July 19, 2024

Unoka’s flute as foundation for Okonkwo’s emergent fame

  • June 17, 2024
  • 4 min read
Unoka’s flute as foundation for Okonkwo’s emergent fame

By Chioma Iwuala

I watched again the opening scenes of the movie Things Fall Apart that was aired many years ago on national television, the NTA, this weekend. While watching it, I saw the terse contributions of Unoka’s flute to the foundational backdrop upon which Okonkwo rose to fame.

One of the expositions of the movie is how Okonkwo despised his father for playing the flute always, while the farm dies. To Okonkwo, constantly playing the flute by his father, Unoka, is a sign of laziness. Okonkwo prefers his father to do other manly activities such as going to the farm, tilling the soil, making farm ridges, planting yam seedlings, taking titles, etc. Unoka’s wife, Adaeze also sees Unoka’s constant blowing of the flute as irritating. She tells Unoka that it is this act of his that makes Okonkwo to be ashamed of him.

However, Unoka recounts to Adaeze, his wife that, it was the same flute and its beautiful music that attracted him to her and they became husband and wife. Afterwards, she bore Okonkwo for him. Unoka has a defence to make for himself as if he knew that his spectators will write him off as a failure. Thus he points out that he gave birth to Okonkwo, gave him a new wife and made him a great farmer.

Moreso, Unoka’s mastery of the flute, coupled with his ability to compose enchanting melodies, demonstrates an artistic sensitivity that serves as a poignant contrast to the harsh realities of his surroundings. Achebe underscores the significance of Unoka’s musical talent by juxtaposing it against the societal obsession with materialism, dominance and power. During Unoka’s conversations with his son, Okonkwo, he, Unoka informs Okonkwo of Amalinze the Cat, who was set to retire as an undefeated champion wrestler. Unoka encourages his son Okonkwo to challenge the Cat and defeat him. During the epic battle, Unoka blows the flute to eulogize Okonkwo and this swells his pride. Eventually, Okonkwo challenges Amalinze the Cat and defeats him.

Again, Unoka rejects the pursuit of material wealth, instead finds solace in the simplicity of his existence. Unoka embraces a life of contentment and peace as against Okonkwo, who craves riches and fame. He asks Adaeze, his wife: what else does Okonkwo want from him? Is it “breast, food, money, or water”? He waves all these aside with a flip of his hand. Also, a contrasting character to Unoka and similar to Okonkwo is Ogbuefi Okorie. Ogbuefi Okorie‘s enthusiasm for materialism brings him out so early in the morning to demand for the money Unoka owes him. He is gathering his eggs for his third title. Unoka, on the other hand, believes that a man should be free with himself even at the early hours of morning and enjoy the enchanting melodies of music his flute produces.

In conclusion, Achebe, through the character of Unoka, cautions against the loss of spiritual fulfilment. He highlights the profound understanding that life is transient, hence the need for personal tranquility. That so much interest attached to material things is all ash. This is because man came into this world bringing nothing, and shall also exit the world with nothing. Citing Isidore Diala’s ‘Ululation’ (lines 17-18) from The Lure of Ash:
“Begotten we die, dying we are reborn
We weave our way through the dance of life”.

Unoka will be the subject of intense critical discourse at Port Harcourt Club, 31 Forces Avenue, Old GRA, Port Harcourt, Rivers State on June 29, 2024 @1:00pm. The theme is ‘Unoka: Between Laziness and Talent’, a collaborative venture between The Book Section, Port Harcourt Club and Nigerian Literary Society.

* Iwuala (nee Duruzo) teaches literature and creative writing and can be reached @chiomajamesiwuala@gmail.com

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