Among my high school friend group, we have a running joke; whenever there is an awkward silence someone chips in “I want to talk about yams.” (Yes, we’re dorks.) As this joke was established before my time in HK, the only info that I was given about this inside joke was that Lorraine wanted to talk about yams, and it had something to do with Things Fall Apart.
In this blog post I hope to solve one of the big mysteries in my life: Why did Lorraine want to talk about yams? And what made this so funny? (Actually, knowing how goofy my friends are there is most likely no logical explanation for why this is funny. 😛 )
So… *makeshift awkward silence… I want to talk about yams.
From what I’ve looked at so far, yams seem to reflect material wealth and one’s manliness. Or perhaps these two things are viewed as the same…
Just in chapter 1 we can already start to see a hierarchy of people forming around the number of wives one has, and the amount of yams. Okoye has one large barn full of yams and 3 wives whereas Okonkwo has 2 barns full of yams and just married his third wife. Okonkwo is later described as “one of the greatest men of his time” (8). Maybe in this example, wives are seen to represent manliness and quantity of yams material wealth, so Okonkwo would be seen as a ‘better’ person in terms of these factors. Although interestingly enough Okoye’s barn of yams is described as “large” whereas Okonkwo has two… It’s a little bit unclear who actually has more yams…
Another interesting incident with yams is when Ikemefuna would not eat. The quote is, “When Okonkwo heard that he would not eat any food he came into the hut with a big stick in his hand and stood over him while he swallowed his yams, trembling. A few moments later he went behind the hut and began to vomit painfully.” (27-28) Perhaps this characterizes Ikemefuna in a more manly light than Okonkwo. If yams represent manliness, the fact that Ikemefuna is “swallowing yams” whereas Okonkwo is merely holding a stick, Ikemefuna may be the manlier of the two. This could be reflected in Okonkwo’s actions when he kills Ikemefuna. Okonkwo does not want to look weak infront of the other tribesmen, however, perhaps not wanting to look weak is a form of weakness in itself. Defying the expectations of Okonkwo’s other tribe members would have been a stronger act.
Yams are also described as “the king of crops, was a man’s crop.” Whereas the “women worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava.” (22-23) I believe that it was said somewhere that the women would plant their crops in between the yams… I’m not sure what to make of this, any thoughts? 😀