Descriptions of Ibo society in TFA chapters 1-3

29 Apr

In the first three chapters of the novel “Things Fall Apart”, the reader can identify several unique themes/aspects relating to the text. The most significant of these aspects is “the beauty and complexity of Nigerian/Ibo society”.   The Ibo community, which the main protagonist Okonkwo is a part of, is very different from the regular western community I am familiar to. Several of the differences between the two communities include the aspects of traditions, social structure, lifestyle, etc.

I’ll start off with traditions. One example of the difference in traditions is “the breaking of the kola nut”. This will happen during a range of events, from somebody stopping by for a casual conversation, to a great deal being made between two parties. The kola nut is something like gift, a gesture for the occasion. For example, if somebody is coming by another person’s house to make a deal with them, then either the host or the guest will provide the kola nut. It is then broken and eaten between the two people. The “breaking of the kola nut” is almost like a handshake, or a gift, in western society, but if member of the Ibo community saw westerners doing those things, they would definitely have the same reaction as us to seeing them break the kola: “what a strange activity”. Another tradition we are introduced to is the usage of proverbs in conversation. In Ibo society, “the art of conversation is regarded highly” (pg 6), and proverbs are used greatly in conversations to emphasize point being made. This is very different from western society, where we just simply converse with one another in everyday language, unless, for example, we are two scientists and need to discuss with one another a topic that requires complex vocabulary that we both know. A final tradition that strikes me is the taking of titles. Men in Ibo society are encouraged to take titles in their clan, as it makes them highly regarded and brings them honour. Men who do not take titles, like Okonkwo’s   father Unoka, are not respected as much as men with titles, and are sometimes considered inferior.

Onto the social structure of Ibo society, men are considered superior over women. The husband in a household always has control over the wife, or wives, and they must always follow the rules of the husband. This is shown greatly in Okonkwo’s household, where his three wives must always respect him and never show any signs of wanting increased power over him. Also, linking back to traditions, a man who has no titles is called an “agbala”, meaning either a man with no titles or a woman. This emphasizes the superiority men have over women, as it likens a man with no titles, and hence not as much respect, to a woman. Also, because Ibo men are polygamist, meaning they have the custom of acquiring more than one wife, their first wife has superiority over the others. This is shown at a “deal-making” event in the novel. As the palm-wine is opened, the wives of the host are invited to drink the wine first. But the first wife is obliged to drink before the others. This event also shows us that even though the wives are inferior to the husbands, the husbands do have respect for them.  Ibo social structure is very different from what I am used to, as I am Canadian. In western society, women and men have equal rights and both must respect one another. Also, polygamy is not accepted in western society at all, so that is a big difference as well.

Lastly the lifestyles of the Ibo people are very different from that of westerners. Most of the community spends their life as yam farmers, as they must grow food for themselves. Each family must clear a field in order to sow their seed-yams at the beginning of the rainy season, and then harvest the yams during the harvest season. Also, the most significant hobby that was noticed in the novel so far is the playing of an instrument in a band.  Common instruments described include drums (called the ekwe and udu) and flutes, as well as singing.

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