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Mr. Smith said to his interpreter: “Tell them to go away from here. This is the house of God and I will not live to see it desecrated.”
Okeke interpreted wisely to the spirits and leaders of Umuofia: “The white man says he is happy you have come to him with your grievances, like friends. He will be happy if you leave the matter in his hands.” (22.29-30)
Okeke changes not only the content of Mr. Smith’s message, but his tone as well. Notice that Achebe uses the words “interpreted wisely,” not “lied.” This implies that Achebe knows there is always some degree of meaning or truth lost when translating from one language to another.
“The body of the white man, I salute you,” he said, using the language in which immortals spoke to men.
“The body of the white man, do you know me?” he asked.
Mr. Smith looked at his interpreter, but Okeke, who was a native of distant Umuru, was also at a loss.
Ajofia laughed in his guttural voice. It was like the laugh of rusty metal. “They are strangers,” he said, “and they are ignorant.” (22.24-27)
Ajofia, one of the egwugwu, uses the language typically used by gods to greet mortals. He calls Mr. Smith and his translator “bodies” but neither man understands Ajofia’s words or their significance. The two groups’ inability to comprehend each other is the root of their problems and it foreshadows greater misunderstandings.
“One thing is clear,” said Mr. Smith. “We cannot offer physical resistance to them. Our strength lies in the Lord.” They knelt down together and prayed to God for delivery.
“O Lord, save Thy people,” cried Mr. Smith. (22.15-16)
The Christians know that their strength, unlike the Umuofia, is not in warfare. They put their trust in language and its ability to touch their god and move Him to protect them. Their prayer is a plea for divine assistance.