Chinua Achebe’s skills as a writer, story teller, anthropologist, sociologist and psychologist come across very strongly and beautifully in this short excerpt from Things Falls Apart.
Read it and reflect on the many aspects of life in general and Igbo life that he touches on as you do
“He walked back to his obi to await Ojiugo’s return. And when she returned he beat her very heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace. His first two wives ran out in great alarm pleading with him that it was the sacred week.
But Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess.
Okonkwo’s neighbours heard his wife crying and sent their voices over the compound walls to ask what was the matter. Some of them came over to see for themselves. It was unheard of to beat somebody during the sacred week.
Before it was dusk Ezeani, who was the priest of the earth goddess, Ani, called on Okonkwo in his obi. Okonkwo brought out kola nut and placed it before the priest,
“Take away your kola nut. I shall not eat in the house of a man who has no respect for our gods and ancestors.” Okonkwo tried to explain to him what his wife had done, but Ezeani seemed to pay no attention. He held a short staff in his hand which he brought down on the floor to emphasize his points.
“Listen to me,” he said when Okonkwo had spoken. “You are not a stranger in Umuofia. You know as well as I do that our forefathers ordained that before we plant any crops in the earth we should observe a week in which a man does not say a harsh word to his neighbour. We live in peace with our fellows to honour our great goddess of the earth without whose blessing our crops will not grow. You have committed a great evil.” He brought down his staff heavily on the floor. “Your wife was at fault, but even if you came into your obi and found her lover on top of her, you would still have committed a great evil to beat her.” His staff came down again. “The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish.” His tone now changed from anger to command. “You will bring to the shrine of Ani tomorrow one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries.” He rose and left the hut. (Culled from Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, Chapter 4).
The passage documents gender based violence and the patriarchy that underlies it. (Recall mention of Okonkwo’s first two wives).
It also brings out Okonkwo’s flawed character, a flaw that culminates in his eventual demise. (Okonkwo is deaf to all appeals to rein in his wife beating rage once he unleashes it. Obduracy is a vice. Okonkwo’s hubris destroys him in the end. Notice that the assault on Ojiugo is also premeditated and thus has all the elements of what in law is described as “mens rea”. It is also made worse by the fact that the beating took place during a period when all forms of violence were not allowed in the community. This strategy of “peace corridors and periods” is one that played a vital role in fostering forgiveness, peace building and eventually social cohesion in precolonial Igbo society. And Achebe does well to remind of this
The passage also brings out the communalism that is a major feature of precolonial Igbo society. Neighbors are worried and tried to intervene to get Okonkwo to call off his fist rage but Okonkwo ignored them.
The passage also allows us a peek into Igbo religious world view and of the different gods that populate it. We learn of “ani” (ala in Owerre) the earth goddess, who overseas farming and productivity. But beyond this, this peek introduces to the vital element of connectivity that links events and people and how one person’s transgression can endanger the entire community and clan. In an interconnected universe, negative vibes in one realm can produce far reaching ripples in some other domains. Wife bashing could pose a serious threat to food security.
And the priest of Ani, armed with his ofo, shows that when one has offended the gods, one’s kolanut, an offering and token of peace can be rejected. But the gods are also not implacable! With the right level of restitution, wrongs can be righted and written off and balance restored. Finally, the universe of the gods in Igbo world view accommodates both sexes in its pantheon! Here, the Igbos are clearly ahead of some of the current dominant religions of the world.
Great piece of writing. Great economy of words, right level of narrative tension and all of these are combined to deliver an engaging and revealing tale.