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Darkness held a vague terror for these people, even the bravest among them. Children were warned not to whistle at night for fear of evil spirits. Dangerous animals became even more sinister and uncanny in the dark. A snake was never called by its name at night, because it would hear. It was called a string. (2.2)
Words, especially names, hold a special power in Igbo belief. Evil spirits or animals are never referred to by name for fear of summoning them and bringing disaster upon the clan. A “string” here is a euphemism for the evil word “snake.”
“Umuofia kwenu,” he bellowed a fifth time, and the crowd yelled in answer. And then suddenly like one possessed he shot out his left hand a pointed in the direction of Mbaino, and said through gleaming white teeth firmly clenched: “Those sons of wild animals have dared to murder a daughter of Umuofia.” He threw his head down and gnashed his teeth, and allowed a murmur of suppressed anger to sweep the crowd. When he began again, the anger on his face was gone and in its place a sort of smile governed, more terrible and more sinister than the anger. And in a clear unemotional voice he told Umuofia how their daughter had gone to market at Mbaino and had been killed. (2.6)
Announcements are made with much ado and ceremony in Umuofia. Public speaking requires a repeated summoning of the tribe through the mouthpiece of a trained orator. The call-and-response nature of announcements ensures that all of the community is involved and is paying attention. And the message is conveyed with a very specific rhythm.
He [Okonkwo] took a pot of palm-wine and a cock to Nwakibie…He presented a kola nut and an alligator pepper, which were passed round for all to see and then returned to him. He broke the nut saying: “We shall all live. We pray for life, children, a good harvest and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”
After the kola nut had been eaten Okonkwo brought his palm-wine from the corner of the hut where it had been placed and stood it in the center of the group. He addressed Nwakibie, calling him “Our father.”
“Nna ayi,” he said. “I have brought you this little kola. As our people say, a man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness. I have come to pay you my respects and also to ask a favor. But let us drink the wine first.” (3.11-13)
The language of presenting gifts and asking favors of someone is very formal and stylized. It includes the show of much respect by wishing luck and happiness on one’s host and linguistically making him part of one’s family.