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Ikenga Shrines and Iron Horses

A Reader's Guide to Chinua Achebe's THINGS FALL APART

Cathy Kroll, Author

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Igbo cosmology and Key Terms in THINGS FALL APART

Within Igbo cosmology (conception of the universe and the human experience within it), there are a number of sacred symbols to help human beings navigate their way through life. 

Chukwu: the Igbo name for God

chi: one's personal spirit that watches over one as an ally (or as a malevolent spirit) and has already decided one's fate. In Igbo belief, it is well understood that one must propitiate one's chi in order to remain on good terms with it and to ensure favor in this life, 

Ikenga: An Ikenga is a carved statue that forms a shrine representing a man's declaration of his power in the world. Traditionally, as a young man is readying himself for a profession, he carves out of wood an Ikenga that usually accentuates a powerful, active right arm. The Ikenga shrine is then installed prominently outside of his hut. The Ikenga is a statement by the young man that, with the strength of his right hand and the aid of his chi, he will be successful in his endeavors.

ancestors: Within Igbo cosmology, the ancestors define one's identity and form a direct conduit to the spirit world. In traditional Igbo belief, the ancestors guide and accompany individuals throughout their lives.

egwugwu: a masked figure representing a god or spirit that appears during ceremonial events.

titles: Males in traditional Igbo society can accumulate sufficient wealth and status in their community to be able to acquire one or more "titles," which designate them as revered individuals.

*A note on the pronunciation of Igbo names and terms: all vowels and most consonants are pronounced; the vowel /e/ is pronounced as a long /a/; thus:  Achebe is pronounced "a chay bay," with the accent on the second syllable. The name of Nwoye, Okonkwo's son in Things Fall Apart, is pronounced "Na wo yay," with the accent on the second syllable. Students of Nigerian culture will notice that there are two spellings for the Igbo ethnic group: Igbo and Ibo. The former is the spelling preferred by Igbos themselves (i.e., the autonym), whereas the latter is the spelling that British missionaries and colonial administrators used.

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