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Chapters 16 and 17

Chapter 16

Obierika pays his next visit to Okonkwo two years later. White missionaries have already arrived in Umuofia and have begun converting the efulefu, or worthless and weak men in the tribe. Obierika tells Okonkwo that his son Nwoye has been seen among the missionaries. Okonkwo doesn't want to tell the story, so Nwoye's mother does.

A white man showed up in Mbanta with six foreign Africans, including one Ibo man that they can understand even though his dialect is quite different from theirs. He proclaims that they worship false gods of wood and stone and must convert to the true God in order to reach heaven when they die. Then the Christians begin to sing a hymn, which enthralls the villagers much more than the speech they had heard. Okonkwo throws the evangelists into confusion by asking them whether this God had a wife, since he had a son. Meanwhile, Nwoye's callow mind is struck by the hymn's image of brothers who sit in darkness and fear. He thinks of Ikemefuna and of abandoned twins crying in the forest, and has sympathy for the new religion.

Chapter 17

The white man asks to talk to the king of the village. They explain that there is no king, and bring him before the council of elders and men with high title. The missionaries ask for a plot of land to build their church. The elders decide to offer them a portion of land in the Evil Forest where they bury people who died of foul diseases such as leprosy and smallpox. To everyone's amazement, the missionaries thank them, build their house, and do not immediately die from a confrontation with the evil spirits who inhabit the Forest. The missionaries win their first three converts soon after.

Nwoye is immediately attracted to the new faith, but at first stays away and tries to hide his interest from his father. The white man heads back to his headquarters in Umuofia, and leaves his interpreter, a Mr. Kiaga, in charge of the congregation at Mbanta. Mr. Kiaga holds services and singing every Sunday. The villagers get excited because they believe the gods sometimes bide their time, but never allow anyone to defy them for longer than seven market weeks, and this divine deadline is coming up soon. However, the date passes uneventfully, and Mr. Kiaga wins new converts, including his first woman, Nneka, who had borne four sets of twins only to see them all immediately thrown into the bush, and who was now far gone in a new pregnancy.

Okonkwo's cousin Amikwu spots Nwoye among the Christians and tells Okonkwo. Okonkwo falls into a fury and beats Nwoye, who does not flinch, but leaves the compound and never returns. Nwoye asks Mr. Kiaga to send him to the white missionary's school in Umuofia. Okonkwo is very upset at losing his son, and even wonders if Nwoye is really his, because he seems such a weakling. He shudders at the idea of his sons and grandchildren deserting to the white man's religion, and no-one honoring him or his forefathers when their spirits crowd round the ancestral shrine after death. Okonkwo's nickname is "Roaring Flame," and he finally accepts Nwoye's defection by understanding that living fire, like himself, begets cold, impotent ash.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4
Chapters 5 and 6
Chapters 7 and 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapter 13
Chapters 14 and 15
Chapters 16 and 17
Chapters 18 and 19
Chapters 20 and 21
Chapters 22 and 23
Chapters 24 and 25
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25


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