Critical Reflection on Cultural Artifact For - How Do We Obey?

Critical Reflection on Cultural Artifact For - How Do We Obey?





A cultural artifact can be described as an item that reveals valuable information related to the society which created or used it. Examples of cultural artifacts include painted pottery, coins or anything that provides evidence on the religious, economic, social, or political organization of the persons whom they fitted to. An artifact is used to tell a story. When examining a cultural artifact, other clues are used to assist people connect together pieces to form a more comprehensive picture of the entire society. The role of cultural artifact is to provide information about a culture to the users and its creators. A cultural artifact is thus any type of item or artifact that provides light on the manner in which a specific society lived. The critical reflection paper focuses on the novel: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) as the cultural artefact, and it discusses how the artifact is related to the question: Why do we obey?

Summary of the Artifact

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is an authentic narrative that focuses on the life of people in Nigeria during twentieth century. The novel was published in 1958 Achebe presents a dynamic, complex society to a Western audience who have a negative perception on the African society. For instance, Africa is perceived as simple, primitive, and backward. Achebe believed that it is only the African who could use their experience to tell their story; otherwise it would remain "mistold” (Achebe, 1958). The goal of Achebe was to assist the society reclaim its belief and clear up the complexes related to self-abasement and denigration. In Things Fall Apart, two characters: the unnamed District Commissioner and the Reverend James Smith have been used to promote Europeans' understanding of Africa.  In the novel, Mr. Smith saw no need in terms of compromising unquestionable religious practices and doctrine. Thus, he did not acknowledge any form of benefits to the society by allowing the Nigerians and other tribes to maintain components of their heritage (Reddy, 1995). On the other hand, the District Commissioner prided himself as a student of primitive customs and saw himself as a compassionate leader. In addition, he believed that he had the best intentions to pacify the primitive tribes and to bring them into the contemporary era (Achebe, 1958). In Things Fall Apart, both men were inclined towards European culture and values and tried to show how it was important to the African culture.

In order to counter the inclination towards westernization, Achebe was able to bring life an African culture through the use of artistic tradition, religion, government, a judicial system, and system of money. In the novel, Achebe revealed the Igbo culture as remarkably complex. Moreover, in Things Fall Apart Achebe stereotyped the white colonialists as having imperialistic intentions, while the Igbos were highly individualistic and most of them were open to new ideas. Thus, the novel was written with the intent of battling the ignorance with regard to how Westerners viewed Africa and Africans as well (Achebe, 1958). In addition, Achebe showed how non-foreign and foreign cultures interacted with each other and the effect each had on the local inhabitants. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe shows this interaction by telling how the Okonkwo rose and fell, the greatest wrestler and the other relates to how colonialism influenced Africans (Achebe, 1987; Reddy, 1995). Through the use of Okonkwo, Achebe showed the different facets of Nigerian life and culture. Achebe showed how another culture is experienced across the novel. For example, Achebe showed how farming was conducted, the manner in which gods and spirits ruled the society, and how festivals were conducted and what they implied. He also showed how culture interacted- Western and African cultures. Through the adoption of the Western culture, the Christians destroyed years of cultural artifacts. In addition, they destroyed the cultural aspects that glued people together, how the people were ruled through the use an iron fist, and how it made slaves of the people.

Critical Reflection on the Cultural Artifact

Culture and traditions are primary elements in Things Fall Apart that needed to be obeyed by the colonialists. Achebe told the powerful story of Okonkwo, an Igbo warrior, and his ill-fated attempt to stop the spread of British control and influence in his community. In addition, other than being a powerful man and proud, he possessed personal strength which literally was as a result of his Igbo culture (Esposito, 2010). Through Okonkwo, we are in a position to learn the traditions and cultural heritage of the Igbo community living in Umuofia kingdom. We obey such heritage because it shows how the people were attached to their culture and were proud of their traditions. Okonkwo, in Things Fall Apart, believed on the power of the ancestors and was not willing to convert into Christian.  For instance, he threatened his sons by stating that if he ever converted into Christianity, his ancestral spirit would haunt them at all (Achebe, 1994). From this, we learn that the Igbo society deeply believed on pleasing their ancestors. Thus, when some people accepted Christianity, they ended destroying the years of cultural artifacts, and the elements that held the Igbo people together. Thus, through the life and death of Okonkwo see a man who recognized that the culture and his community were worth preserving and as a result he literary fought the influence of the British.

In Things Fall Apart, women were not to be heard but to be seen when they participated in raising children and farming. The role of women was domestic. Women were not treated with dignity because they were oppressed and viewed as weak.  According to Chinua Achebe, “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wife especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children” (Achebe 1987, p.12). This was a portrayal of a male dominated African society that believed in patriarchy. Thus, women were required to hold inferior position because they were perceived as weaker sex. As an add-on to a man, women were treated as chattels (Sumbul, 2013). In Things Fall Apart, marrying many wives was seen as a symbol of wealth and a sense of manliness. In order to be seen as a man, we learn that Okonkwo killed Ikemefuna so that “he was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe, 1987, p. 55). Therefore, women place in the society was in the family and women were supposed to obey their husbands. Although this could have been degrading in the modern society, it was within the confines of their culture

In Things Fall Apart having twins relates to the cultural artifacts of the community. In, Things Fall Apart, we establish that twins were decreed by the Earth goddess, and “were an offence on the land and must be destroyed. And if the clan did not exact punishment for an offense against the great goddess, her wrath was loosed on all the land and not just on the offender” (Achebe, 1994, p. 125).  Subsequently, in case twins were born, they were left in the “Evil Forest” in order to die. Achebe contended that, “twins were put in earthenware pots and thrown away in the forest” (Achebe, 1994, p. 61). Based on this, the people obeyed their traditions and Earth goddess by throwing their children in the evil forest for them to die. When they died, the people appeased the gods. The cultural and religious beliefs of the Igbo people show how twins were important to the society and the twins were killed out of a fear (Adewumi, 2014). Twins were considered as supernatural beings and in order to avoid any form of devastation upon society, they were left to die. An?unobi (2006) pointed out that as part of promoting the Igbo society artifacts culture, bronze twins have been cast and stored in museum.

An Igbo mask is a kind of artifact that was of importance to the people of West Africa and it was used to communicate to ancestral spirits. In Things Fall Apart, the Igbo speaking people believed in ancestral world and spirits. The people believed that there was a direct link to the world of the living and that death was not the end of journey. Thus, in order to obey the spirits, the masquerades would talk to the spirits through the use of the mask. According to Daniel (2014), the people believed that ancestors continuously watched over the dead and the living from the spiritual world. Thus, in order to obey their ancestors, Igbo traditions required the living to use the mast to speak to the dead. Subsequently, descendants were required to to please their ancestors by performing traditional and cultural ceremonies to prevent themselves from being cursed (Achebe, 1994; Achebe, 1990).  The use of the masks by the Igbo speaking people indicates that approval was needed from the ancestors, and when the spirit was talked to the community would have abundant harvests. Therefore, the mask was a symbol of religion and it connected the living with the dead. Moreover, it was a portal to Igbo religious beliefs and culture that people were required to obey, or die.

In Things Fall Apart, Achebe has attempted to provide guidance to the people as they struggle to make their freedom relevant, functional, and meaningful. For instance, Achebe showed that, “Africa was not a primordial void but has a history, a religion and a civilization” (Reddy, 1995, p. 46). We learn that the Western viewed Africa as a dark continent, but through the novel, he was able to shed some light. Moreover, he tried to convince the Europeans that Africa was not as void as they thought because it has history, culture, and religion which are acceptable by the local people (Innes & Lindfors 1978). We obey the artifact by acknowledging the existence of Africa and its culture before even the Europeans invaded the continent.


Cultural artifact explored in the paper is the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958). The novel is about insights to the Western world that Africa was not as void, dark, and primitive as it was portrayed. By telling the story, Achebe revealed the Igbo culture as remarkably complex. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe has showed how Okonkwo the Igbo warrior believed in his religion and manliness. For instance, he was proud of his culture and changing to Christianity could upset his ancestors. Women belong to the home and weakness was not portrayed by men.  The Igbo people believed that ancestors were to be appeased and communicated to through the use of the Igbo mask.



Reference List

Achebe, C. (1958)Things Fall Apart,  Oxford: Heinemann Writers

Achebe, C. (1987) Things Fall Apart. New Delhi. Arnold Associates.

Achebe, C. (1990). The Novelist as Teacher. Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965 - 1987. New York: Anchor-Doubleday. 

Achebe, C. (1994). Things fall apart. New York: Anchor Books.

 Adewumi, J. (2014) Twins in West African Culture and Society of the Iron Age. A journal of Undergraduate Writing. [Online] Available at: <> (Accessed 15 Nov. 2016).

An?unobi, C. (2006) Nri warriors of peace. Bellevue, WA: Zenith Publishers.

Daniel, A. (2014) The Concept of Death in Early African Societies. A journal of Undergraduate Writing. [Online] Available at: <> (Accessed 15 Nov. 2016).

Esposito, A. M. (2010). Mapping Change: How Colonialism Changed a Man, His Community, and His Culture. . [Online] Available at: <> (Accessed 15 Nov. 2016).

Innes, C. L., &Lindfors, B. (1978). Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. Washington. Three Continents Press.

Reddy, I. (1995). The Novels of Achebe and Ngugi: A Study in the Dialectics of Commitment. New Delhi. Prestige Books.

Sumbul, P. (2013) Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: Exploring the Ibo Culture and the Aspect of Gender Bias. The Criterion: An International Journal in English, 311-314.




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