In Things Fall Apart, what is the punishment system in the Igbo tribe? 

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The society of the Igbo people in Achebe’sThings Fall Apart has a very antiquated form of justice and punishment. They act according to historic traditions but tend to follow a reciprocity system. In the story, a man of the Igbo tribe is killed by another tribe, so a young...

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The society of the Igbo people in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has a very antiquated form of justice and punishment. They act according to historic traditions but tend to follow a reciprocity system. In the story, a man of the Igbo tribe is killed by another tribe, so a young boy from that tribe is taken, kept with Igbo society for a period of time, and then killed as a ritual sacrifice for the man who was murdered. There is a great deal of pomp and circumstance involved in this, because the tribe follows these traditions strictly.

The majority of traditions present in the Igbo society are very straightforward—following themes like an eye for an eye or retribution. Because these are very rudimentary ways to enact justice, they are common in societies with less technological development and without larger governmental structures, because it acts as a method of self-policing. In Igbo society, you don’t kill someone because then someone will kill you in return, or worse, an innocent member of your tribe or family.

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The punishment system of the Igbo presented in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is apparently comprised of a series of customs that have been passed down from generation to generation. There are two instances in the novel in which Okonkwo is reprimanded, and both punishments are based on customs. During the Week of Peace, Okonkwo gets into an altercation with his wife, and he must sacrifice a goat, a hen, and other items to appease the gods. Interestingly, Ezeudu bemoans the fact that the punishment for breaking peace has become less serious over time:

“My father told me that he had been told that in the past a man who broke the peace was dragged on the ground through the village until he died. But after a while this custom was stopped because it spoiled the peace which it was meant to preserve” (31).

Even though the customs surrounding punishments seem like static, long-held customs, they have in fact changed over time.

The major moment in the novel that demonstrates how customs dictate punishment occurs when Okonkwo inadvertently kills a young member of the tribe. Here, readers see the arbitrary nature of a facet of the correctional system of Umuofia:

“Violent deaths were frequent, but nothing like this had ever happened. The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. He could return to the clan after seven years” (124).

Thus, the Umuofian punishment system is largely based on customs and traditions.

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