Okonkwo had just prepared for bed when the town crier’s voice is heard. The message is that every man of Umuofia is to meet at the market place the following morning. He wonders whether Umuofia will go to war and thinks how fearful his father was of war and how he himself has been a great warrior in the past, bringing home his fifth human head.
The next morning, the marketplace is full of people, and Ogbuefi Ezeugo, a powerful orator, informs them that a daughter of their village had been murdered by some men from Mbaino, the adjoining village, when she visited its market. An ultimatum is given to Mbaino, asking them to choose between war and an offering of a young man and a virgin as compensation. Okonkwo is sent to negotiate. Umuofia is highly feared by its neighbors for its power; therefore Mbaino chooses the latter proposal and Ikemefuna, a young lad of fifteen and a virgin are sent to Umuofia. The girl is sent to the murdered woman’s husband to replace her and Okonkwo is requested to keep the lad for the time being while the villagers decide what to do with him. Okonkwo hands over the lad in the care of his most senior wife, mother of his oldest son, Nkoye. Ikemefuna is frightened, as he does not understand why he has been separated from his family.
Okonkwo fears being called weak and therefore he rules his house with a stern hand. Everybody fears his explosive temper. Okonkwo’s house has a large compound. He has his own hut, or obi and each of his three wives also have their own huts. They also have a ‘medicine house’ or shrine where the wooden symbols of Okonkwo’s personal gods are kept. Okonkwo works in his farm for long hours and he expects others to do the same.
The stratification of labor based on gender is one of the most significant traditions of Igbo society seen in this chapter. What are womanly and what are manly actions will have repercussions in the chapters to follow, but here it is seen to be strictly divided. Men are respected and successful, which is often shown in the number of wives they have whereas, woman are restricted to household activities and childcare.
Okonkwo is seen here as a man fearful of being seen as womanly or agbala, a word that not only means woman but represents a lack of economic success. The two are equated and therefore reveal the little power woman have in this society. So frightened is he of being seen as soft, Okonkwo exagerates his manly qualities, being severe and tyrannical and not containing any emotions that are not associated with masculinity.
Okonkwo’s rules his house in a tyrannical manner. This is mainly because of his desire to distance himself from the kind of weakness his father used to exhibit. Keeping weakness of any kind at bay becomes an obsession with Okonkwo and is his tragic flaw and pushes him to “extract” respect from his family members. That his eldest son Nwoye, is lazy causes Okonkwo extreme anxiety, though the boy was only twelve years old. This obsession with masculine behavior will result not only in personal tragedy but will affect Igbo society as a whole with the invasion of British culture.
The concept of revenge and the justification for war is also shown in this chapter in the town meeting. If any woman of the village is defiled or murdered by a man from another village, revenge is taken in the form of a war or an offering. When the orator speaks about the murdered woman, the entire crowd is swept with anger. Any man or woman of the village is considered to be part of its family and therefore the villagers demand revenge. This scene is a typical example of a ceremonial town meeting where the speaker greets the crowd while turning in all four directions.
The division of the sexes is not just in social behavior but manifests itself physically as in the set up of individual obis, or huts, with the man’s obi being the central focus of his unit while the wives form a circle around his. Also, the Igbo worship the gods with an offering of kola nut, food and palm wine. These gods may take the form of wooden objects representing not only personal gods but ancestral spirits as well.
Certain superstitions of Igbo culture have been portrayed in this chapter. It is said that in the night, dangerous animals become even more sinister, so a snake should never be called by its name since it can hear but should instead be called a string. The powerful aspects of language are shown here to have both good and bad qualities.
In moonlight however, the tempo is different and the old remember their youth. One of the Ibo proverbs to define this was “When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk”. This saying represents the belief of the moonlight being the protector in contrast to the darkness.
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