Okagbue Uyanwa in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Often in literature, minor characters represent a larger pattern or idea. In this lesson, you'll learn about Okagbue Uyanwa, and how he contributes to overarching ideas in ''Things Fall Apart.''

Okagbue Uyanwa

Think about the last time you went to the doctor's office. Did you know exactly what was wrong before you went? If not, you probably relied on the doctor to tell you what was wrong, and what you could do about it. In Western society, doctors are the people we trust to help us fix things about our bodies that we don't understand.

In Igbo society, as described in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, people rely on medicine men to do the same thing.

One particular medicine man that shows up in the novel is Okagbue Uyanwa. He is a very famous medicine man in the Umuofian clan, but the role he plays in the story goes beyond that. Even though he only shows up in a small section, he represents the medicine men as a whole, and their place in Igbo tradition and society.


Based on the physical description we get when we meet Okagbue, he is an imposing and authoritative man: The novel says that, 'Okagbue was a very striking figure, tall, with a full beard and a bald head. He was light in complexion and his eyes were red and fiery. He always gnashed his teeth as he listened to those who came to consult him.'

Really, this intimidating man seems like what you might expect from someone who deals with evil children. And that's exactly Okagbue's specialty. He deals with 'ogbanje'. Ogbanje are evil children who die soon after birth, and then return to their mother's womb only to be born and die again. Okagbue specializes in preventing these children's return, and helping them stay once they have been born, instead of dying again.

Traditional Medicine

In Things Fall Apart, we meet Okagbue because of issues that the main character's second wife, Ekwefi, is having. She gives birth to nine children who die very early in life. Ekwefi and her family call Okagbue after the death of her second child, to see what is wrong and what they can do. He tells her to have her next baby in her mother's home instead of in her town of Umuofia, to try and break the cycle.

This doesn't work, and so after the death of the third child, Okagbue takes more extreme measures. He mutilates the dead child and leaves it in the evil forest, where the clan leave their dead who offend the gods. This is to try and discourage the child from returning and dying again. This also does not immediately work, as Ekwefi has several more children who die.

Eventually, though, she has Ezinma, who lives. Ezinma is still considered to be a part of the ogbanje cycle, and so Okagbue has one more task ahead of him. In Igbo tradition, the evil children are tied to the world of the ogbanje by a physical token of some kind, called an iyi-uwa, that is hidden nearby in the real world. If that token can be found, the child's bond to the ogbanje is broken, and they will live. One of Okagbue's specialties is getting the child to reveal where their token is, assuming they live long enough to be able to talk. Many ogbanje don't.

Okagbue is much more successful here, as the villagers knew he would be. He gets Ezinma to reveal where her iyi-uwa is. It turns out to be a smooth, shiny pebble. Afterwards there is a lot of celebrating, because the finding of the iyi-uwa means that Ezinma will live, and that Ekwefi won't have to suffer any more children dying.

The iyi-uwa was a smooth, shiny pebble

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