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The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart. It throbbed in the air, in the sunshine, and even in the trees, and filled the village with excitement. (5.53)
Like some mysterious but primal language, the drums are able to move people to excitement without words but only with a persistent beat, almost like a heartbeat.
Then quite suddenly a thought came upon him. His mother might be dead. He tried in vain to force the thought out of his mind. Then he tried to settle the matter the way he used to settle such matters when he was a little boy. He still remembered the song:
Eze elina, elina!
Eze ilikwa ya
Ikwaba akwa oligholi
Ebe Danda bechi eze
Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu
He sang it in his mind, and walked to its beat. If the song ended on his right foot, his mother was alive. If it ended on his left, she was dead. No, not dead, but ill. (7.26)
By leaving the song untranslated, Achebe emphasizes the importance it has for Ikemefuna beyond words. Perhaps it was sung to him as a young child before he could understand the words and he associated it with his mother long before he could comprehend its meaning.
“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.