Summary and Review
The concubine is a fictitious novel by Nigerian author Elechi Amadi. The novel was first published in 1966 after which the author published a number of other literary works; which include: The Great Ponds (1969), Sunset in Biafra (1973), The Slave (1978) and Estrangement (1986). It is, however, this novel (The Concubine) that remains the author’s crowning achievement.
The book title (The concubine) is symbolic as its meaning is only revealed to the reader in the closing chapters of the novel. It becomes clear that ‘the concubine’ is none other than Ihuoma – the beautiful lady and main character in the novel.
The concubine has its setting in rural Nigeria, as the author makes an effort to depict the African traditional Way of life in its totality; its religious, social, cultural and economic activities. A number of Nigerian rural villages are mentioned in the book, all of which aid in building the African authenticity in the novel.
The storyline of the novel revolves around the main character- Ihuoma, a beautiful and attractive lady in her village. She gains admiration by all and sundry , not only for Her beauty but how gracefully she conducts herself in her housekeeping duties. At the beginning of the novel, we get introduced to Ihuoma as Emenike’s wife.
Emenike had succeeded to get Ihuoma’s hand in marriage after another young man – Madume, had failed to win Ihuoma’s acceptance. Madumes’ rejection by Ihuoma and her consequent marriage to Emenike causes a deep-seated hatred in Madume towards Emenike. Later on an argument over a piece of land results to a fight between Emenike and Madume. Emenike succumbs to wounds resulting from the fight and dies of ‘chest lock’.
Madume suffers guilt for being responsible for the death of a Kinsman. It is easy to associate Emenikes’ death to fate considering that he is a husband to Ihuoma and ‘protector of his home’.
Madume views Emenike’s death as an opportunity to woo Ihuoma. She however refuses his advances, resulting in Madume harassing her. On a particular day, Madume tries to stop Ihuoma from harvesting crops on the piece of land that had caused an argument between him and Emenike. In the process a snake (cobra) spits into Madume’s eyes, resulting in blindness.
At this point, it becomes clear that a power, higher than human strength is ‘watching over’ Ihuoma. Ekwueme is another young man, who tries to woo Ihuoma following Emenike’s death. Ihuoma tries to discourage Ekwueme, since she already has children and he is younger than she is. After tirelessly trying to win Ihuomas’ approval over and over, Ekwueme is unsuccessful and eventually marries Ahurole, who was betrothed to him from childhood. A marriage devoid of love towards Ahurole leaves Ekwueme ‘empty’ and ‘lonely’ and still attracted to Ihuoma. Ahurole feels distanced from her husband (Ekwueme) and decides to administer a love charm to him, as per her mothers’ advice. The ‘medicine’ has a negative effect on Ekwueme, who turns mentally unstable and desires being with Ihuoma even more.
Meanwhile, Madume’s condition deteriorates. He becomes unable to cope with his predicament – blindness, and decides to end his life; which is an abomination in his community. On the other hand, Ekwueme recovers from his sickness after being granted the permission to marry Ihuoma. Prior to the wedding, ‘divine inquiry’ is made, which reveals that Ihuoma – is a concubine to a ‘Sea King’. The divine being is behind the deaths of Ihuomas’ suitors – as a result of jealousy. Despite the revelation of impending misfortune, Ekwueme and Ihuoma consider it too late to reverse their relationship and opt to go ahead with their wedding preparations. During the wedding arrangements, Ekwueme is short by a stray arrow, shot by Ihuomas’ son during play. Ekwueme succumbs to the arrow wound and dies. Ihuoma is left devastated and wishes for her own death. The novel ends with Ihuoma in a state of devastation.
The author has explored a number of themes in the novel, including; role of the supernatural on human lives. Supernatural forces are evidently seen to have an upper hand in human relationships and have control over the course that such relationships take. This is evidenced in the novel, where the ‘Sea King’ has a hold on Ihuomas’ life and eliminates all who try or succeed in winning her love. In line with the theme of the role of divinities in human lives, is the theme of superstition. Superstitions were/are common in tradition African societies and seen in the novel when community members consult mediums before undertaking various quests.
The theme of love is also explored in the novel. Emphasis is on the strength of love. Elechi Amadi depicts love posing a challenge to the supernatural forces surrounding Ihuomas’ life. Love is expressed through various suitors to Ihuoma, while the supernatural forces take the form of the ‘Sea King’. Ekwueme is certain of his fate if he marries Ihuoma, but goes on, driven by love.
There are a number of characters in the novel, including;
Ihuoma; a lady, and the leading character in the novel
Emenike; Ihuomas’ husband at the beginning of the novel
Madume; One of the Ihuoma’s rejected suitors and husband to Wolu
Ekwueme; A young man and suitor to Ihuoma
Ahurole; A beautiful lady from Omigwe and wife to Ekwueme