Full Glossary for Things Fall Apart
abomination anything hateful and disgusting.
about sheep and goats / about wheat and tares Two frequently quoted teachings of Jesus relate to the need for separating the good from the bad. In one, he refers to separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32); in the other, separating the wheat from the tares, or weeds (Matthew 13:30). Mr. Smith was obviously much concerned about dividing the community between the good (the Christian converts) and the bad (the traditional Igbo believers). Not coincidentally, his suspension of a convert is also based on a quotation from Matthew (9:17).
about ten thousand men The nine villages of Umuofia unlikely have as many as ten thousand men. This saying probably means every man of the community — an example of hyperbole, an exaggeration not intended to be taken literally.
agadi-nwayi an old woman.
Agbala do-o-o-o! . . . Ezinmao-o-o-o Chielo, the priestess, takes on the voice of the divine Agbala to ask for Ezinma to come to her.
Agbala, the Oracle the prophet of the Igbo. Achebe bases the Agbala Oracle (the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves) on the Awka Oracle that was destroyed by the British. Chielo was the priestess who spoke to Unoka on behalf of the god Agbala.
albino a person whose skin, hair, and eyes lack normal coloration because of genetic factors: albinos have a white skin, whitish hair, and pink eyes.
alligator pepper a small brown fruit of an African shrub, whose hot seeds are like black pepper; also called offe. The seeds may be ground and blended with kola nut in the ritual welcome of visitors.
Amadiora the god of thunder and lightning.
And these white men, they say, have no toes The white men's toes are hidden because they are wearing shoes.
Ani the earth goddess who owns all land.
anklet of his titles When a man achieves a title, he wears a special anklet to indicate his title. He may wear more than one anklet to indicate more titles.
Aru oyim de de de dei! egwugwu language translated as greetings to the physical body of a friend. The egwugwu speak in a formal language that is difficult for the the Umuofians to understand. Each of the nine egwugwu represents a village of the Umuofian community. Together, the egwugwu form a tribunal to judge disputes.
The body of the white man, I salute you. The egwugwu speak indirectly, using a formal language of immortal spirits.
bride-price in some cultures, money and property given to a prospective bride's family by the prospective groom and his family.
bull-roarer a noisemaker made from a length of string or rawhide threaded through an object of wood, stone, pottery, or bone; a ritual device that makes a loud humming noise when swung rapidly overhead.
calabash the dried, hollow shell of a gourd, used as a bowl, cup, and so on.
callow young and inexperienced; immature.
cam wood a dye from a West African redwood tree that is used by women to redden their skins before decorating themselves with other patterns for special occasions.
cassava any of several plants (genus Manihot and especially M. esculenta) of the spurge family grown in the tropics for their fleshy, edible rootsticks that produce a nutritious starch. Here, the plant also provides valuable leaves for livestock feed as well as tubers, which are prepared like coco-yams.
caste rigid class distinction based on birth, wealth, and so on, operating as a social system or principle.
chalk a material that represents peace. The Umuofians use chalk to signify personal honors and status by marking the floor and the toe or face, according to the level of honorific title they have taken. For example, Okoye marks his toe to indicate his first title.
chi a significant cultural concept and belief meaning one's personal deity; also one's destiny or fate.
Chielo the name of the current priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves.
Chukwu the leading god in the Igbo hierarchy of gods.
coco-yam the edible, spherical-shaped tuber of the taro plant grown in the tropics and eaten like potatoes or ground into flour, cooked to a paste, or fermented for beer. Here, the round coco-yam (a woman's crop) is a different tuber than the elongated-shaped yam (a man's crop).
compound an enclosed space with a building or group of buildings within it.
court messengers the native Africans hired by the British to carry out their law enforcement activities; also called kotma. Kotma is a Pidgin English word derived from the words court and messenger.
cowries shells of the cowrie, a kind of mollusk related to snails and found in warm seas; especially the shells of the money cowrie, formerly used as currency in parts of Africa and southern Asia.
creepers plants whose stems put out tendrils or rootlets by which they can creep along a surface as they grow.
the D.C. the District Commissioner.
defecates excretes waste matter from the bowels.
desecrated to have taken away the sacredness of; treat as not sacred; profane.
efulefu worthless men in the eyes of the community.
egusi melon seeds prepared for a soup.
egwugwu leaders of the clan who wear masks during certain rituals and speak on behalf of the spirits; the term can be either singular or plural.
Eke day, Afo day The Igbo week has four days: Eke, Oye, Afo, and Nkwo.
ekwe a drum.
emissary a person or agent sent on a specific mission.
eneke-nti-oba a bird that flies endlessly.
entrails the inner organs of humans or animals; specifically, the intestines; viscera; guts.
esoteric intended for or understood by only a chosen few, as an inner group of disciples or initiates (said of ideas, literature, and so).
evangelism a preaching of, or zealous effort to spread, the gospel.
Evil Forest the name of the leader of the egwugwu; also the name of the forest where taboo objects and people are abandoned.
Eze elina, elina a favorite song of Ikemefuna's about how Danda the ant holds court and how the sand dances forever; it was introduced as a story at the end of Chapter 4.
Ezeugo the name for a person of high religious significance, such as an Igbo priest.
Ezinma Ekwefi and Okonkwo's daughter; meaning true beauty. She is also called Nma and Ezigbo, which mean the good one (child).
fetish any object believed by some person or group to have magical power.
Go-di-di-go-go-di-go. Di-go-go-di-go the sound of drumbeats on the ekwe, or drums.
a great medicine a supernatural power or magic that may take the shape of a person. In the Umuike market, the medicine assumes the shape of an old woman with a beckoning, magical fan.
a great queen Queen Victoria, reigning head of the British Empire for sixty-four years (1837-1901).
guttural loosely, produced in the throat; harsh, rasping, and so on.
gyre a circular or spiral motion; a revolution. The word appears in the book's opening quotation from a W.B. Yeats poem, "The Second Coming."
harbingers persons or things that come before to announce or give an indication of what follows; heralds.
harmattan a dry, dusty wind that blows from the Sahara in northern Africa toward the Atlantic, especially from November to March.
heathen anyone not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim; especially, a member of a tribe, nation, etc. worshiping many gods.
I am Dry-meat-that fills-the-mouth / I am Fire-that-burns-without-faggots two phrases suggesting that Evil Forest is all-powerful. Faggots are bundles of sticks for burning.
I cannot live on the bank of a river and wash my hands with spittle. One must act according to one's fortune and circumstances; spittle is one's spit.
iba fever, probably related to malaria.
Ibo a member of a people of southeastern Nigeria; known for their art and their skills as traders. Today, the word is spelled Igbo (the g is not pronounced).
Idemili title This title, named after the river god Idemili, is the third-level title of honor in Umuofia.
Ikenga a carved wooden figure kept by every man in his shrine to symbolize the strength of a man's right hand.
ilo the village gathering place and playing field; an area for large celebrations and special events.
impudent shamelessly bold or disrespectful; saucy; insolent.
iron horse the bicycle that the white man was riding when he apparently got lost.
isa-ifi the ceremony in which the bride is judged to have been faithful to her groom.
It is female ochu. Crimes are divided into male and female types. Okonkwo's accidental killing of Ezuedu's son is considered manslaughter and therefore a female crime.
iyi-uwa a special stone linking an ogbanje child and the spirit world; The ogbanje is protected as long as the stone is not discovered and destroyed.
Jesu Kristi Jesus Christ.
jigida strings of hundreds of tiny beads worn snugly around the waist.
a just war Societies throughout history have rationalized certain wars as justified for religious or cultural reasons. For example, in the fifth century, St. Augustine of the early Christian church wrote extensively about the just war; the Crusades of the late Middle Ages were initiated as holy wars; and today's Muslim word jihad means holy war.
kernels the inner, softer part of a nut, fruit pit, etc. Here, found in the fleshy remains of the palm nut after its husk is crushed for palm-oil. The kernels can be processed by machine for the extraction of a very fine oil.
kites birds of prey with long, pointed wings and, usually, a forked tail; they prey especially on insects, reptiles, and small mammals.
kola nut the seed of the cola, an African tree. The seed contains caffeine and yields an extract; it represents vitality and is used as a courteous, welcoming snack, often with alligator pepper.
leprosy a progressive infectious disease caused by a bacterium that attacks the skin, flesh, nerves, and so on; it is characterized by nodules, ulcers, white scaly scabs, deformities, and the eventual loss of sensation, and is apparently communicated only after long and close contact.
making inyanga flaunting or showing off.
markets Igbo weeks are four days long, and the market day is on the first of day each week; therefore, three or four markets is a period of twelve to sixteen days.
Mbaino This community name means four settlements.
Mbanta The name means small town and is where Okonkwo's mother comes from, his motherland, beyond the borders of Mbaino (Ikemefuna's original home).
monkey tricks possibly a racial slur directed at the natives.
the new dispensation the new system; the new organization of society under British influence.
Nna-ayi translated as our father; a greeting of respect.
nso-ani a sin against the earth goddess, Ani.
the nuts of the water of heaven hailstones.
nza a small but aggressive bird.
obi a hut within a compound.
ogbanje a child possessed by an evil spirit that leaves the child's body upon death only to enter into the mother's womb to be reborn again within the next child's body.
Ogbuefi a person with a high title, as in Ogbuefi Ezeugo (the orator) and Ogbuefi Udo (the man whose wife was killed in Mbaino).
ogene a gong.
ogwu medicine, magic.
Okonkwo The name implies male pride and stubbornness.
Okoye an everyman name comparable to John Doe in English. Okoye represents all the people to whom Unoka owes money.
Oracle the place where, or medium by which, the deities are consulted; here, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves.
ostracize to banish, bar, exclude, etc. from a group through rejection by general consent of the members.
osu a class of people in Igbo culture considered outcasts, not fit to associate with free-born members of the clan.
Osugo The name means a low-ranked person.
ozo a class of men holding an ozo title; it also refers to the ritual which accompanies the granting of a title to a person.
palaver a conference or discussion, as originally between African natives and European explorers or traders.
palm fronds leaves of a palm tree. Here, they are tied together in clusters for "beating the ground" or the legs and feet of the pushing crowd.
pestle a tool, usually club-shaped, used to pound or grind substances in a mortar, or very hard bowl.
plantain a hybrid banana plant that is widely cultivated in the Western Hemisphere.
prophets of Baal Mr. Smith is comparing the pagan worship of the warrior god Baal, mentioned in the Old Testament (I Kings 18) to the Igbo religion. The Israelites saw the worship of Baal as a rival to their worship of God, causing the prophet Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.
python a very large, nonvenomous snake of Asia, Africa, and Australia, that squeezes its prey to death.
raffia 1) a palm tree of Madagascar, with large, pinnate leaves. 2) fiber from its leaves, used as string or woven into baskets, hats, and so on.
resolute having or showing a fixed, firm purpose; determined; resolved; unwavering.
sacrament of Holy Communion the most sacred ritual of participating Christians.
saltpeter potassium nitrate; used in the preparation of snuff (also in gunpowder and fireworks).
sharecropping working land for a share of the crop, especially as a tenant farmer. Here, Okonkwo works as a sharecropper to obtain seed-yams.
silk-cotton tree any of several large, tropical, trees (genera Bombax and Ceiba) of the bombax family that have capsular fruits with silky hairs around the seeds. Here, the tree is revered because it contains spirits of good children as yet unborn.
singlets men's undershirts, especially the sleeveless kind.
snuff a preparation of powdered tobacco that is inhaled by sniffing, is chewed, or is rubbed on the gums.
superfluous being more than is needed, useful, or wanted; surplus; excessive.
taboo any social prohibition or restriction that results from convention or tradition.
tie-tie a vine used like a rope; from Pidgin English to tie.
Tufia-a! This sound represents spitting and cursing simultaneously.
twenty and ten years Igbo counting may not have a unique number for thirty, which is thus counted as twenty and ten. Similarly, in French, seventy is counted as sixty-ten, and eighty is four twenties.
twins two born at the same birth. Here, according to Igbo custom, twins are considered evil and must be placed in earthenware pots and left to die in the forest.
udu a clay pot.
uli a liquid made from seeds that make the skin pucker; used for temporary tattoo-like decorations.
umuada daughters who have married outside the clan.
umunna the extended family and kinsmen.
umunna the extended family, the clan.
Umuofia kwenu a shout of approval and greeting that means United Umuofia!
Umuofia The community name, which means children of the forest and a land undisturbed by European influences.
Unoka Okonkwo's father's name; its translation, home is supreme, implies a tendency to stay home and loaf instead of achieve fame and heroism.
a war of blame In Chapter2, the villagers state that a "fight of blame" (which Okonkwo expects the peacemakers to label this fight against the strangers) would never be sanctioned by their Oracle, which approves only a "just war." Therefore, what Okonkwo is considering may go beyond even the clan's traditions — a fight for which they may not have full justification from their gods.
Week of Peace In Umofia, a sacred week in which violence is prohibited.
wherewithal that with which something can be done; necessary means.
Who is the chief among you? The kotma (court messenger) guards see by the anklets that all six leaders own titles and joke that they must not be worth much.
yam foo-foo pounded and mashed yam pulp.
yam pottage a watery gruel made of yams.
Yes, sah Yes sir; the form may be Pidgin English and illustrates how the native-born court messengers submitted to the orders of their white bosses — at least on the surface.