Celie begins to feel proud that Nettie and her children are still alive—she "struts" around her home with the news. Celie wonders, however, whether her children, who she believes are born of incest, will be "affected" by their incestuous parentage, since she has heard that incest causes mental handicaps in children.
The impact of incest has not yet been mentioned in the novel, but it is a legitimate concern. Although many children born of incest are unaffected by birth defects and other disabilities, there is an increased likelihood of these disabilities in incestuous parental unions.
Celie opens another letter from Nettie; Celie and Shug have stolen all the trunk's letters, hiding them in their own room, and replacing them, re-sealed, in the trunk when they have finished reading. In the letter, Nettie describes how an African man named Joseph welcomed Nettie, Samuel, Corrine, and the two children at the port near the village where they would be serving as missionaries. Joseph then took them, first in dug-out canoes and then in hammocks over land, into the Olinka village.
Nettie is understandably excited by a series of ceremonies she finds wonderful and beautiful. It is not clear, however, whether the Olinka are not somewhat embellishing these ceremonies—making them even more elaborate—for their visitors from the United States. But in the beginning, the Olinka seem very happy to welcome their guests.
Nettie is surprised by the size of the Olinka—they are very tall and broad-shouldered—and by the whiteness of their teeth. The Olinka, in turn, marvel to meet the family and Nettie; they wonder if Nettie is the mother of the two children, and they ask if Samuel is married both to Corrine and Nettie, as is possible in Olinka culture. Samuel and Corrine attempt to explain to the Olinka that Nettie is there in her capacity as the children's maid and assistant.
Again, Nettie falls into a commentary that is very similar to something a white slave-trader might say about the Olinka. In particular, commentary on the size and shape of Africans' teeth was common among whites who owned plantations in the American south. Meanwhile, the Olinka are just as curious about the American missionaries customs as Nettie is about theirs.
Nettie discusses the village's welcoming ceremony, in which the story of roofleaf, or the village's most important crop, is detailed. Roofleaf, a broad, palm-like leaf used to create the village's roofs, was grown in increasing amounts by a village chief many years before, who ended up buying much of the village's land. But a great storm destroyed almost all the roofleaf crop, and other crops as well, on this chief's farmland.
Roofleaf is, by far, the Olinka's most important crop. It provides them with roofs, and therefore makes it possible for the Olinka to withstand the terrible rainstorms plaguing their part of the world. It is in fact unthinkable that the Olinka could continue their way of life without the roofleaf plant.
Many of the villagers died over the ensuing winter, without protection from the winds and rain afforded by the roofleaf. But after winter was over, they found a few straggling roofleaf roots and planted them; in five years, the roofleaf had returned plentifully, and had become elevated to god-like status within the village.
This small story is, in many ways, a parable for the beginning of all sorts of religions. Alice Walker here realizes—and asserts—that religions spring from dual concerns of scarcity and the future. Any society naturally wants to protect, and venerate, something that makes life possible and more pleasant.
Joseph tells the missionaries that, although the roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, it is a symbol of life and of earth's abundance: therefore, he goes on, does it not resemble a God? Nettie finds this ceremony, and her entrance into the village, to be a thing of wonder.
An instance of a kind of religious feeling that will become more pronounced as the novel progresses: the idea that God can be found in all things in nature, a broadening of the idea of God that has pounded into the blacks of the South—that God is a white male.