In the Concubine, Elechi Amadi tells us (his readers) a rather eye-opening and compelling story.
He opens the novel with this axiom:
“The Thunder-god feasts in his grove,
Then naps ‘twixt rainbows up above;
But justice suffers here below,
And we know not which way to go.”
As though to prepare his readers for an encounter with the gods, the supernatural, and the extraordinary, as it is mingled with the everyday affairs of the Igbo people. The Igbo community (at the time) which he naturally sets this story in, seems to expect divine interference in their everyday life as a rather normal cause of events. As they go about their day-to-day activities, in this book, Elechi Amadi lets us accompany them (through our mind’s eye), as the men go to check their traps in the forest, as they all go to work on their farms, as they sit in the reception halls of their homes, as the wives cook in their kitchens, as friends visit each other to gossip, as the whole village (both young and old) gather occasionally to sing and dance together, as they go to marry wives, as they discuss quarrels that involve beating of their wives, as they go to bed on their bamboo beds and mats, as they embrace, shun, and struggle with death, the whole time we are there with them through Elechi Amadi’s penmanship, we become a part of their
Ihuoma, a very fine woman both in spirit and in person, turns out to be Amadi’s main character in this novel. A very beautiful well behaved simple woman, who also turns out to be something we all (including herself) struggle to grapple with in the end. Do all the men, women, children, and things linked to her life rise and fall because of her, or does she rise and fall because of them. This is a conundrum Elechi Amadi poses to his readership as well as his characters in this book.
Amadi naturally explores philosophical as well as spiritual phenomena present within the Igbo worldview with this book, such as; the polarity of existence which layers our universe – Oke and Nne (Nwunei), what many would simplify as the masculine and feminine; yin and yang; opposing yet balancing factors. He casually makes reference to this in his description of the drums in his storytelling. He also highlights the abominable perception suicide takes within the Igbo culture, the roles Dibịa play within the community, the hand of divine justice – Ofo na Ogu in the society, the application of body art (uli) with indigo, the idea of reincarnation and the personhood of Agwụ as something people contest with. Basically, the author touches on various cultural as well as spiritual realities of Ndị Igbo (the Igbo people) in his novel.
Elechi Amadi executes a poetic as well as proverbial use of language and metaphors in his writing of the Concubine, as though to illustrate that he too is very much influenced and an adept of the culture he writes about. The Concubine as a novel is definitely a good capture of what an Igbo community would look like pre-colonialism.