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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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How does Achebe's belief in chapter 16 undermine the missionaries' attempts to discredit the traditional religion?

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Also in this chapter, the missionaries tell the Igbo their gods are only wood and stone and make the people do terrible things, such as killing innocent children. The men of the village laugh at this, thinking the missionary has lost his mind. They also are confused by the message of the missionaries. They talk of one true God and then bring up his son, leaving them to wonder if God has a wife. One missionary speaks through an interpreter, so his response adds to their confusion. The interpreter speaks a different dialect and refers to himself as "myself". He's actually referring to himself as "my buttocks," and this makes the men of the village laugh even more.

Achebe shows through the humor in this chapter how ridiculous the missionaries were in trying to preach to the Igbo. They have no idea of how to relate to the Igbo, and they don't bother to learn about their culture or rituals. The only people in the village who respond to the missionaries are those who have been ostracized in some way by the leaders of the community, such as mothers of twin babies or men who didn't attain wealth and status. Acheb shows how unreasonable the expectations of the missionaries are. They think they can go into the villages and change generations of traditional beliefs and rites. Their impact changes the economic, political, and social life of the Igbos.

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Chinua Achebe grew up in a traditional Nigerian environment while also being the product of Protestant Christian parents, so he saw first hand the clash of traditional Nigerian culture/religion and Christianity.  In chapter 16 of this novel, the missionaries attempt to explain the message of Christianity, while crtiticizing the Nigerian culture and religious practices.  To the Nigerians, this presentation is humorous, confusing, and sometimes offensive. The missionaries say there is only one God yet talk about the Christian concept of the Trinity; they say the Nigerian customs are wicked; they shun the idea of the Nigerian gods which have been worshiped for generations. 

One of Achebe's purposes in this novel is to show the importance and value of traditional Nigerian culture which early missionaries completely rejected as barbaric and tried to destroy.  In this chapter, Achebe undermines the missionaries by showing that the Nigerian culture was valuable and the strategies the missionaries used only served to destroy aspects of Nigerian life rather than working with Nigerian culture to introduce their ideas and beliefs.

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