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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.Notes
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.