In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe there is much emphasis placed on religion. It is, however, threatened by the presence of the new missionaries who bring Christianity to the village of Umuofia. The new missionaries oppose their polytheistic religion and convert some of the Ibo to Christianity. Umuofia’s stability and structure is then threatened by the new white men who have impacted the midst of the villagers.
When the missionaries originally arrived, they were not seen as too much of a threat. They were given land in the Evil Forest, which was seen as fitting as they were considered evil. They began to gain converts, but these were the “efulefu, worthless empty men.” these men were not respected and had no titles or anything to lose by joining the church. The respected men therefore did not see them as threats to their village at this point in time. Even as the church gained more followers, the higher-ranked men were convinced that their powerful gods would rid the village of the Christians and that they would die in the evil forest. There were multiple factors that lead to the success of the missionaries’ endeavors in converting the villagers. These include the missionaries gaining information and knowledge of the village from
the elders as they forced a good relationship with them. Also, they were earning great amounts of money from the developments that the missionaries had made in the village, which would in turn fund the missionary work. Such developments included the trading store which increased prices of palm oil, kernel and other such items which brought in great profits for the village. In addition to this the missionaries were sent into the Evil Forest for a length of time and were expected to die. However they survived the period which in turn, led the villagers to believe that the missionaries’ God was better than
those of the villagers.
The two reverends Mr. Brown and Rev. Smith had very different approaches to converting the Ibo people. Reverend Brown is quite open minded and seeks to have the Christians and heathens live together in harmony. He approaches the villagers with respect for their religion and seeks to understand it rather than simply forcing his beliefs on them. This can be seen in his conversation with Akunna, who explains the traditional gods to him, mentioning Chukwu, the main god who created the
minor gods to help carry out his will. Akunna compares this hierarchy to the Queen who sends her District Commissioner to Nigeria who in turn employs Kotma to help him carry out his work. Similarly, Chukwu cannot do all his work alone so he created the minor gods. Mr. Brown learns a great deal about the clan’s religion through this and therefore concludes that ‘a frontal attack would not succeed.’ Instead of an attack on the villagers, he attempts to convert them through aiding the village in progress. He builds a school and a small hospital. After begging, arguing and prophesying, he finally gets a positive response from the villagers, young and old. Unfortunately, Mr. Brown had to leave due to his deteriorating health, causing Mr. Smith, his replacement to take over.
Mr Smith is quite a contrast to Mr. Brown. Where Mr. Brown was accepting and respectful in his approach to the villagers, Smith is, on the other hand, aggressive and volatile in his approach to converting the villagers. He does not respect the customs of the villagers, and so makes no attempt to understand them and imposes his will
upon them. This can be seen in how he encourages Enoch to be overzealous in opposing the heathens, which his predecessor strongly opposed. Enoch crosses a line when he unmasks an egwugwu, in effect, ‘murdering’ him. This causes the other egwugwu to destroy the church in retaliation, to avenge the ‘death’ of their comrade. In the aftermath, the district commissioner arrives, under the pretense of settling the dispute through discussion. Instead, he arrests the six men who show up to the trial, all
respected men of title. These men are subsequently humiliated and ill-treated in prison, even though they were not involved in the original dispute. This incident demonstrates the heavy handed and aggressive manner in which Mr. Smith deals with his flock and those who oppose them.
In conclusion, the people of Umuofia did not initially respond well to the missionaries’ arrival. However, over time, they began to accept them. This was partly due to the newfound prosperity and progress the missionaries brought to Umuofia with the introduction of the trading post. It was also due to the open-minded and tolerant manner in which Mr Brown approached them and their religion.However this positive atmosphere would be disturbed by the arrival of Mr Smith and his aggressive approach.