Obierika in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart is still studied today for its rich plot and fascinating characters. In this lesson, learn about the character Obierika and test yourself with a quiz.

Intro to Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe's postcolonial novel Things Fall Apart introduces the reader to Nigerian society during European colonization. It was published in 1958 and remains a staple in literary studies to this day. It's still studied as the foremost example of African postcolonial literature.

The novel follows its protagonist Okonkwo as he navigates the changing customs and landscape of his Igbo tribe. The Igbo are a native Nigerian people. The rising influence of the white colonizers means that the old ways Okonkwo knows so well are being muddled and changed -- and this is something the extremely traditional, extremely temperamental Okonkwo hates. But every protagonist has to have a buddy, and Okonkwo's closest friend is Obierika, and, as you'll see, Obierika is very different from his friend.

The territory inhabited by the Igbo people
Igbo territory

Who is Obierika?

Obierika is a strong, level-headed man of the same village, Umuofia, as the novel's protagonist Okonkwo. The two are great friends, despite being complete opposites -- or foils of one another. But we'll get into this later! Obierika has several wives and many children, which is the custom of Umuofia, and though he greatly respects the traditions of his culture, he's also forward-thinking and level-headed enough to realize that Umuofians could learn a thing or two from the outside world.

Obierika also treats people fairly, is kind and just in dealing with his family, and shows himself to be an excellent friend and confidante. He's rational, and he reasons out his actions before doing anything. He's curious, too, and is interested in the British colonists who come to Umuofia. He's honest and fair, shown by his trade dealings and business interactions. Obierika, because he's a real stand-up guy, is greatly respected within Umuofia.

Traditional Igbo dress
Traditional Igbo dress

Obierika and Okonkwo

Sometimes there are friendships between total opposites, like Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie, Mulder and Scully of The X-Files, or Chandler and Joey from Friends. To that list, you can add Obierika and Okonkwo. As mentioned before, the two are great friends, but almost complete opposites, and this can be seen numerous times throughout the novel.

Obierika often doesn't approve of Okonkwo's actions and even counsels him against acting the way he wants to, but he's always there in the end to comfort and help his pal. For example, when Okonkwo joins the party of men who will take Ikemefuna, the boy from another village who has been taken into Okonkwo's home, out into the jungle and slaughter him, Obierika wholeheartedly disapproves. However, who do you think is there after Okonkwo, out of fear and desire to prove his manhood, kills the boy with his own machete? Yep, Obierika comforts and consoles his friend, without mentioning his disapproval.

Obierika also helps Okonkwo when his friend is exiled for accidentally killing a boy; he sells Okonkwo's yams and gives Okonkwo the money. But perhaps the greatest difference between the two friends comes from their beliefs. Obierika is loyal to the traditions of Umuofia, true, but he also understands the need for change and evolution. He's more open to progress, in a word. He believes there may be learning opportunities that come from the Christians who move just outside the village, and thinks they should be treated with respect and dignity. He also thinks the traditions the Umuofians live by need to be questioned from time to time, and he does so openly. On the other hand, Okonkwo wants to slaughter all the Christians and remain strictly adhering to the values and traditions passed down through generations. Obierika, obviously, is far more open-minded, and it ends up serving him far better in the end.

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