Summary and Analysis
In the present day, Orleanna continues to think about her experiences in Africa and still speaks to one of her daughters. She confirms that one of her children is dead, saying, "Africa, where one of my children remains in the dank red earth," but she does not indicate to which child she refers. She reflects on her time in the Congo with guilt and anguish, examining her day-to-day struggles there and trying to determine what she could have done differently. She remembers that after Mama Tataba left, her days became consumed by the efforts it took to keep her family fed and healthy. Meanwhile, she remembers Nathan's becoming more obsessed with bringing salvation to Kilanga and viewing the resistance he was encountering as a test from God. Orleanna recalls watching helplessly as Nathan became less and less aware of their children and their family's basic needs; his fixation on his mission left her so overwhelmed by the practical details of daily survival that she could not see the larger problems looming ahead.
In their second six months in the Congo, the Price family begins to learn words in Kikongo, the language spoken in Kilanga. As they learn the language, they are also learning about familiar and unfamiliar plants, animals, and insects. Enthralled by her new surroundings, Leah tries to memorize not only the names of things but also the unique sights and sounds. She comments, "Oh, it's a heavenly paradise in the Congo and sometimes I want to live here forever." Despite her reverence for the beauty of the Congo, however, Leah acknowledges that "it's not always paradise here, either. Perhaps we've eaten of the wrong fruits of the Garden, because our family always seems to know too much, and at the same time not enough." The beliefs and skills that the Prices brought with them into Africa never seem adequate in the face of the knowledge needed to survive each day.
With time, the family begins to know their neighbors. Mama Mwanza is the closest neighbor; she lost her legs in a fire and walks on her hands. There is also Tata Boanda, who has two wives and attends Nathan's church. Even as the Prices look at their neighbors and marvel or shake their heads at the villagers' unusual characteristics, the family begins to realize that the villagers also view them as peculiar. The village children, for example, will come and stare at the house or at the Price girls and run away if the girls try to approach them.
To continue their education, Orleanna starts giving Rachel, Leah, and Adah lessons every morning. In the afternoons, the girls are allowed to play outside. Gradually they begin to make friends with the village children. Ruth May befriends the children first, teaching them how to play "Mother, May I?" Soon after, Leah befriends a boy named Pascal, who teaches her the local language and gives her lessons on vegetation and weather. Leah is struck by how practical his games are (Build a House; Find Food) compared to the games she and her sisters play (Mother May I; Hide and Seek). Leah realizes that childhood is much different for the Congolese; even as children, the Congolese learn how to survive. Embarrassed by her lack of practical skills, Leah observes, "For the first time ever I felt a stirring of anger against my father for making me a white preacher's child from Georgia."
Leah explores the forest and longs to tag along after her father as he tours Kilanga and neighboring villages trying to bring them the Word of God. Leah is fascinated by the village women and by the fact that girls her age are already married and have children. She also loves watching the people that congregate in the middle of town, whether going to the market that occurs every five days or gossiping and fixing each others' hair. Leah and Adah also spy on Axelroot, the white bush pilot who lives in the village. They are intrigued by the guns, tools, and radio that he keeps in his shack.
One day, Ruth May breaks her arm while climbing a tree to spy on the "African Communist Boy Scouts" (the Jeune Mou Pro, or Congolese revolutionaries) who gather in the woods. Nathan takes Ruth May to Stanleyville (now Kisangani) to have her arm set. In Stanleyville, they visit a doctor who engages Nathan in conversation about the unrest in the country. They talk in particular about a man named Patrice Lumumba, a former postal worker who advocates achieving independence through nonviolent methods. The doctor criticizes the European and American economic and political policies in the Congo — especially the injustice of enslaving the Congolese in the rubber plantations and mines. Nathan counters the doctor's statement saying, "The Belgians and American business brought civilization to the Congo! American aid will be the Congo's salvation." The doctor seems skeptical of this viewpoint.
Not long after Ruth May's fall, Anatole Ngemba, the local schoolteacher, comes over for dinner. He's 24, an orphan, and an attractive man. Unlike many Congolese, he is educated; the Underdowns taught him how to read and write. He speaks French, English, and Kikongo, and he translates Nathan's sermons for the Kilangans every Sunday.
At dinner, Anatole tells Nathan that the village chief, Tata Ndu, is concerned with the rising number of villagers going to Nathan's church. The chief doesn't mind when people with bad luck go — such as those who feel their gods have deserted them — but he worries about the other villagers following such "corrupt" ways. Anatole's statement angers Nathan, and he argues that the people need some spiritual guidance, especially since Tata Ndu is not a minister of any kind. Anatole then explains that the people go to Tata Kuvudundu, a "priest of the traditions," for spiritual guidance, but that Christianity is not out of the question, especially since the villagers "remembered the missionary times, when Brother Fowles had gotten practically the whole town praying to Jesus." This news sends Nathan over the edge, for it implies that Nathan's missionary work is lacking, and he asks Anatole to leave. After his dinner with the Price family, Anatole sends Nelson, one of his pupils, to them to do chores and errands in exchange for meals, a place to sleep in the chicken house, and a basket of eggs to sell in the market each week.
Nathan's spiritual influence in the community improves when Adah nearly gets eaten by a lion. As she is walking through the forest one day, she hears something following her. She doesn't reach home until nightfall, and when she gets there, she simply slips into the hammock at the end of the porch as she normally would, without letting anyone know she is home. A little while later, Tata Ndu comes to the house and tells everyone that his son reported finding the tracks of a lion following Adah's tracks, signs of a pounce, and blood going into the bush. A party of men were searching for her body. Stunned by what she hears, Adah can only watch her family's reactions. Her sisters can't understand what Tata Ndu is saying, but her mother does and stands frozen. Adah observes, "Such affliction I saw on her face I briefly believed myself dead." Nathan responds by commanding the family to pray. As he prays aloud, Adah forces herself to come forward, interrupting her father's prayer. Once the village learns of her miraculous escape from death, more villagers begin coming to church because they believe that Jesus protected Adah from the lion.
Meanwhile, the rainy season is upon them and the village children are getting sick with the kakakaka (dysentery). Worried about contagion, Orleanna finds reasons to keep her daughters in the house. For Christmas, she gives them needlework materials so that they can work on their hope chests. Rachel throws herself wholeheartedly into the project, Leah works on hers for awhile before giving up, and Adah embroiders black borders on hers.
In January, the Underdowns surprise the Prices with a visit. They come to tell them that there is talk of the Congo having an election in May and gaining independence in June. They inform the Prices that the Mission League is sending everyone home. It is also revealed that Nathan came despite the Mission League's recommendation against it, and that his mission is not officially sanctioned by the Mission League. Nathan tells them he won't leave until a replacement arrives.
Anatole makes preparations for the election, visiting the villagers and preparing them to vote. Every man in Kilanga will throw one pebble into the bowl representing the candidate of his choice. The pebbles will be collected and taken upriver to be counted. As the village and nation prepare for independence, Tata Kuvundundu leaves a warning of chicken bones outside the Prices' door, indicating that they should leave.
The Underdowns send a letter telling the Prices to prepare to leave; they will no longer be receiving money or supplies from the Mission League. Nathan continues to refuse to leave, even though Orleanna tries to reason with him and Rachel throws a fit demanding to be allowed to go home. They learn that Lumumba is elected Prime Minister, and he and other elected officials are establishing a parliament.
On the day the Prices are supposed to leave, only Nathan and Leah board the plane that the Underdowns send for the family. Rachel tries to climb on, but Nathan pushes her back. After the plane flies away, Orleanna goes back to the house and crawls into bed. After a while, Ruth May climbs into bed with her.
Leah and Nathan travel to Leopoldville to watch the Congolese independence ceremonies. The Underdowns are horrified to discover that Nathan is determined not to allow his family to leave the Congo. Thrilled to be chosen by her father to accompany him, Leah watches the ceremonies with awe, fascinated by Lumumba's speech and the roaring of the crowd cheering him on.
On the same day that Nathan and Leah attend the independence ceremonies (June 30, 1960), Adah discovers Methuselah's remains beside the latrine, where he had been roosting since Nathan let him go. He was killed by a civet (a catlike carnivore). Adah views his death as a liberation and compares Methuselah's independence with the Congo's.
In this section, we gain a better understanding of the personalities of the four Price daughters, as well as an early view of the political events that will shape their lives. Rachel continues to focus on herself and to distance herself from the Congolese. Notice which events she narrates — Anatole's coming to dinner, the Underdowns' visiting, and trying to convince her father to let her go home. Unlike her sisters, she seems to have made no connections to the Kilangans or the land. Leah, on the other hand, is enthralled by the Kilangans and spends much of her time watching and studying them. Her friendship with Pascal furthers her appreciation of their culture and even causes her to question her own culture's values. Meanwhile, Adah spends her time studying her environment and discovers aspects of the land's plant, animal, and human life that her sisters miss. Ruth May is perhaps the most successful of all the sisters in adjusting to their new life. Her fearless tree-climbing shows how she has become a part of the environment, and her easy friendship with the village children demonstrates her ability to connect to the Congolese culture.
As his daughters adapt to life in the Congo, Nathan becomes even more entrenched in his beliefs and his desire to "save" the people of Kilanga. He cannot conceive of his worldview being incorrect, and he refuses to consider any opposing viewpoints. He demonstrates this inflexibility with the doctor in Stanleyville and again with the Underdowns. For example, when the Stanleyville doctor mentions Lumumba, Nathan reacts with disdain, pointing to Lumumba's lack of education as a reason why he will never make a difference. Nathan obviously doesn't understand the unrest moving throughout the Congolese masses. Similarly, when the Underdowns come to warn the Prices about the impending elections and independence, Nathan again scoffs at the idea of the Congolese being able to achieve self-rule, saying, "They don't have the temperament or the intellect for such things."
Nathan's responses to the doctor and the Underdowns reveal him to be representative of the colonial powers that believed they could and should control the Congo nation. His arrogance and disrespect mirror the attitudes the Europeans and Americans held toward the native people. Notice how he believes he is bringing civilization to the African people, just as the foreign governments claimed they were civilizing the nations they colonized. Additionally, look at how Nathan blindly tries to impose his will upon the people of Kilanga without ever taking a moment to find out what they want, need, or already know. Such behavior parallels the approach the Europeans and Americans took toward the Congo. Nathan's decision to stay in the Congo despite his family's protests and the recommendation of the Underdowns also shows him to be incredibly selfish and single-minded. Like the countries in power, Nathan acts without caring about what is best for those who depend on him. He is concerned only with achieving his own agenda.