Characterisation in Elechi Amadi’s “The Concubine”

Ihuoma is the tragic heroine and the titular concubine in Elechi Amadi's The Concubine. Her allure and mysterious nature inadvertently lead to tragic events, claiming the lives of three young men.

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The characters in Elechi Amadi‘s The Concubine are Ihuoma, Emenike, Madume, Ekwueme, Ahurole, Anyika, Agwoturumbe, Nwokekoro, Nwonna, Wigwe, Adaku, Nnadi, Ogbuji, Okachi, Wagbara, Wonuma, the Sea-King, and Wodu Wakiri.

Ihuoma

Ihuoma is the tragic heroine and the titular concubine in Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine. Her allure and mysterious nature inadvertently lead to tragic events, claiming the lives of three young men.

Ihuoma is a young and very beautiful woman of about twenty-two years. At the tender age of sixteen, she marries Emenike.

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During their six-year marriage, Ihuoma and Emenike are blessed with three children: two sons named Nwonna and Azubuike, and a baby girl whose name is not given in the novel.

Tragedy strikes when Emenike’s life is abruptly cut short after his conflict with Madume, leaving Ihuoma to grapple with grief. Despite her heartache, she maintains her dignity, loyalty, and devotion to her late husband, ensuring his memory is honoured.

A year after Emenike’s passing, Ihuoma organizes a befitting second burial ceremony, signaling the end of her mourning period.

Ihuoma returns to her home village, Omigwe on her mother’s invitation where her mother introduces the idea of remarriage, suggesting Ekwueme as a suitable candidate.

However, Ihuoma firmly refuses, vowing to stay in her late husband’s house to care for their children until they reach adulthood before considering anything else. The suggestion of Ekwueme as a potential husband sparks a rare outburst of anger from her.

Ekwueme develops feelings for her and eventually proposes marriage. Ihuoma gently declines his marriage proposal, aware of Ekwueme’s longstanding engagement to Ahurole, another girl from Omigwe. She encourages him to honour the sacred agreement between the families and marry Ahurole instead.

As Ahurole visits Ekwueme’s family as part of the marriage process, Ihuoma makes a brave decision to call on her to prevent any misunderstandings or gossip.

Despite her reservations, Ihuoma’s secret passion for Ekwueme grows. She tries to limit Ekwueme’s visits to her to avoid complications with his marriage to Ahurole. Nonetheless, Ekwueme’s affection for her remains unwavering.

When Ekwueme becomes insane under the influence of Ahurole’s love potion, Ihuoma’s love and care, along with Anyika’s medicine, contribute to his recovery. She proves her unconditional affection, demonstrating her devotion even when Ekwueme’s appearance is less appealing.

Ihuoma decides to marry Ekwueme, and she exhibits utmost love and affection for him. However, her life takes a tragic turn when, on the eve of their marriage, Ekwueme is accidentally killed by an arrow shot by her first son, Nwonna, during a hunt for a lizard needed for a Sea-King ritual.

Emenike

Emenike is the first character introduced in Elechi Amadi’s novel, The Concubine. A man of slight build but well-proportioned, he is an average wrestler and believed to be around thirty years old, placing him in the same age bracket as his adversary, Madume.

Married to Ihuoma for six years before the start of the story, Emenike is a loving husband and father to their three children.

During a forest fight with Madume, Emenike gets serious injury to his left side. Despite treatment by Anyika, his condition worsens, and he coughs blood, facing a life-threatening illness.

Upon his recovery, Emenike expresses gratitude to Amadioha, the god of thunder and the skies, by offering a thanksgiving sacrifice on a Great Eke. During this ritual, he shares a disconcerting psychic facial encounter with Nwokekoro, the priest of Amadioha, which leaves him with a haunting premonition of his own death.

Tragically, less than a week after the shrine visit, Emenike dies suddenly, with his fight against Madume believed to be the remote cause. A year after his death, a befitting second burial ceremony is held in his honour, and Ihuoma pays heartfelt tributes to preserve his memory.

Emenike is the only husband who officially married Ihuoma in the novel, sharing six years of married life with her. Unlike Ihuoma’s other lovers, he had the opportunity of a formal marriage. However, his mysterious death sets a pattern for subsequent tragic and enigmatic events, beginning with Ihuoma receiving fresh advances from other men, leading to further misfortune and deaths.

Emenike’s untimely death is not unconnected to the ruthless actions of the jealous Sea-King, Ihuoma’s real husband in the spirit world.

Madume

Madume is a massive man in his early thirties with a narrow square head. He has a notoriously bad temper, akin to that of a man suffering from painful whitlows on all ten fingers.

Madume is married to Wolu with whom he has four daughters. He is however seriously concerned about not having a son. His eldest daughter, Adanna, is already being courted by Wodu Wakiri, the village jester.

Madume is very lazy. This is evident in his having just two houses in his compound whose roofs he despises thatching during the rainy season, resulting into frequent roof leaks. His yam harvest is also meager.

His most significant flaw is his insatiable greed, making him widely despised in the village. Villagers mockingly refer to him as “big-eyed” for always wanting more than his fair share in any matter. Consequently, he engages in quarrels over land, palm wine trees, and other resources. It is this greed that eventually leads him to a dispute with Emenike.

The novel begins with Madume defeating Emenike in a fight over a piece of land. Emenike’s subsequent illness is attributed to this altercation, though his brief recovery absolves Madume of direct responsibility for his death. Nevertheless, the villagers consider Madume fortunate to escape accusations of murder and avoid the prohibitive costs of purification rites.

Madume secretly nurtures the desire to marry Ihuoma, despite her lack of affection for him. He sees Emenike as the reason for his failure to win her heart.

After a toe injury caused by an old hoe in Ihuoma’s compound, Anyika divines that unknown spirits, including Emenike’s father’s spirit, conspire against Madume, seeking to prevent his involvement with Ihuoma. To protect himself, Madume undergoes a protective ritual.

His troubles continue when he engages in a serious conflict with Ihuoma, leading to a near-fight with Nnadi, Emenike’s brother. During the altercation, a spitting cobra blinds Madume.

In the end, he is deserted by his wife and daughters. Madume tragically chooses to end his life and his body is thrown into the evil forest at Minita.

Later revelations indicate that Madume becomes the second victim of the jealous Sea-King, connecting him to the tragic events in the novel. Although he might have played a role in Emenike’s death and the relationship between Ihuoma and Ekwueme, the ultimate cause of these tragedies is attributed to the jealous Sea-King, who seemingly predetermined Emenike’s fate once he married Ihuoma.

Ekwueme

Ekwueme is a young and handsome man, approximately twenty-seven years old. He stands out as Adaku’s eldest child, with a significant age gap of almost twenty-seven years between him and his youngest brother.

Known for grazing the soles of his feet against the ground to create a peculiar sound and gifted with a melodious alto singing voice, Ekwueme also possesses a unique way of whistling during his baths, creating duet-like tunes. He attributes his name, meaning “say and do,” to stubbornness and willpower.

Fearless and aggressive, Ekwueme is an average wrestler who enjoys taking on any willing opponent, finding wrestling dull if he were too choosy. His hunting and trapping skills, developed early through accompanying his father on trapping rounds, set him apart.

After the death of Ihuoma’s husband, Emenike, Ekwueme pays her a sympathy visit, leading to infatuation with her. He seizes every opportunity to assist Ihuoma with manly tasks, such as roof-thatching and yam-tying, cherishing the moments they spend together.

After one of his visits, Ekwueme experiences a frightening death dream involving Emenike dragging him across a stream. Anyika provides him with a potent charm for protection afterwards.

Pressured by his parents, Ekwueme reluctantly marries Ahurole, a betrothal that eventually fails due to his strong maternal ties and enduring affection for Ihuoma.

Ahurole’s love potion has a negative effect on Ekwueme, causing him temporary mental instability. With Anyika’s medicine and Ihuoma’s unwavering love, he regains his balance.

Despite the Sea-King’s seeming opposition to their marriage, Ekwueme remains determined to marry Ihuoma, even at the cost of defying four hundred of such Sea-Kings. Together with his parents, he seeks guidance from Agwoturumbe who told them about a ritual to fetter the Sea-King while instructing them to postpone the bride price payment.

Tragically, Ekwueme’s life ends on the eve of his marriage, accidentally struck by a barbed arrow meant for the lizard for the midnight ritual.

Ekwueme emerges as the dominant male character in the novel. The text focuses on his relationship with Ihuoma, which is portrayed as natural, selfless, and pure, devoid of material considerations.

Ekwueme’s madness intensifies their love and brings them even closer. This arouses the jealousy of the Sea-King.

Ekwueme’s stubbornness, though a driving force in their relationship, also contributes to his tragic end.

Ahurole

Ahurole is a young and slim woman of about twenty-two years. She is in the same age bracket as Ihuoma, who already has three children. However, her marriage has been delayed by her father, Wagbara, who is in no hurry to give her hand to Ekwueme’s family.

Ahurole is Ekwueme’s childhood betrothed, engaged to him when she was just eight days old, while Ekwueme was approximately five years old.

In the novel, her first mention comes during Ekwueme’s courtship of Ihuoma, where Ihuoma reminds Ekwueme of his prior commitment to Ahurole, emphasizing the significance of their engagement and their shared roots in Omigwe village.

Under the influence of Adaku, Ekwueme’s mother, marriage negotiations for Ahurole begin to thwart the possibility of Ekwueme marrying Ihuoma. The negotiations are expedited, taking six months instead of the customary one year, and proceed through various stages.

Initially, there is a crisis when Ekwueme resists marrying Ahurole, prompting Wigwe, Ekwueme’s father, to tactfully intervene to disrupt his relationship with Ihuoma.

However, Ahurole’s marriage to Ekwueme faces numerous challenges, including her inclination to cry easily, Ekwueme’s strong attachment to his mother and her cooking, and his ongoing relationship with Ihuoma, which looms in the background. In an attempt to salvage the situation, Ahurole’s mother, Wonuma, resorts to a love potion procured from a medicine man in Chiolu.

Despite her apprehensions, Ahurole administers the love potion to Ekwueme as instructed. Contrary to her expectations, the potion leads to negative outcomes, culminating in Ekwueme’s madness. Filled with guilt and feeling responsible for Ekwueme’s condition, Ahurole ultimately abandons him, leading to the collapse of their marriage. Eventually, Wagbara returns the bride price after Ihuoma agrees to marry Ekwueme.

Ahurole’s role in the novel complicates the plot and deepens the crisis between Ekwueme and Ihuoma. Her early betrothal to Ekwueme restricts his choices and forces him to prioritize her over Ihuoma. Without this engagement, Ekwueme and Ihuoma would have pursued their marriage much earlier.

Her marriage negotiations offer an intricate illustration of the traditional marriage processes in the Igbo society depicted in the novel. Her marriage highlights the complexities and conflicts inherent in matchmaking, particularly concerning childhood engagements.

Anyika

Anyika is a revered medicine man or dibia who comes from an unknown place called Eluanyim but has been a long-standing resident of Omokachi, where he has earned the reputation as a mediator between the villagers and the spirit world.

When Emenike falls ill after his conflict with Madume in the forest, it is Anyika who tends to him and nurses him back to health, though tragically, Emenike meets his sudden demise later.

Upon Ekwueme’s unsettling dream, where the spirit of Emenike attempts to drag him across a stream, Anyika provides Ekwueme with a potent protective charm.

Madume seeks Anyika’s guidance to interpret the meaning behind his toe accident in Ihuoma’s compound. Anyika reveals that unknown spirits, some from the sea, conspired to bring him harm, with Emenike’s father among them.

Following Madume’s suicide, Anyika armed with amulets and powerful charms, takes charge of cutting down the body and arranging its disposal in Minita, the forest for rejected bodies.

Anyika staunchly refuses to create a love potion for Ahurole, emphasizing the grave side-effects it may cause. His refusal proves to be right, as he is determined not to harm anyone in the village, expressing his allegiance to their welfare.

When Ekwueme suffers madness from Ahurole’s love potion, Anyika, with the psychological assistance of Ihuoma, treats and cares for him.

Anyika opposes Ekwueme and Ihuoma’s planned marriage, recommending divination be done before proceeding. After aiding Wigwe with the divination fee, Anyika uncovers a shocking revelation — Ihuoma is a daughter of the sea and a cherished wife of the Sea-King, preventing her from contracting another marriage on earth. The most she can be is a concubine, which in itself is only possible after a ritual of appeasement. This divination introduces a pivotal twist to the narrative as Ekwueme’s bewildered parents seek another diviner.

A powerful figure in the village, Anyika stands as the voice of truth and the conduit to the future, serving as the mediator between the people and the spirit world. His role combining healing and divination makes him indispensable to the villagers. His importance is summed up in Wolu’s words, Madume’s wife: “It is a blessing that Anyika lives among us, my lord.”

Kind, loyal, and benevolent, Anyika, despite being a stranger, feels deeply connected to the people, refraining from administering harmful potions like the love potion Ahurole seeks. His focus remains on healing and constructive methods. He epitomizes nobility and truthfulness.

Anyika’s unwavering belief that the jealous Sea-King is too powerful to be bound and his relentless nature guides his conviction that the marriage between Ekwueme and Ihuoma cannot work. This drives Ekwueme’s desperate parents to seek an alternative diviner, introducing Agwoturumbe into the narrative.

Anyika proves correct both in refusing the love potion for Ahurole and in the impossibility of subduing the vengeful Sea-King, who strikes mercilessly towards the end of the novel. The tragedy in the novel emerges from the failure to wholeheartedly trust in Anyika’s counsel, as disregarding his divinations leads to disaster on two occasions.

Agwoturumbe

Agwoturumbe is a flamboyant diviner and medicine man from far-away Aliji. He arrives in Omokachi with grandeur with the intent to attempt to bind the Sea-King. Accompanying him is a young boy carrying his medicine bag. His favorite dish is said to be pounded yam and chicken soup.

Agwoturumbe’s role is confined to the last two chapters of the novel, focusing on the attempt to bind the Sea-King in preparation for Ekwueme’s marriage to Ihuoma. After Anyika admits his helplessness in the situation, Ekwueme’s parents seek Agwoturumbe’s aid.

His divination confirms Anyika’s findings, except Agwoturumbe claims he can indeed bind the Sea-King through a ritual involving a midnight canoe ride to the middle of the river. Because he hails from a place without significant rivers, he decides to come to Omokachi for the ritual after assembling all the necessary items.

Agwoturumbe leaves a significant impact on the villagers during his brief stay, even overshadowing Anyika, but the two diviners maintain a cordial relationship when they meet. Anyika displays magnanimity by warmly receiving Agwoturumbe and assisting him in finding some scarce items.

He attends to Ekwueme after the latter is fatally wounded by Nwonna’s arrow, though he cannot save Ekwueme, who succumbs to his injuries shortly after midnight. During this critical moment, Anyika is noticeably absent.

Agwoturumbe represents an alternative voice of the oracle to Anyika, but ultimately, Anyika’s divination proves to be more reliable. Agwoturumbe’s claim that he can bind the Sea-King inadvertently contributes to the unfolding tragedy, as it emboldens Ekwueme’s parents to pursue the ill-fated marriage negotiations.

His presence in Omokachi allows Anyika to reveal another admirable trait: his sense of tolerance and magnanimity. Anyika harbors neither hatred nor jealousy towards Agwoturumbe, emphasizing the nobility of his character.

Nwokekoro

Nwokekoro is the white-haired and portly priest of Amadioha, the god of thunder and the skies. He is a prominent figure in the religious life of the village.

His primary responsibilities involve making offerings to Amadioha and participating in rituals related to rain. Due to the direct support of Amadioha, other rain makers hold him in awe. Attempts to rival him, like Ogonda’s, are met with severe consequences.

When Nwokekoro is in his priestly role at the shrine, people avoid staring at him, recognizing his spiritual significance. Even Emenike, during his thanksgiving offering, experiences a peculiar psychic sensation when he gazes at Nwokekoro, which might have contributed to his sudden death shortly after.

Madume encounters Nwokekoro on the way just before his toe accident in Ihuoma’s compound. The priest remarks on Madume’s agitated demeanor, sensing the tension surrounding him. Later, Nwokekoro is present at the scene of Madume’s suicide, witnessing the tragic event.

During the search for the missing Ekwueme after he goes insane, Nwokekoro plays a crucial role in assisting the villagers in their efforts to find him.

As the intermediary between the people and Amadioha, Nwokekoro’s role is vital in the spiritual life of the community. He facilitates communication with the god, ensuring that the religious practices are carried out effectively.

It does not go without saying that Nwokekoro is unknowingly used as a medium for a spiritual attack on Emenike through fatal eye contact at the shrine of Amadioha. The Sea-King may have manipulated Nwokekoro to target his earthly rival.

Nwonna

Nwonna is first son of Ihuoma and Emenike. He is approximately six years old. He is very energetic and curious. He plays minor but crucial roles in the unfolding events of the novel. Though young, Nwonna’s actions have far-reaching consequences.

During Ekwueme’s initial attempt to express his love to Ihuoma, Nwonna unexpectedly interrupts their conversation, inadvertently shaping the course of their relationship.

When Madume suffers a serious toe injury in Ihuoma’s compound, it is Nwonna who rushes to fetch water to clean the wound, demonstrating his helpful and caring nature.

Ekwueme, after facing challenges in his relationship with Ihuoma, sends a thoughtful gift of bush meat to her through Nwonna as a symbol of his affection and persistence.

Tragically, Nwonna becomes the unwitting instrument of the Sea-King’s plans to prevent Ekwueme’s marriage to Ihuoma. While attempting to shoot a male lizard, Nwonna’s arrow accidentally hits Ekwueme, leading to the young man’s untimely demise. This sequence of events suggests the influence of unseen forces at play.

As the eldest child of Ihuoma, Nwonna dutifully assists his mother with various tasks following Emenike’s death, stepping into a supportive role in the household.

Wigwe and Adaku

Wigwe and Adaku are the devoted parents of Ekwueme. They have two other children, Nkechi, a 15-year-old girl, and a baby boy.

Ekwueme shares a closer emotional bond with his mother, Adaku, than with his father, Wigwe. He finds comfort and companionship in his mother’s presence, which affects his ability to love Ahurole, his childhood betrothed. His heart is drawn to Ihuoma, the only woman apart from his mother that he genuinely admires.

As Ekwueme’s relationship with Ihuoma begins to blossom, Adaku becomes the first to sense the growing connection and urges her husband to expedite the marriage negotiations with Ahurole. Wigwe, concerned about his son’s well-being, takes measures to break Ekwueme’s affair with Ihuoma.

However, both parents are grateful to Ihuoma for her role in restoring Ekwueme to sanity after his bout of madness. Consequently, they both support the proposed marriage between Ihuoma and their son, despite Anyika’s unsettling divination.

In response to Anyika’s revelation about the Sea-King, Wigwe and Ekwueme undertake a journey to Aliji to meet the renowned dibia, Agwoturumbe, seeking a resolution to the impending challenges.

When the tragic accident occurs, Adaku is overcome with grief and attempts to take her own life by jumping into a well in their compound. Thankfully, the barricade prevents her from going through with it, and Wigwe intervenes to console and support her during this painful moment.

As the parents of the central male character in the novel, Wigwe and Adaku’s actions shape the course of events, especially their decision to arrange a childhood engagement between Ekwueme and Ahurole.

Ogbuji and Okachi

Ogbuji and Okachi are the parents of Ihuoma.

Okachi takes the initiative to speak with Ihuoma soon after Emenike’s second burial, discussing the sensitive issue of remarriage with her daughter. During their conversation, Okachi openly expresses her preference for Ekwueme, which irritates Ihuoma. Tensions rise, and Ihuoma loses her temper, feeling overwhelmed by the constant mention of Ekwueme: “Ekwueme, Ekwueme. What type of Ekwueme is this? Please let me alone, mother.” This significant interaction takes up the entire Chapter Eight of the novel.

As events bring Ekwueme and Ihuoma closer together, Okachi’s happiness is evident, supporting the union of the two. On the other hand, Ogbuji, Ihuoma’s father, is more reserved about the relationship, mainly due to his distant relationship with Wagbara, Ahurole’s father. He is not entirely in favor of Ihuoma replacing Ahurole, but he refrains from interfering, allowing things to unfold naturally.

Okachi plays a more prominent role in encouraging the romantic affair between Ekwueme and Ihuoma, while Ogbuji’s hesitation stems from family ties. His reluctance makes him one of the few individuals, alongside Anyika, who does not wholeheartedly support the proposed marriage.

Wagbara and and Wonuma

Wagbara and Wonuma are the parents of Ahurole, Ekwueme’s childhood fiancée, whom he is later compelled to marry. On the eighth day after Ahurole’s birth, they formally engaged her to Ekwueme, who was about five years old at the time. The engagement ceremony was simple, with Ekwueme’s father, Wigwe, placing kola nuts and young palm wine saplings into the vessel from which Ahurole drank. As the children grew, they were made aware of their betrothal.

Despite Wagbara’s initial reluctance, the negotiations for Ahurole’s marriage are completed within six months, half the expected time. Wonuma plays an active role in preparing her daughter, Ahurole, for marriage.

Wonuma takes matters into her own hands and creates a love potion for her daughter in an attempt to save her marriage and keep Ihuoma at bay.

However, when the marriage eventually collapses, Wagbara willingly refunds the bride price to Wigwe, expressing sincere apologies for their daughter’s actions. He even offers to refund the money spent on drinks, but Wigwe refuses, emphasizing that marriage relationships are never entirely severed and that he is always welcome at Omigwe.

By betrothing their daughter to Ekwueme at such an early age, Wagbara and Wonuma unknowingly create a potential source of conflict that manifests in later life.

The Sea-King

The Sea-King is portrayed as the powerful and ruling spirit of the sea, and he is depicted as the husband of Ihuoma in the spirit world. His deep love for Ihuoma makes him intensely jealous, leading him to attempt to destroy any man who shows affection towards her.

As a spiritual entity, the actions and influence of the Sea-King are revealed through the divination process conducted by Anyika and Agwoturumbe. Both medicine men identify him as Ihuoma’s husband in the spirit world, though they differ in their beliefs about whether the Sea-King can be bound. Agwoturumbe believes he can be controlled, while Anyika holds a different perspective.

Towards the conclusion of the novel, it is revealed that the Sea-King is responsible for the series of disasters that befall Ihuoma’s love life. The three men who display affection for her—Emenike, Madume, and Ekwueme—all meet tragic fates one after the other. Anyika uncovers this truth just as Ekwueme is preparing to marry Ihuoma, and he earnestly warns against the union, fearing the wrath of the Sea-King. Unfortunately, Ekwueme disregards the warning, leading to his own downfall.

As the “ruling spirit” of the novel, the Sea-King exercises remote control over the lives and destinies of its characters, making him a pivotal and mysterious figure in the story.

Wodu Wakiri

Wodu Wakiri, a man of short stature with knock-knees and large eyes, is known as the village jester and a bachelor with plans to marry Adanna, Madume’s eldest daughter. Despite his physical appearance, he is a source of entertainment and humour in the community, delighting in making fun of everyone, including himself. This self-deprecating humour leaves people with little choice but to laugh along.

Wakiri is also a talented singer, possessing a soprano voice as clear as the sound of a hollow metal gong called “igele.” He often teams up with Ekwueme, whose alto voice complements his, making them an indispensable duo for any singing occasion. Together, they perform memorable displays during important events, like Emenike’s second burial.

Apart from his musical talents, Wakiri is always available to assist Ihuoma with challenging tasks, such as roof-thatching and yam-tying, usually alongside Nnadi and Ekwueme.

During the opening negotiations for Ahurole’s marriage, Wakiri joins the group carrying wine for the talks. Although some consider his presence unsuitable for a serious occasion, his ability to create laughter with a well-timed joke endears him to the gathering, including Ahurole’s father, Wagbara.

Wakiri’s importance is further highlighted when he plays a crucial role in the search for Ekwueme in the forest. He is the first to spot Ekwueme atop a tree and quickly alerts Nnadi about the discovery.

Beyond his humourous demeanour, Wakiri proves to be a close and reliable friend to Ekwueme, offering support during difficult times. He serves as a merry-maker and brings comic relief to moments of tension, making him an indispensable and beloved figure in the village’s social life.

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