Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
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.