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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Describe the Ibo's marriage and family system in Things Fall Apart.

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For the Ibo, family groups were organized based on the father. Having more wives for the Ibo was a great success and a show of wealth. Okonkwo had three wives, and that, combined with his talents and his titles, made him a powerful man in the community.

The marriage system described in Things Fall Apart was a difficult one for the wives. Achebe writes:

His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children.

It mentions that the women were expected to work as much as their husbands, and each member of a family had many tasks to complete. Men were yam farmers while the women tended harvests such as coco-yams, beans, and cassava.

Each wife received her own hut, and the huts were arranged inside Okonkwo's compound, where he also had his own hut. There was a strong distinction in the hierarchy of wives, and his first wife received some benefits that the other wives did not.

Marriage for the Ibo was very much a family affair. The suitor would visit the bride's father as a way of making his intentions clear and, in some ways, asking for permission to marry her. Everything followed traditions and a clear process had to be followed as the father decided whether the suitor was worthy of his daughter.

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The system of the Ibo in Things Fall Apart is based on polygamy and the masculinity of the male being tied to how many wives he can garner and how well he can support them and provide for his wives and their children.  Generally marriages are arranged in some way though there is also clearly room for some influence of the parties involved in the process.

Family ties are extended to include the extended family and they are all expected to try and support each other when necessary, particularly if one family or family group has been successful and others are in need of help in the form of food or work that needs to be done.

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