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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Who or what causes great conflict between the church and the clan?

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The relationship between the Christian church and the surrounding Igbo tribes in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was always strained and tenuous at best. The village clansmen merely tolerated the Christian missionaries early in the novel, and considered them strange but overall harmless. This peace is disrupted, however, by new converts. More specifically, the osu individuals who were considered outcasts in the Igbo society find acceptance in the Christian church, and one convert supposedly gets carried away with his newfound zeal and murders a sacred python:

“The two outcasts shaved off their hair, and soon they were the strongest adherents of the new faith. And what was more, nerely all the osu in Mbanta followed their example. It was in fact one of them who in his zeal brought the church into serious conflict with the clan a year later by killing the sacred python, the emanation of the god of water” (157).

This act creates a major rift between the church and the clansmen. The python is a protected and worshiped animal, similar to how cows are treated in the Hindu faith. Thus, the men of Mbanta debate how they should react to this act. They initially bar the converts from using water sources, but the matter eventually subsides when the man who allegedly murdered the python dies shortly thereafter:

“Okoli was not there to answer. He had fallen ill on the previous night. Before the day was over he was dead. His death showed that the gods were still able to fight their own battles. The clan saw no reason then for molesting the Christians” (161).

Another moment that causes friction between the church and the clansmen occurs in Umuofia when another overzealous convert, Enoch, unmasks an egwugwu in public:

“One of the greatest crimes a man could commit was to unmask an egwugwu in public, or to say or do anything which might reduce its immortal prestige in the eyes of the uninitiated. And this was what Enoch did” (186).

Thus, it is mainly recent converts to Christianity who create strife between the church and their former clansmen. They break tribal taboos in order to demonstrate their faith in the Christian God. 

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