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As the men drank, they talked about everything except the thing for which they had gathered. It was only after the pot had been emptied that the suitor’s father cleared his voice and announced the object of their visit. (8.75)
To show politeness, the visitors discuss everything but their intended topic. It would be considered rude in Igbo society to cut straight to the chase when there is still food and drink to be enjoyed.
“The Earth cannot punish me for obeying her messenger,” Okonkwo said. “A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm.” (8.27)
Okonkwo uses a proverb to illustrate his point. He hopes he will not be scalded by the “hot yam” of killing Ikemefuna. But in a deeper sense he says the words with the hope that they might come true, because internally Okonkwo feels deeply guilty about killing his adopted son.
The men in the obi had already begun to drink the palm-wine which Akueke’s suitor had brought. It was a very good wine and powerful, for in spite of the palm fruit hung across the mouth of the pot to restrain the lively liquor, white foam rose and spilled over.
“That wine is the work of a good tapper,” said Okonkwo.
The young suitor, whose name was Ibe, smiled broadly and said to his father: “Do you heart that?” He then said to the others: “He will never admit that I am a good tapper.”
“He tapped three of my best palm trees to death,” said his father, Ukebgu. (8.70-73)
In this scene, the men condemn the killing of trees for wine while simultaneously enjoying that same wine. The earth here acts as both provider and victim of men.