Two things that I’ve noticed a particular prominence of during interactions between characters throughout Things Fall Apart are palm wine and kola nuts. They are used not only in rituals of respect between friends and neighbors, but also as sacrifices to the gods and chi. They are mentioned so often that I became a little curious as to more details of how they fit into Nigerian culture.

 

Palm wine had been significant throughout West Africa since before colonialism. As shown in the book, men often drink this traditional alcohol at home gatherings where they talk or tell stories. However, while Things Fall Apart generally shows that women have very little role in this part of the culture, they are now more able to take part in this. The drink itself is thought to help with high blood pressure, gout, malaria, and other ailments. In addition to this, drinking the dregs of the wine is believed to increase the production of breast milk in women and sperm in men, which is alluded to in the story when the men decide that Igwelo should be the one among them men to drink this part because he had just married his first wife and it is assumed that he will want many children.

 

A main part of the tradition of the kola nut is the breaking of it. Though it can vary slightly, what was demonstrated in the book is generally how this ritual is followed: the host passes a plate of kola nuts to the most senior member of the group present, who passes it to the next senior member and so on until it returns to the host. Once the host regains the plate, he gives one of the nuts to his visitor and say, “When the kola nut reaches home, it will tell where it came from.” This is a proverb meaning that this person will have to show the people at home this nut as proof of his visit. After this, the oldest man present blesses the nuts by saying, “Whatever good he is looking for, he will find.” Then either the host or a selected person will break a nut, followed by people close to him breaking the others. The significance of breaking this nut is that the more pieces it breaks into, the more prosperity the host and his gusts receive; however, if it breaks into only two parts, it shows that the host has some sort of sinister motive.
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