In the middle of the night, the sound of a drum and a cannon announces the death of Ogbuefi Ezendu, the oldest man in the clan. Hearing this, Okonkwo remembers his last words to him about Ikemefuna and shudders.
The whole village attends the funeral as Ogbuefi was a man with three titles, an achievement that was rare. Since he was a warrior, the funeral abounds in warriors, dressed in raffia skirts. Once in a while an egwugwu spirit makes its appearances from the underworld. Some of them are quite violent and terrifying and often threatening. The most terrifying one is shaped like a coffin, and a sickly odor emanates from him.
The funeral is very befitting of a noble warrior. Before the burial the warriors dance, drums are sounded and guns are fired. A frenzied feeling fills the air as people bemoan the loss of Ogbuefi. The air is full of the smell of gunpowder. In the midst of this ceremony, a cry of agony is heard. Ezudu’s son is found lying dead in the crowd shot by Okonkwo who fired his gun and accidentally hit pierced the young boy's heart.
Okonkwo knows that killing a member of one’s own tribe is a crime against the Goddess of the Earth and therefore he is banished from his village for seven years. He and his family escape to the village of his mother called Mbanta. After daybreak, the men, dressed in garbs of war, set fire to his house, not due to vindictiveness, but to cleanse the land that Okonkwo had polluted. Obierika, his friend, mourns his friend’s calamity.
The climax in the novel is reached in this chapter. Although hints of Okonkwo’s undoing have been foreshadowed so far, such as his brutal killing of Ikemefuna and his infraction during the Week of Peace, this event signals a major downfall in Okonkwo’s status and a blow to his ambitions. In the midst of the funeral, Okonkwo commits the heinous crime of inadvertently killing his clansman, and therefore he has to bear the punishment of being ostracized from the village for seven years. Though Okwonkwo was an important and respected figure in the village, and though his act was inadvertent, the law has to be abided. This shows the importance of law and legal actions in a tribal village in Africa, where one has to accept his punishment, no matter how eminent he is. Like many tragic heroes, Okonkwo is cut off at the height of his powers from ever achieving his ambitions due to fate or bad luck. Yet what makes a hero is how he recovers himself when placed in a dire and difficult situation.
It is ironic that Okonkwo kills the son of a man who had warned him not to kill Ikemefuna, a boy who was like a son to Okonkwo. That there is no precedent for this kind of accident shows how singular this event is in the history of the village and how it will have repercussions even though justice has been dispensed. The chapter’s ending proverb that “If one finger brought soil, it soiled the others,” may allude to Okonkwo’s crime having even more significant repercussions.
Obierika mourns for his friend’s calamity because he cannot comprehend why a man should suffer for an offence he had committed inadvertently. But at the same time he remembers that this is part of the tribal tradition just as abandoning his twin children in the forest had been part of the tradition. Although he is not a vocal about his disagreements with the law, Obierika does question the legitimacy of those laws that tend to hurt more than bring retribution to the land.
Okonkwo’s mother’s brother Uchendu receives Okonkwo and his family and listens to the entire story, arranging the requisite rites and sacrifices, and giving him a plot of ground to build his compound. Each of Uchendu’s sons contribute three hundred seed yams so that Okonkwo can start his farm. Okonkwo and his family work hard on the land but they do so half-heartedly for Okonkwo’s major passion, to become one of the lords of the clan, has been destroyed, and this has broken Okonkwo’s spirits.
The isa-ifi ceremony, where Uchendu’s youngest son Amikwu, is to marry takes place. This is the final ceremony of confession and the bride is made to sit in the middle of a big circle of people and be asked questions about her virginity. This ceremony will determine whether she has been faithful to her fiancé during their courtship. Only then can she become the wife of Amikwu.
The next day, Uchendu calls Okonkwo and his sons together and makes Okonkwo understand that he has come to his mother’s land for refuge, and that he cannot continue to be displeased with his present circumstances nor should he sulk or despair about his fall from power. He tells Okonkwo that if he denies the support of his motherland, then this will displease the dead. He makes him realize that though man is considered the head of a family, it is the mother who is supreme and therefore it is she who will give him renewed energy to start over again. He asks Okonkwo to comfort his family and prepare them for their return to Umuofia in seven years. He ends his talk by saying that worse things could have happened than being exiled to his motherland for seven years.
The isa-ifi ceremony is another traditional custom of the Igbo culture. In this culture, a woman’s virginity is of prime importance, and the woman is questioned about her virginity prior to her marriage. Although men are allowed to marry many times depending on their economic status, women usually marry only once and must have been faithful during the courtship. Two different standards for men and women is a continuing motif in this book where even crimes are categorized into “male” and “female.” Due to his exile, Okonkwo rethinks his chi and realizes that it was not made for great things. He is humbled and aware that what he can achieve in a lifetime is sometimes limited by unfortunate circumstance.
Yet part of his despair at his current situation is that Okonkwo has not only committed a “womanly” crime but is now living in the homeland of his mother. He is separated from the world he is most at home in, where he has power and respect. Now he is weak and relying on the support of relatives. He may see himself as the failure that he thinks his father was. His uncle, Uchendu manages to pull him out of his depression by reiterating the supremacy of the mother, and her land where he has taken shelter. Rather than disparage it, Okonkwo should relish the time he spends here and recover from his ordeal. The comforting and nurturing that he will receive from his mother’s kinsmen will refurbish him. He reminds him of his duty to his family-“if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile,” and admonishes him for not accepting his fate with more dignity and grace. Worse things could have happened, his uncle suggests. Wise words from an elder who has lost many family members and suffered much pain. Thus Okonkwo is reassured and begins his exile in a better frame of mind.
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