Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Elements Contributing to the Success of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" (4)

4. Ceremony and Custom

The next element contributing to the success of on the novel is ceremony and custom. There are many ceremonies that show the traditional ritual of the Umuofia. The first ceremony found in the novel can be seen in the following quotation:

The feast of the New Yam was approaching and Umuofia was in a festival mood. It was an occasion for giving thanks to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. Ani played a greater part in the live of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. And that was more; she was in close communication with the departed fathers of the clan whose bodies had been committed to earth.
(Achebe, 1989: 26)

The quotation above indicates that the Umuofians perform the ceremony to honor Ani, as goddess of earth, who roles a greater part for the fertility of the ground. The feast is held every year before the harvest. Every people in Umuofia look forward to the New Yam festival as it is the sign to begin the season of plenty – the new years. It is called the feast of the New Yam, because yam is the most important plant for Umofians. Yams reflect the prosperity, the power, and the social-strata. The more yams a Umofian has, then the wealthier he is.
Another ceremony found in the novel can be seen on the occasion when Umuofia performs the great wrestling match on the second day of the New Year.

The second day of the new years was the day of the great wrestling match between Okonkwo’s village and their neighbors. It was difficult to say which people enjoyed more – the feasting and fellowship of the first day or the wrestling contest on the second.
(Achebe, 1958: 28)

The wrestling match in Umuofia and the neighbor village is always awaited. In this match, the winner of the wrestlers has a chance to be famous and gets many wives.
Another ceremony found in the novel is that the wedding ceremony. It is illustrated when Obierika sets his daughter, Akueke, for marriage. The young suitor is Ibe, son of Ukegbu. The situation when Ukegbu, Obierika and Obierika’s brother, machi, set the bride-price is illustrated below:

Obierika then presented to him a small bundle of short broomsticks. Ukegbu counted them.
‘They are thirty?’ he asked
Obierika nodded in agreement.
‘We are at last getting somewhere,’ Ukegbu said, and then turning to his brother and his son he said ‘Let us go out and whisper together.’ The three rose and went outside. ………. When they returned Ukegbu handed the bundle of sticks back to Obierika. He counted them; instead of thirty there were now only fifteen. He passed them over to his eldest brother, Machi, who also counted them and said:
‘We had not thought to go below thirty. ………. He then added ten sticks to the fifteen and gave the bundle to Ukegbu.
In this way Akueke’s bride-price was finally settled at twenty bags of cowries.
(Achebe, 1958: 50-51)

The Umuofians set the bride-price by using the small bundle of short broomsticks. The amount of the broomsticks signifies how many cowries will be given. When the agreement is settled then the amount of the bride-price can be found out.
Another situation indicating the ceremony of the Umuofia is the ritual of treating the ogbanje. Ekwefi’s first, second, and third children died because the medicine-man says they are the Ogbanje. The Ogbanje is one of those wicked children who, when they die, entered their mother’s wombs to be born again.
On Ekwefi’s third child, the new-born-child named Onwumbiko. He is not given a proper burial when he died. Then Okonkwo calls another famous medicine-man in the clan named Okagbue Uyanwa for he knows great knowledge about Ogbanje.

The medicine-man then ordered that there should not be mourning for the dead child. He brought out a sharp razor from the goatskin bag slung from his left shoulder and began to mutilate the child. Then he took it away to bury in the Evil Forest, holding it by the ankle and dragging it on the ground behind him. After such treatment it would think twice before coming again, unless it was one of the stubborn ones who returned, carrying the stamp of their mutilation – a missing finger or perhaps a dark line where the medicine-man’s razor had cut them.
(Achebe, 1958: 55-56)

From the quotation above, it is found out that the Umuofians think that the dead child is related to the evilness. They do not think about the sanitation, or the medical reason. The medicine–man treats the dead body in such horrible ceremonies to avoid the evil coming back.
Another ceremony can be found on the situation when the medicine-man asks Ezinma to show where she buries her iyi-uwa. Iyi-uwa is a special stone that forms the link between an ogbanje and the spirit world. Ekwefi feels worried about it; she does not want her fourth child dies following her dead siblings.

‘Where did you bury your iyi-uwa? She asked in return. ……….
‘Come along and show me the spot,’ said the medicine-man.
The crowd set out with Ezinma leading the way and Okagbue following closely behind her. ……….
(Achebe, 1958: 56-57)

After finding the iyi-uwa, the medicine-man does some ritual for the stone.
After a few more hoe-fulls of earth he struck the iyi-uwa he raised it carefully with him the hoe and threw it to the surface. Okagbue emerged by saying a word eve looking at the spectators he went to his goatskin bag, took two leaves and began to chew them. When he had swallowed them, he took up the rag with his left hand and began to untie it. And then the smooth, shiny pebble fell out. He picked it up.
(Achebe, 1958: 59-60)

When Ezinma shows the medicine-man the spot of her iyi-uwa on the ground, he then digs it to find the stone and destroys it. Umuofians believe that the child would eventually die if the iyi-uwa is not discovered and destroyed.
Another ceremony Found in the novel can be seen in the following quotation:

Large crowds began to gather on then village ilo as the edge had worn off the sun’s heat and it was no longer painful on the body. Most communal ceremonies took place at the time of the day, so that even when it was said that a ceremony would begin ‘after the midday meal’ everyone understood that it would begin a long time later, when the sun’s heat had softened.
(Achebe, 1958: 62)

From the quotation above it can be seen that Umuofia has many ceremonies. They even have communal ceremony at the time of the day. This communal ceremony will be attended by a lot of men and women. The Umofains usually come earlier to the place in which the ceremony will be held.
The next ceremony found in the novel can be seen when Obierika is celebrating his daughter’s uri. It is the day on which her suitor would bring palm-wine not only to her parents and immediate relatives but to the wide and extensive group of kinsmen called Umunna. The palm-wine ritual is just a part of pre-wedding ceremonies of Umuofia.

Very soon after, the in-laws began to arrive. Young men and boys in single file, each carrying a pot of wine, came first. Obierika’s relatives counted the pots as they came. Twenty, twenty-five. There was a long break, and the hosts looked at each other as if to say. “I told you.’ Then more pots came. Thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five. The hosts nodded in approval and seemed to say, ‘Now they are behaving like men.’ Altogether there were fifty pots of wine.
(Achebe, 1958: 82)

There are a number of customs that can be found in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. The first custom is about how to treat a guest. This custom can be seen when Unoka receives a guest, Okoye who will ask for debt for him. The guest carries a roll of goat skin under his arm then unrolled it after they shake hand each other. The host gives a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a white chalk. After that one of them breaks the kola nut, and makes a line on the floor by using the chalk. As indicated in the following quotation:

One day a neighbor called Okoye came in to see him. He was reclining on a mud bed in his nut playing on the flute. He immediately rose and shook hand with Okoye, who then unrolled the goatskin which he carried under his arm, and sat down. Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a lump or white chalk.
‘I have kola,’ he announced, when he sat down, and passed the disc over to his guest.
‘Thank you. He who brings kola brings life. But I think you ought to break it,’ replied Okoye passing back disc.
ssss‘No, it is for you, I think,’ and they argued like this for a few moments before Unoka accepted the honour of breaking the kola. (Achebe, 1958: 4)


From the above quotation, it can be inferred that a guest is regarded as a special and honorable person. Another custom in this novel can be found out when some people of Mbaino kill Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s wife. The Umofians give an ultimatum for them. They must choose from the two choices givechoosing war war or sacrificing a young man and a virgin as compensation. This custom can be seen in the following quotation:

And in clear unemotional voice he (Ogbufie Ezeugo) told umofia how their daughter had gone to market at Mbaino and had been killed. That woman, said Ezeugo, was the wife of Ogbuefi Udo, and he pointed to a man who sat near him with a bowed head. The crowd then shouted with anger and the thirst for blood.
Many other spoke, and at the end it was decided to follow the normal course of action. An ultimatum was immediately dispatened to Mbaino asking them to choose between war on the one hand, and on the other the offer of a young man and a virgin as compensation.


From the above quotation, it can be seen that Mbaino choose the second choise; that is sacrificing a young boy and a virgin as compensation to cancel war. The boy will be killed in a determined time later, while the virgin will replace the killed wife of Ogbuefi Udo.

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