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His father, Unoka, who was then an ailing man, had said to him during that terrible harvest month: “Do not despair. I know you will not despair. You have a manly and a proud heart. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and bitter when a man fails alone.”
Unoka was like that in his last days. His love of talk had grown with age and sickness. It tried Okonkwo’s patience beyond words. (3.36-37)
Even though Unoka’s words are given with a generous spirit, Okonkwo does not appreciate them. Indeed, Okonkwo doesn’t value words – he prefers action over speech. However, this renders him unable to appreciate the sincerity of others’ words and keeps him from expressing himself in a way that most people understand: through language.
“Every year,” he [Unoka] said sadly, “before I put any crop in the earth, I sacrifice a cock to Ani, the owner of all land. It is the law of our fathers. I also kill a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, the god of yams. I clear the bush and set fire to it when it is dry. I sow the yams when the first rain has fallen, and stake them when the young tendrils appear…” (3.6)
It is customary to make animal sacrifices to the earth goddess when planting crops. Yet again, ritual is used to communicate respect, in this case to the earth goddess who has control over the success of the yams.