Page 1. " As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. "

Wrestling is considered one of the “rites of passage” into adulthood in the Igbo culture. It is referred to as Igba Mgba, It shows the bravery and strength of the man and his ability to handle difficult situations.  

Wrestling is considered both a sport and a means of settling disputes. An example would be to compete for a woman’s hand in marriage. Wrestling competitions are also held as important events. The wrestling ring is well cared for; its ground covered with soft soil. There is also a young boy who provides music to excite the crowd and to set the mood for the fight. He, as well as the chief and all Igbo men with titles have the privilege to sit inside the ring to watch the wrestlers.

Competitions among Igbo villages are very common. A man loses a wrestling match if his feet leave the floor. If no man can be lifted, then the match is declared a draw.

There are many different wrestling sub-styles used depending on each Igbo village. 


Page 1. " That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwo's fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan "
GNU Free Documentation LicenseBrush-fire - Credit: Ikiwaner
The harmattan is a hot and dry trade wind that blows from the northeast through the western Sahara desert of Africa.  The harmattan is the strongest in late November to mid-March.  The wind carries with it a very fine dust that gets in every nook and cranny when it passes through villages.  The dust in the wind can limit visibility and even block the sun. 
This reference to the harmattan is used in a cultural simile.  During the season of the harmattan, a fire would travel and grow very fast because of the fast winds.  The wind carries the bush-fire and would make the fire almost unstoppable.  This fast growing fire is compared to the speed with which the fame of Okonkwo grows after he “threw the cat.” 
Page 3. " It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights "

The spiritual beliefs of the Igbo people are complex. They believed that each person should have to go through seven rights of passage. These rights are:

  1. Sex/ Birth: nine months
  2.  Babyhood: three years
  3.  Childhood: three to twelve years
  4.  Adulthood: thirteen to twenty years
  5.  Parenthood: twenty to forty years
  6.  Grandparenthood: forty to sixty years
  7.  Grandparenthood/ ancestor hood: sixty years to death.

Not only does the person have to fulfill these seven rights of passage, but the person is taught about the substance of their life. Then and only then will the tribe be able to celebrate the individual’s life.

Page 4. " he owed every neighbor some money, from a few cowries to quite substantial amounts "
Cowrie Shells
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCowrie Shells - Credit: Sodabottle

Cowries have been used as currency in various cultures. In fact the classical Chinese character for money is said to derive from a cowrie shell.  The shells come from marine snails, and can reach up to four inches in length.

Olive-sized white and yellow cowries were used by the Igbo. They symbolize wealth, importance, and fertility.

Page 4. " Sometimes another village would ask Unoka's band and their dancing egwugwu to come and stay with them and teach them their tunes. "

Egwugwu was typically a person that would lead or direct many ceremonies in the Igbo culture. Often they would appear at funerals and pay respects to the diseased man or woman. There was also an Egwugwu court that would oversee many different cases.

Page 6. " Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper, and a lump of white chalk "
Kola Nut
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeKola Nut - Credit: Simon Berry

Kola nuts are the first thing that Unoka brings in this part of the book. The kola nut is a nut with a bitter flavor that is chewed by many people in West Africa either individually or in a group setting. More often than not,

Alligator Pepper
Creative Commons AttributionAlligator Pepper - Credit: Dyfed Lloyd Evans

it will be used ceremonially or presented to the tribal chiefs or guests. Chewing the kola nut has been known to help relieve hunger pangs but can also stain teeth. The second thing Unoka brings in is alligator pepper, which is a hot spice that is frequently eaten with the kola nut. The alligator pepper is a tropical perennial that grows up to 5’ tall. The seeds are hard, shiny, reddish brown and oval- shaped.

Page 7. " Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten. "
Palm-Oil Plant
Creative Commons AttributionPalm-Oil Plant - Credit: Walmart Stores

Palm-oil is often used as a cooking oil in various African cultures. It is high in unsaturated fats and vitamins.  Today it is used in a lot of processed foods. The taste of Palm-oil is very good, adding both flavor to the food as well as the nutrients.

The idea that proverbs are the cooking oil of speech shows the importance of being able to speak well in the Igbo society. Food can be cooked without cooking oil, but the meal may lack flavor and be more difficult to make. Cooking oil is extremely important to cooking as it stops the food from burning as well as adding some flavor depending on the oil used. In the same way, proverbs allow the speaker to put meaning and purpose into the conversation. Although proverbs are not necessarily "essential" to conversation, they supplement it with meaning and beauty, just as cooking oil facilitates cooking and augments a meal with flavor. Proverbs and cooking oil create more enjoyment within their respective fields of conversation and cooking.

Page 8. " When Unoka died he had taken no title "

A title is a rank and system of hierarchy in the Igbo community that is very highly regarded and difficult to obtain. Only Igbo people who are highly regarded, respectable, and have material goods can obtain titles. Breaking any of the Igbo culture's rules disqualifies a person from getting a title.  

There are rituals a person has to go though before one can obtain his title and generally an insignia is provided to let everyone know what title the person has obtained.


Page 9. " Okonkwo had just blown out the palm-oil lamp and stretched himself on his bamboo bed when he heard the ogene of the town crier piercing the still night air. Gome, gome, gome, gome boomed the hollow metal. "
Creative Commons AttributionOgene - Credit: isafmedia

An ogene is a hollow metal bell which has traditionally been made by the Igbo. This bell is a flat cone that is hollow inside. Sound is created when the ogene is struck by a soft, wooden stick. When the bell is struck, the sound echoes inside similar to a gong. The ogene is traditionally made out of iron. In Things Fall Apart the town crier uses this bell to call a meeting and to send a message.

Page 10. " At last Obbuefi Ezeugo stood up in the midst of them and bellowed four times, ‘Umuofia kwenu,’ and on each occasion he faced a different direction and seemed to push the air with a clenched fist. And then ten thousand men answered, ‘Yaa!’ each time. "

The Ibo people have a culture to which community, solidarity, and unity are important. Their phrase “Igbo kwenu” most literally means, “We the Ibo people stand together in agreement and collective will.” It is also a shortened form of a longer phrase, “Igbo kwere na ihe ha kwuru” which means roughly, “The Igbo believe in what they have agreed upon to think, say, and do." The phrase “Umuofia kwenu” is just like “Ibo kwenu” except that it focuses the community of the phrase from the Ibo people as a whole to simply their village of Umuofia.



Page 11. " He then adjusted his cloth, which passed under his right arm-pit and tied above his left shoulder. "
Igbo Women
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeIgbo Women - Credit:

The Igbo, both men and women, wore akwa omuma or akwa owuwa which are native wraps. They were pieces of cloth wrapped around the body.

Arm-pits are a human anatomical feature, located at the junction of the arm and the torso.



Page 11. " But on one point there was a general agreement – the active principle in that medicine had been an old woman with one leg. In fact, the medicine itself was called agadi-nwayi, or old woman. "

The agadi-nwayi represents the use of magic in the Ibo culture and how the Europeans do not understand the Ibo culture. The properties of medicine are not fully understood by the Ibo, which is why they attribute magical properties to it, and believe its success comes from the power of gods and spirits.



Page 13. " It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father "

Okonkwo fears to be like his father who he considered to be a failure.  His father had numerous debts and did not hold any "titles" in the village.  Okonkwo believes in being strong and to not show weakness or affection.  These characteristics become visible in Okonkwo's actions throughout the novel. 

Page 14. " His own hut, or obi "

An obi is the hut in which the Igbo lived.  It was usually made using bamboo, vines, and mud.  In the Igbo household the husband usually has his own hut, his multiple wives are also given their own huts but live in the same compound. 

Exhibit in the Humid Biome
Creative Commons AttributionExhibit in the Humid Biome - Credit: Pam Brophy
Page 16. " He did not inherit a barn from his father. "
Yam Barn
Public DomainYam Barn - Credit: J Stöcker

The Igbo lifestyle and yearly schedule of events largely revolved around farming, especially the farming of yams.  Most people farmed at least to a subsistence level; however, wealth was marked by the size and productivity of the farms a man owned.  This makes the inheritance of farmland, barns, and seeds valuable to an Igbo male.

Page 18. " Unoka was an ill-fated man. He had a bad chi.... "
Chi in use.

In Igbo culture, every one has a chi, which is a personal god. Ones guardian spirit bestowed on him by Chukwu (god). A chi can cause a good or bad fortune, you excel or fail only with the consent of your chi. 


Chi can be expended by powerful Igbo warriors in order to ascend to a higher power level. This is known as "going Igbo-saiyan".


Page 20. " She walked up to her husband and accepted the horn from him. She then went down on one knee, drank a little and handed back the horn. She rose, called him by his name and went back to her hut. The other wives drank in the same way, in their proper order, and went away "

Public DomainFamily

The Igbo people practice polygyny, a specific branch of polygamy in which a man of worth takes on multiple wives. Within the family, there is a hierarchy amongst the wives. The first wife remains the most prominent female within the familial unit, receiving preferential treatment depending on the circumstance. For example, the lesser wives must wait for the arrival of the first wife when called by their husband to accept a drink. 

Page 22. " Many young men have come to me to ask for yams but I have refused because I knew they would just dump them in the earth and leave them to be choked by weeds. "
Yams at Brixton Market
GNU Free Documentation LicenseYams at Brixton Market - Credit: C Ford


Yams are a very important vegetable in the Igbo culture. They are the main source of nutrition and have even been dedicated deities such as Njoku Ji, the "yam god." They are also celebrated with an annual yam festival. Their yam is to our potato. The word yam originates from the African words njam, nyami, or djambi, meaning "to eat."

Although Yams are commonly mistaken for being the same vegetable as what we know to be the sweet potato, the two are not interchangeable. The yam is a tuber of a tropical vine, the Dioscorea batatas. Yams also contain a higher moisture and natural sugar content, tasting sweeter than the sweet potato.

While the sweet potato is a popular vegetable in the American South, the yam is more popular in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. 

For more information regarding the differences between yams and sweet potatoes, click this link.


Page 22. " And so at a very early age when he was striving desperately to build a barn through share-cropping Okonkwo was also fending for his father’s house. It was like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes. "

This quote from chapter 3 provides an important contrast in Okonkwo’s life compared to his father's life. Now a wealthy and respected individual in the Igbo village, Okonkwo was once a boy struggling to keep his life together by sharecropping. The image of grains being poured through a bag full of holes is also a reflective idea of the book title, “Things Fall Apart.” No matter how many attempts he made he just couldn't do both things at once. This later contributes to his undying need to be nothing like his father; succesful, brave, strong, and respected. 

Page 23. " they grew women's crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man's crop. "

In the Igbo culture, gender roles were determined by many aspects of life including agriculture. Women were considered to be weaker than men, therefore women were not allowed to farm specific crops. Men mainly farmed the yams because they were the staple crop in their African society. Women were held responsible for producing all other crops such as coco-yams, beans, and cassava.

GNU Free Documentation LicenseCocoyams - Credit: Amcaja