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Free Study Guide-The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver-Free Summary
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What We Lost: Kilanga, January 17, 1961

(Cluster 1: The village takes a vote on religion and Leah plans to take part in a hunt, dividing the village and bringing the wrath of the village leaders onto her family.)

Leah

Summary

On a Sunday morning, Nathan is preaching from the apocrypha, using a story called "Bel and the Serpent." In the story, the prophet Daniel caught some thieves by scattering ashes on a floor, thereby getting the thieves to accidentally reveal themselves. In the middle of the sermon, Tata Ndu who is sitting just outside the door, interrupts and declares that the people are going to vote on whether they want Jesus or the old gods for their religion. Nathan tries to protest, but Tata Ndu throws his own words regarding elections and improved ways of thinking back at him. If voting is a good thing, then it should be a good thing regarding Jesus as well.

Nathan argues that decisions about elections and Christianity are made in different houses in American. Tata Nguza responds that a white man who cannot even provide food for his own family is not to be considered an expert on which god can protect the village. Nathan explodes, shaking his finger in Tata Nduís face and telling him that he canít even run his own "pitiful" country, but thinks he can take or leave the "benevolence" of Jesus Christ. Tata Ndu remains calm, merely pointing out to Nathan that the African ways had worked fine for centuries before the white man ever arrived. The use of decisions by a majority of one makes no sense to people who have always required unanimous agreement for their decisions. Nevertheless, since "Jesus is a white man" he will understand the law of rule by majority. Jesus loses the vote, 11 to 56.

Rachel

Summary

Rachel begins by blaming Leah for "all" of their problems. According to her, when Jesus was "voted out" at church, Leah stopped any pretense of trying to be polite to their father. However, the real conflict is that Leah has decided to participate in a village hunt, using her little bow and arrow.

The hunt is Tata Nduís way of providing food for the village as everything that had been stored up had been eaten by the ants, and there is almost nothing to eat. The men will start a fire in a circle around a nearby hill. The women are supposed to wave palm branches to drive the fire toward the middle until the trapped animals begin to jump out. Then the man will shoot the animals. Meanwhile older people and children will walk along collecting edible caterpillars or other insects that are roasted by the fire.


Leah plans to go with the men and get meat for their family. Anatole and Nelson agree that Leah is a good shot and that anyone who can shoot should be permitted to. However, the older men, especially Tata Ndu and the witch doctor Tata Kuvudundu are opposed. Tata Kuvudundu spends hours telling stories about poison water coming out of the ground, elephants going berserk and other natural disasters in days past when people tried to change the way things were supposed to be done.

At first Anatole seems to be on Leahís side, but before the argument is over, it becomes difficult to tell. In the end Tata Ndu calls for a vote, which comes out in Leahís favor. Kuvudundu does not accept the vote and makes dire predictions about things that will happen to the village.

At home, Nathan tries to forbid Leah from joining in the hunt, but she defies him. When he tries to whip her, she runs into the forest and spends the night at the schoolhouse.

Anatole finds the first "sign of the curse when he sees a green mamba snake curled up by his cot the next morning. He sees the snake by the morning light because he had decided to lie in bed and read awhile rather than getting up as his usual time.

Adah

Summary

Adah begins by explaining some Congo words. "Muntu" is the part of self that cannot die; it persists unchanged whether the person is alive, dead or yet unborn. "Nommo" is the force of will or the power that comes with having a name. Nommo is a combination of will and spirit. Adah says that in America she was a failed combination of a too-weak body and an over strong will, but in Congo she is all those things perfectly united and identified by her name.

The night before the hunt, the entire village assembles for a dance in which they name all the things they fear. Early in the morning they gather at the appointed place and beat down the tall grass. When Tata Ndu gives the signal, they set fire to the grass with torches. As the fire moves, Adah joins in with the other children collecting and eating caterpillars, locusts and crickets.

Eventually antelope, bushbuck and warthog begin to jump through the fire, meeting their fate at the ends of the arrows. Adah sees a bizarre poetry in this way of life; the death of something living is the price of survival for every life on earth.

Notes

This section moves the plot along by setting the stage for the climax of the novel. While Rachel blames Leah for all of their problems, everyone has a part to play except Adah whose role is slightly different here. Nathan contributes to the events that happen by failing to provide for his own family and by preaching from a section of the Bible that mainline Protestants consider invalid. The girls apply his sermons in unexpected ways, and the trick with Daniel will be remembered later.

Tata Nduís successful vote against Jesus gives him the notion that the men of the village will vote against Leah, but she is a good shot, her family needs food, and the election does not go his way a second time.

While Rachel does not openly resist her sister, the climax will close the door to Georgia for her forever. Her self-centered attitude will also finish the wedge that is already driven between them.

Leah does engage in an action that will turn the old witch doctor against them. Her goal, however, is not to antagonize but to obtain food for the family. In joining the hunt, she is exhibiting her own character. She was not afraid of the jungle from the start, was active in trying to help her father create a garden, has explored the jungle on their trips for water and has, along with Adah, learned the words for African plants and animals from Nelson and Pascal. She does not understand fully why a woman canít do anything she wants to do just as she could back home, and Anatole encourages her in her action by taking her part in the debate. It is the last time she will fly in the face of African custom.

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