The Mbaino tribe in Things Fall Apart practice many traditions that the Western culture would deem superstitious. The Western religion allows for the Christian ideals to prove many of the native traditions superfluous when infiltrating the native’s land during colonization. This disassembling of traditions is introduced by Christianity’s unshakeable stance that native deities have no power because they are mythical. However, the new practices and dismantling of tradition the missionaries prove can never be revoked or forgotten from the native lands.
The Christians first must defy a strong belief held amongst each tribe and that is the beliefs about the Evil Forest. Because the tribe would never try to put the missionaries in a position where they could cultivate and grow stronger, the elders give them a piece of land that would surely take care of the nuisance of the conflicting religion illustrating the esteem the Evil Forest has among the tribe. Achebe writes, “ they did not really want them in their clan, and so they made them that offer which nobody in his right senses would accept.
They want a piece of land…said Uchendu…”we shall give them a piece of land. ’ He paused, and there was a murmur of surprise and disagreement. ‘Let us give them a portion of the Evil Forest, they boast about victory over death. Let us give them a real battlefield…” (149). However, the missionaries eliminate the power of the forest by inhabiting it. The missionaries were undaunted by the land and the natives could not ignore the missionaries prevalent attitudes, “and then it became known that the white man’s fetish had unbelievable power… Not long after, he won his first three converts” (149).
Nevertheless, the power of the forest was not completely revoked until the final day the villagers believed the gods allotted for evil. Achebe explains, “in such cases they set their limit at seven market weeks, or twenty-eight days. Beyond that limit no man was suffered to go… the villagers were so certain about the doom that awaited these men that one or two converts thought it wise to suspend their allegiance”(150). The beliefs are so strong in the tribe that even the converted men decide to stop and see what happens. The outcome is crucial for the missionaries. The Evil Forest represents a land cursed by their many gods.
When a native tries to defy any of their multiple deities’ cursings or laws the outcome yields death. The Evil Forest, therefore, is the only place to banish those that are cursed and are evil, with sickness, or newly born twins, or mutilated baby bodies because banishment to the Evil Forests separates the tribe’s community from the a traditional evil and keeps them safe from their deities’ wrath by not harboring evil in their communities. Bastian, the author of “The Demon Superstition”, writes a thorough evaluation of both sides from the history of the Church Mission Society and Ontisha, Nigeria.
Her examination focuses on “the idea of paradox—of two oppositional paradigms competing for truth value in a group’s imaginary—[which] is particularly salient” (14). This is demonstrated in each case the missionaries verify the truth of their beliefs as they unravel each superstition. The power the missionaries derive from the ‘truth value’ earned in each episode is critical in their conversion of the Igbos. This adds to the truth value that the missionaries carry. After The missionaries disprove the mystical that is to stop the abominable outcasts from converting.
The missionaries, by gaining more truth value to their claims, create more converts and embark on a strategic tool; “the dissolution of the ‘bond of kinship’” (McDowell par. 8). McDowell points out, “A more subtle tear in the social fabric results from the coming of the missionaries. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that they are only able to convert the worthless, the castoffs, the untouchables of the tribes—all those, in short, without status in the traditional life of the village. Thus, ironically, the missionaries attack the tribe at its weakest link—were the chain of being was already broken” (par. 7).
McDowell’s observation stresses the significance for the religious portion of colonizing the Igbos. The importance of turning the Igbos away from their own people’s way of life weakens the tribe as a whole. The tribe practices shaky traditions that tribes people dislike already have weakness. Hoeberg illuminates one of the biggest problems with the Igbo community, that eventually leads to the loss of Nwoye to Christianity “is the community’s tendency to forget, selectively and temporarily, certain defining principles of its culture, so that contradictions arise between specific practices and general beliefs” (70).
The holes created by contradiction and the tribes people noticing the issues and never find self-resolution is where the missionaries find their new members. This is where the missionaries infiltrate into the Igbo’s belief system and blow it up into lies, remaining a location of truth by comparison. A tradition that is dismantled gives hope to natives that other beliefs will also be false. The missionaries prove the faulty logic that surrounds the myth of the Evil Forest, “At the last day came by which the missionaries should have died.
But they were still alive, building a new red-earth and thatch house for their teacher… that week they won a handful more converts”. The missionaries have exposed the Evil Forest as just a regular forest. This is important because the ideals of the missionaries have shattered an immensely strong tradition of thought held by all of the natives and was still gripping some of the new converts. The missionaries are insistent that many of the traditions of Umuofia’s tribes are wrong and wasteful.
Throwing out twins is a mysterious tradition as the reader does not know reasoning behind this event , but the missionaries choose to save the twins and are able to entice a mother to the ranks of Christianity because no damage occurs from this. Yet, the mothers do not come straight away. The dismantling of the Evil Forest is what gains the first women. This woman, “ She was heavy with child. Nnecka had had four previous pregnancies and child births. But each time she had borne twins, and they had been immediately thrown away” (151).
When the missionaries disproved the evil of the Evil Forest it became a catalyst for other beliefs to be doubted. Nnecka joined the missionaries because of the fear of having another pair of twins she would have to throw out if she stayed with the tribe. The missionaries’ ideal of the native traditions just being ungrounded superstitions causes her to have hope, that keeping her twins would not cause her to die, the usual penalty for disobeying a traditional belief. Another group the missionaries attract is the osu, the marked outcasts of the tribe.
Achebe describes, “These outcasts, or osu, seeing that the new religion welcomed twins and such abominations, thought that it was possible that they would be received” (155). The osu, who live on the outskirts, are able to see the change and also see the opportunity to dismantle another false tradition. The osu coming to the church demonstrates that what the missionaries have uncovered are widespread and are creating a different pattern for people to follow. The tribes people can now acclimate to new ideas of acceptance and look further into debunking myths of tradition.
Without the constrictions of so many myths that dictate what children they will keep, the dealing of the dead, how to morn what kind of death, which people they can talk to, if they can cut their hair, where they live and what offerings they make opens up a new type of freedom to live an easier way. The tribesman then also open themselves up to more equality in the land because under the beliefs of Christianity all men are equal and it can create new qualifications for who will advise a tribe which becomes more of a community to advise than to rule over.
The missionaries defy traditional beliefs and yet continually escape the penalty of death initiates a change of perception in the natives. The osu make a marvelous demonstration of how deeply the new ideals of the missionaries have penetrated the native converts. The osu, who are usually shunned by all other tribesman, come to the church and “there was an immediate stir; but so great was the work the new religion had done among the converts that they did not immediately leave the church…[but] moved to another seat” (155). The osu’s appearance allows for the missionaries to put the last nail in the coffin for their traditional beliefs.
The osu are the pivotal example of what the ideals of Christianity can do to break the bonds the people have to tradition. The Christians claim that only the osu who shave off their mark can be accepted in because the mark has no power, it means nothing and to shave it off is to prove the missionaries have been right about everything. Mr. Kiaga divulges, “ unless you shave off the mark of your heathen belief I will not admit you into the church… you fear that you will die… the heathen say you will die if you do this or that, and you are afraid.
They also said I would die if I built my church on this ground. Am I dead? They said I would die if I took care of twins. I am still alive. The heathens speak nothing but falsehood. Only the word of God is true” (156). In Kiaga’s one speech about the native traditions he sums up what has happened and how he continuously lives on because the traditions are false. MacKenzie comments, “The cosmology of deities, the very cornerstone of clan being, has suddenly become distances from the actuality of the existence of Umuofia…the indigenous religious order has abruptly become remote and distant” (132).
His evidence cannot be denied. The natives see the way the new ideals of Christianity take a stance against old customs and follow them. The converted tribesman act differently and think differently now. Rhoads comments Achebe “presents [the Igbo’s] weaknesses which require[d] change and which aid[ed] in its destruction” (61). The missionaries manipulated these weaknesses for their benefit in adding numbers to their congregation. The missionaries replaced the weaknesses and holes in the Igbo society with the bible and their preaching.
As a result, the Igbos are able to accept events that they never would have before, such as the osu being in the same room with them or accepting osu as their brothers. The beliefs of Christianity have engendered a new thought of equality of all men and an essential love from a singular higher power that does not curse or punish their old broken customs by death. The tribesman are able to do this because of what the missionaries have introduced and proved to them through example. There is a new system to live by, with one God to please and one God to accommodate.
This results in an easier less painstaking way of life for tribesman to not abide by their older traditions that have been disproven. Not only that, but the leaders of the old tribe traditions lose their authority because they preach to follow traditions that have been disproven by the missionaries. Kiaga has destroyed the old notions and penalties and encourages the ideals of Christianity to know what is right and what is wrong. All over the world the Christian missionaries have come to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lower parts of the world.
These Christians infiltrate towns and tribes with their claimed truth and shun the ideas that they do not practice or have not brought to the developing countries. The traditional ideals and underlying principles are ignored by Christians because they are not of Christ. The ideals are also ignored because the foreigners have no deity called Christ and therefore have illegitimate practices. People that become followers or listen are taught to hate and the customs they come from.
New power structures are created and the old is undermined and replaced with the new credible structures of the colonizers. The missionaries’ way of weeding in becomes more than just welcoming people unto Christ, it paves the way for the power hungry colonist to make their way in and rule with unquestionable force and reason. In the article, Reclaiming Our Histories written by William Baldridge, he focuses on these same ideas that happened to Native Americans. Baldridge discusses his personal experiences growing up with the colonist missionaries trying to take over.
He states, “many missionaries taught us to hate anything Native American and that of necessity included hating our friends, our families, and ourselves… they stayed, and continued to stay, and they continue to insist that we submit to them and their definitions” (529). The colonists have therefore left these gaping wounds for the Native Americans and as they stay they hold that wound open. The missionaries that teach natives to hate what makes up the culture is the very reason it will leave it changed and unable to revert to old tradition.
Old traditions have been named and defined by the colonist missionaries that have come in and have deemed the native traditions unreliable. This alters the society in a powerful way. There will be some that believe and because of that belief will hate themselves and take drastic measures as their society crumbles beneath them, much like Okonkwo’s suicide. Some will leave their families because they stand rooted to the past and the past traditions cannot add up to the basic principles taught, much like Nwoye leaves his family for Christian missionaries.
Some natives will leave their friends traditions and follow in the course of the missionaries that proscribe native traditions as empty and elevate only the new traditions correlated with the bible. These attitudes resemble the throngs of people in Things Fall Apart that violated the oldest and strongest of beliefs because they were now followers of Christ and therefore had no respect for other beliefs following a colonial example. The havoc that falls upon the natives is all because the missionaries that have infiltrated, not just their towns, but their hearts and the social structure the Igbos have built up begins to fall.
Even to fight against the colonial regime would be to give the colonists power. Baldridge claims, “Fighting the oppression of the missionary system is a struggle for justice that unavoidably becomes a struggle for power. Power lies at the core of Christian Colonialism” (530). The colonists realize this and take advantage of any leverage they are given. Consider the schools that teaches English in the novel and in the real history of Nigeria.
The natives are preoccupied with the other cultivation that is occurring with the English arriving (Bastian, “Young Converts” 147) and the path to getting at their children and attacking their fundamental beliefs is to teach English. By teaching the native authorities’ children English, it allows in the Igbo mind for there to be room for more prosperity. However, the English they teach is used in conjunction with the bible and soon their first strong converts (not including the Igbo’s banished and abominables) are the youth of powerful figures and normal natives alike.
Some Igbos even send their young well knowing the high risk of being converted or even on the premises of the absolute guarantee their children will be severed from tradition, natal village, and family if they are sent to the Church Missionary Service to be schooled (Bastian, “Young Converts” 148). The motives for Igbos knowingly sending their children and their selves into the clutches of the colonial change was for higher connections and future prosperity. MacKenzie highlights that “a delineation of the metamorphosis of faith-oriented traditional pieties into economically-driven ‘new world” pieties” (131).
Unfortunately, for the Igbos, the power of the Christian Colonial reign was the seed for shattering native traditions. Driven by the colonial motives and Christ the colonialist were able to embed their own biblical sermons and out root the known traditions of the people, taking full power. The ideals of Christianity will forever leave their mark on the natives. Even if the Christians were to leave and the colonizers were pulled out and went back home, the myths they have proven wrong would still be a reality. What would stop a tribesman from keeping his twins now, or farming in the Evil Forest?
Their old traditions have been shattered and there is no way to go back and claim the old beliefs again because there is no penalty that would keep them to continue the practices. The natives have altered their ways and beliefs, taking a new path that makes the old traditions useless and unnecessary. Christian ideals that were introduced by colonization can never be purged from the society because of the new reality it creates for the natives to live in where one can keep their twins, stop being an outcast, live in the forest, and have to only worry about one God.