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Definitions of “civilized” can vary according to individual perceptions of alien cultures, but one would be hard-pressed to conclude that the Ibo, as described in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, were not “civilized.” On the contrary, while the indigenous tribes of Nigeria, the setting for Achebe’s story, are not depicted driving Buicks and engaging in rituals and celebrations familiar to Western cultures, the Ibo clearly represent an organized society with commonly-accepted customs and a hierarchical structure that placed certain among them in leadership positions (“We have men of high title and chief priests and the elders,” the Ibo explain to Western missionaries inquiring as to the identity of their king and being and informing these foreign visitors that no such exalted position existed). The Ibo of Things Fall Apart are very much civilized in the sense that they accept limitations on individual conduct for the good of the tribe, and respect those of superior achievement and character. One quote from the book that suggests a people far too admirable of character to be considered anything other than civilized occurs in Chapter One, as Achebe’s narrator describes a crucial distinction between two characters, Okoye and Unoka, he notes that, while both were musicians, Okoye was not a failure who left a trail of debts everywhere he went. When Okoye visits Unoka in an attempt at convincing Unoka to repay his debt to him, Achebe describes the scene as follows:
“Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half-dozen sentences in proverbs. Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
Achebe means to convey the sense that these are a people every bit of civilized as the whites who come to convert them and occupy their land. In Chapter Sixteen, the narrator, describing an encounter with a European, observes that the “[t]he white man was also their brother because they were all sons of God.” In conclusion, the Ibo, as depicted in Things Fall Apart, are indeed civilized.
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