In Igbo culture, crime and its punishment are regulated strictly by the elders of the village, in consultation with the gods and goddesses of the tribe. Final punishment is decided by the gods, such as the Earth Goddess, Ani, after consultation with Cielo, priestess of the Oracle of the Caves, who is in direct contact with the gods. The elders seek her guidance to determine punishment and she, after further consultation with the tribal gods, would advise on the best form of retribution.
Crimes vary in depth and the punishment essentially fits the crime. Crimes against the tribe, such as a betrayal of its customs, could result in temporary or permanent banishment from the tribe.
Other serious crimes, such as the killing of another, could result in banishment of the perpetrator or there may even be a request for a tribe to offer up another individual to pay for the crime - "a life for a life," as it were. So it was that Ikemefuna and a young virgin were offered to Umuofia for a murder committed by the boy's father.
The boy was placed in Okonkwo's care until such time when the elders decided on a date for his execution. And so it was. The boy was later taken from the village by a group of men and eventually executed by Okonkwo, after one of the other men botched his attempt to kill the boy.
Okonkwo brought shame to his village by beating his wife and accidentally killing Ezeudu's son during Ezeudu's funeral, when Okonkwo's gun accidentally went off. Okonkwo was banished to his mother's village, Mbanta, for seven years.
It must be noted that these forms of punishment were imposed by tribal elders, as explained above. This was customary and there were no written rules and court procedures as we know them. However, with the arrival of the colonists, new laws and procedures were introduced. Punishment was meted out in terms of colonial laws and jurisprudence.
When Okonkwo killed a messenger who had converted to the colonist faith, a death sentence was passed on him. Okonkwo, however, could not bear the shame of submitting to their laws and committed suicide.
The laws introduced by the colonists were generally not respected by tribespeople, with the exception of those who had converted to the colonist faith. This obviously created a conflict and led to the colonists imposing their will against that of the villagers.