A 216-page story of the fantastically intriguing life of Ihuoma as she goes through life in ways too difficult for her to fathom, The Concubine by Elechi Amadi is a deep, detailed and traditionally enriching account of love and uncertainty of life.
The village of Omokachi is the centre of events; it is bordered by Chiolu, Aliji and Emigwe.
The Concubine by Elechi Amadi centres round the 22-year old Ihuoma, a beautiful, gentle and charming woman whose personality is second to none in the entire village of Omokachi and its environ.
Emenike, Ihuoma’s husband has just had a scuffle with Madume over a land dispute. Even though Emenike beat the stubborn, egoistic Madume in the fight, he is later to suffer from what is regarded as ‘lock-chest’. But after series of divinations and medicines by the highly regarded Anyika, the medicine man, Emenike passes on, leaving his wife, Ihuoma and their four children behind.
Quite naturally, the rumour has spread that Emenike could not have died naturally; that Madume must definitely have killed his enemy with the use of juju. Even, Okachi, Ihuoma’s mother is not surprised by this rumour. Consoling her daughter in her compound, she has this conversation with her:
‘Kaka, do you think that that fight caused his death?’ Ihuoma asked in an undertone.
‘What else caused it?’
‘I thought it was “lock-chest.’
‘But what brought about the lock-chest?’
‘He worked too hard in the rain.’
‘Was that the first time he had worked under the rain? No, my child, we know what happened to him. Amadioha will kill them one by one.’ (page 21)
Now a widow, Ihuoma has metamorphosed into a full woman, in spite of her young age. Even though she has her doubts and fear of the unknown in the guise of nightmares and hallucinations, her doggedness and homely character through the lonely, dreadful period of widowhood has won many people to her side. Everywhere she goes, she is often regarded highly and is envied. But what seems to be so charming about her is her resourcefulness throughout the burial rites. It is such a huge ceremony that many believe will wear her out.
At the end of her mourning period, Ihuoma looks radiant, as before; her beauty is so enchanting, she has become the cynosure of all eyes in the entire village. The raining season approaches and Ihuoma’s roofs need some thatching. His well-meaning brother-in-law, Nnadi alongside his friends: Wakiri and Ekwueme come to her aid. But unknown to Nnadi, Ekwe as he is fondly called by many, is interested in the widow. His first attempt at winning Ihuoma over fails; his guts to bear out his mind to her fail him and he goes home dejected. The next day he tells his mother about the nightmare he has had in the night: ‘Emenike and others tried to drag me across a stream in a dream.’ (page 50)
Even Madume, a man believed to have killed Emenike, is lusting after the beautiful woman. After a failed attempt to make his wife, Wolu, convey his message of love to Ihuoma, he goes arrogantly to tell the woman himself. But his mission is soon aborted and he comes home limping, with a badly injured toe. Anyika, the famous dibia, has barely helped him overcome the injury when again he decides to harass the young Ihuoma at her husband’s farm. Threatening to cut down a branch of a banana in reaction to Nnadi’s daring him to do so, he is spat into in the eyes by a spitting cobra. Then he transfers his aggression to everyone around him including his household and the elders. Frustrated and miserable, he commits suicide. As a tradition, his body is to be taken far away from the village and thrown into the deep forest. Worse, there will be no mourning, no second burial in his honour.
Madume’s death notwithstanding, music, which has been a very potent medicine that heals every wound of worry and tribulations anyone might be dealing with in the village of Omokachi, cannot be stopped. It is a successful Dance Festival as Ekwueme, Mmam, Wakiri, the clown, treat everyone to sonorous and interesting songs to which people, man, and woman, young and old gyrate their body. After all, life is too serious an experience not to have some moment for pleasure. Amidst this fanfare, Ekwueme finally proposes to Ihuoma. But as a wise woman who is deeply rooted in the ways of the people, she declines because he is already betrothed to Ahurole, another girl from her own village, Omigwe.
Upon hearing the love affair between his son and the widow, Wigwe, Ekwe’s father, cunningly asks Ihuoma on his son’s behalf whether she will marry him. Expectedly, the answer is no. Wigwe along with his wife, Adaku, will not stop there. They must eliminate every obstacle in the way. So, the marriage ceremony that is supposed to take a year is speedily arranged in six months. Finally, the young man is successfully married to Ahurole. However, the marriage is soon short-lived, as Ekwueme cannot put up with his wife’s consistent nagging and sulking. This makes him remember Ihuoma a lot. But the last straw that broke the camel’s back is when Ahurole catches his husband inside Ihuoma’s compound, pretending to be searching for the lost she-goat. This so anger Ahurole that she goes to her mother’s and explains what has happened. She advises her to get a love potion from Anyika, if she must tie down her husband’s love to herself alone. But the expert medicine man warns her thus:
‘I am sure you have seen active and intelligent men suddenly become passive, stupid and dependent. That is what love potion can do. So go and settle your differences with your husband peacefully. If you insist you must go somewhere else.’ (page 159)
The mother is indeed persistent and she goes to Chiolu where she gets the love potion. But the resultant effect is devastating: rather than love Ahurole Ekwe goes berserk, to the extent that the entire village goes in search of him. He is later to be found on top of a tree armed with a cub daring anyone to disturb him. All efforts to make him come down from the tree proved futile until he starts to mumble Ihuoma’s name. She is fetched and on seeing him, the troubled young man descends the tree.
Thereafter, Ekwueme will not take any medicine unless Ihuoma is present. In fact, she is the only one he talks to. After his recovery, he convinces his troubled parents of his intention to marry Ihuoma. Fearing that he might resort to his old self, and thinking the move worthwhile a reward for Ihuoma’s assistance during their son’s troubled moments, they give in.
Meanwhile, Ahurole has fled and has joined her parents. Wagbara, her father has to return the bride price paid on her.
But that is not the end of the trouble with the poor Ekwueme. Though Nnadi, Ihuoma’s brother-in-law has consented to the marriage, Ekwueme has one more hurdle to cross: Anyika proposes divination before the bride price is paid.
Most shocking is the dibia’s divination. Ekwueme is taken to Anyinka, the best medicine man in Omokachi who divines that the lover boy will be destroyed if he goes ahead to marry the widow. The reason is that Ihuoma is a sea-goddess from birth whom has been married to the proud and jealous Sea-King who kills anyone who marries her. However, if the Sea-King is appeased through powerful sacrifices he could still allow Ekwueme to be Ihuoma’s concubine.
But Ekwueme and his parents will not believe this story entirely unless they try another medicine man. So off they go to Aliji, another village far away from Omokachi. There they meet Agwoturumbe, an equally powerful but boastful dibia, who tells them the same story as Anyika has done. However, unlike Anyika, he believes he possesses the powers to disarm the deadly Sea-King from harming Ekwueme. But this will be in the form of sacrifices that will involve himself, Ekwe and Wigwe.
All is set for the sacrifice except one thing — the multi-coloured lizard. Even this Ekwe has sent for the little boys around to handle. As Agwoturumbe, the hired dibia, is getting set for the sacrifice, Nwonna’s barbed arrow which has missed a lizard it was targeted at, hits Ekwueme in the belly as he stands from where he and his wife-to-be, Ihuoma, have been fondling each other, to see how well the preparation is going.
And then: ‘The Spirit of Death was known to take away people’s souls shortly after midnight. That was when Ekwueme died.’ (page 216)
This closing of The Concubine by Elechi Amadi is particularly striking. It leaves the reader with thoughts on the irreversible power of destiny.
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