Literary Series


The Sacrifice of the Hostage

The Sacrifice of the Hostage (From Emile KAHOUN, Lycée Yadéga)

Ikemefuna, a boy of fifteen, has been taken from his clan as a hostage and entrusted to Okwonko until his fate was decided by the village oracle. Gradually, the boy had become popular in Okwonko’s household and he even called Okwonko, father. The youth had lived with his new family for three years when the oracle pronounced that he should be sacrificed to the clan’s god. They would take him outside “Umuofia”as was the custom, and kill him there. The party set out, Ikemefuna carrying a pot of palm- wine on his head. In spite of the elder’s advice, Okwonko had decided to go with them. At the beginning of their journey, the men of Umuofia talked and laughed about the locusts, about their women, and about some effeminate men who had refused to come with them. But as they draw near the outskirt of Umuofia, silence fell upon them too.
The footway had now become a narrow line in the heart of the forest. The short trees which surrounded the men’s village began to give way to giant trees and climbers which perhaps had stood from the beginning of things, untouched by the axe and the bush- fire. The sun breaking through their leaves and branches threw a pattern of light and shade on the sandy footway.
Ikemefuna heard a whisper close behind him and turned round sharply. The man who had whispered now called out aloud, urging the others to hurry up. “We still have a long way to go”, he said. Then he and another man went before Ikemefuna and set a faster pace.
Thus, the men of Umuofia pursued their way, armed with sheathed matchets, and Ikemefuna, carrying a pot of palm-wine on his head walked in their midst. Although he has felt uneasy at first, he was not afraid now. Okonkwo walked behind him; he could hardly imagine that Okonkwo was not his real father. He had never been fond of his real father, and at the end of three years he had become very distant indeed. But his mother and his three year-old sisters…..
Of course she would not be three now, but six. Would he recognise her now? She must have grown quite big. How his mother would weep for joy and thank Okonkwo for having looked after him so well and for bringing him back. She would want to hear everything that had happened to him in all these years. Could he remember them all? He would tell her about Nwoyé and his mother, and about the locusts…Then quite suddenly a thought came upon him. His mother might be dead. Hen tried in vain to force the thought out of his mind. Then he tried to settle the matter the way he used to settle such matters when he was a little boy. Hen still remembered the song.
He sang it in his mind, and walked to its beat rhythm. If the song ended on his right foot, his mother was alive. If it ended on his left, she was dead. No, not dead but ill. It ended on the right. She was alive and well. He sang the song again, and it ended left. But the second time did not count. The first voice gets to Ohukwu or God’s house. That was a favourite saying of children. Ikemefuna felt like a child once more. It must be the thought of going home to his mother.
One of the men behind him cleared his throat. Ikemefuna looked back, and the man told him to go on and not stand looking back. The way he said it sent a cold fear down Ikemefuna’s back. His hands trembled vaguely on the black pot he carried. Why had Okwonko withdrawn to the rear? Ikemefuna felt his legs melting under him, and he was afraid to look back. As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his matchet, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna’s cry: “My father, they have killed me! », as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okwonko drew his matchet out and killed him. He was afraid of being thought weak.

CHINUA ACHEBE (Nigeria), Things Fall Apart


1. When and where was Ikemefuna killed? (2 marks)
2. Why did the men keep quiet when they drew near the outskirts of Umuofia? (2 marks)
3. Was Ikemefuna afraid? Justify your answer(2 marks)
4. Was Okwonko Ikemefuna’s real father? (2 marks)
5. Who killed Ikemefuna? (2 marks)
6. If you were Okonkwo, what would you do? (4 marks)

7. Translate the last paragraph into French. From "One of the men..... to ... thought weak." (6 marks)


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