Summary of Chapter Nine
The next day, Ekwefi rouses her husband, Okonkwo from sleep to tell him their daughter Ezinma is dying. Ezinma shivers and Okonkwo proclaims it is the iba or fever. He goes into the bush to cut the herbs and plants to cure it, makes a fire, boils the herbs and makes Ezinma inhale the steam until she sweats, and the fever breaks.
Ekwefi’s extreme panic over her child’s sickness is explained, for she has lost eleven babies and become bitter and anxious. Many medicine men are consulted about the problem, and it is concluded she bears an ogbanje or evil child who keeps reincarnating to plague the mother. One medicine man takes the infant corpse of the third child and cuts it up and leaves it in the Evil Forest so it won’t return. Ekwefi resents the good luck of the other wives with their children, but her bitterness flows mostly into herself, and she blames her evil chi or fate.
Ezinma is a special child, considered an ogbanje, and lives, with Ekwefi anxiously watching over her. Periodically, she falls sick and Ekwefi despairs, but when she is well, she is bubbly and vivacious, and is Okonkwo’s favorite. It is believed Ezinma was saved when a medicine man discovered and dug up her iyi-uwa, or stone that kept her tied to the spirit world of the ogbanje. After that she lived and was well.
Commentary on Chapter Nine
The magical beliefs of the Igbo are delved into with the incident of Ezinma’s illness, for she is believed to be an ogbanje, a troublesome child that keeps dying and being reborn. Ezinma is an extraordinary girl, and plays up her role and takes advantage of her special position. Her mother spoils her with eggs and other forbidden foods, trying to keep her well. At nine years of age, Ezinma leads the people and medicine man on a chase for her magic stone, iyi-uwa, that is supposed to keep her tied to the spirit world. She points to a spot and the medicine man and her father dig all day a hole so deep that they cannot be seen. Finally a stone wrapped in a cloth is found and the child is saved. Ezinma trades and interprets traditional stories of the tribe with her mother and calls her Ekwefi instead of mother. In every way she indicates she is special, and she gains the attention of the priestess, who gives her sweets. Ezinma alone understands Okonkwo, and he grieves that she was not a boy.
Summary of Chapter Ten
A court case takes place on the village ilo between Mgbafo and her brothers and her husband, Uzowulu, and his relatives. The egwugwu, or the masked men impersonating ancestral spirits, who judge the case, emerge from the sacred hut. There are nine for the nine villages, and the women and children run, so fearsome are they. The chief is called Evil Forest. Each village came from one of the sons of the first father of the clan.
It seems that Okonkwo is one of these masked elders with horns on his head, representing his village, but no one even thinks that, for the maskers are now the ancestral spirits themselves. The husband presents his case that the brothers of his wife took her and their children away and refused to give back the bride-price. The brother speaks and says the husband was cruel to the wife, beating her every day, even when she was pregnant. She ran away to save her life. Witnesses are called, and then the judges go into the hut.
Evil Forest gives the judgment. The husband must go to the in-laws and make peace and beg his wife to return, and the in-laws must accept. The elders speak among themselves about why such a case came before them. One answers, this is the only kind of decision Uzowulu will listen to.
Commentary on Chapter Ten
Igbo justice is based not on hard and fast rules, but on keeping the peace. The men masquerading as the ancestral spirits have authority and are not looked on as their personalities. Okonkwo must transcend his limitations in this instance and help to find the just solution. In this case, it was simply that the situation needed to come to light in public, so the husband would be more restrained in private. There is no thought about finding guilt or punishment; merely, to find a workable solution that brings peace to the clan.
The irony of this is that Okonkwo is playing the role of the judge while he has a similar problem as Uzowulu’s at home—he is a violent man who cannot restrain himself. Okonkwo has chance after chance to learn his lesson but does not take the hint or admit he is wrong.