Six missionaries, headed by a white man, travel to Mbanta. Through an interpreter, the white man speaks to the village. The interpreter’s dialect incites mirthful laughter because he always says “my buttocks” when he means “myself. ” He tells the villagers that they are brothers, sons of God. He states that they worship false gods of wood and stone. He states that their mission is to persuade the villagers to leave their false gods and accept the one true God. The villagers do not understand how the Holy Trinity can be accepted as one God. Okonkwo thinks the newcomers must be insane.
He had hoped Mbanta would drive them away. However, Nwoye is captivated. The “poetry of the new religion” seems to answer the vague misgivings he harbored regarding the deaths of Ikemefuna and twin newborns. The missionaries request a plot of land. The village leaders and elders give them a plot in their Evil Forest. They believe that the forest’s sinister spirits and forces will kill them. To their surprise, nothing happens. Three converts join the church. The villagers remember that sometimes their ancestral spirits will allow an offending man a grace period of twenty-eight days before they punish his sins.
They are astounded when nothing happens after twenty-eight days. The church wins more converts, including a pregnant woman, Nneka. Her four previous pregnancies produced twins, and her husband and his family are not sorry to see her go. One of Okonkwo’s cousins notices Nwoye among the Christians and informs his father. When Nwoye returns, Okonkwo chokes him by the neck, demanding to know where he has been. Uchendu orders him to let go of the boy. Nwoye leaves his father’s compound and travels to a school to learn reading and writing.
Okonkwo wonders how he could ever have fathered such an effeminate, weak son. The church wins many converts from the efulefu, title-less, worthless men. The missionaries also rescue twins thrown into the Evil Forest. However, they never bring them to the village, so the villagers do not take issue with them. The missionaries work hard at persuading their converts to allow the osu, the outcasts, to join the church. The missionaries remain firm in allowing them to join the church, and the hesitant converts settle their doubts. Almost all the osu join. One boasts that he killed the sacred python.
Okonkwo urges Mbanta to drive the church out with violence. They vote to ostracize them instead. Okonkwo thinks bitterly that they are a “womanly clan. ” The man who boasted of his crime dies of an illness, so the village ceases to ostracize the converts. Before Okonkwo returns to Umuofia after his exile, he provides a large feast to thank his mother’s kinsmen. He regrets losing time in his rise to status and influence in his own clan, but he is also grateful to his mother’s family. His bounty surprises his kinsmen. An old man of the family praises Okonkwo’s devotion to the kinship bond.
He expresseses worry for the younger generation because Christianity is winning people away from their families and traditions. Okonkwo has planned since the first year in exile to re- build his compound on a larger scale. He plans to take two more wives and get titles for his sons upon his return. He still regrets that Ezinma is a girl. She understands him best of all his children. He requested that she wait to marry after his exile, and she agreed. She persuaded her sister, Obiageli, to do the same. Okonkwo hopes to attract interest when he returns with two beautiful, marriageable daughters.
However, Umuofia is much changed after seven years. The church has grown in strength, and the white men subject the villagers to their justice system. They are harsh and arrogant. Okonkwo is disgusted that his clan did not drive the white men and their church out. Obierika explains sorrowfully that the church has weakened the ties of kinship, so it is too late. The introduction of the European missionaries is not entirely a sorrowful event. Rather, it contains some comical elements. The villagers react to the humorous moments with relatively good nature, making fun of the interpreter’s dialect.
They do not see the missionaries as a threat, and they do not react violently like the village of Abame, even though the missionaries call their gods “false gods” outright. To the missionaries’ credit, they do not forcibly thrust Christianity on the village as was often the case when Europeans colonized indigenous peoples. The arrival of Christianity did bring good things for some individuals. Nwoye is drawn to the religion because it seems to answer his long held doubts about aspects of Ibo religion, specifically the abandonment of twin newborns and Ikemefuna’s death.
The Christian church also offers refuge to lower status individuals. A pregnant woman who has seen four sets of her twin newborns thrown away to die seeks refuge to avoid the possible repetition of her misfortune. The church offers her an alternative religious value system that will allow her children to live should she give birth to another set. Men without titles find affirmation of their individual worth. The osu are able to leave their position as a despised, ostracized caste and enter the church as equals with other converts. Okonkwo wants Mbanta to drive away the Christians with threats of violence.
However, he has a vested interest in the rejection of Christianity. If Mbanta does not drive the missionaries away, his killing of Ikemefuna loses part of its religious justification. The damage to his relationship with Nwoye seems more pointless than before. Both matters become his mistake rather than the result of divine will. Moreover, high status men like Okonkwo view the church as a threat because it undermines the cultural value of their accomplishments. Their titles, their position as religious authorities, and clan leaders lose some of their force and prestige if lower status men convert.
Nwoye’s conversion kills Okonkwo in spirit. Although he has always treated his son harshly, he also had placed a great deal of hope in Nwoye’s potential as a great clansman. His son’s actions also undermine his status and prestige. However, it is Okonkwo’s inability to adapt to the inevitable change that colonialism brings that ultimately ends his relationship with Nwoye. He is the one who cannot accept his son’s decision. Nwoye is clearly pained by his father’s angry reaction. However, despite the challenges that the church represents, Mbanta is content to live and let live for the most part.
Basically, the village reacts according to Ibo commitment to peaceful, friendly relations. Conflicts arise when the converts and the missionaries openly disrespect their customs, but the clan leaders vote for a peaceful reaction. Okonkwo, on the other hand, wants to react violently. Although Ibo culture strongly emphasizes relatively democratic values, Okonkwo is not happy with their decision to keep the peace. He wishes that the village would act against their cultural values in order to preserve them. Essentially, Okonkwo’s own insecurity is the motivation for his reaction.
However, it is necessary to recognize that the arrival of the white colonists and their religion does weaken the fundamental structure of Ibo culture. Ibo religion is intimately connected to kinship bonds. Therefore, a devout Ibo individual automatically expresses strong loyalty to his kinsmen. Ancestral worship plays an extremely important role in Ibo religion. Therefore, conversion to Christianity is partly a rejection of the Ibo structure of kinship. The Christians tell the Ibo that they are all brothers and sons of God.
However, Christian religion replaces the literal ties of kinship with a metaphorical kinship structure through God. They clearly emphasize the metaphorical kinship with God over the literal kinship relations in the community. After his argument with Okonkwo, Nwoye approaches a missionary and tells him that he wishes to go to school in another village. Overjoyed, the missionary states, “Blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for my sake. ” Therefore the Christian church is well aware that the central obstacle to the success of its missionaries is the strength of Ibo kinship bonds.
Therefore, it goes to great effort to weaken the literal kinship bonds of the Ibo community to replace them with the metaphorical kinship bond through God. Moreover, the white colonial government subjects Ibo individuals to their justice system. Therefore, the colonial government often does not respect the Ibo culture’s own advanced institutions for self-government. Many of their punishments also destroy the offender whereas the Ibo’s own justice system tries very hard to allow the individual to atone for his wrongs without destroying him or his relationship to his community.
Okonkwo’s feast is a tribute to the kinship between his family and his mother’s family. However, it is also a mourning rite, because the colonial government and religion will eventually weaken the mystical, religious power and symbolism of the Ibo kinship structure. However, Ezinma remains a comfort to Okonkwo throughout his troubles. She understands her importance to his position in the community, and she has considerable influence over her sister. Moreover, she also has a quick temper like her father. Of all his children, she resembles him the most.