Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter 16
Two more years pass before Obierika visits Mbanta a second time, again with unhappy news. White Christian missionaries have arrived in Umuofia, have built a Christian church, and have recruited some converts. The leaders of the clan are disappointed in the villagers, but the leaders believe that the converts are only efulefu, the worthless and weak men of the village. None of the converts holds a title in the clan.
Obierika's real reason for the visit is to inform Okonkwo that he saw Nwoye with some missionaries in Umuofia. When Obierika asked Nwoye why he was in the village, Nwoye responded that he was "one of them." When asked about his father, Okonkwo, Nwoye replied that "he is not my father."
Okonkwo will not talk to his friend about Nwoye. Only after talking with Nwoye's mother is Obierika able to learn what happened: Six men arrived in Mbanta, including one white man. Everyone was curious to see him after hearing the story of the Abame destruction. The white man had an Igbo interpreter — with a strange dialect — and, through him, spoke to them about Christianity. He told them about a new god who created the world and humankind; this new god would replace the false gods of wood and stone that they had worshiped. Worship of the true god would ensure that they would live forever in the new god's kingdom. The white man told them that he and his people would be coming to live with them and would be bringing many iron horses for the villagers to ride.
The villagers asked many questions. When the missionary insisted that their gods were deceitful and arbitrary, the crowd began to move away. Suddenly, the missionaries began singing a joyful hymn and captured their attention once again.
Okonkwo decided that the man spoke nonsense and walked away. But Nwoye was impressed with the compassion of the new religion. It seemed to answer his questions about customs that included the killing of twins and Ikemefuna.
Obierika is able to understand Nwoye's blunt statement only after he talks to Nwoye's mother. Her story may be sympathetically narrated because she is protective of Nwoye.
The Christian missionaries seem to win over many people of Mbanta rather quickly. The earliest converts are people with low status in the clan. The missionaries' promises fill a void in the lives of such converts. The Christian hymn, for example, touches the "silent and dusty chords in the heart of an Ibo man." (The old-style spelling of Ibo is used in the text; the modern spelling is Igbo.) Also note that the white man is not personalized yet — he remains a stereotype of a white missionary, though somewhat more patient in his responses than one may expect.
Considering the fate of the Abame village after the arrival of the white men, Mbanta's welcome of the missionaries isn't surprising. The presence of only one white person among the missionaries may have eased the villager's fears of the missionaries. The villagers are understandably skeptical about the Christian message but still curious to learn more about the strange religion and white skin with which they are unfamiliar. In addition, the missionaries' use of rhythmic, evangelistic hymns is a good seductive strategy for expanding their message through a sympathetic medium. They also promise new experiences, such as riding a bicycle, once they move into the community.
Unsurprisingly, Nwoye is highly receptive to the new, more humane-appearing doctrine, because he is a sensitive young man with deep concerns about certain customs of his people (see Chapter 7).
Achebe provides a humorous illustration of the difficulties of dialects, even within the Igbo language. The missionary's translator is an Igbo, but he speaks a dialect that pronounces some words and expressions differently from Umuofian Igbo: The word "myself" comes out as "my buttocks," resulting in some humorous translations of the white man's message.
efulefu worthless men in the eyes of the community.
evangelism a preaching of, or zealous effort to spread, the gospel.
Jesu Kristi Jesus Christ.
callow young and inexperienced; immature.