As Okonkwo relaxes in his hut after the evening meal, he listens to the voices of his wives and children telling folk stories. Ekwefi relates to Ezinma the tale of Tortoise, which explains why the Tortoise shell is not smooth. Just as it becomes Ezinma's turn to tell Ekwefi a story, they all hear the high-pitched wail of Chielo, the priestess of Agbala. She then comes to Okonkwo's hut and tells him that Agbala needs to see his daughter Ezinma. He begs her to let the child sleep and return in the morning, but Chielo does not listen and proceeds to Ekwefi's hut to find Ezinma.
Terrified of the priestess, Ezinma cries in fear, but she is forced to go with Chielo to Agbala's house in the sacred cave and hangs onto Chielo's back. As Ekwefi watches her only daughter leave, she decides to follow her.
Following Chielo's chanting voice, Ekwefi runs through the forest in the dark. She finally catches up with them but keeps out of sight. The priestess, however, senses that someone is following her and curses her pursuer. Ekwefi lets Chielo get farther ahead and soon realizes that they have passed Agbala's cave. They are heading toward Umuachi, the farthest village. But when they reach the village commons, Chielo turns around and begins to return the way she came, eventually moving toward the cave of Agbala.
Chielo and Ezinma disappear into the cave, and Ekwefi waits outside doubting that she can help her daughter if any harm comes to her. Suddenly, Ekwefi hears a noise behind her and turns to see a man standing with a machete in his hand. Okonkwo has come to take her place outside the cave, but she refuses to leave. She stays with him, grateful for his presence and concern. His strong, silent presence reminds Ekwefi of how she ran away from her first husband to be the wife of Okonkwo.
The oral tradition of storytelling in Igbo culture is a means for teaching history and customs, for passing on legends and beliefs, and for explaining the natural as well as the supernatural worlds. The tradition is particularly well-illustrated in the long story about Tortoise and his shell. The story explains why a tortoise shell is not smooth, but it also reveals the proverb, "a man who makes trouble for others is also making it for himself" — another indication that Okonkwo is bringing misfortune upon himself.
In this chapter, Achebe presents a situation in which Okonkwo and Ekwefi consider their family more important than the customs of their people or even their own personal safety. Despite Chielo's warning about the Oracle Agbala, "Beware, woman, lest he strike you in his anger," Ekwefi risks her life for the sake of her daughter when she chooses to follow Chielo through the woods. And when Okonkwo goes to the cave to help his wife and protect their daughter, he displays behavior uncharacteristic of him — a man who uses village tradition to a fault in killing Ikemefuna.
The priestess Chielo continues to refer to Ezinma as "my daughter," suggesting a relationship that may lead Chielo to choose Ezinma as a priestess. She has twice before acknowledged that Ezinma may have special status because she was, but is no longer, an ogbanje (see Chapters 6 and 9).
snuff a preparation of powdered tobacco that is inhaled by sniffing, is chewed, or is rubbed on the gums.
saltpeter potassium nitrate; used in the preparation of snuff (also in gunpowder and fireworks).
Agbala do-o-o-o! . . . Ezinmao-o-o-o Chielo, the priestess, takes on the voice of the divine Agbala to ask for Ezinma to come to her.
Tufia-a! This sound represents spitting and cursing simultaneously.