Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Title: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Paperback: 209 Pages
Publisher: Anchor

From the Back Cover:

"Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a "strong man" of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries..."

Part One - The story centered around 'Okonkwo', a strong man, who overthrew the greatest wrestler of all times. Okonkwo inherited neither wealth nor title from his father, for his father was quite improvident and wasted his life drinking palm-wine and gathering huge debt. Okonkwo was ashamed of his father, but with his prowess in inter-tribal wars, three wives and two barns of yams, the clan revered him no matter what. His fame even made him a guardian for a young boy named 'Ikemefuna', who came in exchange for a crime committed by another tribal group. Unfortunately, Okonkwo was forced to flee into exile when he inadvertently shot a boy at one of the funeral ritual ceremonies. He left the village with his family to live with his mother's family for the next seven years.

Part Two - Okonkwo mourned and sulked as he spent the next seven years in exile. He had grown to be a respectable man in his clan and gone on to claim even two titles. But, things began to change upon his return. Christian missionaries were slowly gaining foothold in his region educating and converting people of his clan to their religion. Churches, schools and trading stores were built by taking over the land of Ibo people. Government and new laws had replaced tribal gods and tradition. Their rituals and beliefs were insulted and people were threatened to take up the new religion or incur wrath from higher officials. 'Okonkwo' suffered a great deal of pain and desperately wished for freedom for his clan. He gathered leaders in his group and led them into a war against the government. No freedom in the history of mankind had ever been achieved without bloodshed. Pain, suffering and death always paved way for a change. For the Ibo clan that is so laden with superstitious beliefs and age-old tradition, change has to come at a greater price. With a lot of suffering too.

The story offers a rich insight into their culture and a greater part of the story revolves around that. The author strives a great deal to educate the readers about their festivals, ritual practices and tradition. I learnt a great deal of information from the first half of the book about this small ethnic group. It was such an enriching experience to learn about their folk tales, songs and delicacies. The readers were introduced to the Ibo clan as law-abiding people with great faith in gods and justice. Any crisis or injustice was called out and a group of leaders discussed (or rather 'whispered') matters to restore peace. Yam, considered the 'King' of corns, was a man's crop and men went to great lengths to sow and reap yams for not only it helped him feed his family throughout the year, but it also earned him a status in his clan. Men claimed titles and proved their valor in wrestling matches. Men, women and children exuberant in joy over Yam festivals and wedding rituals. Men were polite and always broached a delicate subject with the custom of presenting a bowl of Kola Nuts, palm wine and white chalk. Bride prices were negotiated with broom sticks. Men built separate huts (obi) for each of his wives and they all prepared separate meals for him everyday. People relied on rain-makers, village crier, priestess and Oracle, the 'prophesier' whenever there was a need. Superstitious beliefs among the clan were abound and innumerable folk tales and songs enriched the lives of Ibo clan. The story dealt with the good and the bad. Some of their rituals and punishments were downright savage and brutal. Human sacrifices were as common as their animal counterparts. Wives were beaten by husbands and twin-births were considered an omen and were left to die in an 'Evil Forest'.

The narration was so compelling and thought-provoking. Every culture in the mankind is abound with beliefs and customs. Its not surprising to see that in a tribal group. But, where does it lead one to? If a person is bound by his rituals that pulls him backward into savage ways, should it give him a signal, or rather a warning that it's time to rethink and come to terms with what he truly believed in. Should he untie his bonds, shun brutal practices and move forward to a better cause? And, how difficult would that be for an uncivilized bunch of people who are so backward in their ways? With proper knowledge and education, hope can be sown even in the toughest minds and with hope, will come a change. It will come slowly, but eventually will. For change is inevitable.

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