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The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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Who are the Olinka in Alice Walker's The Color Purple?

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In Alice Walker's "The Color Purple", the Olinka are a fictitious African tribe that Nettie, Celie's younger sister, encounters on her missionary trip to Africa. Not based on any specific African tribe, the Olinka's customs and traditions may be an amalgamation of Walker's own familial oral traditions. The tribe's views on women's education and status, seeing them primarily as bearers of children and men's helpers, mirror the gender dynamics Nettie and Celie experience in the American South.

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The Olinka in Alice Walker's book The Color Purple are a ficticious people. Nettie and the other missionaries travel to Monrovia, Liberia--a country on the West coast of Africa. From there, they travel by foot and canoe for four days until they come to the site of the ficticious Olinka village. Ms Walker does not tell in which direction they travelled.

There is no indication that Ms Walker based the Olinka on any particular African tribe. She herself states that she was influenced greatly by the oral tradition of her own family*. It is likely that at least some of the characteristics, customs and traditions of the Olinka are based on an amalgamation of these stories.

Instead of expending effort on what will most likely prove to be a wild-goose chase, the reader should instead seek to understand the underlying message behind the Olinka by asking him or herself such questions as:

How were the Olinka similar to Americans, either white or black of the early- to mid-twentieth century?

How were they dissimilar?

Were any of the Olinka's actions or beliefs similar to any specific characters from Nettie's past or present?

How did either the Olinka's beliefs or actions effect Nettie or Celie's children? What actions or changes did these effects have on any of them?

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Nettie, Celie's younger sister, goes on a missionary trip to Africa, and lives for a time with the Olinka tribe.  The Olinka are surprised that the missionary group from America is black, and are even more shocked that the group includes women.  As Nettie tells Celie, the Olinka "do not believe girls should be educated...a girl is nothing to herself; only to her husband can she become something...the mother of his children".  Although Nettie herself does not see herself as they do, the Olinka perceive Nettie as nothing more than "the missionary's drudge".

In going to Africa, Nettie establishes contact with her African roots.  It is significant that the status of women in the Olinka tribe is no better than in the American South.

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