Chielo, a village woman, is also the priestess of Agbala and the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. During the times when she is seized by the spirit of Agbala, she becomes very powerful. The other villagers are expected to comply with her requests or demands.
Ezinma, the young daughter of Okonkwo and Ekwefi, has been ill and may be near death. One night, Agbala, through Chielo, wants to take Ezinma to the edge of town, to Agbala’s sacred cave. She does so despite the mother’s objections. She carries the child all around the villages before they reach the caves. Chielo blesses the girl and converses with her god in the caves.
All the while, Ekwefi has been worried and has followed them. When they disappear through a small opening into the cave, she stays outside, alert for her daughter’s cry. If she hears it, “she would rush to defend her against all the gods in the world. She would die with her.”
The incident remains unresolved, as Okonkwo comes to relieve Ekwefi on her watch.
This story conveys the importance of religion in the village’s culture as well as the importance of women. In a male-dominated society, it is significant that the god has a female priestess. She wields considerable power—but not as Chielo herself, only as the god’s representative. The power of traditional culture through religion, in a society where some people are converting to Christianity, represents the resilience of their culture. At the same time, because the priestess’s word should be followed, religion represents the powerlessness of individual people.
Ekwefi’s statement shows that her most important identity, in her eyes, is that of a mother. If she believed her child was being harmed, then she would ignore the will of the gods, even if it meant that both she and the child died. Even though women in the culture do not have much power, Ekwefi shows that through motherhood, women can gain the power to resist tradition.