Naomi PhillipsMr. McNultyEnglish 2HP25 January 2018 According to
Naomi PhillipsMr. McNultyEnglish 2HP25 January 2018 According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of “culture” is “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group,” as well as, “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Throughout the world, there is a variety of cultures, and these cultures are a significant part of people’s lives. The Igbo culture of pre-colonized Nigeria, which is displayed in all its glory in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, has its own core values, language, religion, food habits, social norms, music, and arts the way any culture does. Much of the traditional Igbo life presented in this novel revolves around structured gender roles. In fact, essentially all of Igbo life is gendered, from the crops that men and women grow to the characterization of crimes. In Igbo culture, women are the weaker sex and are thus subject to discrimination, objectification, and even domestic violence. This treatment of women violates fundamental human rights that transcend time and culture and is unacceptable. There are many instances of blatant sexism throughout the Igbo culture, even going as far as domestic violence. In many occasions in the novel, it’s apparent that the word “woman” or behaving like a woman is considered an insult. This first becomes apparent at the beginning of the novel when Okonkwo’s father Unoka is introduced. Unoka lived much of his life in debt and deviated far from the Igbo people’s idea of a strong, successful man, and so he was insulted: “Even as a little boy Okonkwo had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title” (Achebe 13). In Igbo culture, women have the same status of a failure of a man. Another case of this is later when during a kindred meeting Okonkwo disparages a man with no titles by calling him a woman: “Only a week ago a man had contradicted him at a kindred meeting which they held to discuss the next ancestral feast. Without looking at the man Okonkwo had said. ‘This meeting is for men.’ The man who had contradicted him had no titles. That was why he had called him a woman. Okonkwo knew how to kill a man’s spirit” (Achebe 26). Again, women are considered weaker than the men and thus being called a woman, or behaving like a woman, is an insult.In Igbo culture, the role of women was purely domestic; they were expected only to marry, birth and raise children, and take care of the home. As this was a woman’s sole purpose, if they failed to complete it, they weren’t worth much. A model of this is when Nneka converted to Christianity: “Nneka had had four previous pregnancies and childbirths. But each time she had borne twins, and they had been immediately thrown away. Her husband and his family were already becoming highly critical of such a woman and were not unduly perturbed when they found she had fled to join the Christians. It was a good riddance” (Achebe 151). Every other time one of their own had joined the ranks of the Christians, the Igbo had been distraught. But now that a woman had, and a woman such as Nneka, there was a positive reaction! A woman who couldn’t bear children was worthless, and so they were grateful that Nneka was no longer their problem! Additionally, women were essentially treated as servants, which is apparent when Okonkwo tells Nwoye’s mother that Ikemefuna will be staying with the family in her hut: “‘He belongs to the clan,” he told her Okonkwo’s eldest wife. “So look after him.’ ‘Is he staying long with us?’ she asked. ‘Do what you are told, woman,’ Okonkwo thundered, and stammered. “When did you become one of the ndichie of Umuofia?’ And so Nwoye’s mother took Ikemefuna to her hut and asked no more questions” (Achebe 14).As women had solely domestic roles in society and were seen as immaterial, they could be objectified and even physically abused. Women were treated like pieces of property, worth a set sum of money, which can be exchanged from man to man. In Igbo culture, a man paid a bride price for a wife, as if she was some good to be purchased. Also, a good wife, in Igbo society, is characterized by her appearance and shy manner. This is apparent when Obierika’s daughter Akueke is being “surveyed” by her suitors: “As he was speaking the boy Maduka, Obierika’s son returned, followed by Akueke, his half-sister, carrying a wooden dish with three kola nuts and alligator pepper. She gave the dish to her father’s eldest brother and then shook hands, very shyly, with her suitor and his relatives. She was about sixteen and just ripe for marriage. Her suitor and his relatives surveyed her young body with expert eyes as if to assure themselves that she was beautiful and ripe. She wore a coiffure which was done up into a crest in the middle of the head. Camwood was rubbed lightly into her skin, and all over her body were black patterns drawn with uli. She wore a black necklace which hung down in three coils just above her full, succulent breasts. On her arms were red and yellow bangles and on her waist four or five rows of jigida, or waist beads” (Achebe 71). The decision of if Akueke was “suitable for marriage” was based solely upon on her shy behavior, “succulent breasts,” and her dress. Women are more than just their bodies, but in Igbo culture that doesn’t seem to matter! Additionally, in Igbo culture, it’s socially acceptable for men to beat and abuse their wives for even the slightest offense. This can even go so far as to when Okonkwo nearly shot his second wife Ekwefi for the offense of killing a banana tree, of which she was entirely innocent: “As a matter of fact the tree was very much alive. Okonkwo’s second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it to wrap some food, and she said so. Without further argument, Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her daughter weeping” (Achebe 38-9). Okonkwo was purely, irrationally angry, and took it out on Ekwefi, beating her even though he didn’t really care about the banana tree. Part of what drove his extremely violent outburst was that Ekwefi stood up to him, insisting she didn’t kill the tree. Okonkwo, and the men in Igbo society aren’t used to women standing up for themselves, as the ideal Igbo woman is utterly submissive. He beat her soundly, and then when Ekwefi went even further and muttered about what a terrible shot he was, he pulled a gun on her and nearly killed her! It was acceptable in Igbo culture for Okonkwo to nearly kill her! Admittedly, one could argue that women did have important roles in society. The dominant role for women is first, to make a pure bride for an honorable man, second, to be a submissive wife, and third, to bear many children. But they also had other roles as well, such as painting the houses of the egwugwu (Achebe 84). Furthermore, the first wife of a man in the Ibo society is paid some respect. This deference is illustrated by the palm wine ceremony at Nwakibie’s obi. Anasi, Nwakibie’s first wife, had not yet arrived and “the others other wives could not drink before her” (Achebe 22). The importance of woman’s role appears when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland. His uncle, Uchendu, noticing Okonkwo’s distress, eloquently explains how Okonkwo should view his exile: “A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland.” A man has both joy and sorrow in his life and when the bad times come his “mother” is always there to comfort him. Thus comes the saying “Mother is Supreme.” It’s true, women may be considered the weaker sex in Igbo culture, but they are also endowed with qualities and roles that are significant. However, gender inequality doesn’t mean that one sex has all the power and the other has none, it means there is an imbalance of power. Women do have some power in society, but men have far more and can oppress and physically abuse them.The treatment of women illustrated in the novel violates fundamental human rights. In fact, these rights have been agreed upon by people of all different cultures and countries across the world, and are present in a document that ubiquitously protects them: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and we should treat each other as such. This can be seen specifically in Articles II and V, which declare respectively that: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as… sex…,” and, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The sexism and domestic abuse that is violently present in the Ibo culture violates these fundamental human rights, and so it is unacceptable. As to be expected, there are parts of other cultures that are different from our own. But despite these differences, what remains the same is the people within them. We are all human. Everyone deserves fundamental human rights, such as those that have been laid out and agreed upon by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If a culture denies anyone these rights, the way the Igbo culture did to women, it is necessary to, as humans, recognize this. The acts of discrimination, objectification, and even domestic violence that the Igbo women face were unacceptable. In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex.”Works Cited”Cultural Genocide.” Facing History and Ourselves, www.facinghistory.org/stolen-lives-indigenous-peoples-canada-and-indian-residential-schools/chapter-7/cultural-genocide.”Culture.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture.”Destroying Cultural Heritage: More than Just Material Damage.” Destroying Cultural Heritage: More than Just Material Damage | British Council, www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/destroying-cultural-heritage-more-just-material-damage.”Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Print.