The Murder of the Sacred Python

6 Oct

In Chinua Achebe’s novel, “Things Fall Apart”, the python is presented as a sacred animal in Ibo culture, because it is literally a symbol of the god of water. This python has its own way of being addressed, as well as a specialized ceremony if killed accidentally. On page 116, Achebe explains that the compensation for murdering a python is “…such as was done for a great man.” This compares the value of a python to that of a man and vice versa, implying just how essential it is in their culture.  The concept of the sacred python is first introduced to the reader in the later chapters of the novel, when an outcast (later implied as Enoch, the son of the snake-priest) kills the sacred python, an event that never crossed the minds of the Ibo people (hence their difficulty in determining the consequences).

As mentioned before, the python is what Achebe describes as an “emanation” (page 116) of the god of water; thus, to kill a python would be blasphemous. Consequently, conflict is initiated between the clan and the Christians. In this situation, the outcast represents the Christians, or colonizers, portraying their callousness and incongruity with “uncivilized”, less modern societies. On page 117, Achebe writes, “Such a thing could never happen in his [Okonkwo’s] fatherland, Umuofia.” The author has used irony here, because Okonkwo’s thought is later contradicted, when the missionaries establish themselves later in Umuofia as well. Another noteworthy point is that this event could potentially symbolize the death of the clan’s religion.

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