The Falling of Igbo Society
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer”. When Christianity comes to the Igbo villages, things fall apart (Yeats The Second Coming). In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the intrusive introduction of Christianity dissolves the traditional structure of Igbo religious culture and leads to the falling apart of the Igbo clan.
First of all, since Christianity settled among the Igbo people, the men started to abandon their families. In the novel, Okonkwo’s oldest son Nwoye left his family when he was converted to Christianity. He said that Okonkwo was not his father anymore. Nevertheless, Nwoye is only a representation of the people who were converted and betrayed their family. Additionally, Okonkwo’s uncle also expressed his concern on the family feast, “an abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter’s dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you, I fear for the clan” (Chinua 55). In Igbo culture, the family unit is the most fundamental unit of society, and its structure can be expanded to fit a whole community or even a pantheon of gods. As a result, the dissolution of the family unit tends to cause the collapse of the whole society.
Secondly, without a unified religious belief, Igbo people lost the capability to protect their village together. When Okonkwo returned to Umuofia, he found that his fatherland had changed a lot. Not only the low-born and the outcast but sometimes a worthy man had also joined Christians. Such a man was Ogbuefi Ugonna, who had taken two titles, and whom, like a madman, had cut the anklet of his titles and cast it away to join the Christians”(Chinua 56). “Before the white men came, when a girl from Umuofia was murdered by a man from Mbaino, people followed the normal crouse of action to discuss how to revenge. During the meeting, the whole village was united. People shouted with anger and thirst for blood.
In contrast, after the white men’s arrival, Umuofia was unable to reach an agreement to protect their village. Just like Obierika said in the novel, “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” (Chinua 57). Indeed, people who join Christianity were unwilling to fight against the white men, and people who still hold the traditional belief were unable to unify the village. Although Okonkwo with other men had destructed the white men’s church, they did this by their own will instead of the whole village’s will. In the past, Okonkwo arrived at Mbaino to offer a peaceful solution for the killing as a messenger who represented his village, but now he destructed the church because of his resentment.
Finally, the power center of Igbo was replaced by the white men’s government, since religion is also inextricable from social and political institutions. According to Igbo’s tradition, people worship the goddess of the earth and are always careful to avoid committing sins against her for fear of vengeance that might wipe out an entire generation. Igbo people didn’t rule by the king or by the government, it was the elders and the men with titles who ruled the village. However, “[the white men’s] church had come and led many astray. “Apart from the church, the white men had also brought a government. They had court messengers who brought men to him for trial. Many of these messengers came from Umuru on the bank of the Great River, where the white men first came many years before and where they had built the center of their religion and trade and government”(Chinua 57).
“Additionally, [the white men] had built a court where the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance. The court interfered and prevented the clan’s traditioanl process of justice. Moreover, the white men’s prison was full of men who had offended against their law. Some of these prisoners had thrown away their twins and some had molested the Christians. As a result, the power center of Igbo collapsed, the elders and the men with titles lost the power of ruling, and the law of the earth or the custom was replaced by British law. White men successfully dominated the Igbo clan by converting people into Christianity.
The collision between the traditional Igbo’s religion and the coming Christianity dissolved the Igbo’s traditional social structure because Igbo people lost their traditional religion and costume. Consequently, their family started to break down, the unity of the clan is shattered, and the power center of Igbo was replaced by the white men’s government and law. In the end, the Igbo society fell apart.