Prof. Seemin Hasan
Post Colonial Literature – A
Culture of Ibo Society
Every culture or society is the sum total of its individuals. Every culture is a culmination of both the positive and negative elements in a particular society. The society is the reflection of the perspectives, faith and beliefs of an individual. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a remarkable example of the portrayal of the positive and negative elements in a society, and also of how a clash between them can lead to the disintegration of a culture. Achebe has presented the Ibo society in a very realistic manner.
Chinua Achebe’s first novel Things Fall Apart (1958), as the title suggests the identity issues of Ibo society, which has a great cultural past to boast of, like any other ancient civilization in the world. The title of the novel echoes W. B. Yeats poem “The Second Coming.” The novel presents the disintegration of the nineteenth century traditional world of the Ibos, which gave way to the colonial forces of the twentieth century. Achebe in the novels presents the Ibo life and culture from within as an Ibo, not as an outsider, dealing with the weaknesses and strengths of the Ibo traditional society in his works. Things Fall Apart portrays the disintegration of the Ibo society. The natives became victims of their own weaknesses and disunity among themselves. When the ‘new’ religion came, bringing along with it new set of values and beliefs, instead of dealing with it in unification, there was an internal division among the natives themselves allowing the breakdown of the tribal system of the villages which once believed in the traditional cycle of life. Chaos and confusion was let loose on the native land as they held on to their past, while embracing the nw culture, thus, things fell apart. In the novel, Achebe illustrates what happened in the Ibo society of Nigeria at the time of its colonization by the British, because of internal weaknesses within the native structure and the divided nature of the Ibo society, the Umofian community is unable to withstand the foreign invasion. The ‘centre’ can no longer hold and the society fall apart.
The epigrams, poems, songs, and folk tales are all spoken and recited by Achebe to mirror the exactness of the Ibo wits through the language. The oral tradition projects the various facets of the culture of the Ibo clan through proverbs, songs and folk tales. The proverb is used by Okoye when he visits Unoka “He who brings kola brings life”. It asserts that the kola nut is used for many things by Igbo people as a part of their tradition to keep the friendship survived.
The culture is cumulative and it is passed from one generation to the next generation in the form of cults and proverbs. Its pertinent knowledge gradually changes, but it is useful to the society. The proverbs are significant to the Ibo people because they explain the advice passed down through the years by their elders. It is reflected in such form in the narration that occurs “as the elders said” before the most of proverbs. The proverbs state the customs, social structure, family structure and basic information about the religion of the Igbo people. The proverb “when the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk”. It denotes the idea in the text about someone is doing shameful during the night when no one finds him out in such act according to the Ibo people. One of the most significant social markers of the Ibo society was the unique system of honorific titles. As a man becomes wealthy, he gains additional recognition and prestige by ‘taking a title.’ Titles are not conferred but they are purchased. Taking a title is a sign of manliness and superiority, an ‘Osugo’ or a low-ranked person was not respected in the society. Okonkwo had already taken two titles as the novel begins.
In the society, tribal laws are also very important but prove destructive. We get a very clear picture of this in Ikemefuna’s death. Ikemefuna, who was sent as a peace emissary to the village of Umuaro, as per the direction of the ‘oracle of the hills and the caves’ was to be killed (chapter-VII). Okonkwo is advised by Ezeudu not to “bear a hand in his death”. But Okonkwo decided to stick to tradition at any cost and mercilessly murdered him. Thus, Ikemefuna becomes a victim of tribal law. The gravity of Okonkwo’s crime is emphasized in the statement that “nothing like this had ever happened in Umuofia” (87). Why should it have happened? But if the clan did not exact punishment for an offence against the great goddess, ruin was let loose on the entire land, not just on the offender. A proverb clinches the issue: “If one finger brought oil, it soiled the others” (Narasimhaiah 1999: 160).
The Feast of New Yam is one of the events that Igbo people celebrate every year before the harvest to thank the goddess, ‘Ani’, who is the source of all fertility. The celebration symbolizes the upcoming of the new yam of the year. According to the Igbo people the goddess ‘Ani’ has a close communion with the departed forefathers of the clan. It’s a festive mood for all the clansmen and the preparation of it goes for three-four days. The Igbo show the symbolic rebirth of the year by throwing out old food, washing everything and celebrating with fresh new yams.
The Bride Price ritual in which a price is decided for which the bride’s family must pay to the groom’s family in regards to the bride’s hand in marriage. The bride’s family presents a bundle of sticks to the groom’s family, which represents the number of bags of cowries paid to the groom’s family. The Isa-ifi ceremony is the final rite of the marriage. That evaluates the charity and chastity of the bride in a form of confession as per the
tradition of the Ibo people. The funeral ceremony among Igbo people is to pay honour to the respectable members of the clan. It’s a kind of lamentation by beating the drums violently in a frenzy mood and dancing unsteadily the funeral steps of the tribe. Many of the attendees wear smoked raffia skirts and have their bodies painted with chalk in charcoal. The Egwugwu pay a visit to honour the deceased. When the greatest warrior Ogbuefi Ezeudu died the people of Umuofia paid a great honour to the person during his funeral ceremony.
The customs of Igbo people thrive from the indigenous beliefs and general attitudes in the society. They transmit and store the values of their experiences by following the customs as a part of their identities. Ngugi says; “Culture embodies moral, ethical and aesthetic values through which they come to view themselves and their place in the universe. “This set of values is ‘the basis of a people’s identity’, on which our individual identity is built” (Ngugi, 1994: 441). Therefore, besides personal factors, our culture and history play an important role in shaping our individual identity. One of the customs of Igbo people is to present a ‘Kola nut’ to welcome the guest and to respect the person in a polite manner. The second custom of the Igbo people is that when there is something to inform to the villagers, the crier beats hallow metal instrument ‘ogene’. It rhythms as; gome, gome, gome, gome, then the town-crier passes the message to all regarding an emergency. The villagers are informed to gather in the market place to discuss the issue of the ‘murdered wife of Ogubefi Udo by the Mbaino villagers in the market.
Achebe explores Africa in an undifferentiated wasteland by the use of customs as a part of shaping the identity of the Ibo people and the rituals of the ethical values of them. The columnist, Howard W. French comments that –
“In passage after passage he (Achebe) remarks on differences both subtle and dramatic between the customs and laws of various clans in his Igbo ethnic group, and less frequently with references to the world beyond”(French,2009).
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Penguin UK. November 1, 2001.
Awa, Onyekachi. “African Culture in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: a Stylistic Inquiry”. IOSR Journal of Humanities And Social Science. Volume 23, Issue 3, Ver.8. pp 15. 21. March. 2018.
Sundram, Rahul Singh. “Cultural Clash in Things Fall Apart”. International Journal of Research. Vol-1, Issue-9. October, 2014.
Bahuguna, Arushi. “Chinua Achebe’s Representation of Africa’s Past in Things Fall Apart”. www.academia.edu/9720791/Chinua_Achebes_Representation_of_Africas_Past_in_Things_Fall_Apart.
Rhoads, Diana Akers. “Culture in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” African Studies Review, vol. 36, no. 2, 1993, pp. 61–72., doi:10.2307/524733.