Okonkwo finally sleeps well after three nights but is roused out of his sleep by Ekwefi, his second wife, who tells him that his daughter, Ezinma is dying. He goes out to collect leaves and bark to ease the child’s fever.
Ezinma is the center of her mother’s world as Ekwefi has suffered a great deal, having lost nine children in infancy. They had tried all they could to discover what the problem is but all the medicine man could say was that she kept giving birth to an ogbanje, a child who dies young because an evil spirit possesses it and re-enters the mother’s womb to be born again. By the time Ezinma was born, Ekwefi had lost her will and accepted her fate with resignation. When she lived for six years, her mother realized that she may stay and loved her with all her might. She thought that her troubles had ended when Ezinma’s iyi-uwa was unearthed, but now she is ill again. The iyi-uwu was supposed to break the connection between the objanje world and Ezinma.
Okonkwo brings in a bundle of grass, leaves, roots and barks of medicinal trees, puts them in a pot and boils them. Once it is cooked, he rouses Ezinma and makes her sit beside the steaming pot to inhale the steam. A mat is thrown over her head. When the mat is removed, she is bathed in perspiration. Soon she falls asleep after lying on a mat.
Ekwefi’s losing nine children denotes an age when scientific and medical knowledge about childhood diseases was unavailable and a child was considered safe only after he lived for three to four years. Because women’s highest achievement is to bear children, Ekwefi’s lack of them, especially of a male, is a disgrace to herself as well as a reason for self-chastisement. The naming of her children coincides with the depth of her despair, because they were named Onwumbiko-’ Death, I implore you’, Ozoemena’- May it not happen again’, and even Onwuma-’Death may please himself’, when she had reached the ends of despair.
Ezinma, though willful, has bouts of illness. The digging of the iyi-unea, which is a small pebble wrapped in a dirty rag, denotes an age-old African tradition which believes that a person will live once her bond with the world of Ogbanje is broken. Ogbanje is a changeling, a child who repeatedly dies and returns to the womb. When Ezinma is asked where her iyi-unea was hidden, she takes them through an unnecessarily convoluted path, until she shows the tree under which it is buried. Once the pebble is discovered, the troubles were considered to have come to an end.
The inconsistent results of such customs is emphasized when Ezinma falls sick even after her iyi-unea had been unearthed. Only the herbal treatment given by her father brings her temporary belief. Okonkwo’s immediate response to his daughter’s illness once again shows him to be a man of deep feelings and bonds despite his inability to show this more emotional side of him.
A very dramatic public ceremony is described in detail that involves meting out justice. On the village commons, folks gather, with elders sitting on stools and the rest of the village men behind them. Nine stools are placed for the egwugwu to sit. Egwugwu represent the spirits of their ancestors and are respected members of the community who can dispense justice in trials. Women stand on the edges of the circle, looking in the direction of the egwugwu house. A gong is loudly blasted and the guttural voice of the egwugwu is heard. When he makes his appearance, it is very dramatic as he wears a fearful looking mask and pretends to scare the women. Along with him, nine other masked men emerge. Okonkwo’s wives notice that one of the egwugwu walks with a springy step such as Okonkwo does. They also notice he is absent from where the elders sit.
The leader of the egwugwu called Evil Forest speaks some words, and they sit in order of seniority. The hearing then begins. It involves a man named Uzowulu whose wife was taken away by him by her family. He wishes that either she return or they pay him his bride-price. The women’s brother argues that she has been rescued because she is beaten every day and that she will return on the promise that he never hit her again.
After discussion among the egwugwu, Evil Forest returns with a verdict. He tells Uzowulu to bring wine to his wife’s family and beg his wife to return to him. He also expresses disgust at Uzowulu’s cowardice in beating women and askes him to accept his brother-in-law’s offer. Afterwards, one elders discusses the trivial nature of this case and another says that Uzowulu would accept any decision other than the egugwu. Next a land dispute is discussed.
Despite their formidable and somewhat theatrical presence, the egwugwu and their system of justice are similar to Western society’s notion of a fair public trial. The men who conduct the hearings are the senior members of the society, and have political as well as economic power, but they mask themselves to hide their identity, so that a fair judgment can be given. Here each party is given a chance to state their case and then the egwugwu leave to debate a verdict as well as a punishment or remuneration.
Arbiters of justice have often been traditionally represented as fearful and all-powerful beings. In Greek society, the Furies, wild spirits who inhabited the Earth, sought revenge for those who had been violated. They meted out the same punishment regardless of mitigating circumstances and were depicted as grotesque and blood-thirsty women, representative of the crimes they were seeking retribution for. Eventually, Athena bestowed them with a greater title, that of being arbiters of justice, and their fury was domesticated into what is now seen as the beginnings of justice by trial rather by retribution in the Western world. Similarly the egwugwu although fierce-looking and frightening meted out justice fairly. This combination of drama and jurisprudence can be seen in Western courtrooms today.
The dismissive attitude one of the elders shows for a trial of this kind reveals the lack of power and respect that women had in this society. Not only does the women’s brother speak for her, but she has no say in the verdict handed to her husband. Whether or not she wants to return is overlooked by the larger economic reason for her return. Her husband’s hand is slapped for being so violent but other than that he is not punished for his crime, simply fined.
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TheBestNotes.com Staff. "TheBestNotes on Things Fall Apart".
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