Throughout the novel, there is a deep divide among the characters from “the cities” (Olanna, Odenigbo, Kainene) and those from “the bush” (Ugwu, Mama) about the belief in the spiritual and magical.  When Odenigbo sleeps with Amala, Ugwu is quick to point to the magic of a dibia, a traditional healer or medicine man from Odenigbo’s village, for his hurtful and irrational behavior.  Olanna, however, clings to her modern understanding of the world: she fights a willingness to believe in the magic of the dibia, instead blaming Odenigbo’s lack of will for his infidelity, although she is desperate to reconcile with him, and perhaps secretly wishes that it was the dibia’s magic that caused Odenigbo to cheat.

Olanna maintains this distance from traditional magic until the very end of the novel, when Kainene disappears.  Suddenly, she decides that it is worth consulting a dibia to help find her sister.  When that does not work, she puts her faith in the Igbo belief in reincarnation—that if Kainene and she are reincarnated, they will still be sisters, and have time to finish the story that was cut short by war.

“When I come back in my next life, Kainene will be my sister.” (pg. 540) 

Olanna’s struggle with magic and traditional spirituality rings true across cultural borders.  The hardships, uncertainty, and danger of war and violence have brought people from many backgrounds and beliefs closer to an understanding of god.  While spirituality is considered backwards and foolish in times of prosperity, it is god that comforts us in hardship: and idea that was once frail and illusionary becomes the most solid thing we possess.  The dibia and Reincarnation had been around before the war, and they had survived the war in a way that the modern world Olanna inhabited had not. The Biafran war left so much unfinished and uncertain (Who is left alive?  Where will they live?  Where will they work?)  that traditional spirituality appealed to a stability and justice that Olanna felt alienated from.  Even as everything else crumbles, there is hope in another cycle, another rebirth, for the sisters to be reunited.

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One response »

  1. Ariel Villano says:

    I am really glad that you mentioned Olanna’s quote about reincarnation, as this quote really caught my attention during my reading of the novel as well. I agree with your interpretation that: “the dibia and Reincarnation…survived the war in a way that the modern world Olanna inhabited had not.” Going along with this and what you said in the first paragraph of your post about the “deep divide” between city and “bush” characters throughout the novel, I think that the Biafran War seemed to close this divide in a certain sense. Firstly, the war definitely closed this divide in the literal sense, as individuals were forced to relocate. We found “city” characters and “bush” characters living together in compounds, and often in a very village like manner— having to fetch water, etc.

    But in addition, we find instances like Olanna’s here, where characters who wouldn’t normally rely on or seek to engage in “bush” religion/spirituality end up doing so in order to make sense of their world.

    However, we also find the exact opposite, where characters continue to perpetuate stereotypes of “city” versus “bush.” One instance of this occurs on page 362, when Eberechi claims that the man with the long, braided beard is a “bush man” who is too not cultured enough to pronounce “Biafra” correctly.

    So I definitely think that the novel blurs lines of origin in the later portion of the novel. Some of these blurred lines seem to coincide with Olanna’s case— characters turning to old village customs for comfort. However, some of the characters in the novel also seem to seek comfort by trying to keep everything as “normal” as possible in their heads, maintaining stereotypes that no longer have any worth in order to hold on to the past.

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