Comparing Diverse African Cultures
Throughout every culture there are many similar customs, however it is the personal experiences that make the cultures different and diverse. In the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the main character Okonkwo lives in Umofia until the tribe exiles him for accidentally killing a man in his village. After seven years the people of his village allow him to return to Umofia, among his return there are white missionaries in his village that have come to introduce christianity to his people.
Okonkwo quickly realizes that his village is now unrecognizable. The short story Life Is Sweet At Kumansenu by Abioseh Nicol, expresses the strong relationships between the living and the dead that are present in African culture. The religious beliefs, social structures and attitudes toward the dead represented in Things Fall Apart are equally similar and different to the concepts present in the short story Life Is Sweet At Kumansenu.
Death is a natural part of the circle of life, and the way the dead are treated varies from culture to culture.
In Life Is Sweet At Kumansenu, a grandmother (Bola) and her granddaughter (Asi) receive an unexpected visit from the spirit of their son/father Meji. Except it is unknown to Bola and Asi that their loved one is a spirit until after he leaves them. Mr. Addai announces Meji’s death to the village on Monday, “‘But I tell you, he was here on Friday and left Sunday morning,’ Bola said. ‘He couldn’t have died on Friday.’” (Abioseh 10). The spirit of Meji had come back to his family to say his final goodbyes and thank his mother for all she had done for him.
In the African culture they worship and praise the dead, as the dead are a huge part of their lives and culture. Similarly in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s people believe in spirits of the Nigerian tribes, also called the egwugwu. The people of Umofia both fear and respect the egwugwu, “A woman fled as soon as an egwugwu came in sight. And when, as on that day, nine of the greatest masked spirits in the clan came out together it was a terrifying spectacle.” (Achebe 78). The people of Umofia believe that the egwugwu have magical powers, and know that when they are present someone will most likely be taken as a sacrifice to the gods. The people of African descent treat the dead with great respect and think highly of them.
There are many different types of religion in the world, in many African cultures the people are polytheistic. In Things Fall Apart not only do they worship gods and priestesses but they idolize spirits too; like the ojbange. The ojbange is a child who has previously passed away, but has come back to haunt the mother and be reborn. “Some of them did become tired of their evil rounds of birth and death, or took pity on their mothers, and stayed.” (Achebe 70).
Some of these children did continue their lives and grow into adults, but most of them die as young children or infants. Also in Life Is Sweet At Kumansenu the mothers of ojbange children are ridiculed and mocked by the village people. “All the years of their married life, people had said she was a witch because her children had died young.”(Abioseh 6). Even though most likely it is not the fault of the mother that their child had died, the people of the village overlook that and continue to outcast them for their “witchcraft”.
A major social custom in African culture and many other cultures is food. Food has the power to bring a lot of people together. In Things Fall Apart we see this during the feast for Obierika’s daughters wedding shower. “As the evening wore on, food was presented to the guests. There were huge bowls of foo-foo and steaming pots of soup.
There were also pots of yam pottage. It was a great feast.” (Achebe 104). Everyone, all over the world, eats food; it is the recipes and different dishes that make the experience diverse. Similarly in Life Is Sweet At Kumansenu, Bola uses food to welcome home her son. “We must make a feast, we must have a big feast. I must tell the neighbors at once.” (Abioseh 3). Bola’s excitement that her son is home calls for a celebration. When having people over nine out of ten times food will be involved in some way. Food is something that most all people have in common, and is something they think about everyday.
The religious beliefs, attitudes toward the dead and social customs make Things Fall Apart and Life Is Sweet At Kumansenu equally similar and different. Two different African stories, from the same culture but that have different traditions and techniques is what makes our society different and diverse.
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