Purple Hibiscus

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Papa-Nnukwu Character Analysis

The father of Papa and Aunty Ifeoma. He still lives in Abba and remains a traditionalist, following the beliefs of his ancestors. Papa-Nnukwu is close with Ifeoma and her children, but Papa cuts ties with him when he refuses to convert to Christianity. At first Kambili fears him as a “heathen,” but she comes to love him as she spends time with him and sees that his rituals are just as valid as Catholic ones.

Papa-Nnukwu Quotes in Purple Hibiscus

The Purple Hibiscus quotes below are all either spoken by Papa-Nnukwu or refer to Papa-Nnukwu. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Algonquin Books edition of Purple Hibiscus published in 2012.
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ifeoma could not afford it.” Papa-Nnukwu shook his head. “Since the father of her children died, she has seen hard times. But she will bring them this year. You will see them. It is not right that you don’t know them well, your cousins. It is not right.”
Jaja and I said nothing. We did not know Aunty Ifeoma or her children very well because she and Papa had quarreled about Papa-Nnukwu. Mama told us. Aunty Ifeoma stopped speaking to Papa after he barred Papa-Nnukwu from coming to his house, and a few years passed before they finally started speaking to each other.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Papa-Nnukwu (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike), Papa (Eugene Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Aunty Ifeoma
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote reaffirms the schism within Kambili's family--a split that is based around Papa's pride and rigid adherence to his own brand of religious dogma. Kambili and Jaja are only allowed to visit their grandfather, Papa-Nnukwu, for fifteen minutes each Christmas, and never to accept food or drink from him. Here Papa-Nnukwu's brief update highlights how different Papa is from his sister, Aunty Ifeoma. Papa is rich; Ifeoma is poor and widowed. Papa is dogmatic and strict; Ifeoma is openminded and independent. Papa places religion over family; Ifeoma does the opposite (she is a Christian too, but still loves and takes care of her "pagan" father). While Kambili and Jaja are still very much under their father's thumb at this point, every fact they learn about the outside world, and even about their own family, seems to go against Papa's narrow-minded worldview.

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Chapter 7 Quotes

“…But you know Eugene quarrels with the truths that he does not like. Our father is dying, do you hear me? Dying. He is an old man, how much longer does he have, gbo? Yet Eugene will not let him into this house, will not even greet him… Eugene has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene.”

Related Characters: Aunty Ifeoma (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Papa-Nnukwu
Page Number: 95-96
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Kamibili overhears her mother talking with Papa's sister, Aunty Ifeoma. Ifeoma is immediately shown to be a strong, confident woman, in contrast with the (relatively) submissive Mama. Ifeoma is the only one willing to tell the truth about Papa--that his ideals and rigid obsession with rules are getting in the way of real familial love and basic human concerns. Papa-Nnukwu, Papa and Ifeoma's father, is dying, but Papa won't visit or help him because Papa-Nnukwu refuses to give up practicing traditional Igbo rituals. (Ifeoma, for her part, is still a Christian, but an openminded one willing to blend Western and Nigerian beliefs.) Here Ifeoma essentially lays it all on the line--Papa (Eugene) is trying to play God, instead of letting God take care of his own business. Ifeoma prefers a more humanistic approach to Christianity, while Papa clearly clings to order, control, and rigid dogma. And in perspective, Papa's refusal to visit his own dying father because of religious differences seems like a very un-Christian thing to do.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Amaka and Papa-Nnukwu spoke sometimes, their voices low, twining together. They understood each other, using the sparest words. Watching them, I felt a longing for something I knew I would never have.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Papa-Nnukwu, Amaka
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

Amaka, Kambili's cousin, and Papa-Nnukwu, Kambili's grandfather, are very close: they clearly love each other deeply, and over the years have developed a close personal language, to the point where they can speak only a few words and understand each other completely. Kambili is jealous of her cousin's close relationship with her grandfather; she wishes that Papa had allowed her to spend more time with Papa-Nnukwu growing up. In short, Kambili is seeing the consequences of his own father's close-mindedness: because Papa didn't get along with his father, Kambili never got to visit her grandfather growing up. She feels that she's missed out on an intimate family connection. By contrast, Kambili's rapport with her own father is almost nonexistent, consisting mostly of her own silence and Papa's lecturing, praying, or moralizing.

“How can Our Lady intercede on behalf of a heathen, Aunty?”
Aunty Ifeoma was silent as she ladled the thick cocoyam paste into the soup pot; then she looked up and said Papa-Nnukwu was not a heathen but a traditionalist, that sometimes what was different was just as good as what was familiar, that when Papa-Nnukwu did his itu-nzu, his declaration of innocence, in the morning, it was the same as our saying the rosary.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Aunty Ifeoma, Papa-Nnukwu
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

The divide within Kambili's family couldn't be clearer in this passage. Kambili has been raised by her Papa to believe in the strictest interpretation of Catholicism; she believes that God doesn't respond to heathens--i.e., those who haven't taken communion and who don't interpret Catholicism correctly. Thus, when Kambili hears Ifeoma praising the Virgin Mary for Papa-Nnukwu's improving health, she doubts that God will listen to prayers on the behalf of a "heathen." Aunty Ifeoma pauses, as if trying to keep from saying something too harsh, and then diplomatically tries to correct some of Kambili's beliefs without attacking Papa too directly: she claims that it's possible to worship God in many different ways. In short, Ifeoma subscribes to the belief that many religions have their good points; she's a pluralist who embraces many different points of view. Furthermore, she suggests, a truly loving God wouldn't entirely abandon his creation, no matter their beliefs. Kambili, on the other hand, has been raised on a stricter, narrower point of view.

“Ifeoma, did you call a priest?” Papa asked.
“Is that all you can say, eh, Eugene? Have you nothing else to say, gbo? Our father has died! Has your head turned upside down? Will you not help me to bury our father?”
“I cannot participate in a pagan funeral, but we can discuss with the parish priest and arrange a Catholic funeral.”
Aunty Ifeoma got up and started to shout. Her voice was unsteady. “I will put my dead husband’s grave up for sale, Eugene, before I give our father a Catholic funeral. Do you hear me? I said I will sell Ifediora’s grave first! Was our father a Catholic? I ask you, Eugene, was he a Catholic? Uchu gba gi!” Aunty Ifeoma snapped her fingers at Papa; she was throwing a curse at him. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

Related Characters: Papa (Eugene Achike) (speaker), Aunty Ifeoma (speaker), Papa-Nnukwu, Ifediora
Page Number: 188-189
Explanation and Analysis:

Papa-Nnukwu has died, and Papa has also arrived to pick up his children. In the immediate aftermath of Papa-Nnukwu's death, we're reminded of the discord within his family: as soon as he hears the news, Papa argues with Aunty Ifeoma about how their father should be buried. Papa is so strict in his religious beliefs that he refuses to give his father a "pagan"--i.e., not totally Catholic--funeral, despite the fact that Papa-Nnukwu was a "pagan" for his entire life. Papa seems more upset that his father didn't convert to Catholicism before death than he is with his father's death itself. Ifeoma, by contrast, is willing to honor her father's religion by giving him the proper funeral he would have wanted. Furthermore, Ifeoma seems genuinely upset by her father's death, finally losing the confidence and control she has exhibited throughout the novel, and shouting at and cursing Eugene.

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Papa-Nnukwu Character Timeline in Purple Hibiscus

The timeline below shows where the character Papa-Nnukwu appears in Purple Hibiscus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
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Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
...and will compare her to his own success, which he achieved despite his “Godless father” Papa-Nnukwu. Kambili feels “stained by failure.” (full context)
Chapter 5
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Even though Papa-Nnukwu lives nearby, Kevin drives the children so that he can keep an eye on them.... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Papa-Nnukwu eats, and Kambili watches him swallow with difficulty. He offers to buy them soft drinks,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
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...Kambili only knows to be polite and quiet. Ifeoma says that her children are visiting Papa-Nnukwu and listening to his stories. Mama comes in and brings Ifeoma some food and drinks.... (full context)
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...though they have a satellite dish on both houses. Ifeoma’s family then leaves to see Papa-Nnukwu again and then go to Ukpo, where Ifeoma’s late husband was from. Kambili watches them... (full context)
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
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...get into Ifeoma’s rusty, rattling car and set off. Ifeoma says they are picking up Papa-Nnukwu on the way, and Kambili and Jaja feel a surge of fear and guilt. (full context)
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They stop at Papa-Nnukwu’s house and Ifeoma’s children get out. Jaja and Kambili stay in the car. Ifeoma asks... (full context)
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Papa-Nnukwu gets in the car and jokes with Aunty Ifeoma and her children. They all laugh... (full context)
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After a long pause Papa-Nnukwu repeats his claim that the missionaries misled his son, but then he turns the story... (full context)
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Papa-Nnukwu explains the mmuo as they walk past, and he tells the women to look away... (full context)
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They leave and drop off Papa-Nnukwu. When Aunty Ifeoma drops off Jaja and Kambili, Amaka loudly says she doesn’t want to... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...face, and Papa does not want to hear truths he doesn’t like. Ifeoma says that Papa-Nnukwu is dying, and Papa still won’t let him into the house. She says that Papa... (full context)
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
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...Jaja go in. Kambili asks Jaja with her eyes if he remembered his words to Papa-Nnukwu about offering to drink in his house, and Jaja nods. Kambili goes into the room.... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...is upset and he asks her about it. She says that she got news that Papa-Nnukwu is sick. She wants to bring him to Nsukka. Amaka is upset that her mother... (full context)
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That night prayers are more subdued, and Kambili wonders where Papa-Nnukwu will sleep when he arrives. She prays that Papa won’t find out if she has... (full context)
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Aunty Ifeoma returns that afternoon with Papa-Nnukwu. He seems tired and greets Kambili weakly. Amaka and Obiora help Papa-Nnukwu into the flat... (full context)
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
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...been running his own small clinic since the strike. Later the doctor arrives and examines Papa-Nnukwu. Jaja and Kambili sit on the verandah. Jaja is concerned with Papa-Nnukwu’s health, while Kambili... (full context)
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
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...by the same title she uses for her sons. She says that she will take Papa-Nnukwu to get tests done, as at least the labs at the medical center are still... (full context)
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That night Papa-Nnukwu eats, and everyone is relieved. He takes his pills and jokes with the children. Amaka... (full context)
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In Papa-Nnukwu’s story, there was a famine and all the animals were starving except for the dog.... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Papa-Nnukwu wakes up before everyone else, and they have breakfast with him on the verandah as... (full context)
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Father Amadi is delighted to hear that Papa-Nnukwu is improving, and he says he will take Jaja and Obiora to the stadium that... (full context)
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...eyes. Aunty Ifeoma shows Kambili how to prepare the coco-yams for her soup. Ifeoma praises Papa-Nnukwu’s health, saying that the Virgin Mary has helped to heal him. Kambili asks how the... (full context)
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The next morning Aunty Ifeoma wakes Kambili up to watch Papa-Nnukwu perform his “declaration of innocence” rite. He is on the verandah, and Kambili observes him.... (full context)
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Later that morning Amaka washes Papa-Nnukwu’s feet and then continues her painting of him. Aunty Ifeoma asks Kambili to help her... (full context)
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...but his attention lingers on Kambili. Father Amadi discusses his future trip as a missionary. Papa-Nnukwu has been listening, and he tells Father Amadi to not lie to whomever he is... (full context)
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...overwhelmed by his presence. She randomly admits that she sleeps in the same room as Papa-Nnukwu, a heathen. Father Amadi asks why that is a sin, but Kambili can’t answer. Father... (full context)
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
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...home, Aunty Ifeoma says that Papa called. He had learned from someone in Abba that Papa-Nnukwu was staying at the house. He was angry about a heathen living with his children,... (full context)
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The next morning Amaka wakes up Kambili and they go to wake Papa-Nnukwu. They shake him but he doesn’t stir. Amaka panics and calls for her mother. Aunty... (full context)
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Two men come with Doctor Nduoma to carry Papa-Nnukwu’s body. They couldn’t get a stretcher because the administrative staff was on strike as well.... (full context)
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The rest of the day everyone is subdued. Amaka laments that she didn’t finish painting Papa-Nnukwu. He had said that they would finish today. Amaka angrily says that he would be... (full context)
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...says that he could not let his children stay any longer. He looks around for Papa-Nnukwu. (full context)
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Aunty Ifeoma tells Papa that Papa-Nnukwu has died. Papa sits down and puts his head in his hands. Then he asks... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
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...black cellophane into Kambili’s hands, and Kambili sees that it is the unfinished painting of Papa-Nnukwu. She hides it in her bag and gets into the car. (full context)
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
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...She has a black eye and her face is swollen. Jaja delivers the news about Papa-Nnukwu when Papa doesn’t mention it. Papa says that his father has gone to face judgment,... (full context)
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...God to forgive his children for their “sin of omission” of not telling him about Papa-Nnukwu. As they eat Kambili notices how much meat they all have compared to at Aunty... (full context)
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...she sees a tea kettle on the floor. Papa asks her if she knew that Papa-Nnukwu was coming to Nsukka, and that she would be sharing a room with a heathen,... (full context)
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...Kambili thinks about Father Amadi and her family in Nsukka. She takes Amaka’s painting of Papa-Nnukwu out of her bag, but is still afraid to unwrap it. Just as she puts... (full context)
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...about the cost of pagan funerals. He says that he has given Ifeoma money for Papa-Nnukwu’s funeral. Just then, Ade Coker arrives with another man and Papa leaves the table. Jaja... (full context)
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...Kambili, sounding friendlier than usual. Kambili thanks her for the painting, and Amaka talks about Papa-Nnukwu’s upcoming funeral. Amaka says that she hopes Kambili and Jaja can come for Easter, so... (full context)
Chapter 11
Family Theme Icon
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...with Father Benedict, Jaja comes into Kambili’s room and asks to see the painting of Papa-Nnukwu. Kambili nervously takes it out. Jaja runs his deformed little finger over the painting, entranced.... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...man, he just can’t handle stress. She is still grateful to him for paying for Papa-Nnukwu’s funeral. Obiora is silent on the subject. (full context)