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Mrs. Joseph

Short Story & Novel

April 4, 2011

The Customary Ibo People

The Ibo society of Nigeria is one that accepts and does not question their history. A

history formed by guessing and unchallenged ways of life. Strong beliefs in supernatural powers

are one of the most significant factors of the clan. In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua

Achebe, the belief of the supernatural controls all of the decisions the tribe makes. This results in

the tribe not questioning oral tradition which depends on superstitions to belief in the clan being

the most important. Through the whole novel, traditions that have been passed down within the

tribe determine the destiny of everyone in the male dominated society. Therefore, this custom

builds a sense of false stability when an unknown contradictory culture influences their old ways.

Because everything has been the same for generations this clan has survivors who created a

sense of security. They are innocent of the world. Hey are unaware of the changes happening in

the modern world. When this calamity arrives upon their lifestyle their innocence results in them

not knowing how to respond to the changes being forced on them. Lack of experience in the tribe

results in over exaggerated superstitions causes their downfall.

The Ibo are a primitive kind of people they do not know the advancements in the African

world. All they know is what they have heard amongst the tribe—old traditions. Their antique

ways tell them to believe in a council and oracles that do not answer to their needs or give them

advice. Though the supernatural and superstitions in the tribe, customs are the most significant

way of life for these Nigerian tribes.

A custom that the Ibo have is to always go to the oracle for wisdom and advice about

daily life. The Oracle is though of as a powerful spirit that is looking out for the Ibo tribes,

making sure they are out of harms way. The oracle is believed to be the one who sets the rules

for society. These people have no idea of thinking for themselves, thinking that there will not be

conflicts if someone else does the thinking for them. “If the clan had disobeyed the oracle they

would surely have been beaten because their dreaded agadi-nwai would never fight what the Ibo

called a fight of blame (Achebe 13).” The tribe never had any idea of what to do. They always

had to consult with the nonliving oracle to ask a simple question. It seems as if they cannot think

for themselves, which results in a personification and exaggeration of the power of the Oracle

who is a nonliving belief that speaks through a priestess. With all the power that they have given

to the Oracle, the tribe results in fear to an unrealistic custom.

There are many contributing factors for the downfall of the Ibo, but ultimately their

customs and the way that they accept everything that has been passed down by oral tradition

without question tells the audience that they are doom for failure. The tribe is one of fairness in

which every man has a chance to be higher than his forefathers. It is just a matter of being able to

rise up. Unoka, the father of the protagonist has always been a man seen as a failure. He was

even called a woman which was the most derogatory term in the village. Instead of thinking of

what to do to turn himself around and create a name for him and his family, “Unoka had gone to

consult the oracle of the Hills and the Caves to find out why he always had a miserable harvest.

They came to consult the spirit of their departed fathers (Achebe 16).” Unoka was a failure of

society. Instead of making up his own mind about what he has to do, he goes off and consults the

oracle. The oracle is a nonliving belief. Because he does not know what to do and what decisions

to make, it results in failure and belittlement by the clan. No matter how much these people think
that the oracle will help them, they will get no answer. As a result, these people have created a

false sense of security that the Oracle and the gods whom they worship will protect them from

the imperialists.

“Umuofia’s laws, customs and the proclamations of its oracles communicate coercive

impulses, individuals may not renegotiate themselves around the sacrosanct traditional values

represented as incontrovertible and which are meant both to ensure the clan’s survival and to

consolidate its traditions (Ose-Nyame)” The Ibo belong to a non-negotiable lifestyle. These

people that they believe in all communicate through impulse. For example there is one point in

the novel where the priestess is “overcome” by the power of the Oracle and takes Enzinma away

from Okonkwo and Ekwefi. Because these people do not question the power and the decisions of

their greater supernatural beings they allow these things to happen, such as the kidnapping of a

young child. Not questioning the power and customs of these people allows things to stay the

way they are therefore the Ibo never have to change. This results in the Ibo consolidating its

tradition because of the wanting of the clan to persevere and last longer than any other clan.

One of the old customs of the Ibo society was not allowing women to gain any power.

They were considered inferior to men. The imperialists that come in challenge this custom

causing a stir in the men and women of the land to begin seeing the different views and this adds

to the clan falling apart. Women were always considered inferior to men in the Ibo village, they

were nothing more than child bearers, and servants to the most powerful men of society. These

women were objects that showed off a man’s wealth. The more wives he had, the more he would

be respected among society. These women were never equal to the men, they never had a chance

to gain statuses or titles. They were not even allowed to grow the same crops as the men of the

clan.“His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops like coco-yams,
beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop (Achebe 23).” Living in these types

of society it is common for people to understand that no one would ever support them and they

had no value. No matter how hard they worked, or if they worked even harder than the men, they

would never get any recognition. Because the Ibo believed in the philosophy, they built a hidden

urge for independence for all the women of the tribe. After all the long years of patriarchal

oppression they were ready to burst and follow the imperialists who allowed them a voice.

“If you look carefully, the women were never really dealing alone with issues pertaining

to women; they were dealing with issues pertaining o society (Osei-Nyame)” These women

were actually dealing with the problems of their society. Even though women were not allowed

to speak up in society, they always had a huge impact on the male leaders of the clan, for they

voice their forbidden opinions to their husbands. This causes problems for the entire clan.

Because the Ibo always believed that women were inferior and need not “poke their heads” into

the business of a man the imperialists were able to change the opinion of the women. This is one

of the main philosophies which was practiced by the missionaries that divides the clan. Women

who converted to become Christians were looked down upon; even lower than the lowest of the

clan. The imperialists believed in feminism which allowed the women to speak up and voice

their opinions and develop independence away from the men.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York [etc.: Anchor, 1994. Print.

Clark, Emily. "Things Fall Apart." In Sollars, Michael D., ed. The Facts On File Companion to

the World Novel, 1900 to the Present. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. Bloom's

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Gaydosik, Victoria. "Things Fall Apart." Facts On File Companion to the British Novel: 20th

Century, vol. 2. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom's Literary Reference Online.

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Mkhize, D.N. The Portrayal og Igbo Culture in Zulu: A descriptive Analysis of the Translation

of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart into Zulu. Bloom, Harold. New Modern Critical

Interpretations. InfoBase Publishing. New York: New York, 2010.

Osei-Nyame, Kwadwo. "Chinua Achebe Writing Culture: Representations of Gender and

Tradition in Things Fall Apart." Research in African Literatures, 30, no. 2 (Summer

1999): 148–164. Quoted as "Chinua Achebe Writing Culture: Representations of Gender

and Tradition in Things Fall Apart" in Bloom, Harold ed. Things Fall Apart, New

Edition, Bloom's Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2009.

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Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart." In >Emerging Perspectives on Chinua Achebe.

Volume 1. Omenka the Master Artist: Critical Perspectives on Achebe's Fiction. ed.

Ernest N. Emenyonu (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World, 2004): 121–148. Trenton, N.J.: Africa

World, 2004. Quoted as "'A Mouth with Which to Tell the Story': Silence, Violence, and

Speech in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart" in Bloom, Harold ed. Things Fall Apart,

New Edition, Bloom's Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishing,

2009. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts on File, Inc.

MCITFA006&SingleRecord=True (accessed March 28, 2011).