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The novel first focuses on the native spiritual beliefs of the Igbo people. It is a religion based on a male creator god named Chukwu who taught the Igbo's how to survive on yams. The masculine god was balanced by the Earth goddess Ani, or Mother Nature. Because she functioned as a goddess of fertility and morality, she was closer to men that Chukwu. Often these gods or other minor gods would communicate with men through a priest or priestess. As the novel continues, Achebe contrasts these beliefs with those of Christian missionaries who move into the area to spread their faith. The conflict between the two faiths becomes the focus of the rift between Okwonkwo and his son, Nwoye. At first the missionaries seem interested in the Igbo people but after Mr. Brown leaves, the missionaries become more zealous after Enoch arrives. Enoch starts a battle between the two religions by unmasking a egwugwu, during a public ceremony. This is seen as a great crime. Okwonkwo, who is very traditional in his tribal beliefs, cannot understand why his people seem so passive and is one of the problems that leads to his demise.
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