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[Ezeudu]: “Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him [Ikemefuna]. The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves has pronounced it.” (7.16)
The gods’ wills can be harsh and often baffling to mortals. Here, we also see how different the priestess Chielo – whom we learned earlier was the Oracle of the Hills and Caves – can be from her alter ego, the friendly and compassionate laywoman we met in the market. As an oracle possessed by a god, Chielo is stern and merciless.
And then the egwugwu appeared. The women and children sent up a great shout and took to their heels. It was instinctive. A woman fled as soon as an egwugwu came in sight. And when, as on that day, nine of the greatest masked spirits in the clan came out together it was a terrifying spectacle…
Each of the nine egwugwu represented a village of the clan. Their leader was called Evil Forest. Smoke poured out of his head.
The nine villages of Umuofia had grown out of the nine sons of the first father of the clan. Evil Forest represented the village of Umueru, or the children of Eru, who was the eldest of the nine sons. (10.6-8)
Fear plays a big part in the religion of the Umuofia. Unlike missionaries’ god who they describe in terms of a caring shepherd, the gods of the Umuofia demand respect because they are terrifying, not because they are loving.
Okonkwo’s wives, and perhaps other women as well, might have noticed that the second egwugwu had the springy walk of Okonkwo. And they might also have noticed that Okonkwo was not among the titled men and elders who sat behind the row of egwugwu. But if they thought these things they kept them within themselves. The egwugwu with the springy walk was one of the dead fathers of the clan. He looked terrible with the smoked raffia body, a huge wooden face painted white except for the round hollow eyes and the charred teeth that were as big as a man’s fingers. On his head were two powerful horns. (10.15)
It is implied that some people, perhaps Okonkwo’s wives, have guessed the true identity of the man behind the egwugwu mask. Okonkwo’s springy walk gives him away. Why don’t those who realize that the egwugwu are dressed up humans say anything? Does Okonkwo believe in the gods less than other villagers because he obviously knows that the egwugwu are not actual spirits?