During Okonkwo's second year in exile, his good friend Obierika and two other young men pay him a visit in Mbanta. After his introduction to Uchendu, Obierika relays tragic news about the village of Abame.
One day a white man rode into the village on a bicycle, which the villagers called an "iron horse." At first, the people ran away from the man, but the ones who were less fearful walked up to him and touched his white skin. The elders of Abame consulted their Oracle, which told them that the white man would destroy their clan, and others were on their way, coming like locusts. Confronting the villagers, the white man seemed only to repeat a word like "Mbaino," perhaps the name of the village he was looking for. They killed the white man and tied his bicycle to their sacred tree.
Weeks later, three other white men and a group of natives — "ordinary men like us" — came to the village while most villagers were tending their farms. After the visitors saw the bicycle on the tree, they left. Many weeks later, the whole clan was gathered at the Abame market and then surrounded by a large group of men; they shot and killed almost everyone. The village is now deserted.
Okonkwo and Uchendu agree that the Abame villagers were foolish to kill a man about whom they knew nothing. They have heard stories about white men coming with guns and strong drink and taking slaves away across the sea, but they never believed the stories.
After their meal together, Obierika gives Okonkwo the money that he received for selling some of Okonkwo's yams and seed-yams. He promises to continue giving Okonkwo the profits until he returns to Umuofia — or until "green men [come] to our clan and shoot us."
Recall from Chapter 8 the joking reference to white men as lepers. Now, in Chapter 15, Obierika tells a story of how the first white man ever seen in Abame is initially a matter of curiosity, especially his skin color and perhaps his bicycle. When the villagers consult their Oracle, however, it predicts that white men will be instruments of disaster for the clan. Only then do the villagers take violent action against this individual white man, an action criticized as premature by Uchendu. Although Okonkwo agrees that the men of Abame were foolish for killing the white man, his response, "They should have armed themselves with their guns and their machetes even when they went to the market," illustrates that Okonkwo defies the Umuofian custom not resort to violence without first trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement and seeking the acceptance of war by its Oracle. The Oracle never accepted a war with the white men, but it warned the villagers that the white men would spread destruction like "locusts." Ironically, the white men represent the coming of the locusts from Revelation in the Bible; the village will be destroyed, and among the villagers who aren't harmed, nothing good will come to them.
Of course, the retaliation by a large group of white men later — wiping out the entire village — is out of proportion to the initial crime. But this excessive action is Achebe's way of beginning the novel's characterization of extremist whites and their oppressive, often uninformed and insensitive attitude toward the natives. From this point on, the two groups are depicted as adversaries, and future conflict seems inevitable.
The Abame disaster is based on an actual event in 1905, in the community of Ahiara. More information about the incident and its consequences appears in the earlier section "A Brief History of Nigeria."
The chapter ends with a light-hearted exchange that seems ominous only when the ending of the novel is revealed:
Okonkwo: I do not know how to thank you.
Obierika: I can tell you. Kill one of your sons for me.
Okonkwo: That will not be enough.
Obierika: Then kill yourself.
Okonkwo: Forgive me. I shall not talk about thanking you any more.
albino a person whose skin, hair, and eyes lack normal coloration because of genetic factors: albinos have a white skin, whitish hair, and pink eyes.
Eke day, Afo day The Igbo week has four days: Eke, Oye, Afo, and Nkwo.
iron horse the bicycle that the white man was riding when he apparently got lost.