Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 1, Chapter 6 : The Early Sixties | Summary

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Summary

Richard eats traditional pepper soup at Odenigbo's, and Miss Adebayo comments, "This is proof that Richard was an African in his past life." The guests reject the European dishes prepared by Harrison. Olanna turns on High Life music by Rex Lawson, who Miss Adebayo says is "a true Nigerian. He does not cleave to his Kalabari tribe; he sings in all our major languages." Odenigbo says this is reason not to like Lawson. They discuss the severing of diplomatic ties with France, and Odenigbo says Prime Minister Balewa did this because he is a British puppet. Odenigbo says, "We are living in a time of great white evil ... they are controlling us from behind drawn curtains."

Okeoma the poet asks Richard about his book, and when Richard begins to gush about the complexity of the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes, Okeoma says, "you sound surprised, as if you never imagined these people capable of such things." Okeoma reads a poem "about Africans getting buttocks rashes from defecating in imported metal buckets."

Richard struggles with his identity as a writer and with Okeoma's distrust of his motives. He goes to Port Harcourt to visit Kainene and practices his Igbo with Ikejide, her steward. Richard confesses to Kainene Okeoma's comments upset him, and she responds, "It's possible to love something and still condescend to it." She tells him of being 14 years old and spitting in her father's glass of water, and he tells her how during his childhood, his parents were too distracted and in love with each other to pay much attention to him. The chapter ends with another excerpt from the book The World Was Silent When We Died, which discusses the British system of indirect rule of the various tribes around the Niger River, beginning with the Berlin Conference of 1884 and culminating in the establishment of Nigeria in 1914.

Analysis

Okeoma, who thinks Richard is writing a novel about expatriates, locates a veiled condescension in Richard's appreciation of Igbo-Ukwu lost-wax casting techniques. Richard is surprised and offended and feels he would be just as amazed by similar discoveries anywhere. He tries to fit in with Odenigbo's circle of Nigerian revolutionaries, but his position is uncomfortable. He struggles through a spicy bowl of pepper soup as if to earn their respect. They treat him with a benign condescension, criticizing the European foods enthusiastically prepared by Harrison and not fully including him in political discussions. Their rejection unsettles Richard, and he only feels safe practicing Igbo with the servants. As a poet, Okeoma uses metaphor to convey the danger of foreign influence to Africans, which Odenigbo explicitly denounces.

The excerpt from the book-within-a-book at the chapter's end functions as a device for sharing the larger historical context that frames the individual goals and struggles of Adichie's characters. The Berlin Conference of 1884 was a meeting between Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium. The resulting agreements divided Africa among these European powers without any input from Africans. The Niger River was important to the British for trading purposes, and control of the land to the north and the south of the river was granted to the British, who imposed unity on the disparate tribes of the region. They established a system of indirect rule placing the Muslim Hausa-Fulani people in power over the Yoruba of the southwest and the Igbo of the southeast. This system planted the seeds of the conflict that would erupt in civil war six years after the establishment of a free Nigeria in 1960.

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