Figurative language is poetic rather than literal language; it employs literary devices such as metaphor, imagery, and rhyme to give words greater impact. One example of figurative language comes early on when the village of Umuaro debates about going to war with the nearby village of Okperi over land both villages claim. Ezeulu advises the men to make sure they are going to war for reasons that are just. He says:
Others have spoken the way they spoke because they are hungry for war.
"Hungry for war" is a metaphor. The men do not literally want to eat war—in fact, you cannot eat war. But by comparing the desire for war to the desire for food, Ezeulu suggests it is a base, physical desire and not a noble desire. Just as hunger can cause us to eat food that is not good for us, so too can a desire for war cause us to enter into an unhealthy conflict.
In chapter four, we read:
Nwaka was known for speaking his mind; he never paused to bite his words.
"Bite his words" is another metaphor. It means that Nwaka speaks his mind without necessarily considering the impact of what he is saying. "Bite his words" is a more powerful way of saying "think before speaking" because it conjures an image of clamping one's teeth down on words before they come out of one's mouth.
In chapter 18, we read the following:
But there was no more laughter left in the people.
This is a figurative, metaphorical way of saying that people are hungry from the famine. People who are well-fed have the energy and sense of well-being to laugh. People who are starving are too concerned with their physical needs to take time to joke or to ridicule things they might have in the past. In this case, they are no longer ridiculing the idea that the Christian god might save them.
The book is filled with colorful figurative language!
In the very first paragraph, the moon is personified as a child. "...the new moon sometimes hid itself for many days...so that when it came out it was already half grown. And while it played its game the Chief Priest sat up every evening waiting" (Chapter 1).
The moon is further described as "thin as an orphan fed grudgingly by a cruel foster-mother", and the darkness is said to be "...not impenetrable...but open and airy like a forest from which the undergrowth had been cut" (Chapter 1). These are examples of simile.