Chinua Achebe enrichies Things Fall Apart with animal tales, and shows the readers that the Ibo clan in Nigeria is fruitful with a number of animal tales which Igbo people use as means to teach moral values to their generation. The didactic animal tales are found in the story of birds, lizards, tortoises, locusts, and many more. The first example of the didactic animal tale is found when Ezinma and her mother Ekwefi cook the green vegetables while they are waiting Okagbue searching the Ezinma’s iyi-uwa (a special stone that forms the link between an Ogabanje and spirit world. The child would eventually die if the iyi-uwa were not discovered and destroyed) in the yard. The cooked vegetables will become smaller after being cooked. This situation is used by Ekwefi to tell Enzinma about the story of the snake-lizard when they cook vegetables.
‘There is too much green vegetable,’ she said.
‘Don’t you see the pot is full of yams?’ Ekwefi asked. ‘And you know how leaves become smaller after cooking.’
‘Yes,’ said Ezinma, ‘that was why the snake-lizard killed his mother.’
‘Very true,’ said Ekwefi.
‘He gave his mother seven baskets of vegetables to cook and in the end there were only three. And so he killed her.’ Said Ezinma.
‘That is not the end of the story.’
‘Oho,’ said Ezinma, ‘I remember now. He brought another seven basket and cooked them himself. And there were again only three. So he killed himself too.’
(Achebe, 1958: 59)
The snake-lizard prejudices that his mother eats the vegetables before they are cooked, so he kills his mother. Then, when he puts more vegetables to cook, he finds out that the same thing happens to the vegetables. When it happens, he realizes that he has committed a big mistake. He feels very sorry for having killed his mother, thus, he commits suicide to show his remorse.
The didactic lesson of the story is that we should not easily take decision if we have not made investigation on the case, or have not known the real fact. Besides, we should not always have prejudice on someone before we know the fact well.
The next didactic animal tale found in the novel is that when Ekwefi tells a story to Ezinma about the birds and the Tortoise. All birds are invited to a feast in the sky, and the Tortoise finds it out. He wants to join with the birds but he has no wings to fly so that he begs the birds to bring him with them. The birds who know that he is an untrustworthy animal, do not want him to join the party. However, the tortoise has a sweet tongue, and finally the birds agree to give him feather for his wings. The Tortoise, who is a great orator, soon plays his tricky mind to the birds. He tells the birds that the hosts in the sky will expect them to honor their age old-custom. He tells the birds to pick a new name before they arrive in the sky, and all birds agree. The Tortoise himself picks the name “All of You”. When they arrive in the sky and the main dines are served, this is where everything in the Tortoise’s tricky mind begins clear.
When everything had been set before the guests. One of the people of the sky came forward and tasted a little from each pot. He then invited the birds to eat. But the Tortoise jumped to his feet and asked: ”For whom have you prepared this feast?”
“For all of you,” replied the man.
‘Tortoise turned to the birds and said: “You remember that my name is All of you. The custom here is to serve the spokesman first and the others later. They will serve you when I have eaten.”
‘He began to eat and the birds grumbled angrily. ……….
(Achebe, 1958: 68-70)
From the above quotation, it is clear that the tortoise begins showing his basic characteristic as an untrustworthy animal. The tortoise takes all the dines by cheating the birds.
When they leave the feast, the Tortoise asks the birds to send a message to his wife, but none of the birds are willing to. In the end, a parrot, who has felt angrier than the others changes his mind, and agrees to take the message. The Tortoise’s message to his wife is to bring all the soft things in the house outside so that he can jump from the sky without very great danger. However, the parrot tells the Tortoise’s wife the opposite thing. He asks her to bring the hard things such as hoes, machetes, spears, guns, and even cannon in the house outside. Tortoise looks down from the sky but it is too far to see what they are. Then he jumps from the sky and crashes on the compound. Luckily he does not die. His wife sends him to a medicine-man and the medicine man gathers all the bits of the tortoise’s shell which falls apart, and sticks them together. That is why tortoise’s shell is not smooth. The didactic lesson of the story is that we should not betray the people who have been nice to us, because bad things will respond badly too.
Another didactic animal tale can be seen when Obierika visits Okonkwo in the second year of his exile. He tells Okonkwo about the people of Abame who kill the white man. What they do not know is the fact that the white man is the messenger of his companions. Uchendu illustrates Abame’s action in the story of a kite and her daughter. A kite asks her daughter to look for some food for her. The daughter then goes and brings a duckling but her mother asks her to give it back again because when she takes the duckling, its mother goes away and keeps silent. The mother tells that there must be a trick behind the silence. Then the daughter changes it by a chicken and the mother asks her how the hen reacts when she takes the chicken. Then she answers that the hen cries, raves, and curses her. Then she says that the chicken can be eaten because there is nothing fear about someone who shouts and talks too much.
‘Never kill a man who says nothing. Those men of Abame were fools. What did they know about the man?’ He ground his teeth again and told a story to illustrate his point. ‘Mother Kite once sent her daughter to bring food. She went, and brought back a duckling. “You have done very well,’ said Mother Kite to her daughter, “but tell me, what did the mother of this duckling say when you swooped and carried its child away?” “You must return his duckling,” said the Mother Kite. There is something ominous behind the silence.” And so Daughter Kite returned the duckling and took a chick instead.’ “What did the mother of this chick do?” asked the old kite. “It cried and raved and cursed me,” said the young kite. “Then we can eat the chick,” said her mother. “There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts.” Those men of Abame were fools.
(Achebe, 1958: 98)
From the illustration above, the didactic lesson of the animal tale is, there is something ominous behind the silence. Besides, it that also shows the folly of the people of Abame.