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“He belongs to the clan,” he told her [Okonkwo’s eldest wife]. “So look after him.”
“Is he staying long with us?” she asked.
“Do what you are told, woman,” Okonkwo thundered, and stammered. “When did you become one of the ndichie of Umuofia?”
And so Nwoye’s mother took Ikemefuna to her hut and asked no more questions. (2.16-19)
Okonkwo treats his wife like a servant, demanding that she does whatever he commands her with no questions asked. Women, as demonstrated by Okonkwo’s eldest wife here, are taught to be silent and obedient. In fact, women count for so little in Igbo society that they are often not even addressed by their given names, but referred to by their relationship with men. Throughout the entire novel, the narrator rarely calls Okonkwo’s first wife by her name, she is almost always identified in relation to her husband or son, Nwoye.
His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop. (3.28)
Nearly every aspect of Igbo society is gendered, even crops. Yam, because it is the staple of the Igbo diet, is considered a man’s crop. This allows men to maintain the position as the primary providers for their families, and the respect which that role confers.
Only a week ago a man had contradicted him at a kindred meeting which they held to discuss the next ancestral feast. Without looking at the man Okonkwo had said. “This meeting is for men.” The man who had contradicted him had no titles. That was why he had called him a woman. Okonkwo knew how to kill a man’s spirit. (4.1)
Being called a woman is clearly a nasty insult as it has the ability to “kill a man’s spirit.” Obviously, women aren’t highly valued in Umuofia.