Things Fall Apart
How we cite our quotes:
“It was only this morning,” said Obierika “that Okonkwo and I were talking about Abame and Aninta, where titled men climb trees and pound foo-foo for their wives.”
“All their customs are upside-down. They do not decide bride-price as we do, with sticks. They haggle and bargain as if they were buying a goat or a cow in the market.”
“That is very bad,” said Obierika’s eldest brother. “But what is good in one place is bad in another place. In Umunso they do not bargain at all, not even with broomsticks. The suitor just goes on bringing bags of cowries until his in-laws tell him to stop. It is a bad custom because it always leads to a quarrel.”
“The world is large,” said Okonkwo. “I have even heard that in some tribes a man’s children belong to his wife and her family.”
“That cannot be,” said Machi. “You might as well say that the woman lies on top of the man when they are making the children.” (8.84-88)
The Umuofia are dead set in their definitions of what is masculine and what is feminine. Machi can’t even abide by the idea that in some cultures, women own their children. He compares that aberration of appropriate social structure to the impossibility of women being on top during sex – which you only have to check out Cosmopolitan once to know that isn’t really an impossibility. Anyway, the men seem to feel that their own masculinity is threatened by other tribes flouting different customs. Okonkwo and many of the other Umuofia men, then seem to derive their feelings of masculine self-worth from outside sources – like cultural practices – rather than from an internal feeling of positive self-image.
It was clear from the way the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men. There were many women, but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders. He titled men and elders sat on their stools waiting for the trials to begin. (10.2)
Women are largely excluded from participating in the traditional “judicial” hearings, as can be seen by their position in the audience – on the outskirts. Only men may speak and judge at these trials, even when a woman is the one with a complaint to pose.
[Odukwe]: “The law of Umuofia is that if a woman runs away from her husband her bride-price is returned.” (10.32)
Women are treated like pieces of property, worth a set sum of money, which can be exchanged from man to man.