Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart Traditions and Customs Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
And so nature was not interfered with in the middle of the rainy season. Sometimes it poured down in such thick sheets of water that earth and sky seemed merged in one gray wetness…At such times, in each of the countless thatched huts of Umuofia, children sat around their mother’s cooking fire telling stories, or with their father in his obi warming themselves from a log fire, roasting and eating maize. It was a brief resting period between the exacting and arduous planting season and the equally exacting but light-hearted month of harvests. (4.37)
During the rainy season, it is customary for children to sit inside the huts with their parents and tell stories or eat snacks. This lovely tradition gives them time to rest and recover after the grueling planting season.
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 life of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. And what was more, she was in close communion with the departed father of the clan whose bodies had been committed to the earth.
The Feast of the New Yam was held every year before the harvest began, to honor the earth goddess and the ancestral spirits of the clan. New yams could not be eaten until some had first been offered to these powers. Men and women, young and old, looked forward to the New Yam Festival because it began the season of plenty – the new year. On the last night before the festival, yams of the old year were all disposed of by those who still had them. The new year must begin with tasty, fresh yams and not the shriveled and fibrous crop of the previous year. All cooking pots, calabashes and wooden bowls were thoroughly washed, especially the wooden mortar in which yam was pounded. Yam foo-foo and vegetable soup was the chief food in the celebration. So much was cooked that, no matter how heavily the family ate or how many friends and relatives they invited from neighboring villages, there was always a large quantity of food left over at the end of the day. (5.1-2)
It makes sense that the festival of the new year is named after the life-giving crop that sustains the clan: the yam. The Igbo show the symbolic rebirth of the year by throwing out old food, washing everything so they may be clean and pure for the coming year, and celebrating with fresh new yams. They join together with their families and community to celebrate the coming of another year that they will share.
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 song 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 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. But as the dog said, ‘If I fall down for you and you fall down for me, it is play’. Marriage should be a play and not a fight; so we are falling down again.” 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. (8.76-81)
The Umuofia follow a traditional ritual to determine a bride-price; the bride’s family presents the groom’s family with a sum (represented by broomsticks) and the other party adds or subtracts sticks as they see fit. They exchange the bundle of broomsticks several times, until the two groups finally agree. That final number of broomsticks corresponds to the number of bags of cowries paid by the groom’s family for the bride’s hand in marriage. After Akueke’s bride-price is settled on some of the men discuss how the Umuofia way of coming to a bride price is really quite civilized. Overall, this silent form of back-and-forth to reach an agreement is more respectful of women than just verbal haggling, which is how men agree on prices for livestock. Thus, the custom of settling a bride-price is intended to be respectful.