Things Fall Apart
Traditions and Customs Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Ezeudu was a great man, and so all the clan was at his funeral. The ancient drums of death beat, guns and cannon were fired, and the men dashed about in frenzy, cutting down every tree or animal they saw, jumping over walls and dancing on the roof. It was a warrior’s funeral, and from morning till night warriors came and went in their age groups. They all wore smoked raffia skirts and their bodies were painted with chalk and charcoal. Now and again an ancestral spirit or egwugwu appeared from the underworld, speaking in a tremulous, unearthly voice and completely covered in raffia. (13.3)
Funerals for celebrated men of title include elaborate, formalized ceremony – the saluting fire of guns and cannons, militaristic drums, and frenzied mourning – as a show of respect for the deceased. Even the godly egwugwu pay a visit to honor the man.
They sat in a big circle on the ground and the bride sat in the center with a hen in her right hand. Uchendu sat by her, holding the ancestral staff of the family. All the other men stood outside the circle, watching. Their wives watched also. It was evening and the sun was setting.
Uchendu’s eldest daughter, Njide, asked the questions.
“Remember that if you do not answer truthfully you will suffer or even die at childbirth, she began. How many men have lain with you since my brother first expressed the desire to marry you?”
“None,” she answered simply.
“Answer truthfully,” urged the other women.
“None?” asked Njide.
“None,” she answered.
“Swear on this staff of my fathers,” said Uchendu.
“I swear,” said the bride.
Uchendu took the hen from her, slit its throat with a sharp knife and allowed some of the blood to fall on his ancestral staff.
From that day Anikwu took the young bride to his hut and she became his wife. The daughters of the family did not return to their homes immediately but spent two or three days with their kinsmen. (14.12-22)
The public confession ceremony for the bride shows how deeply the Umuofia value truth and purity in its women. The implication here is that Anikwu would not value his wife as much had she not been virgin upon their marriage. The sacrifice of a hen somehow seems to seal the bride’s words as a vow and consecrate the marriage.
He [an osu] was a person dedicated to a god, a thing set apart – a taboo forever, and his children after him. He could neither marry nor be married by the free-born. He was in fact an outcast, living in a special area of the village, close to the Great Shrine. Wherever he went he carried with him the mark of his forbidden caste – long, tangled and dirty hair. A razor was taboo to him. An osu could not attend an assembly of the free-born, and they, in turn, could not shelter under his roof. He could not take any of the four titles of the clan, and when he died he was buried by his kind in the Evil Forest. How could such a man be a follower of Christ? (18.12)
Here, we get a traditional description of an osu – an outcast whose very existence offends the villagers. The osu by custom must wear a mark of their lowly status – long, tangled hair – in order to distinguish them from the community at large. This one marker is all that really sets them apart. The arrival of the Christians, however, throws the social order out of whack by insisting that the osu can free themselves from being outcasts by joining the new religion and shaving their hair.