The relationship between the Western world and Africa
Soon after the beginning of the novel, a daughter of the tribe is murdered when she visits a nearby village, Mbaino. That night, a gong is sounded to let all of the men know that there will be a meeting for them to attend at the market place first thing in the morning (p. 9). At this meeting it is decided that Mbaino must pay for what they have done, either by giving the Umuofia village a boy and virgin to replace the girl, or risk everything in war. Okonkwo goes to Mbaino, gives them the ultimatum, and returns with a boy and a virgin (p. 11-12).
This shows how the Ibo dealt with the murder of a young girl differently than typical Westerners would have. During the Week of Peace, which occurs to honour the goddess of the Earth so that she will provide them with a fertile year, no one is to speak harshly to another person. This is a ritual that is performed every year before planting season. Okonkwo, forgetting about the sacred week, is maddened by one of his wives. He yells at her and beats her. For this violation of custom, Okonkwo is told by the priest of the earth goddess to make a sacrifice to the shrine of the goddess.
He does this immediately the next day (p. 29-31). This reaction to deviance is foreign to Western culture. Many other cultural expressions, traditions and beliefs are also included in the first half of the novel. The author wants the reader to see how completely this village was a community and a civilization, with a system that functioned for its purposes. A few of these include: the Feast of the New Yam to thank the goddess of the earth (p. 36), the process of dowries (p. 65), the burial ceremony and ritual (p. 120-124), the medicinal healings (p.80-86), the judiciary proceedings that occur when there is a dispute (p. 87-94), and the punishment for acts which are severely frowned upon.
Such an act is committed by Okonkwo, though it was an accident. During an elaborate burial ceremony for a warrior, guns are fired. One of the guns is held by Okonkwo, and he accidentally shoots and kills a young boy. For this he is banished to Mbanta for seven years, since this act will greatly upset the goddess of the earth, and for this he must pay a price. Mbanta is a nearby village where Okonkwo’s mother was born (p.124-125).
The Ibo have many traditions, rituals, nd systems of beliefs. They also have unique ways of dealing with rule-breaking and deviance. It is clear that they are a civilization fully capable of caring for themselves with no help needed from outside sources. During Okonkwo’s exile, the first mention of the white man is brought into the novel. These men are very foreign, and the villagers have heard terrible stories of kidnapping and murder involving them (p. 138-140). Two years later, however these white men have come to Umuofia and Mbanta.
The have already built their church and had converted member’s of Umuofia. Most of the clan leaders do not believe that this new white man’s faith will last (p. 143). The white men speak of their religion as being the ‘true’ religion, and say that the Ibo beliefs are false and therefore all the villagers should convert to this new religion. The men say that if the clansmen do not, that they will not be saved on their day of judgment, the day when they will face God after death, like all men do. Instead, they will burn for all eternity.
If they convert, they will live happily in God’s kingdom for all eternity. When one of the villagers asks the men how they are supposed to deal with the wrath of their angered God’s and ancestors after their conversion, the missionaries dismiss the Ibo ancestors and Gods as artificial. By doing this, they fulfill their mandate to preach their new belief system to all creatures of the earth (p. 143-148). The missionaries build their church on land given to them by the villagers, land which is considered to be evil.
To the surprise of the villagers, the missionaries have no trouble in building their church even though the land is thought to be sinful. After the missionaries build they church without incident or death, the community begins to believe in the power of the God that they speak of (p148-149) – Jesu Kristi (p. 146). They have even accumulated more converts, including Okonkwo’s son (p. 153). By the time Okonkwo has returned from exile, The Christians have begun to take over everything that was ever considered to be of Ibo culture and civilization.
They have changed the number of days in a week; they rescue twins from the forest; they have established their own form of government, laws and a court system; they have built a prison to deal with offenders (p174-175); they have established a trading post (p. 178); and they have accumulated many followers. Those who rebelled against them suffer great pain (p. 175). Things only get worse from there on. A new Reverend of the church arrives, and he is completely intolerant of all Ibo culture. He does not agree with anything that contradicts Christianity. This leads to anarchy in the community.
One of the rather zealous converts disrupts a ritual, by tearing off the mask of a man representing an ancestor (p. 186). This leads to the non-converts to burn down the Christians’ church. Those who participate in this act are later jailed for their act against God. Okonkwo is one of these men (p. 195). Upon his release, it is not long before Okonkwo commits another act against this new religion – he kills a messenger. He then knows that his people will not fight for their beliefs, since they let the other messengers get away (p. 205). Okonkwo no longer sees a point in living, and hangs himself in a tree (p.
207). After reading this novel it can be seen how the Western culture and intolerance of others civilizations led to the destruction of a society that was completely self-sufficient prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries. Once the damage had been done, no matter how hard Okonkwo tried to fix the destruction, it was no use. ‘Once a pickle is a pickle, it will never be a cucumber again. ‘ And once an African culture has been exposed to Christianity and the ways of the West, they will never be able to go back to the way of life they had before.