Understanding Igbo Culture, Language & People in Things Fall Apart

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  • 0:04 Igbo Culture
  • 1:34 Igbo Language
  • 2:19 Day to Day Life
  • 3:04 ''Things Fall Apart'' Accuracy
  • 3:36 Other Igbo Works
  • 4:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

In this lesson, you'll learn about Igbo culture, language, and people as they are portrayed in 'Things Fall Apart.' This novel was one of the first to challenge traditional European stereotypes about African people at the time.

Igbo Culture

Every so often, you'll come across something designed to change the way you see things. There are many works of literature that aim to do this, which is one reason it's important to look at novels in the context of the time they were written.

One example is Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. It was one of the first novels written in English that really challenged the European stereotype of African cultures at the time. Achebe showed the world how the Igbo people live, and the effects that the European missionaries had on those lives.

Things Fall Apart illustrates many different aspects of Igbo culture. For one, it shows us on many occasions they way they view religion. They are polytheistic, which means they worship many gods as opposed to just one, like many Western and Central Asian cultures do. Their gods and goddesses govern different aspects of the world and daily life, such as the earth goddess, Ani.

Different rituals and customs go along with each god. We can see this in the week of peace, which is observed to honor Ani so she will bless the crops. In addition, some of the gods have oracles. These are basically their mouthpiece on Earth. The oracles will sometimes be possessed by their god, and the god will speak through them and tell the clan what they need to do.

The novel also explores non-religious aspects of Igbo culture. For example, we see and hear about the different ceremonies and rituals that surround courtship and marriage. Men almost always have more than one wife, an important cultural aspect. We also see how the clan conducts aspects of war and some of how they keep and enforce law and order. Over the course of the novel, we get to see a wide array of different aspects of Igbo life and culture.

Igbo Language

One aspect of any culture is the language that they speak. The language in the Igbo culture is Ibo. The novel itself is written in English, but there are many Ibo words. These words, and the knowledge that the Igbo people do not speak English, are important aspects of the culture. Some examples of Ibo words are egwugwu, which are spirits that walk the earth; nso-ani, which is the breaking of the week of peace; and ilo, or the village playground.

Knowing about the Ibo language becomes even more important when you think about the visiting missionaries. They spoke English and had to have interpreters. This set a bad first impression, and the African missionaries who did speak Ibo were more well-received. Language is an important part of culture, and there is nothing that sets you apart as an outsider like not speaking the language.

Day-to-Day Life

In addition to showing their customs and occasional ceremonies, the novel also looks into the everyday life of the Igbo people. They are farmers, and much of their lives revolve around caring for their crops. In particular, they focus on yams, which are their staple crop. This is the crop the men are in charge of, and the women grow several other kinds, such as melons and beans.

The Igbo people are also very clan-oriented. A clan is practically an extended family, and the lives of the members revolve as much around clan activities as around small family ones. Any family event is likely also attended by other clan members.

The clans also keep in touch with one another, as we see when Okonkwo's wives travel to see friends in other clans, or when we hear news of other clans. Families who live in different clans keep up with each other and visit regularly as well.

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