Homegoing

by

Yaa Gyasi

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Homegoing can help.

Homegoing: Part 1: Abena Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Abena makes the journey back to her village with new seeds in hand. She thinks again about how old she is: an unmarried twenty-five-year-old woman is unheard of. But none of the men in her village want to take a chance with “Unlucky’s” (James’s) daughter. Her father’s crops had never grown, and even her childhood best friend, Ohene Nyarko, would not take her as his second wife because she is not worth the bride price.
Abena’s thoughts affirm once again the rigid stereotypes and expectations placed on women, as at twenty-five years old, she thinks she is old to be unmarried, and that no one would ever want her. Additionally, the fact that she is not “worth” the bride price illustrates how the women in this society are literally commodified.
Themes
Family and Progress Theme Icon
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Abena brings the seeds to James, and announces that she would like to visit Kumasi. She says that she wants to visit people from other villages and the old palace of the Asante king. He asks her why she wants to do that; she says that she is an Asante, and that he has kept her like a prisoner with his bad luck. James slaps her and walks out of their hut.
While James has tried to distance himself from his family and the old villages that he had been a part of because of their participation in slavery, this distance makes Abena feel that she has been disconnected from her heritage.
Themes
Heritage and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Slavery, and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Colonization Theme Icon
Abena’s mother, Akosua, tells her to sit. She explains that they are not welcome in Kumasi because she had defied her parents to marry James, who had wanted to live a life for himself instead of a life chosen for him. When her mother leaves the hut, Abena resolves to do the same and go to Kumasi.
While family is important, the punishments for defying one’s parents are harsh, and ironically often results in being separated from the family entirely, as shown by James and Akosua here.
Themes
Heritage and Identity Theme Icon
Family and Progress Theme Icon
That evening, Abena slips away to Ohene Nyarko’s compound. She asks his wife, Mefia, where he is, and Mefia rolls her eyes and directs her. When Abena goes to Ohene, she says that his wife hates her. Ohene says that Mefia thinks that he is still sleeping with Abena.
Mefia’s dislike of Abena confirms another form of sexism, as she blames Abena for her husband’s infidelity, instead of blaming them equally.
Themes
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
Get the entire Homegoing LitChart as a printable PDF.
Homegoing PDF
Abena cringes, thinking of their youth, when Ohene had shown her his penis, and she had demanded that he lie on top of her. Ohene had been mortified, saying that they could not do that until their marriage ceremony. But eventually she had been able to convince him, and they had had fast, pleasureless sex.
Even though the society around her judges women harshly, Abena subverts some of those stereotypes and expectations by initiating hers and Ohene’s sexual relationship.
Themes
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
Abena asks Ohene to take her to Kumasi. He says that he must tend to his farm; he cannot marry her if his yams don’t grow. Abena says that he will never marry her, starting to cry. Ohene pulls her to him, agreeing to take her to Kumasi.
While Abena and Ohene want to marry for love, the society still demands that Abena be bought with a bride price, almost like another form of ownership.
Themes
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
At the end of that week, Abena and Ohene go to Kumasi. Abena is amazed at the size of the compounds. She asks to see the Golden Stool, which contains the soul of the Asante nation. No one was allowed to sit on it, not even the king himself. Abena is moved, seeing it with her own eyes.
Abena, who has been relatively removed from her heritage, sees the power in being tied to a history firsthand, and is moved because she knows that her life has been in some way shaped by the Asantes even if she never directly interacted with them.
Themes
Heritage and Identity Theme Icon
Abena and Ohene continue to walk through the village, and they part ways when Ohene wants to go buy new farming tools. Abena is stopped by a man asking to talk about Christianity and offering to show her the work that he is doing. Abena is curious and follows him. The man takes her to the Missionary, the first white man that Abena has ever seen. She starts to leave, thinking that white men only cause trouble. As she leaves, the first man says that they are trying to build churches, and he says to find them if she ever needs them.
Although the slave trade has ended, as Quey predicted, the British do not leave. Instead, a different form of colonization springs up in the form of Christianity, as the Missionary tries to spread Christian ideals and argue that it is a superior religion to the one that Abena practices. Although the spreading of the religion is hidden under the guise of trying to be helpful, the practices of the Missionary reveal his racism.
Themes
Colonization Theme Icon
Abena meets up with Ohene again, telling him that she has just seen a white man. Ohene spits, saying that they should stay out of Asante. Abena thinks about James, who had explained to the men in their village where the captured prisoners of war are taken, even though the men didn’t know what the Castle is or what America is. Ohene says that they should go.
Abena begins to realize how her father’s own history has shaped her thoughts and identity, as she knows the violent ends of the slaves that are captured in war, and knows to avoid the white men.
Themes
Heritage and Identity Theme Icon
Family and Progress Theme Icon
Ohene and Abena travel back to their village, stopping to rest even though Abena wants to continue. He tells her that it is another day’s journey, and calls her darling. Abena asks him not to call her that, because he won’t marry her. Ohene says that he will marry her after his next big harvest. He asks her to be patient. Abena begins to cry, and he wipes away her tears.
Abena and Ohene’s exchange reveals how the burden of the society’s marriage structure falls on the women, as Abena can only wait for Ohene to marry her and has very few other viable options in the society. This echoes her mother Akosua’s path, as she also simply had to wait for James to return for her.
Themes
Family and Progress Theme Icon
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
Abena and Ohene start to kiss before undressing and lying down together. She thinks about the last time that he had touched her in her parents’ hut, but soon she quickly forgets everything else but him. When they finish, she lays her head on his chest.
Even though Ohene and Abena share the relationship equally, Abena is the one who will be blamed not only for Ohene’s infidelity but also the inability  of the entire village to have a good harvest.
Themes
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
As they rest, Abena thinks about when she was five and had been watering James’s farm. When the plants had died despite her best efforts, she had begun to cry and said that she would have brought more water. Her father had told her that she should bring more water next time but not cry for this time, that there should be no room for regret in life. Abena thinks that now, lying on Ohene’s chest, she regrets nothing.
In stories like these, the importance of the parent-child relationship becomes apparent. James’s advice to leave out room for regret in a person’s life shapes Abena’s worldview as she resolves to regret nothing in her life.
Themes
Family and Progress Theme Icon
That year, everyone in Abena’s village has a bad harvest, followed by another bad year. After that, there are four more years of bad harvests. People begin to starve. Even Ohene’s lands have turned barren, and so his promise to marry Abena has been set aside, but they continue to see each other.
Coming out of the decision to regret nothing, one can also see how Abena’s father’s advice had shaped not only her worldview but also her decisions going forward, as she and Ohene continue their relationship.
Themes
Family and Progress Theme Icon
The people begin to suspect that there is a witch among them, and when a woman in the village sees Ohene walking back from Abena’s hut to his own, she accuses Abena of spreading evil. The elders  gather and decide that Abena will be removed from the village when she conceives a child or after seven bad years. If a good harvest comes before then, they will let her stay.
In the same way that James had mistrusted Mampanyin, there is sexism in assuming that Abena’s deeds have caused the village’s famine. While Ohene goes essentially unpunished, Abena’s life will be determined by the village elders for her actions.
Themes
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
Abena visits Ohene’s hut on the third day of the sixth bad year. He is going to Osu, saying that someone has brought over a new plant that will grow well. Abena worries that they will kick her out. He tells her that the village will have to deal with him when he gets back. The two make love quickly that day, and then Ohene leaves. Abena returns home, where James and Akosua barely talk to her. Abena knows she has shamed them, and their only solace is that Abena has not yet conceived a child.
James and Akosua’s attitude towards their daughter again highlights how they view children as a way to bring good standing to the family, and so they are particularly disappointed when she has instead brought shame to them, even though her situation has largely been caused by James’s inability to grow anything.
Themes
Family and Progress Theme Icon
Ohene Nyarko returns a week later with cocoa seeds. Within months, his trees sprout with gold and green fruit. At the harvest, they crack open the fruit and find pulpy beans. They are disappointed, but Ohene says he will go to the market the next day to sell what he can.
The introduction of cocoa beans to Ghana (which came from Europeans, who had in turn acquired it from the Aztecs in South America) adds another complicating dimension to colonization, as it would then become a major Ghanaian export. It is difficult to get rid of a system that can be advantageous.
Themes
Colonization Theme Icon
Ohene returns three days later with four goats and sacks of yams and nuts, palm oil, and palm wine. The villagers throw a huge celebration. In the middle of the celebration, Abena approaches him, wanting to tell him that she is four days late. But when she reaches out to touch his shoulder, he moves away and tells her not to make a scene. She goes back to her hut, lying down with her hand on her stomach.
Ohene’s reaction towards Abena is not only cruel, but also plays into more sexist stereotypes in assuming that Abena is going to “make a scene” or get emotional over the fact that he is refusing to touch her or honor his promise to marry her.
Themes
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Icon
The next day, the elders announce that Abena can stay in the village, and Ohene can marry her, but Abena knows that he will not marry her. Ohene explains to them that he had to promise a man in Osu to marry his daughter in exchange for the plants. Abena will have to wait until the following season.
While Ohene’s actions are unfair to Abena, it is worth noting that her fate had still been largely determined by her father’s bad luck, which Gyasi poses as a retribution for his family’s earlier misdeeds.
Themes
Heritage and Identity Theme Icon
Family and Progress Theme Icon
Abena resolves to leave. Before she goes, James gives her Effia’s black stone necklace. He tells her that his father had been a slaver, but that he wanted to escape the dishonor that he felt doing his family’s work. He offers the stone to her so that it might serve her well, as it had served him. Abena takes it and hugs her parents. The next day she sets out for Kumasi and goes to the Missionary’s church.
While James explains that the stone had served him well, the stone also symbolizes the ties to his family, and thus also carries a kind of curse that is then passed down to Abena and also to Abena’s daughter, Akua, in the next chapter.
Themes
Heritage and Identity Theme Icon