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[Obierika]: “In the end Oduche died and Aneto was taken to Umuru and hanged. The other people were released, but even now they have not found the mouth with which to tell of their suffering.”
The two men sat in silence for a long time afterwards. (20.28-29)
Words are inadequate to express the full intensity of the people’s suffering in Obierika’s story. Okonkwo and Obierika, too, are stunned and saddened beyond words.
These court messengers were greatly hated in Umuofia because they were foreigners and also arrogant and high-handed. They were called kotma, and because of their as-colored shorts they earned the additional name of Ashy-Buttocks. (20.16)
Here we see a linguistic phenomenon that occurs when two languages collide. The Igbo people who are unfamiliar with English find it difficult to say “court messenger” so they shorten it to make it easier and to fit their own lexicon. However, the word kotma doesn’t convey their intense hatred, so they choose a particularly unique and shameful trait of the kotma – their khaki shorts – and build a mocking nickname.
He [Okonkwo] knew that he had lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administered justice in the clan. He had lost the chance to lead his warlike clan against the new religion, which, he was told, had gained ground. He had lost the years in which he might have taken the highest titles in the land. But some of these losses were not irreparable. He was determined that his return should be marked by his people. He would return with a flourish, and regain the seven wasted years. (20.2)
It seems that fate has decreed that Okonkwo would inadvertently shoot off a gun and accidentally kill someone; it has also decreed that he must spend seven years in exile while his prime years go by, wasted. But Okonkwo is determined to fight fate to the end and win back what was lost.