A Knife on the Things That Hold Us Together
World Civilizations II


27 July 2003

Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart is written through the eyes of an Ibo man, whose village is suddenly invaded by the white missionaries. The reactions to the missionaries are shown in a bias form. To an American the Ibo culture seems strange and foreign. To the native Ibo tribes it is the way of life. The village of Umofia, a separate tribe of the Ibo people, is the home of the main character Okonkwo. Okonkwo is a very diverse character in that he is the leader of his family, and plays a major role in the day to days mechanics of controlling the clan. The crucial part of this story concerns the missionaries and their involvement when “things fall apart”. The arrival of the missionaries affects three major groups, the “osu”, or poor people, the women, and the men of the clan. The effects of the missionaries can be summed up in a passage spoken by one of the tribal men when he says, “He, (the white man) has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart”(p.176). This statement highlights how the white man was able to destroy the simple lives of the Ibo peoples, and in doing so, cause division in the tribes, in more ways than one.
“These outcasts, seeing that the new religion welcomed twins and such abominations, thought it was possible that perhaps maybe they would be received” (p. 155). This is a quote from one of the lowest of the Ibo called an Osu. He speaks of how the white men would accept him for what he was when his own people would regard him as worthless and make him show it to all by not allowing him to shave his head. Rejected souls like these were accepted by the missionaries, and as a consequence the Osu thought of their presence as a miracle in how they would treat all as equal. Osu’s were people who had done something wrong, and this sin had caused their family to be defaced, or their yams would die, either of these occurrences meant that you were to be cast out from the clan with no place to go. This is yet another reason why the Osu loved the missionaries for they would take care of them despite the fact that in their beliefs the Osu were being punished for their wrong doings.


Another aspect of the Ibo culture was in the way they treated women. The men displayed no respect for the women and were even permitted to beat them. This cruel behavior was reserved only for the married man and woman. Once married, the woman was then considered the property of the man. Otherwise, women were considered sacred and a highly respected part of the clan. The Ibo also practiced polygamy, the ability to have two or more wives or husbands at the same time. The Christians practiced monogamy; being married to only one person at a time. In the Ibo culture, this behavior (polygamy) was widely accepted by the women for they sought the attention that they would not receive in a normal Ibo relationship. They also appreciated the fact that they didn’t have to worry about their children being killed and/or mutilated because it was thought they carried a bad spirit.


Overall the Christian ways were accepted by most, but it was the males of the tribe that would not agree with change. Unfortunately, the males were also the ones with all the power in the tribe. This was the underlying cause of the Ibo’s demise. The males did not want to become Christians. They could not see any advantage for doing so. Only the women and outcasts felt as though they should become Christian, and did. This is what caused the society to split into separate parts causing the whole tribe to “fall apart”.