Chinua Achebe(Shin’wa Ach-ab-ba) • Born 1930 in Nigeria; died March 21st, 2013 • Writes about the breakdown of traditional African Culture in the face of European Colonization in the 1800s. • Sought to educate his fellow Nigerians about their culture and traditions.
Author’s Purpose His first novel, Things Fall Apart, depicts the confrontation between the Igbo people of Southeast Nigeria and the British who came to colonize them. “Achebe tells the story from an African point of view, showing that the Igbo were not "savages” needing to be civilized, as the European conquerors believed, but intelligent human beings with a stable, ordered society and rich tradition.”
Author’s Background • Achebe was raised as a devout Christian. • His father was a teacher in a missionary school. • Achebe recalls that his family called themselves “the people of the church” and thought of non-Christians – including Achebe’s uncle, who still practiced traditional religion – as “heathen” or “the people of nothing.” • Achebe later rejected this thought, along with his European name “Albert.”
Author’s Work • Achebe left during the Nigerian Civil War of Independence (1967) to travel Europe and America to educate people about the cause. • In 1990, a car accident in Nigeria leaves Achebe paralyzed. He accepts a position to teach college in New York state. • He extends his stay in the U.S., due to the military coups in Nigeria in 1993 and recent corruption in the government.
Achebe’s Style Achebe blends a formal European style of writing (the novel) with African story-telling He influenced other African writers and pioneered a new literary style using • Traditional idioms • Folk tales • Proverbs • Achebe is a “social novelist.” He believes in the power of literature to create social change.
Characters • Okonkwo: protagonist, hard working, wealthy farmer, strong leader, abusive • Ikemefuma: young boy from another village, lives with Okonkwo
Background on Nigeria • History dates to Nok culture of 400 B.C. • The Niger River divides country into three major regions. The country is as large as Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi combined.
Background on Nigeria • There are over 100 million people in Nigeria today. The Igbo people are the third largest ethnic group. • The Igbo people live in the eastern region – where Things Fall Apart is set – near town of Onitsha. • The Yoruba live in the west and the Hausa-Fulani, an Islamic people, live in the north.
Background on Nigeria • Nigeria was a center of the European slave trade for many years – a dangerous and lucrative business. • It was colonized by Great Britain during the time of imperialism (18th and 19th centuries) and finally granted its independence by Great Britain in 1914.
Colonialism • The first Europeans to come into contact with the Igbo were the Portuguese in the 15th century, followed by the Dutch and the British in the 1800’s.
The Igbo • Third most populous ethnic group in Nigeria (16% of population) • Live in southeastern part of country in tropical rain forests (deal with rainy season and dry winds) • Subsistence farmers – raise their own crops: • Yam, cassava, taro, corn, etc. • Palm trees for oil and fiber • Crafts and manual labor also provide income
Igbo Culture • It is a patriarchal society. Decision making involves males only • Men grow yams and women grow other crops • Live in villages based on male lineage – male heads of household all related on father’s side (approximately 5,000 people per clan) • Women go to live with husbands; prosperous men have 2 or 3 wives • Each wife lives in her own hut in the family compound
The Kola Nut • Kola nut comes from a plant which grows as a big tree in the tropical forests of Western Nigeria. • The kola nut is given as a symbol of hospitality, friendship and respect; and is presented to guests at important social events such as weddings, funerals, and infant naming ceremonies; as well as for medicinal purposes.
The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree and contains caffeine, which is used as a flavoring ingredient in beverages.
The Yam • Yam production is hard labor, so it was considered a symbol of masculinity in the Igbo culture. • Yams increase family wealth and literally feed the family • Each year the Igbo had a yam festival (similar to Issaquah’s Salmon festival).
The New Yam Festival • Early August at the end of the rainy season and after the first harvest, to mark the beginning of a new year. • The night before the festival all old yams are consumed or discarded. • First yams are dedicated to the gods and then eaten by the Igwe (the eldest man), who is considered an intermediary between the community and the gods of the land.
The celebration is marked by yam dishes, parties, dances, wrestling matches etc. • The purpose of the festival is to give thanks to the gods.
Chickens and yam are sacrificed to the gods. The blood of the chickens is spread on the farms. • Yams were thought to bring wealth and renewal.
Other important Igbo products • Yams • Cassava • Taro • Palm products (major cash crop and exports) • Coal • Timber • Slave trade
Wrestling • An acknowledgement of skill and strength as well as promotion of indigenous language , culture , norms, values, and traditions by young, physically capable Igbo men. In Igbo Land a man is believed to prove his physical strength when he is able to fight off his aggressors and so wrestling shows strength and courage.
Used to determine the right groom in cases where a young woman has many suitors, in such cases a wrestling match is arranged where all the suitors battle it out and whoever emerges victorious marries the woman. • Sometimes used to settle local disputes and conflicts between villages.
Igbo Images Traditional Obi – hut or family compound under construction
Igbo Society • No single leader, elders lead • Social mobility: Titles earned (not inherited). High value placed on individual achievement. • Hospitality very important • Some Igbos owned slaves captured in war or as payment for debt. • Proximity to West African ports means many Igbo were taken in slave trade
Ibo Religion • Chukwu – supreme god, creator of world • The will of gods was revealed through oracles. • Each clan, village, and household had protective ancestral spirits • Chi – personal guardian spirit – affects one’s destiny, can be influenced through individual actions and rituals. • Egwugwu – masked, ancestral spirits of the clan who appear during certain rituals. • Ala or Ani is the Earth goddess and goddess of fertility, and creativity.
Death • Strong belief that the ancestors watched closely over the living, so appreciation for these spirits is important. It is against tribal law to speak badly of a spirit. • Funerals are elaborate, especially for important elders. • People who die shameful deaths, however, are not given burial rights; they are simply discarded.
Shameful deaths • Women who die in labor • Children who die before they have teeth • Suicide • Those who die in the sacred month • Those that die an “appropriate” death are reincarnated ancestors called “Ndichi.”
Shameful births and/or shame to the village • Multiple births (considered typical of the animal world) • Children who were born with teeth (or whose upper teeth came first) • Babies born feet first • Boys with only one testicle • Leper *All were killed and their bodies thrown away in secrecy.
Igbo Images Villager performing role of egwugwu
Igbo Images Traditional dibia, a medicine man or healer.