Summary of Chapter Six
The village assembles to watch the wrestling, the sons or slaves carrying stools for elders. Okonkwo has a place of honor. The drummers are in front of the sacred silk-cotton tree, on which the souls of good children waited to be born, and women who wanted children would sit under its shade.
Teams of boys in different age groups compete. One boy who gains fame is Maduka, son of Obierika. In the crowd, Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, chats with Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Cave, about her child, Ezinma, who is a favorite with the priestess. Ezinma is now ten, and the priestess assures her that children usually stay if they live past six.
Teams of twelve men each challenge each other and fight in pairs. These men are from all the nine villages of Umoufia. The two leaders, Ikezue and Okafo, fight last, to the screaming of the crowd. Okafo wins and is shouldered and sung to as the victor.
Commentary on Chapter Six
We see the villages of Umoufia at the height of their strength and joy during the wrestling matches. The drums unite the people with the earth, and the feast and the wrestling make all feel secure. Even Ekwefi, who is always worried Ezinma will die, as her other children did, is assured by the priestess that the girl will stay. The main concern at this moment is who will win the wrestling. This is a celebration that unites everyone, and it comes right before the first of the tragedies that marks the decline of Okonkwo’s luck, and the luck of Umuofia.
The interesting fact is thrown in casually that there are slaves in Umuofia, a fact the narrator does not explain or excuse. This will be an important point when the Christians arrive. The slaves are captives or hostages given to the gods. They have no place in society and are ruled by the village council. Ikemefuna has no idea he is in such a position because he is treated as a son in Okonkwo’s household.
Summary of Chapter Seven
Ikemefuna was in Okonkwo’s house for three years and had almost forgotten his former life. He is like an older brother to Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son. Okonkwo knows that the good changes in Nwoye are due to the influence of Ikemefuna, who is a gentle, clever, agreeable and hardworking young man. Okonkwo hopes Nwoye will be a masculine man able to rule his wives, so he has Nwoye and Ikemefuna come to his obi where he tells them stories of violence and war. Nwoye, however, prefers his mother’s stories of the tortoise’s tricks and the other animal stories and myths. He pretends he no longer likes women’s stories.
One year the locusts come, as they do in long and regular cycles, in the cold harmattan season. The people are joyous because locusts are a delicacy. They catch and roast them. Okonkwo is happily crunching locusts with the boys and drinking palm-wine, when Ezeudu, the oldest man in the tribe approaches him. He warns Okonkwo that Umuofia has decided to kill the hostage Ikemefuna, and that Okonkwo should be careful not to have a hand in his death, for the boy calls him “father.”
Okonkwo tells Ikemefuna he is to be taken home, and when Nwoye bursts into tears, Okonkwo beats him. The men take Ikemefuna into the forest and kill him ceremonially because it had been ordered by the Oracle. Ikemefuna is carrying palm-wine on his head and is unafraid because his father Okonkwo is with him. When the other men start to cut him down with machetes, he turns and pleads with his “father” who gives the final blow, killing Ikemefuna.
When Nwoye sees his father come back, he knows Ikemefuna has been killed, and something snaps in him, like the time he discovered the crying infant twins in the Evil Forest.
Commentary on Chapter Seven
The cruel customs of the Igbo come to light here, such as killing the innocent hostage, Ikemefuna, and the custom of throwing out or abandoning twins as an abomination. Nwoye seems to have the gentleness of his grandfather, Unoka, in him, which is why Okonkwo is so hard on him. Nwoye naturally had taken to the kind treatment of Ikemefuna as an elder brother, and knowing that his father had a hand in killing the boy could hardly make him respect his father. He connects such cruelty to the inexplicable custom of abandoning twins in the Evil Forest where all bad things are put. This is where Okonkwo’s father was left to die of an unclean disease. The warriors did not take Ikemefuna there but out of the village limits to kill him, for fear of contaminating the village.
Okonkwo has been warned not to participate in this ritual killing and yet he does. Even if he felt bound to go, he needn’t have struck a blow himself. Yet the fear in him is greater than his reason. His fear of being thought weak rules him, and so he strikes the final blow that kills his foster son. Ezuedu had warned him against it because of the relationship between him and the boy. It would offend the earth to kill one’s own child or family member. Okonkwo has not committed an official sin, but it is a sin in the account book of the earth; it is the turning point of his own story.
The narrator makes the incident particularly tragic by switching to Ikemefuna’s point of view, his thoughts of home, his mother, her song, and finally, his trust in his foster father. We also see the horror of it in Nwoye’s reaction, his total repulsion for his father.
Summary of Chapter Eight
Okonkwo stays in his hut and drinks palm-wine for two days after Ikemefuna’s death. He tries to make Nwoye stay with him, but he is afraid and slips out when his father falls asleep.
Only Ezzinma can handle her father. She brings him fish on the third day and stays with him while he eats. Okonkwo thinks she should have been a boy. Then he goes to visit his friend Obierika and congratulates his son on his wrestling victory. Okonkwo voices his fears about Nwoye’s manliness, and Obierika says he is too young to worry about but secretly thinks that Nwoye is like his grandfather rather than his father. Okonkwo asks Obierika why he did not participate in the ritual killing of Ikemefuna, and Obierika says he did not want to.
Okonkwo says it was the will of the oracle that the boy be killed, and asks Obierika if he questions the Oracle. Obierika says no, but the Oracle did not ask him to carry it out, and he further tells Okonkwo that he should have stayed home too, for the Earth will not be pleased that he killed one of his household.
In the middle of their argument, a villager comes with the news that old Ogbuefi Ndulue has died. There were no drums announcing the death because his old wife, overcome, died at the news, and they have to bury her first. The story is told that Ozoemena and Ogbuefi had one mind. He told her everything. Okonkwo shakes his head, saying he thought Ogbuefi was a fierce warrior.
Okonkwo begins to recover in talking with his friend. They discuss the traditions, and how the title of ozo means something in their clan but not in some other villages. It comes cheaply and is not respected. They rejoice that they live in a strict village that holds to the law.
Okonkwo is in his friend’s hut during a betrothal ceremony of his daughter Akueke to a suitor. She is sixteen and beautiful, rubbed with cam wood and painted with patterns on her body, and decorated with jewelry and waist beads. Meanwhile the men drink and bargain over the brideprice. Obierika agrees to twenty bags of cowries for his daughter. The men drink and gossip, and the women bring food.
Commentary on Chapter Eight
Okonkwo recovers from his guilt as soon as he has something to do. He still does not get the point he has done anything very wrong in killing the boy, even when his friend rebukes him. He has not broken any law, after all. It is telling that Okonkwo does not understand the devotion of the old couple who died together; after all, Ogbuefi Ndulue was a great warrior, he says! Why should he confide in his wife? No soft emotion seems right to him, and this casting off of everything feminine or emotional makes Okonkwo rigid in his beliefs and rash in his actions.
His rigidity comes out in the discussion of tradition; for instance, the ozo rank has become watered down in other villages, and, the men joke that in some places the children belong to the women, which is as bad as the woman lying on top of the man.
An elder reminds them: “what is good in one place is bad in another place” (Ch. 8, p. 74). There is in general a spirit of tolerance and balance among the Igbo that goes beyond mere rule of law. Okonkwo thinks manliness is in fulfilling the letter of the law and the rank, but that is not what keeps the tradition alive. Okonkwo is a respected man of rank, but he is not one of the wisest of the clan.
Ominously, the group makes reference to the strange white men they have heard of and make a joke that they are white like lepers, for that is the disease of the “white skin.” Ironically, the life of the Igbo is about to change in much larger ways than they can imagine.