Things Fall Apart , the 1958 novel by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, is considered a major work in modern world literature and an African classic. In the novel's ninth chapter, Achebe discusses what the Igbo tribe of southern Nigeria calls an ogbanje child. This is a child who, according to traditional beliefs, repeatedly dies and returns to its mother's womb to be reborn again.

Igbos traditionally believe that it is impossible to bring up an ogbanje child without it dying. This is because the child is believed to have a special link with the spirit world, and this connection is maintained through a charm called an iyi-uwa, which the child has hidden somewhere. According to belief, only when this iyi-uwa is uncovered and destroyed by a powerful medicine man, who is able to outwit the child, can the child live.

Unfortunately, most ogbanje children die too young to be questioned. In this particular episode in his story, Achebe paints a dramatic picture of the battle of wits for the iyi-uwa between a medicine man and a child who has somehow managed to live to the age of six.

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August 21, 2006

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