Igbo Religion in Things Fall Apart: Examples & Quotes

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  • 0:03 Religion in Igbo Society
  • 1:51 Igbo vs Monotheistic Religion
  • 2:57 Questioning Igbo Religion
  • 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In ''Things Fall Apart'' by Chinua Achebe, religion plays a major role in our understanding of the novel. We watch as the Igbo people struggle with the impact religion has on a culture.

Religion in Igbo Society

As an agrarian society, which is a society or culture that lives off the land, the Igbo place their faith in the gods and goddesses that relate to the natural world. It's not a good idea to anger the god of the sun, for instance, since that might bring rain for days and ruin the crops. Likewise, it's not good to upset the goddess of the harvest because she might make the crop wither on the stalk. The goddess of the earth plays an integral role in the lives of the Igbo people, and they go to extreme lengths to keep from angering her because they fear that their sins against her might upset her so much that her wrath would spell annihilation for generations to come.

The ancestors, or egwugwu, of the Igbo also play an important role in their religion. These relatives are so critical to their lives that they consult their spirits for important decisions. These deceased relatives also play a role in the justice system. The Igbo people put on masks representing their relatives and serve as judges in determining the outcome of a 'case.' They represent the spirit of the clan. When the egwugwu lose power in the community, the clan's independence is lost. The egwugwu are a force.

''And then the egwugwu appeared. The women and children sent up a great shout and took to their heels. It was instinctive.''

The Igbo religion is in direct conflict with a monotheistic religion like Christianity, meaning a religion with one god. The Igbo believe that there are multiple gods and goddesses representing every facet of life and the ancestors who had walked the earth in previous lifetimes. It's difficult for them to reconcile their hearts with the one god theory. The idea of Christianity doesn't fit with who the Igbo are or how they've lived their lives for generations.

Igbo vs Monotheistic Religion

In his novel, Achebe highlights the differences between the Igbo religion and the monotheistic religion, and the confusion those differences bring, such as in the following question an Igbo man asks a missionary:

''At this point an old man said he had a question. 'Which is this god of yours,' he asked, 'the goddess of the earth, the god of the sky, Amadiora of the thunderbolt or what?'''

The missionary tries to explain that there is actually only one true God and that the Igbo gods and goddesses are not gods or goddesses at all. This is confusing to the Igbo. They're concerned that they will anger their gods by following this line of logic. The missionary has a response:

''Your gods are not alive and cannot do you any harm. They are pieces of wood and stone.''

This quote is greeted with laughter because in the experience of the Igbo, their gods are definitely capable of causing harm and wreaking havoc. We see the main problem the Christians have when trying to convert the Igbo to their one-god religion. The Igbo have plenty of evidence, in their minds, to back up the idea that their gods are incredibly powerful.

Questioning Igbo Religion

When Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, admits that he has become Christian, it seems as though the world is over for Okonkwo. He is furious; he is devastated; he feels betrayed.

''Now that he had time to think of it, his son's crime stood out in its stark enormity. To abandon the gods of one's father and go about with a lot of effeminate men clucking like old hens was the very depth of abomination.''

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