Summary and Analysis
Chapter 10 is devoted to a detailed description of a village public trial. At a gathering on the large village commons, the elders sit waiting on their stools while the other men crowd behind them. The women stand around the edges, looking on. A row of nine stools awaits the appearance of the nine egwugwu, who represent the spirits of their ancestors. Two small clusters of people stand at a respectful distance facing the elders and the empty stools. The opposing sides of a family dispute, the two groups wait for a hearing by the masked and costumed egwugwu, who finally appear from their nearby house with great fanfare and ceremony. As the egwugwu approach the stools, Okonkwo's wives notice that the second egwugwu walks with the springy step of Okonkwo and also that Okonkwo is not seated among the elders, but of course, they say nothing about this odd coincidence.
The egwugwu hear the case of Uzowulu, who claims that his in-laws took his wife Mgbafo from his house, and therefore, they should return her bride-price to him. Odukwe, Mgbafo's brother, does not deny Uzowulu's charges. He claims that his family took Mgbafo to rescue her from daily brutal beatings by Uzowulu, and he says that she will return to her husband only if he swears never to beat her again.
After the egwugwu retire to consult with each other, their leader, Evil Forest, returns a verdict: He orders Uzowulu to take wine to his in-laws and beg his wife to come back home with him. Evil Forest also reminds the husband that fighting with a woman is not brave. Evil Forest then instructs Odukwe to accept his brother-in-law's offer and let Mgbafo return to her husband. After the matter is settled, one village elder expresses wonder at why such an insignificant dispute would come before the egwugwu. Another elder reminds him that Uzowulu does not accept any decision unless it comes from the egwugwu.
Another case waits to be heard — one involving property.
The author provides a close-up view of the community judicial system with its similarities to Western traditions. In the trial of Uzowulu versus his wife's family, both sides present their cases to the ruling members of society, the egwugwu. The nine egwugwu represent the nine villages of Umuofia, and each village has one egwugwu as its spokesperson. Okonkwo has obviously risen to a lofty position of village leadership if he has indeed been selected as the egwugwu representative for his village.
The egwugwu has similarities to a jury led by a foreman or judge. For example, after retiring to the jury room for deliberation with the other eight egwugwu, the foreman/judge returns a verdict that must be carried out. The public is allowed to watch the proceedings within the boundaries of their social groups — that is, the elders, other men, and women.
The subject of the dispute, domestic violence, is a familiar one today, but the way in which the community views Uzowulu beating his wife is not. The verdict illustrates the widespread disregard for women's rights by Umuofian men. After hearing the case, the egwugwu order Mgbafo to go back to Uzowulu if he begs her; they remind Uzowulu that fighting with a woman is not manly. The embarrassment of begging his wife is the only punishment Uzowulu receives. This case illustrates that, in Umuofian culture, a woman is the property of her husband, but unwarranted and excessive violence against her is, in theory, inappropriate. Note that one man among the spectators asks why such a "trifle [as wife beating] should come before the egwugwu."
The trial and its verdict also recall Okonkwo's treatment of his own wives and how quickly such treatment is forgotten.
Aru oyim de de de dei! egwugwu language translated as greetings to the physical body of a friend. The egwugwu speak in a formal language that is difficult for the the Umuofians to understand. Each of the nine egwugwu represents a village of the Umuofian community. Together, the egwugwu form a tribunal to judge disputes.
Evil Forest the name of the leader of the egwugwu; also the name of the forest where taboo objects and people are abandoned.
I am Dry-meat-that fills-the-mouth / I am Fire-that-burns-without-faggots two phrases suggesting that Evil Forest is all-powerful. Faggots are bundles of sticks for burning.