Sunday, September 26, 2010
Examine critically the place of women in Ibo society as revealed in Achebe's novel 'Things Fall Apart'. Support your answer with suitable quotations.
Things Fall Apart analyses the destruction of African culture by the appearance of the white man in terms of the destruction of the bonds between individuals and their society. Achebe, who teaches individuals and their society. Achebe, who teaches us a great deal about Ibo society and translates Ibo myth and proverbs, also explains the role of women in precolonial Africa.
Because Nwoye, his son by his first wife, reminds Okonkwo of his father Unoka, he describes him as woman likewise. After hearing of Nwoye's conversion to the Christianity, Okonkwo ponders how (he), "a flaming fire "could have begotten a son like Nwoye, "degenerate and effeminate". On the other hand, his daughter Ezinma "should have been a boy". He favoured her the most out of all his children. Yet "If Ezinma had been a boy [he] would have been happier". After killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo, who cannot understand why he is so distraught asks himself, "when did you become a shivering old woman", when his tribe look as if they are not going to fight against the intruding missionaries, Okonkwo remembers the "days when men were men."
In keeping with the Ibo view of female nature, the tribe allowed wife beating, the novel describes two instances when Okonkwo beats his second wife, once when she did not come home to make his meal, he beat her severely and was punished by the priest but only because he beat her during the week of peace. He beat her again when she referred to him as one of those "guns that never shot." When a case of wife beating comes before the egwugwu, he found in favour of the wife, bid at the trial a man wondered, "Why such a trifle should come before the egwugwu."
Achebe shows that the Ibo nonetheless again important roles to women. For instance, women painted the houses of the egwugwu. Furthermore, the first wife of a man in the Ibo society is paid some respect. This reference is illustrated by the palm wine ceremoney at Nwakibie's Obi. Anasi, Nwakibie's first wife had not yet arrived and "the others [other wives] could not drink before her." The importance of women's role appears when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland. His uncle Uchendu noticing Okonkwo's distress, eloquently explains how Okonkwo should view his exile: "A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness, he finds refuge in his motherland." A man has both joy and sorrow in his life and when the bad times come his mother is always there to comfort him. Thus, comes the saying, "Mother is supreme."
Achebe in his novel Things Fall Apart depicted women dominated by man. They had no important role to play passively. Most of the women characters were combined to domestic duties. They were born in society to obey their husbands and never to question their authority. They were fated to satisfy men's lust for sex, give birth to children and bring up them. In addition to her womanly duties, she had to work with men during sowing and harvesting seasons. Man's crop was Yam and woman's crop were maize, beans and vegetables. She reared poultry and gots to cater to the family food-supply. It was her duty to clean, whitewash and decorate their houses on the occasion of festivals and ceremonies. She had to go to market to make purchases of household commodities.
According to the custom of the clan, a man could marry several women. There was a tradition of paying bride-price to the parents of the girls from the suitor's side. Okonkwo could not marry Ekwefi in the first instance because, he was too poor to pay bride-price then. If a woman wanted to give up her husband, her parents had to give back the bride price. Before marriage, girls had sexual freedom. Giving birth to twins was considered to be ill omen and the twins were thrown into the Evil Forest. Making preparation for marriage ceremoney fell with the sphere of women's duties. Several wives of a man lived in full co-operation with one another. They were one to share the joys and sorrows of the family. When the husband beat or ill treated any of his wives, other wives of the same husband came forward to check his wrath. But above is the dismal phase of women's fate as painted by Achebe. If we study the Ibo African history, we would find women enjoying high status in the society.
Women controlled certain spheres of community life, just as men controlled other spheres. Women were perceived to possess superior spiritual well-being and headed many of the traditional cults and shrines. In Achebe's novel, for example, the oracle is served by a priestess. Women also gained status by amassing wealth through trading, farming or weaving and were treated as ndi ogalanya, wealthy women married other women, and 'fathered' their own children.
Like an Ibo man, every Ibo woman began her life as an apprentice. From a very young age a girl assisted her mother at home, on the farm, or in the market place. As she grew older, she learned from experience that hard work, marriage, and membership of certain associations enabled women to advance socially. One of the most important women's associations was Otu Omu (the Omu society). The members of the Omu society acted as a pressure group in political matters and imposed fines on men and women who disturbed the peace of the market place. They punished quarrelsome women and those who broke certain taboos, like those prohibiting incest and adultery. It was perilous for any man, no matter how influential, to provoke the anger of this association. Caravans of long-distance traders made their way to local markets, often accompanied by a large number of noncommercial specialists, such as the agents of important oracles, smiths, carvers, priests, diviners, and doctors, long-distance traders were men, their prosperity depended upon the careful regulation of local markets. Ibo women's associations upheld gender balance and quality. Their political and social activities were very useful though man occasionally felt they were contentious.