The of Conduct in Things Fall Apart”. The

Africa was not always under European rule. It had clans, villages, kingdoms,
culture and civilization. Autochthonic tribes were living by their own laws and
religions. Then the white man came with his own culture and enforced it to
locals. “Chinua Achebe describes the way of
life before the missionaries arrived and then records some of the changes,
which occurred due to the changed belief system introduced by these
missionaries. Achebe
did not idealize both communities with their cultures or desire to portray Igbo
community as an idyllic pre-colonial utopia.”  as Niyonkuru Yves noticed in his master thesis
“Between Change and tradition: Achebe’s Suggestive Existentialist Models of
Conduct in Things Fall Apart”. The
Igbo tribe are caught between resisting and accepting changes and they face the
dilemma of trying to resolve how to adapt to new reality. Some of the Igbos are
enthusiastic about new opportunities that the British bring. However, this European
influence threatens the traditional Igbo culture which may turn out to be dispensable.

“Things Fall Apart” is set in the 1890s and portrays the confrontation
between Nigeria’s white colonial government and the traditional culture of the
autochthonic Igbo people. Achebe carefully depicts social institutions,
religious believes, traditions  and
everyday life  of Igbos culture before
the arrival of Europeans. The majority of the story takes place in the village
Umuofia on the east bank of the Niger River in Nigeria. Umofia was a closed
society intact until the coming of the Europeans in the 1860s. The Portuguese
were the first to explore Nigeria and their influence remains in many Nigerian
surnames, although  they are not
mentioned by Achebe. The British established in 1886 The Royal Niger Colony and
later the British protectorate. Kalu Ogbaa in “Understanding Things Fall Apart”
divided the history of colonialism in Africa into three phases. First was the
actual conquest when invaders introduced new form of administration using
force. Later came the period of resistance when conquered nations were trying
to remove alien system. Finally, in the present post-independence stage African
society tries to reorder itself. “Things Fall Apart” is mainly focused on the
first stage, showing destructive influence of westernization.

The practices described in the novel mirror those of
the actual Onitsha people who lived near Ogidi and with whom Achebe was
familiar. The portrayed culture is similar to the Achebe’s birthplace in Ogidi
where people lived together in villages ruled by titled elders. Within forty
years of the British arrival by the time Achebe was born in 1930 the
missionaries were well established. Chinua Achebe was growing up in
Christianised family, his father was baptised by Anglican missionaries as one
of the first autochthons, in region of Nigeria peopled by Igbo. Since his
infancy he witnessed religious conflicts inside his family. As an orphan Achebe
was raised by his grandfather who was far from opposing Achebe’s conversion to
Christianity and allowed Achebe’s Christian marriage to be celebrated in his
house.  Achebe graduated from schools in
Africa founded by Europeans although through the whole life he was criticising
colonialism by analysing  every aspect of
it, revealing evilness, his aim was to find a medicine for social diseases
caused by invaders. The damage was done also by those who came to help
undeveloped (in their opinion) societies. Achebe’s presentation of traditional
Igbo life might not be mirror image of the truth, however it is the way he was
seeing it.

The white missionaries saw Igbo as uncivilised, in desperate need of their
help. To the Igbo community the motive of the arrival of missionaries in
Umuofia has not been important. It is crucial to recognise both the benefits as
well as the challenges that resulted from European culture on Igbo society.

The main
character is Okonkwo, well situated conservative farmer who always obeys the
law of the tribe submitting to tradition and beliefs. He is strong and
assiduous, his high position is self-made, based on his hard work. His ambition
is to be high in hierarchy in the ruling elite of the tribe. While reading we
can see that community works according the rules, even if they are drastic.
There is nothing outrageous in having three wives or taking a child hostage,
who has to die after becoming a member of the family because oracle said so. When
he accidentally kills someone at a ritual funeral ceremony when his gun
explodes, he and his family are sent into exile for seven years to appease the
gods he has offended. While Okonkwo is away, white men begin to arrive in
Umuofia with the intent of introducing their religion. Igbo people lived for
centuries holding to their laws until the appearance of Europeans, beginning of
the end of aboriginal Igbo civilization. The missionaries brought new religion
and morality, their culture gradually replaces everything Igbo knew so far.
White men starts to dominate by enforcing different new rules. During the
second year of Okonkwo’s exile he receives a visit from his best friend
Obierika who brings sorrowful news about the slaughtered the whole village of
Abame as the revenge for killing one men. After a white man rode into the
village on a bicycle the elders consulted their Oracle which told them that the
newcomer would destroy their tribe and others so they decided to kill him.
Okonkwo and Uchendu agree that the villagers were foolish to kill a man whom
they knew nothing about.  Austerity in
the treatment of the protest of the ruling elders influence on the growth of
the conflict. Through “Things Fall
Apart” at the end of the novel, Okonkwo who is considered to be a
leader of the village Umuofia is not recognised. The tribe he rejoins is not
the same tribe he left. . When the clan takes no special notice of his return, Okonkwo
realizes that the white man has been too successful in his efforts to change
the tribe’s ways. Many of the elders have joined the missionaries, tribal
beliefs and customs are being replaced. Okonkwo grieves the loss of his tribe
and the life he once knew,  also feels
betrayed by his clan. He does not understand why his fellow tribesmen have not
stood up against the white intruders The story ends with a meeting of the
community too weak to fight, deciding to subordinate. Okonkwo chops the head
off a colonial messenger, something the old tribe would have found heroic, but
something the new tribe does not endorse. Okonkwo understands everything has
changed, the world he knew ended. In the consequence he commits suicide, death
of conservative character seems to be symbolic, he did not longer belong to
community and could not be buried by his tribe.

Chinua Achebe tells a story of a single men and the
community at the same time. “Things Fall Apart” incorporates two types of
characters among Igbo and English. Indigenes are divided into two groups, those
who are for change and against it. What is interesting people without titles or
honours in Igbo society and people somehow hurt by rules are outcasts pro
change. Men like Okonkwo are in opposition to change fearing of losing their
social status and rank. On the opposite side are Christian missionaries who are
a major cause of the things falling apart or rather methods that they were
using to undermine the African culture. However, the form used by missionaries are
slightly different. Reverend Smith is intolerant, aggressive and causes the
main conflicts in clan while Mr. Brown tries to establish a good relations with
community.  As Fagrutheen pointed in his
article “Downfall of Traditionalism in
Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God”: “Mr. Brown the white missionary respects
the Igbo traditions. He makes an effort to learn about the Igbo culture and
becomes friendly with some of the clan leaders. He also encourages Igbo people
of all ages to get an education”. Although he is more sympathetic his
intentions are the same, to convert all Igbos as fast as possible without
allowing them to retain their cultural heritage. For Igbos it was
crucial to  remain its language and
religion because it formed their identity and kept them unified. In the
conversation between Obierika and Okonkwo is clarified how arrival of the
missionaries divided their community.

“Does the white man
understand our custom about land?”

“How can he when he
does not even speak our tongue? But he says

that our customs are bad;
and our own brothers who have taken up

his religion also say that
our customs are bad. How do you think we

can fight when our own
brothers have turned against us? The white

 man is very clever. He came quietly and
peaceably with his religion.

We were amused at his
foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he

has won our brothers, and
our clan can no longer act like one. He has

put a knife on the things
that held us together and we have fallen apart.” (Achebe 124)


Changes affected every area of life, from language to
religion, customs, education. Even English governmental system replaced
traditional one in order to change prevailing laws. Some among Igbo community realised that losing their traditions for
something new is unacceptable and threatens not only their culture but also
themselves. The Igbos fought in order to protect community, however changes
were unavoidable. Those who converted to Christianity as firsts were outcasts
looking for hope in the newness, like women who gave birth to the twins few
times. This is one of the main reason people switched to their religion. The
Christian missionary in Mbanta opposes to the Igbo gods in the belief that tell
people to kill each other in wars against another village. In fact Europeans
turned out to be more cruel, in revenge for the killing of one white man they
slaughtered the whole village of Abame. As 
Diana Rhoads mentioned in her essay “Culture in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart”: “while the European tradition allows men to
fight their brothers over religion, the Igbo law forbids them to kill each
Rother, it is an abomination to kill a member of the clan. Further, the long
history of Crusades and holy wars and of religious persecution in Europe occurs
because men can fight for gods, but it is not the Igbo “custom to fight
for their gods.” Rather, heresy is a matter only between the man and the
god.” (63) Igbos reveal
themselves more tolerant than the Europeans Uchendu, for example, is
able to see that “what is good among one people is an abomination with
others” in opposition to white men telling autochthons that their customs
are bad and their god are not true gods. “Culture in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Christian religion are equally irrational, but both operate along similar lines
to support morality. To the Christians it seems crazy to worship wooden idols,
but to the Igbos it seems crazy to say that God has a son when he has no wife.”
(Rhoads 65)

The society itself was highly patriarchal, stratified, religious and
superstitious. However the Igbos developed a democratic system of government,
gathering of all elders. The rules can be established only by the group. “Each man is
judged on his own merits, “according to his worth,” not those of his
father, as would be appropriate in an aristocracy or an oligarchy” (Rhoads 63) Traditions as social institutions were handed down from generation to
generation. Igbo folklore took various forms including narrative customs, means
of expressing and transmitting a culture orally and through body language, folk
music, tales, legends and traditional naming. Numerous rituals and ceremonies
were held during rites of passage or title-taking. Religious ceremonies later
turned into secular, in the missionaries opinion those practices were pagan.
Igbo people believed in Chukwu, omnipotent and omniscient creator of the
universe, almost equivalent of the Supreme Being in other religions in the
sense of being greater than other gods and goddesses who derive their powers
from him. Nonetheless he was far removed form humans after creating them,
unlike Christian God. As
creator god, he is Chi-na-Eke, Chi and Eke. While the Christian concept of God
emphasizes the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
the Igbo concept of Chukwu emphasizes duality, Chi-na-Eke. The Igbo creator
god, Chi-na-Eke, has been misrepresented by both foreign and native Christian
clergy as Chineke. Chukwu is not represented with any religious icons because
he is beyond human reach and comprehension. Concept that derives from Igbo
belief in duality is person’s spirit double, Chi. Chi is person’s spirit being
in the spirit world, always close to people like guardian angel. One of the
problems Igbos had to face in religion is having several gods and goddesses and
their envy and jealousy towards one another. 
To avoid offending the gods, people always had to watch out for signs
and consult priests and priestesses who divine the will of the gods. According
to Igbo’s cosmology, there are three levels of the world, visible and
invisible, human beings, dead-living ancestors and unborn children in the womb,
all of those forces interact together. Ceremonies brought together all the
people regardless of title, position, wealth or sex. This brief description
shows that Igbo believes where much more complex than it might seemed to the
missionaries and governed peoples’ lives long before they arrival to Igboland. Soon
after the British began to teach Ibos about the Christian faith, their original
beliefs began to be questioned by part of community. Igbo people started questioning the old traditions and customs which they
have been following without any doubt since birth this caused growing conflicts in the tribe. The
missionaries were trying to bring new ways of life, better ones in their

Throughout the novel, cultural change and its impact
on people is seen as the development of individuality and social
disintegration. From the beginning till the end Achebe deals with disappearance
of native culture and power of white civilisation.  Religion and customs were important factors in
creating the harmony that existed before colonialism, as well was the language.
Igbo was an oral language before the coming of the Europeans, until the late
1800s it remained unwritten. The missionaries developed the Igbo alphabet and
orthography in order to translate the Bible for their new converts. The British
established schools in Igboland teaching pupils translated English children’s
literature and educating future catechists and translators. Ibo language also
developed enabling the Igbo writers to share their literature and culture with
the rest of the world. Due to British education system, educated Igbo became
bilingual, speaking English in school and Igbo at home. It is highly significant
that Achebe chose to write the novel in English, he aimed as readers the Westerners
as much, if not more, than the Nigerians. His goal was to portray the real pre-colonial
Africa and struggles the colonialism brought and by using words and tales translated
from the Igbo language he still managed to capture it’s beauty.

As presented in “Things Fall Apart” cultural and
social changes are unavoidable. Achebe shows how diverse cultural influences
play an important part in social changes. “Things Fall Apart”  was the first novel written by African
portraying how Africans perceived the arrival of colonizers. Umuofia is
described as vibrant, coherent society with its own complex culture. Achebe
portrays the Igbos culture as having a religion, a government, a system of
money, and an artistic tradition, as well as a judicial system. The Igbo
society was enriched but as soon as the British came the cultural values
started falling apart and the old way of life got disrupted.














Bibliography and
works cited:

Chinua Things Fall Apart.  Oxford :
Heinemann, 1986 repr, p.124


S. Syed (2013) Downfall of Traditionalism in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. The English Literature Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2014), p. 21-30


3)     Ogbaa, Kalu Understanding
Things fall apart : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical
documents. Westport (CT) : Greenwood Press, 1999


Diana Akers Culture in Chinua Achebe’s
Things Fall Apart. African Studies Review, Vol. 36, No. 2 (1993), pp. 61-72


Yves, Niyonkuru Between
Change and Tradition: Achebe’s Suggestive Existentialist Models of Conduct in Things Fall Apart. Kasdi Merbah University-Ouargla, Academic
Year: 2013/2014