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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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The Things We Didnít Know: Kilanga, Sept. 1960


(Cluster 1: The people begin to recognize that the Price family has no money and cease their attempts to sell and trade eggs, fish and fruit; Nelson tries to explain African culture to Adah, and Ruth May and Orleanna both remain ill with malaria)



Leah and her father return to Kilanga but the people who gathered to welcome them on their first arrival are poignantly absent. The small stipend provided from the mission organization is ceased altogether, leaving them penniless for even the low priced vegetables and fruit supplied by the village market. In time the people cease to visit the missionaries with the food items they had been accustomed to trading for a few coins or trinkets. Only Mama Mwanza, the woman with no legs, continues bringing them oranges. She promises to share her sonsí fishing catch if it is good, and-although Leah does not find out until later-she occasionally has her sons place eggs from her own chickens under the chickens in the missionary hen house. Ruth May remains sick and Orleanna wanders about the house half dressed and in a dreamy stupor.



Nelson explains some of the intricacies of the Kikango language to Adah. In the African culture, a person is not alive until he or she is given a name, yet everything that exists is believed to have a spirit. It makes perfect sense to Adah and helps her to understand how she and Leah could come from the same egg and yet be so different. In the African sense, the difference is because they have different names.

When Nelson is made to understand that Adah and Leah are twins, he reacts in horror. African women take twin babies to the forest and abandon them as sacrifices to the gods. He explains-albeit unwittingly-that some of the people who attend the church are women who have a propensity for twins and are listening to the Christian way because Jesus does not ask them to abandon twin babies. Others who attend the church are lepers and two men who have committed the unpardonable sin of killing either a clansman or a child. Adah renames her fatherís church the "church of the lost cause."

Ruth May


The child remains deathly ill. She dreams that she is in the top of an alligator pear tree and is looking down on everyone.


One of the immediate effects of independence is that the Price family no longer gets paid for being white Christians. It takes everything Nathan has to bribe Axelroot to return himself and Leah to Kilanga; if Leah has a hard time believing that the attitude of the people has changed, it is even more difficult for the people to imagine a white family with no money. For a while the people continue to bring fruit and manioc to exchange for Belgian francs, but gradually they begin to realize that the Priceís are no better off than they are. Leah begins to understand a different meaning of friendship and caring when Mama Mwanza, the woman with no legs, feels sorry for them and tries to share her own meager stores. Nelson explains that the Orleanna and Ruth May are sick because of a curse. Although Leah doesnít accept that, Nelsonís prediction that the next one to be tested will be the "termite," or Rachel is foreshadowing of a coming conflict between the Price family and Tata Ndu.

The closer association between the girls and Nelson reveals more intricacies of the language along with some ironic meanings. "Batiza," Nathanís fixed passion from the very first day, means baptism when pronounced one way and "to terrify" when pronounced a bit differently. Nathan was never willing to listen to the finer details of Kilanga life and culture, and Ruth May had observed earlier that the people were really more afraid of her father than actually convinced to love Jesus.

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