Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 728

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Emenike dies suddenly, after a full recovery from injuries he suffered during a fight with Madume, his neighbor and adversary, over some disputed farmland. Although the villagers are uncertain about the cause of death, and even though they suspect that Madume had a hand in Emenike’s death, they say Emenike died from “lock chest.” Ignoring the arbitration on the land dispute that the village elders and priests made in favor of Emenike, and with Emenike out of the way, Madume decides to stake his claim on the disputed farmland. While at it, he claims Ihuoma, whom he alleges Emenike snatched from him. In a show of power, Madume embarks on assaults on Ihuoma and her brother-in-law, Nnadi, as they try to protect Emenike’s land and crops from Madume’s “big eyes.” A series of misfortunes, brought on by personal ill will, inordinate greed, and insensitivity, befall Madume until excessive cockiness and a final act of brazenness bring him face-to-face with a spitting cobra, which blinds him as he reaches in defiantly to harvest a plantain tree on Emenike’s farm. Blinded and miserable, Madume hangs himself. The villagers agree that his abominable death is retributive justice from the ever-watchful, powerful gods. Though finally rid of Madume, Ihuoma characteristically bemoans the loss of two village men in a two-year span, fearing that there will be “too few left to organize village activities.”

Young, already a mother of three children, and widowed at the tender age of twenty-two, Ihuoma continues to live out her widowhood in her dead husband’s compound, devoted to his memory and care of her children. More attractive than ever even in her misfortune, Ihuoma commands great respect from the village women, especially Madume’s wife, Wolu. Ekwueme, the gifted song composer and singer, although betrothed to Ahurole, is irrepressibly taken by Ihuoma’s exceptional beauty of character and looks. In a bind, aware of his obligation to filial obedience and to the propriety of Omokachi tradition, Ekwueme gives up his personal desires and marries Ahurole, his immature, neurotic child bride, whose unpredictable mood swings and incessant sobbing test their marriage sorely. Although Ekwueme reconciles himself to his marriage to Ahurole, he cannot repress his desire for Ihuoma, his ideal of a wife. As his halfhearted interest in Ahurole wanes, his repressed feelings for Ihuoma emerge stronger. Suspecting this, and upon her mother’s advice, Ahurole seeks the help of a diviner to renew Ekwueme’s diminishing conjugal interest. Unfortunately, Ahurole’s effort to recapture Ekwueme’s love interest, by way of a love potion, succeeds only in bewitching him and temporarily bringing on madness.

After being relieved of Ahurole, Ekwueme openly declares his intentions to marry Ihuoma, who is responsible for curing him of his madness. The diviner-priest Anyika, however, reveals to Ekwueme’s parents the ill-fatedness of an Ihuoma-Ekwueme union because, contrary to physical appearances, Ihuoma is not an ordinary human being but a goddess-human, a mermaid in human form, betrothed to the powerful, malevolent Sea-King. Only the series of bizarre events toward the end of the novel reveal the truth of an identity of which she herself is unaware. Her husband’s sudden death and Madume’s blindness and subsequent suicide after he assaults her are all explained by her secret godlike status.

Unequivocal in his resolve, and secretly hoping that the cause of the ill-fatedness of the proposed marriage to Ihuoma can be mediated, Ekwueme and his parents seek a second opinion from a rival diviner, the renowned Agwoturumbe of Iliji village. Unlike Anyika, Agwoturumbe, perhaps in a bid to outdivine his rival Anyika, assures Ekwueme and his parents that Agwoturumbe has the power to bind the Sea-King and render him powerless through appropriate sacrifice. Preparations for the elaborate and costly sacrificial mediation are well under way when a sudden turn of events during the search for the lizard, the final item called for on the list of items for the sacrifice, hasten the end of Ekwueme’s life. Ekwueme’s bizarre, premonitory dream of being lured away to the land of the dead by Emenike, Ihuoma’s dead husband, comes true tragically and ironically at the hands of Nwonna, Ihuoma’s son. Ekwueme instructs Nwonna in the art of lizard-shooting moments before the young man looses the arrow that, intended for the desired “big coloured male lizard,” fells Ekwueme.

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