Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 3, Chapter 19 : The Early Sixties | Summary



The narrative jumps in time back to the early sixties. Ugwu and Harrison are preparing to travel to Ugwu's village with Richard for the ori-okpa festival, which Harrison calls "devilish." Ugwu asks Harrison if he knows where to find tear gas, which he knows about from the newspaper. He wants to use it to make Nnesinachi pass out, so he can have sex with her. Harrison doesn't know what it is, so Ugwu asks Jomo, who laughs at the ridiculous request and tells him Nnesinachi will come to him if she likes him. When he arrives in his village, Anulika tells him Nnesinachi is away.

While Richard takes careful notes on the festival, Ugwu is disappointed at not seeing Nnesinachi. Richard assumes he is homesick, but really Ugwu can't wait to get back home to his books and television. Back in Nsukka Ugwu is surprised to see Odenigbo's mother and Amala have arrived. Odenigbo's mother takes over Ugwu's kitchen, and he takes direction from her. Ugwu overhears Odenigbo shouting about the struggle for independence in Rhodesia. He watches Odenigbo's mother empty a black packet into Odenigbo's soup, and suspects it is medicine from the dibia.

The following day he watches Odenigbo's mother rubbing a substance onto Amala's back, as if she is doing some sort of ritual, and becomes afraid she is using witchcraft against Olanna. Ugwu then sees a "dense turbulent cluster" of flies by the kitchen sink, and, convinced it's an evil omen, tells Odenigbo about the "bad medicine," but he dismisses Ugwu's concerns. Ugwu refuses to eat Odenigbo's mother's food, and, after a sleepless night, sees Amala leaving Odenigbo's bedroom early in the morning.


Ugwu's interest in his trip home is not to see the traditional festival but to seduce Nnesinachi. His inexperience and unworldliness is revealed by his plan to use tear gas as a means of seduction. But when he realizes Nnesinachi is away, Ugwu pouts and longs to return to the Western-style comforts he has grown accustomed to in Nsukka. Richard is an obvious outsider at the festival, with his careful note-taking and his blonde hair, which attracts the attention of the village children.

Ugwu, having come from the same background as Odenigbo's mother, suspects she is attempting to use witchcraft to either hurt Olanna or drive her away from Odenigbo. Deeply attuned to his surroundings, as usual, he reads signs of her ill intent everywhere around the house. Odenigbo, as usual, is dismissive of his mother's behavior as ineffectual and primitive nonsense. He has rejected superstition for rationality, yet he succumbs to his mother's designs, just as Ugwu feared. Odenigbo sleeps with Amala while Olanna is away, and Ugwu, as usual, is the silent, concerned witness.

Rhodesia, now the country of Zimbabwe in southern Africa, had been under British rule since 1890. During the early 1960s, its black inhabitants were engaged in a struggle for self-determination and land ownership. Rhodesians declared their independence from Britain in 1965, and Britain responded with economic sanctions. The war in Rhodesia lasted from 1964 to 1979. Odenigbo cheers on the Rhodesian rebels and expresses his anticolonial sentiment that Nigeria should also break its remaining ties with Britain. This foreshadows the enthusiasm with which he will greet the secession of Biafra in the months to come.

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