Ikemefuna might have been a sacrifice offered by his community, Mbaino to appease the people of Umuofia in the classic novel, Things Fall Apart authored by the legendary Chinua Achebe. But the character despite his short duration in the story has evoked lasting lessons, which came into focus in Port Harcourt recently when the Nigerian Literary Society, Reading Association of Nigeria and English Language Teachers Association of Nigeria marked the 64th anniversary of the publication of the novel at Alliance Francais.
Ikemefuna is 15 when a woman from Umuofia is killed by his people. And to make peace, he is offered to the people of Umuofia. He lives with Okonkwo’s family for three years before the elders meet and order that he be sacrificed to the gods. In the three years he lives in Okonkwo’s home, Ikemefuna becomes very close to Nwoye, Okonkwo’s first son and becomes a positive influence on him. Just before he is to be taken out and killed, an old man Ogbuefi Ezeudu visits Okonkwo and warns him not to have a hand in the killing of Ikemefuna because “that boy calls you father.” Okonkwo is not persuaded because that would mean he is weak. Eventually, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna. But he lives to regret the act and the story of strength and braveness that Okonkwo had labored to portray to the world begins to crash. This ends in his dying a shameful death of suicide.
However, the discussions were not limited to Ikemefuna and the significance of his story in the novel to contemporary life. The discussants also spoke about Okonkwo, Obierika, Ogbuefi Ezeudu and other characters in the novel.
Chi Ndu Ofogo, one of the discussants, said in Igboland where Things Fall Apart was set, people are given names to evoke their destiny. He said though Ikemefuna meant literally let my name not be extinguished, it actually meant, “my name makes me what I am.”
He said Ikemefuna is the character in which the entire plot of Things Fall Apart rests. “It is in this boy that Achebe was to tell the entire story of Things Fall Apart,” Ofogo said, adding that Okonkwo saw himself in Ikemefuna but he couldn’t come to terms with it.
Ekaete George, who was the lead discussant, like Ofogo, said in the story of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo always came face-to-face with the other side of himself and tried to run away. George presented Obierika, Okonkwo’s friend as a preferable character because though he had his own strong beliefs, he was tolerant of the beliefs of others.
Dr. Ebideyefa Tarila-Nikade said Okoknwo’s tragedy stemmed from the fact that he tried to live his life to impress society. She said the lesson of Okonkwo and Ikemefuna was that the complexity of the world should teach everyone to be emotionally intelligent by knowing what to do and say at any given point in time. She said Okonkwo unlike his friend, Obierika didn’t exhibit emotional intelligence and paid dearly for it.
She pointed out that the story of Ikemefuna is a reminder to householders to lift househelps that assisted the child of the house meet up with their domesticated and other requirements.
Prof. Helen Sokari Okujagu said every home had an Ikemefuna but the real test of his story is, “How do we treat them?” She said it was imperative for people to take responsibility for their actions irrespective of what people would say about them.
Dr. Boma Karibo said the story of Okonkwo teaches a lesson for people to live their own true lives and stop working for others. “Live for yourself and add value to your life,” she said.
Obiora Momife took a different view in assessing Okonkwo and Ikemefuna in Things Fall Apart. He said people can never escape the fact that despite individual strengths and discretion, it is society that regulates the strength of a man. In the story, he said Ikemefuna and Okonkwo knew that Ikemefuna would die and it was no use blaming anyone for his death. “Okonkwo feared that he would lose his pride if he didn’t kill Ikemefuna. It was his pride and not himself that killed Ikemefuna.”
Similarly, Dr. Dickson Young said the death of Ikemefuna was the tragedy of tradition. ‘”Ikemefuna suffered for what he never bargained. Okonkwo did not do well. Ikemefuna was a son. The death of Ikemefuna is the death of the story,” he said.
The discussants spoke about the mortal flaws of Okonkwo the hero of Things Fall Apart, who afraid to be like his father thought of to be weak, tried in all his actions to show to the world that he was strong even sometimes against his own inner softness.
In summarising the discussions, Ekaete George, said Okonkwo was “a traumatised boy who couldn’t grow up to be a man.”
She said most of the wars fought in the world today are needless as they are fought for pride, a life that tragically defined the life of Okonkwo.
She advised that writers should arrive to always present different parts of society without stereotyping women. “Let us not portray men that they must have broad shoulders. But let them be men.”
She said Things Fall Apart has so many stories that can benefit contemporary society. “Things Fall Apart is an elephant and we have so many ways of looking at it. Let’s take every part, amplify, develop and make society better with it,” she said.
The Coordinator of the programme, David Chikwueke, said the event was organised to encourage the reading culture. “We are here to promote reading culture. “Reading makes a man, enlightens us. ” he said.