Study Guide

Things Fall Apart Chapter Sixteen

By Chinua Achebe

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Chapter Sixteen

  • Two years later, Obierika visits Okonkwo in Mbanta again. This time, his visit is motivated by less pleasant reasons.
  • Not only have white missionaries arrived in Umuofia and begun converting some clansmen to their faith, but alarmingly, Nwoye – Okonkwo’s eldest son – is one of the converts!
  • We get a flashback to Obierika discovering that Nwoye is among the Christian converts.
  • Obierika asks Nwoye what on earth he’s doing among the missionaries, and Nwoye responds that he has joined them.
  • When Obierika asks after his father, Nwoye responds sadly that Okonkwo isn’t his father anymore.
  • The flashback ends.
  • Okonkwo refuses to discuss Nwoye.
  • Despite Okonkwo’s silence on the subject, Obierika pieces together the story of Nwoye and the missionaries from Okonkwo’s first wife. We get a flashback about what occurred.
  • Six missionaries arrive in Mbanta – five natives and one white man – causing a lot of commotion in the village. Everyone is curious about the white man after having heard the story about the Abame clan massacre.
  • With a large group gathered, the white missionary begins speaking with the aid of a translator, an African using a different Igbo dialect to the people of Mbanta.
  • The villagers make fun of the translator because instead of saying “myself” he always says “my buttocks”!
  • The missionaries’ message is that there is only one true God and that the people of Mbanta are worshiping false gods. The true God judges everyone after death and throws those who worship false gods into a fire. Those who worship the true God get eternal life in “His happy kingdom.”
  • The white men also tempt the Igbo people to their side by offering them iron horses (bicycles) – once the missionaries come to permanently live among them. This last bit causes a stir. The people haven’t expected that white men would come to stay in Mbanta.
  • When an old man asks which of the Igbo gods – the earth goddess, sky god, or various others – is the aforementioned one true God, the white man claims that all of the Igbo gods are all false.
  • At this point, the men of Mbanta laugh and ignore the missionaries.
  • The missionaries begin to sing and their song tells the story of “brothers who lived in darkness and in fear, ignorant of the love of God” and of man being like lost sheep, away from their kind shepherd (God).
  • Okonkwo, listening to the missionaries, concludes that they must be insane. The only reason he sticks around to listen to them talk is that he’s hoping the men of Mbanta will decide to chase all of the missionaries out – he’d like to join in on that action.
  • Unlike his father, Nwoye is enraptured. Though he doesn’t understand the logic of Christianity – especially the Trinity – the song touches him. He associates it with the death of Ikemefuna and Igbo twins abandoned in the woods. The missionaries’ hymn gives him a feeling of relief.

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