Before the white European colonists arrive in Umuofia, the villagers participate and honor traditional Igbo rituals and customs and enjoy a relatively peaceful, stable life. The villagers obey, fear, and respect the egwugwu and celebrate annual rituals like the Feast of the New Yam. The villagers also recognize the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, fear Agbala, and follow the Oracle's commands. The villagers participate in ceremonies like the isa-ifi and follow the traditional bride price ritual. They also honor their numerous gods and enjoy their structured, organized society, where revered citizens hold titles and farming is paramount.
When the white European missionaries initially arrive, Okonkwo and his family are living in exile in the land of Mbanta. The colonists introduce the Christian religion to the region, establish a bureaucracy, and build schools, churches, and trading posts. Gradually, the Christians convert many villagers, who reject their traditional culture and begin to cause issues throughout Umuofia. Okonkwo's own son becomes a Christian convert, and he disowns Nwoye. Umuofia's traditional culture is steadily undermined by the white colonists, and traditionalists like Okonkwo react violently. However, the white colonists are too powerful for the Igbo villagers and are prepared to oppress the native Africans by force. Okonkwo chooses to commit suicide rather than be arrested and tortured by the white colonists. Many villagers are assimilated into the colonists' Western culture and lose their traditional way of life by the end of the story.