Since early history, religious institutions that encompass gods, worship centers, and oracles have helped shaped political power in many communities because of the worldview and societal hierarchies they imply. In Chinua Achebe’s book, Things Fall Apart, this is exemplified through its story of the Ibo African village and its encounter with European Christian missionaries. Moreover, Achebe demonstrates how Ibo religious institutions structure Ibo political power through their respected hierarchies that are established by their abilities to affirm their authority, uphold and declare Ibo law, and punish community members who go against their jurisdiction.
The legitimization of political power in a community, on behalf of religious institutions, often requires authority to be clearly affirmed and declared in order for citizens to realize they are inferior to them. Achebe illustrates this through written descriptions of Ibo religious institutions, particularly of the gods and their representatives. For example, Evil Forest, leader of the representative ancestral spirits, egwugwus, proclaims, “I am Evil Forest, I am Dry-meat-that fills the mouth, I am Fire that-burns without faggots” (93). This remark is a declaration of his power in society. Further, the fact that a common citizen immediately responds back to Evil Forest by saying they can never know him and his power shows how such descriptions additionally imply that citizens are inferior to such religious representatives - thus elucidating to the hierarchies religious structure insinuate in Ibo community (93).
Descriptions of Ibo religious structures like shrines also allow community members to feel inferior to the authority of religious institutions. The shrine of the Oracle Agbala for example is built so that darkness predominates the space with only enough light to illuminate the figure of the priestess (16). Its dark and mysterious structure affirms the authority of the Oracle as those who enter it are described to always leave with the fearful power of Agbala (16). Ultimately these descriptions Achebe uses sets the foundation for demonstrating how religious institutions legitimizes the hierarchal system of the political power in Ibo, which further allows them to fulfill other political duties that emphasize their authority in society.
One of these political duties is declaring the law in Ibo. The law is established by gods and declared by religious representatives like priests and oracles. It is essential in Ibo society as exemplified when Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, a boy he adopted into his home, against his own wishes because of an oracle’s instruction (57, 61). Yet, despite Okonkwo’s desire to not kill the boy, he admits that the oracle’s authoritative instruction is not to be questioned no matter the circumstance (67).
Furthermore, the law shows how Ibo’s political power is hierarchal. For example, when Ezeani, priest of the earth goddess, Ani, punishes Okonkwo for breaking...