Ekwefi in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Chinua Achebe's novel ''Things Fall Apart'' follows Okonkwo, an Igbo man, through the ups and downs of his life. But there are several other important characters throughout this work. Learn about one of those characters, Ekwefi, in this lesson, and test yourself with a quiz.

Intro to Things Fall Apart

In 1958, famous Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe published his best-known work. Things Fall Apart is set during the tumultuous period of Nigeria's history during which European settlers invaded, bringing colonialism with them. The novel's been studied across the globe as the most well-known example of postcolonial African literature. The term postcolonial refers to a work concerning the period following colonization.

Things Fall Apart tells the tale of Okonkwo, an Igbo (also called Ibo) leader famous for his wrestling prowess, his strength, and his temper. Okonkwo is afraid to show any type of weakness because his father embarrassed him, being poor, effeminate, and far too emotional. Okonkwo has several wives and children, as is the custom, and is one of the wealthiest, most successful men in his village of Umuofia. Ekwefi is of Okonkwo's wives.

This map shows the location of Nigeria within Africa and details the range of the Igbo people

Ekwefi's Earlier Life

Ekwefi is Okonkwo's second wife, and she's the one with the most attitude. She's the only one of Okonkwo's wives who dares challenge or upset him, and she has the scars to prove it. Once, Okonkwo accuses her of killing a banana tree. When Ekwefi points out the tree isn't actually dead, Okonkwo beats her and threatens to shoot her. Still, Ekwefi manages to maintain her sassiness and her personality in the face of her husband's rages.

So how do two people who are so different end up married? Well, at the start of the novel, the reader is told that Ekwefi watched Okonkwo wrestle when he was in his prime and was instantly smitten. She was already married to another man, but this didn't stop the village beauty from getting what she wanted. Ekwefi ran away from her husband and eloped with Okonkwo. This may sound super romantic, but, as you've seen, Ekwefi and Okonkwo are no mopey lovebirds, and from the very start of their relationship, she suffers a great deal under Okonkwo's sudden mood swings and malicious temper.

Ekwefi also suffers a great deal in childbirth before she becomes a mother. She gives birth to many, many children--nine, to be exact--before one actually survives. So out of her ten children, only one daughter makes it. As you can imagine, this is heartbreaking, and Ekwefi begins to believe she is cursed.

Igbo women in traditional dress
Igbo women

Ekwefi The Mother

Ekwefi is characterized as a devoted, loving mother. After her previous tragedies and losses, she becomes that much more attached to her only surviving child, Ezinma. Motherhood consumes her, and the attention she lavishes on her daughter forges a strong bond between the two. Ekwefi and her daughter share small conspiracies as the girl ages, like eating stolen eggs together in the bedroom behind closed doors. The two also trade folk tales through the night. Ezinma even calls her mother by her first name, but Ekwefi doesn't mind, and even believes this to be respectful.

Ekwefi's devotion seems to be contagious, too. Ezinma, a strange child, is basically kidnapped one night by a priestess who believes, like Okonkwo and Ekwefi, that the child is an ogbanje, or reincarnated spirit of a dead child that comes back to haunt its parents. It's insinuated, however, that the priestess believes Ezinma to be the ogbanje of her own child, so, in a religious trance, the woman enters Ekwefi's hut one night and takes her daughter.

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