Akunna in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Akunna is a significant character in 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe because of the relationship he develops with the Christian missionary, Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown uses the knowledge he gains from Akunna to further his efforts to convert the Umuofia clan.

Akunna's Purpose in the Novel

If you wanted to convince someone that their way was not the right way, how would you go about it? Would you have civil discussion or go in by force?

The character Akunna serves as a bridge between the Umuofia people of Nigeria and the white missionaries in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Mr. Brown, the white missionary, learns about the Umuofia religion via his relationship with Akunna, one of the clan's leaders.

The two men have a civil discussion about their differing religious beliefs, and Mr. Brown is able to use this information in his attempts to convert the Umuofia people to Christianity. Mr. Brown realizes that direct confrontation would not lead to success with the clan; as a result of his discussions with Akunna, he takes a less direct approach to achieve his purpose. Let's look closer at their relationship.

Who Is Akunna?

Akunna is a well-respected leader of the Umuofia people. He is a forward thinker, and he sees the value of education for his son long before most others in the village are convinced. It's easy to see why Akunna is well-liked. He is intelligent and direct when he discusses his religious beliefs, but he is respectful of differing points of view.

One of Akunna's sons attends Mr. Brown's school, and Mr. Brown goes to Akunna's hut to speak with him whenever he is near Akunna's home. Because of the language barrier, Mr. Brown takes an interpreter. Both men seem to realize from the outset of their conversations that neither will convert to the other's religion, so the purpose of their talks is simply to gain knowledge about each other's beliefs.

One God or Many?

Akunna and Mr. Brown agree on several points. 'You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,' Akunna says. 'We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu....He made all the world and the other gods.'

Mr. Brown disagrees with Akunna's belief in other gods. He says that their culture's carved wooden gods are simply a piece of wood. Akunna explains that while the minor god is indeed made from wood, Chukwu made the tree from which it was carved. Akunna believes Chukwu made the minor gods so that people could approach Him through these messengers. Akunna points out that Mr. Brown serves as a messenger for his God just as the minor gods do for Chukwu.

Chukwu's work is too much for one person, Akunna explains, and so he sends the wooden gods to help him. 'You should not think of Him as a person,' says Mr. Brown. 'It is because you do so that you imagine He must need helpers. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.'

Akunna counters this interpretation by explaining that although the Umuofians make sacrifices to the lesser gods, they will turn to Chukwu if the minor gods fail.

Fear of the Supreme Being

'We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so,' Akunna says. 'We worry them more because we are afraid to worry their Master.' Mr. Brown says that his God is not someone to fear if the follower obeys His will. Mr. Brown says, 'In my religion Chukwu is a loving being...'. By referring to his own God as Chukwu, Mr. Brown indicates respect for Akunna's belief in a supreme being, even though they disagree on the proper way to approach that being.

Akunna then explains the reason for the people's fear of Chukwu. 'But we must fear Him when we are not doing His will,' Akunna says, and adds: 'And who is to tell His will? It is too great to be known.'

Mr. Brown's Informed Approach

Mr. Brown learns a great deal about Akunna's beliefs, and he uses this information as he interacts with the Umuofia people. He does not directly challenge the people's beliefs; instead, he convinces many to send their children to his school. At first, most people only agreed to send their slaves or 'their lazy children.'

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