols of his personal god and his ancestral spirits. At the most one could say that his chi or personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed. Within the village, people were grouped according to families, with the eldest man in the family having the most power. On matters affecting the whole village, an assembly of adult men debated courses of action, and men could influence these assemblies by purchasing titles from the tribal elders. This system encouraged hard work and the spread of wealth. People who transgressed against the laws and customs of the village had to confront the egwugwu, an assembly of tribesmen masked as spirits, who would settle disputes and hand out punishment. Individual villages also attained various degrees of political status. In the novel, other tribes respect and fear Umuofia. They believe that Umuofias magic is powerful and that the villages war-medicine, or agadi-nwayi, is particularly potent. Neighbouring clans always try to settle disputes peacefully with Umuofia to avoid having to war with them. The analysis of cultural history involves myths, religion, totems, superstitions, rituals, festivals, and icons. In Things Fall Apart, the mask, the earth, the legends and the rituals all have significance in the story as well as in the history of the Igbo culture. It is not a one-aday-a-week affair as it generally is with us. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, primitive people eat and work and play and sleep with religion. Nearly everything in primitive society hunting, fishing, planting crops , harvesting, head hunting, war, marriage, birth, coming of age, illness, death, building a house, making a canoe or an ax is associated with ritual or magic or ceremony or some other form of religious activity. First, there is the use of the mask to draw the spirit of the gods into the body of a person. A great crime in Ibo culture is to unmask or show disrespect to the immortality of an egwugwu, which represents an ancestral spirit. Towards the end of the novel, a warrior converted into a Christian unmasks and kills one of his own ancestral spirits. The clan weeps, for "it seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming its own death." In the cultural history of Nigeria, complex rituals also played a large part in the daily life of the people. Achebe's story reflects this strict attention to rituals and taboos.

Okonkwo upholds his traditions by helping to kill the boy sacrificed to settle a dispute with another tribe, despite his paternal feelings towards the boy. Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna because "he was afraid of being thought weak." Yet, afterwards he cannot eat or sleep; "he felt like a drunken giant walking with the limbs of a mosquito." The space between an individual identity and his ancestors is narrow. In fact, Achebe goes so far as to say: "The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them, especially at festivals and also when an old man died, because an old man was very close to the ancestors. A man's life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought him nearer and nearer to his ancestors." There are several legends and myths told in Things Fall Apart: the earth and the sky; the mosquito and the ear; the tortoise and the birds. According to Rosenberg, "myths symbolize human experience and embody the spiritual values of a culture." The values and views of the world spread through mythology are important to the survival of every society's culture. Myths are instructional as well as entertaining. Myths "explain the nature of the universe (creation and fertility myths) or instruct members of the community in the attitudes and behavior necessary to function successfully in that particular culture (hero myths and epics)." In Things Fall Apart, the use of language shares the functions of myths; "Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten." Proverbs and myths are both ways of conveying a meaning without directly forcefeeding the words to the listener. Achebe is showing the importance of stories even within the story he is telling in Things Fall Apart. Achebe dispassionately presents how things are beginning to fall apart in the Igbo society even before the white man arrives. Achebe has taken pains to point out through this novel that the Igbo culture is quite flexible and presumably would have resolved its own contradictions in its own way without the intervention of the Europeans. Many critics have praised Achebes work for its vividness and accuracy rather than some unvarnished truth about that culture. It is noticeable that Achebe is reconstructing a historical moment, one that had resulted in profound societal changes by the time of his own birth.