Women’s role in Things fall apart. Igbo women reveals itself to be prematurely simplistic as well as limiting, once the reader uncovers the diverse roles of the Ibo women throughout the novel. An excellent example of powerful women in the Ibo village is found in the role they play in the Ibo religion. The women routinely perform the role of priestess. The narrator recalls that during Okonkwo’s boyhood, “the priestess in those days was woman called Chika. She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared” (17).
The present priestess is Chielo, “the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the hill and the Caves” (49). There is an episode during which Chielo has come for Okonkwo and Ekwefi’s daughter Ezinma. We are told, “Okonkwo pleaded with her to come back in the morning because Ezinma was now asleep. But Chielo ignored what he was trying to say and went on shouting that Agbala wanted to see his daughter . . . The priestess screamed. ‘Beware, Okonkwo! ‘ she warned” (101). There is no other point in the novel in which we see Okonkwo “plead” with anyone, male or female, for any reason.
We witness a woman not only ordering Okonkwo to give her his daughter, but threatening him as well. The fact that Okonkwo allows this is evidence of the priestess’s power. The ability of a woman to occupy the role of a priestess, a spiritual leader, reveals a clear degree of reverence for women being present in Igbo society. Another example of such reverence for women is unveiled in the representation of the earth goddess, Ani. Ani is described a playing “a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. in Chapter fourteen, when Okonkwo returns to his mother’s clan after being exiled from the Ibo village. Uchendu, reproaching Okonkwo for his sorrow about having to come to live with his mother’s clan, explains: It’s true that a child belong to its father. But when a father beats his child
Upon delving beneath this deceiving surface, one can see that the women of the clan hold some very powerful positions: spiritually as the priestess, symbolically as the earth goddess, and literally as the nurturers of the Ibo people, the caretakers of the yam crops and the mothers and educators of the Ibo children.