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We begin to get more insights into Okonkwo’s past. Unlike his peers, he started out poor and didn’t inherit anything from his dad, who was always in debt.
A common story told in Okonkwo’s village is about Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, visiting the tribe’s oracle, Agbala, to discover why he has such bad harvests.
The narrative flashes back to Unoka speaking with the oracle many years ago when Okonkwo was still a boy.
Agbala’s priestess interrupts as Unoka begins explaining himself. She says that he has no one but himself to blame for his bad harvests. She points out his laziness in contrast to his neighbors’ admirable work ethic and sends him away with simple advice: “go home and work like a man.”
Eventually Unoka gets sick with a disease which causes his stomach to swell. This disease is considered an abomination to the earth so Unoka is not allowed to die at home, nor does ritual allow his body allowed to be buried. He dies and rots under a tree in the Evil Forest.
Even before his father died, Okonkwo was forced to blaze his own trail to wealth and respect because lazy Unoka could give his son nothing.
To create his own wealth and reputation, Okonkwo goes to a wealthy man – Nwakibie – and makes polite offerings of palm-wine and kola nut and asks for a favor. Essentially, Okonkwo makes a sharecropping agreement with the wealthy man where he only gets one-third of his harvest and Nwakibie gets the rest.
Nwakibie is unexpectedly generous to Okonkwo, giving him twice the number of seeds expected because, unlike many young men, Okonkwo isn’t afraid of hard work.
Okonkwo works tirelessly to harvest the yams while his mother and sisters work their own crops. Okonkwo is angry because all this work is going towards feeding his father’s household (because his father is lazy) instead of building up his own future.
The year turns out to be a disaster. There is a long period of drought, killing the first batch of Okonkwo’s yams. After he plants the remainder, there is endless flooding so the few yams that actually make it to harvest are rotting.
But Okonkwo survives the tragic year and vows that he can survive anything due to his “inflexible will.”