Kambili continues to see Mama’s blood when she tries to read, but she studies constantly and memorizes her teacher’s words, knowing she must come first this term. Finally she gets her report card and she is first in the class. Papa praises her and says how proud he is of her, and Kambili cherishes this memory as she falls asleep that night.
Adichie shows just how important Papa’s approval is to Kambili. Kambili feels that she must constantly be earning her father’s love, especially because she also idolizes him. She clings to the memory of Papa’s praise while avoiding memories of his punishment.
Christmas approaches, when the family makes their annual trip to their hometown of Abba. Many of the wealthy Igbo do this: they have huge houses in their home village, which they visit only once a year, and the rest of the time live in smaller houses in the city. Papa directs the packing of the cars, as they are bringing lots of food to the village. On the drive to Abba each family member takes turns reciting the rosary. They stop to buy some food, and Papa gives money to all the hawkers (people peddling goods for sale) who crowd around him.
Papa came from the small village of Abba, but now he only returns there once a year. The extended family he grew up with are still poor, and so he provides for them as a “Big Man.” He also follows what is expected of wealthy Igbo Nigerians and builds a huge house in the village, even though he hardly ever visits it. Papa continues to pass out money to everyone who seems to be in need. He is both generous, and made more powerful by his generosity.
They arrive in Abba and drive through the dirt roads of the village. It is mostly mud-and-thatch huts, but there are also extravagant three-story houses, including the Achikes’. Everyone is excited to see them arrive, and they call Papa omelora, which means “The One Who Does for the Community.” Papa drives through the gates of their “country home,” a magnificent mansion. Children chase after the family’s car and Papa gives them all money when he gets out. They unpack the cars with all the food and huge cooking appliances. They will cook enough for everyone in the village to eat—this is why Papa is the omelora.
The enormous divide between poor and wealthy is tragically obvious in Abba, where most people live in poverty while huge mansions sit empty. In his home village Papa’s philanthropy is made official, and everyone expects to come by his house on Christmas to eat their fill.
Ade Coker and his family arrive at the house, stopping by on the way to their own home in Lagos. Ade is small, round, and cheerful, and Kambili cannot imagine him defying soldiers. Ade jokes with Jaja and Kambili, but they only answer dutifully “yes” or “no.” Ade comments to Papa that his children are “always so quiet,” and Papa proudly says that they fear God, unlike most children. Ade jokes that the Standard would not exist if they were all quiet. Everyone laughs but Papa. Jaja and Kambili silently go upstairs.
Ade Coker sees the discrepancy between Papa’s life at the Standard and the way he treats his children, even if he doesn’t know about Papa’s domestic abuse. Speech is seen as a positive good in the political world, where censorship is a tool of tyranny. Papa doesn’t extend this to his family, however, and he then becomes the tyrant demanding silence and obedience.
The next morning Jaja and Kambili wake up early to the sounds of bleating goats and people calling greetings to each other in broken English. They decide to go downstairs and start their prayers before Papa calls them. The house has four stories, but the family only uses the bottom two. The upper two were last used for the party when Papa took the omelora title—but only after consulting with a priest and ensuring that there were no pagan undertones to his title-taking ceremony.
Papa fears to follow any ancestral traditions because they might be un-Christian or “uncivilized.” He consults with a Catholic priest before agreeing to take part in any explicitly Nigerian ceremony. Though he is very charitable, Papa also buys things he doesn’t need, just to prove his stature—like an extra two floors of his house.
Mama and Papa come downstairs and start to pray with the children. Soon a visitor comes, asking for presents for his children. He speaks English, as Papa likes it when the villagers speak English to him—he says it shows “good sense.” Papa promises the man some presents when the prayers are done. After all the recitations each family member prays their own prayer. Papa ends with a twenty-minute prayer that includes a request that Papa-Nnukwu convert to Christianity and so be saved from hell. He follows this with a long description of hell’s torments.
Papa not only prefers to speak English, but also wants to hear it even in his home village. He parrots the colonial mindset by equating Western-ness with “good sense.” Papa has chosen religion over family, leading him to cut ties even with his own father. The importance of family bonds is an important theme in the novel, and one of Papa’s greatest mistakes is denying this familial love when it contradicts his idea of truth, of rigidly sticking to rules rather than more flexibly responding to love.
Papa tells Jaja and Kambili that they will visit Papa-Nnukwu today, but only for fifteen minutes, and not to eat or drink anything there. Jaja and Kambili have only been allowed to visit their grandfather since he called a meeting of the umunna (large extended family) to complain that he never saw his grandchildren. Papa then agreed to allow the children to “greet” him every year. Papa himself never goes along, and he sends his father only a small amount of money. Papa-Nnukwu has never entered the family’s mansion, as Papa mandates that no heathens will set foot in it.
The umunna always supports Papa’s decision, as he provides them with money and food, but they still recognize the importance of family and insist that the children be allowed to see their grandfather. Papa always prefers walls, to cut off the outside world that he disagrees with, and so he bars any non-Christians from his land, even his own father. Jaja and Kambili continue in their isolated existence.
Even though Papa-Nnukwu lives nearby, Kevin drives the children so that he can keep an eye on them. They arrive at Papa-Nnukwu’s tiny house, which has no bathroom. They go in and Papa-Nnukwu greets them happily, half-jokingly offering them food even though he knows they are forbidden to eat there. Kambili examines him for “signs of Godlessness,” and though she cannot see any she is sure they must be there.
Papa has a mansion to spare, but he is so concerned with preserving his strict Catholic dogma that he lets his father continue to live in near poverty. Kambili believes Papa’s words literally, as usual, and searches Papa-Nnukwu for some sign that he is destined for hell.
Jaja and Kambili ask about his health, and Papa-Nnukwu says that their Aunty Ifeoma brings him medicine when she can afford it. He says that Ifeoma and her children will come to Abba this year. They did not last year, as Ifeoma has been struggling for money ever since her husband died. Papa-Nnukwu declares that Kambili and Jaja should know their cousins better, and that their lack of contact is “not right.” They never see Ifeoma’s children because Ifeoma and Papa quarreled about Papa-Nnukwu, and whether he should be allowed into Papa’s house.
Papa-Nnukwu brings up the importance of family, something Jaja and Kambili are entirely unfamiliar with outside of their own isolated house. Aunty Ifeoma will now begin to appear as a major character, and she is first presented as a contrast to Papa—she has no money to spare, but still tries to help her father, and brings her children to spend time with him.
Papa-Nnukwu eats, and Kambili watches him swallow with difficulty. He offers to buy them soft drinks, saying that they surely cannot be heathen. Jaja first declines, but then says that if he were thirsty, he would drink in Papa-Nnukwu’s house. Papa-Nnukwu praises Jaja for speaking wisely. Jaja nudges Kambili, as it is time for them to go, but Kambili finds herself unable to leave, wanting to stay and help Papa-Nnukwu. Finally Jaja stands up and they go. Kevin gives Papa-Nnukwu some money from Papa, and Papa-Nnukwu thanks him, despite the coldness of sending money though a driver.
Jaja and Kambili feel a natural love for their grandfather. They adopt the strict rules Papa enforces in the house, but they have not yet taken the interpersonal love out of Christianity as Papa has. Papa chooses rules and order at the expense of affection and love for people. Through Aunty Ifeoma, Adichie will now begin to present an alternate form of Catholicism and the family unit—one that is more flexible and open-minded.
Kambili remembers how Papa used to treat Mama’s father, their Grandfather, in an entirely different way. Grandfather was very light-skinned and always spoke English, and was a devout Catholic. Papa was always very respectful and friendly to him, treating him as if her were his own father. Papa still talks proudly about Grandfather, and how he converted most of the people of Abba itself. Papa keeps a photograph of him on the wall.
This contrast shows just how much Papa’s colonial mindset affects his interactions with people. Papa “loves” Grandfather because he is light-skinned, Catholic, and speaks English, but rejects his own father. In this case, at least, Papa’s love is based entirely on religious and cultural grounds.
The children come home and Kambili asks Jaja if he will confess about offering to drink in Papa-Nnukwu’s house. Jaja says he was just trying to make Papa-Nnukwu feel better. They eat lunch and then Papa returns. He is angry that they stayed 25 minutes at Papa-Nnukwu’s house instead of 15. Kambili expects Papa to hit them, but he only sends them away to pray for forgiveness.
Kambili tries to uphold Papa’s sense of sin and order, but she and Jaja also can’t help feeling a natural human affection for their grandfather, one that is difficult to reconcile with Papa’s image of Papa-Nnukwu as a Godless heathen destined for hell.
Kambili and Jaja then hear Papa yelling outside. He is angry that a “worshiper of idols,” an old man named Anikwenwa, has entered the compound. Anikwenwa accuses Papa of being disrespectful to his elders. Some men lead him away at Papa’s command, but as he leaves Anikwenwa says Papa is like a “fly blindly following a corpse into the grave.”
In Abba the children get glimpses of their family and roots, but they also see how hard Papa works to isolate them from anything that he doesn’t agree with. An important tradition is being respectful to one’s elders, but Papa has chosen to forsake this virtue when it comes to religious difference.