Things Fall Apart
How we cite our quotes:
“He [the white man] was not an albino. He was quite different…And he was riding an iron horse. The first people who saw him ran away, but he stood beckoning to them. In the end the fearless ones went near and even touched him. The elders consulted their Oracle and it told them that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them.” Obierika again drank a little of his wine. “And so they killed the white man and tied his iron horse to their sacred tree because it looked as if it would run away to call the man’s friends.” (15.19)
The Igbo people rely on their oracles to advise them on what to do when faced with new, strange situations. As the Oracle has access to divine information, he offers correct but cryptic information about the threat the white man represents. Though always right, divine knowledge cannot always be correctly interpreted by humans.
At this point an old man said he had a question. “Which is this god of yours,” he asked, “the goddess of the earth, the god of the sky, Amadiora or the thunderbolt, or what?”
The interpreter spoke to the white man and he immediately gave his answer. “All the gods you have named are not gods at all. They are gods of deceit who tell you to kill your fellows and destroy innocent children. There is only one true God and He has the earth, the sky, you and me and all of us.” (16.13-14)
The missionaries present the idea of a single god, and one who is not immediately relevant to their lives as agriculturalists. The gods of the Igbo represent important aspects of their lives such as the earth in which they grow their food, and the sky which is the source of sun and water needed for their crops.
It was well known among the people of Mbanta that their gods and ancestors were sometimes long-suffering and would deliberately allow a man to go on defying them. But even in such cases they set their limit at seven market weeks or twenty-eight days. Beyond that limit no man was suffered to go. And so excitement mounted in the village as the seventh week approached since the impudent missionaries built their church in the Evil Forest. The villagers were so certain about the doom that awaited these men that one or two converts thought it wise to suspend their allegiance to the new faith.
At last the day came by which all the missionaries should have died. But they were still alive, building a new red-earth and thatch house for their teacher, Mr. Kiaga. That week they won a handful more converts. And for the first time they had a woman. Her name was Nneka, the wife of Amadi, who was a prosperous farmer. She was very heavy with child. (17.11-12)
The Igbo people’s superstition that no man may trespass upon the gods after twenty-eight days backfires. Nothing happens to the missionaries living in the Evil Forest, so instead of questioning the veracity of their own faith, they chalk it up to the unprecedented power of the missionaries’ Christianity. Consequently, the Christians win more converts.