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Why did people turn away from a religion that satisfied their material and social needs and

adopt a foreign religion?

The novel things fall apart evolves around two contrasting religious world views namely that of

Christianity and that of Nigerian Indigenous Religious world view. The former is portrayed as

liberating superior, a new dispensation as well as the reason behind the fall of the Nigerian

indigenous religious system. The latter on the other hand though brutal and savage it is a communal

local one responsible for the material and social economy of the indigenous people. However, that

as it may seem, the important question that is raised and answered in the book is why did

Christianity super cede and erode indigenous religions in Africa. Though the setting of Chinua

Achebe book is largely precolonial Nigeria, if artists are taken as thinkers, then one can use Chinua

Achebe’s thinking to explain why Christianity decimated indigenous religion in Africa. On the

evidence of the book, the fall of indigenous religion can be attributed to the following namely the

material economy, conscientious objection, technological superiority, colonial system of divide

and rule and evolution of religion.

To begin with, Things Fall Apart sets itself around the collision course of two religions. The book

as it were produces complex scenarios of integration as well as of conflict between African

Religion and Christianity. The result was the decimation of Indigenous religion. Which in itself

becomes another thing which falls apart contributing to the title of the novel. Indigenous religion

is described as a basically centered around the worship of ancestors. They Prayed to their ancestors

for life and health and for protection against their enemies (Achebe,1958:5). It is a religion that

provided for their material economy the book describes how Unoka the father of Okonkwo had to

visit the oracle of Agbala to get explanations as to why he was failing in harvests p.13 which in all

does confirm religion as behind the material economy of the indigenous people. In the same sense

the social cohesion of the community was maintained and realized through religion. For instance,

the daughter of Okonkwo Enzima existence is assured through religion (p.62).

Furthermore, society is ordered through ritual ceremonies in honor of the gods. At one time

Okonkwo is in trouble for offending the gods for beating his young wife on a sacred day. As such

the descriptions we get about the religion was that it was intertwined to the annual life of the

village. There was spiritual harmony in the land. Nevertheless, the question has to be asked if the

status quo was such why did the villagers abandon such a religion.

The first response to the question comes form the book itself, the effect of the death of Ikemefuna

on Nwoye (a convert to Christianity) the son of Okonkwo “a vague chill descended on him and

his head had seemed to swell, like a solitary walker who passes the evil spirit on the way”. (p:43).

The expression shows the conflict as well as the resentment the young man experiences towards

the religion that was so fond of revenge and killing. He had heard about the killing of twins and

now the death of Ikemefuna. Thus, the religion here is presented as brutal that use human being as

sacrifice. The same is experienced by the Nneka who converts to Christianity who had had four

pairs of twins thrown away because it was an abomination to bore twins (p:107). The fact these

two with similar backgrounds abandon religion does suggest that perhaps religion was too brutal

and Christianity here is presented as liberating. Hence it was a case of conscientious objection.

Secondly the religion of the white men is somewhat presented as superior. That is at the heart of

the beliefs of the natives in the book was the invincibility of the evil forest. The evil forest is

described as alive with sinister forces and powers of darkness (p.105). So, when the missionaries

requested for land they were given the evil forest. The belief was that because of the known myths

about the evil forest the missionaries would not see the day and expected them to be dead within

four days (p.106). Let us give them a real battlefield in which to show their victory (p.105). when

their expectations that did not occur as they wished everyone was puzzled (106). It became known

that the white men faiths had unbelievable power. (p.106). after this incident we see man turning

to the new religion. Thus, one can give the explanation that Africans abandoned their religions

because Christianity to a certain extent defied the mysteries and myth that cradles in indigenous


Often when colonialism is considered in the context of Africa fingers are often pointed at Christian

as the instrument through which the colonialists used to achieve their objectives of colonizing

Africa. However, in this book it seems Christianity benefited much from colonialism not the other

way around. This is the case when Abame a village killed a white missionary. The response of the

colonialists who had guns on Abame were catastrophic. (p.98) The whole village was wiped. This

is in some sense shows that the missionaries were being backed by the guns which later restrained

the African form physically chasing away Christianity amongst them. This same fact is further

heightened in the book when the Church was destroyed in Umuofia (p.135) the district

commissioner a representative of the colonial masters came to the defense of the Christians by

arresting the leaders among the men of Umuofia. Thus, colonialism had a pacifying effect on

indigenous religion such that it allowed Christianity to flourish at the expense of Indigenous

religious systems which perhaps necessitated the environment on which Christianity could

convince the natives.

Equally attached to the above point is the fact of divide and rule method. Christianity was

championed by the blacks on other blacks. Thus, it was easy to for Christianity to be successful

since others had embraced it and testimony of its goodness was evident such that those who tried

to resist it were outnumbered for instance Okonkwo had to commit suicide a sign he had lost the

battle. His fellow people had betrayed their traditions. Actually, Okonkwo came to be fetched by

another black man. When he killed the messenger he is even asked why did he do it?(p.145)

Above all the new religion brought with it a new material economy that was absent in the

indigenous religion. That is in chapter 21 states that men and women in Umuofia did not feel

strongly as Okonkwo about the new dispensation. (p126) That is the new dispensation brought

with it a trading store and for the first-time palm oil and kernel became things great price, and

much money flowed into Umuofia (p 126). Thus, was may conclude that the material economy

associated with this new religion was empowering and attractive enough for indigenous people to

abandon their religion for the new religion.

In the final analysis this paper was an attempt to give reasons as to why Christianity decimated

indigenous religion in Africa. As has been seen in the essay Christianity used both subtle and

aggressive means to win converts. The conversion can thus be said to have been both forced and



Achebe, C; (1959), Things Fall Apart,Heinemann,Harare