Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Contributed by Jack Shields
Chapter 10

This chapter is dedicated to the description of the public trial in the Igbo society. At a social event in one of the village gatherings, the elders sit on their stools while the other men stand behind them. The women stand slightly away from the men, looking on. A line of nine stools shows the presence of the nine egwugwu, who speak to the spirits of their ancestors. Two small groups of men remain at a distance, and they keep looking at the empty stools. The two sides of the family engaged in the dispute, and members of the public watch on as they wait for the hearing that is to be officiated by the costumed egwugwu, who at last show up from their close-by house with incredible flourish and service. As the egwugwu approach the stools, Okonkwo's wives see that the second egwugwu strolls with the springy walking style of Okonkwo and they also take note that Okonkwo is not seated among the elders, however, they say nothing concerning this strange turn of events.

The egwugwu entertain the case of Uzowulu, who asserts that his in-laws took his wife Mgbafo from his home, and as a result, he demands a return of the bride price from them. Odukwe, Mgbafo's brother, does not deny Uzowulu's charges. He asserts that his family took Mgbafo to save her from the everyday battery by Uzowulu, and he says that she will come back to her husband when the man promises never to beat her again.

After the egwugwu retreat to consult with each other, their leader, Evil Forest, comes back with a decision: He commands Uzowulu to take wine to his in-laws and ask his wife to return home with him. Evil Forest additionally reminds the husband that beating his wife is not brave. Evil Forest at that point teaches Odukwe to acknowledge his brother-in-law's offer and let Mgbafo come back home. After the issue is settled, one village elder is heard saying that he is wondering the reasons that could have allowed such a minor dispute to arrive before them. An elder advises him that Uzowulu does not acknowledge any command unless it originates from the egwugwu.


The writer gives a perspective of the Igbo legal framework with its similarities to Western practices. In the trial of Uzowulu versus his wife's family, the two sides present their cases to the ruling class in society, the egwugwu. The nine egwugwu speak on behalf of the nine villages of Umuofia, and every village has one egwugwu as its representative. Okonkwo has clearly ascended to an elevated position of village eldership if it is true that he is the new egwugwu representing his village.

The egwugwu is similar to a jury presided over by a foreman or judge. For instance, after retiring for deliberations with the eight egwugwu, the foreman/judge comes back with a decision that must be obeyed. People are permitted to watch the procedures inside the boundaries social groups such as men, women and the elders in different groups.

The subject for the consideration of the egwugwu, abusive behavior at home, is a prominent one today, however, the manner by which the community perceives Uzowulu beating his wife is not in line with the present values. The decision is a direct indication that there is a widespread disregard for the rights of women by the Igbo men. After hearing the case, the egwugwu command Mgbafo to go to Uzowulu if he comes back asking her to go back with him; they remind Uzowulu that beating a woman is not a show of being brave or demonstration of being masculine. The primary contention with the ruling is that it feels that the humiliation that Uzowulu will get when he goes to beg his wife is a sufficient punishment. That shows lack of dignity and respect for women in the Igbo society.

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