In ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe, yams are a crop grown exclusively by men. They represent wealth and masculinity to the Umuofia clan. Yams are so important to the Umuofia that their daily lives and celebrations are organized around this vital crop. Growing yams is labour intensive, and the size of the man’s fields and harvest say much about his work ethic. Yams are grown to gain wealth and also to feed one’s family. They are a symbol of masculinity and ability as a provider.
Okonkwo, the main character gets his start at yam farming by asking the wealthy Nwakibie for help. Okonkwo has not inherited any wealth from his father Unoka, who was a spendthrift and drunkard, but he knows that yams are vital to his success in life. Nwakibie helps Okonkwo to begin his farming operation. Okonkwo had asked for four hundred seeds, but Nwakibie was so confident of Okonkwo’s success that he gave him eight hundred seeds. The erratic weather devastates Okonkwo’s first crop, but he manages to recover because of his hard work and determination. Others do not fare so well that year, and one man hangs himself because his yam crop has failed. This event demonstrates that for the Umuofia, successful yam production is crucial. “Yam, the king of crops, was a very exacting king.” For three or four moons it demanded hard work and constant attention from cockcrow till the chickens went back to roost. The yams also had religious significance because Okonkwo’s father could not understand why his yam crop’s yield is less than the average farmers, so he consults the Oracle of the hills and caves, every year he gave a sacrifice of a cock to Ani and kill a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, ‘the god of yams’, to increase cultivation of yams in his field.