Okonkwo is just settling into bed one night when he hears the ogene of the town crier, who summons all the men of Umuofia to the marketplace the next morning. Okonkwo hears an overtone of tragedy in the crier's voice and wonders what might be amiss.
The clan traditionally relies on a town crier to spread news and gather clan members for meetings, demonstrating the importance of speech in Umuofia society.
The narrator describes how quiet and dark the night is without moonlight. Children avoid whistling so as not to call evil spirits, dangerous animals become even more dangerous in the dark, and snakes are not referred to by their real names in case they hear. Okonkwo tries to figure out what the meeting might be about, and thinks that there might be war with a neighboring clan. He remembers his own prowess in war, being the first to bring home a human head in the last war—his fifth head.
The narrator describes more traditions of Umuofia society, including fear of the dark. Again, the importance of language is emphasized, as the clan believes one can summon a snake just by speaking its name. Okonkwo reveals more of his aggressiveness, which has brought him success in the traditional masculine arena of war.
In the morning, the market place is full. Ogbuefi Ezeugo bellows “Umuofia kwenu” four times to get the clan's attention and silence the talk. He bellows the words a fifth time before pointing in the direction of Mbaino and describing how the sons of Mbaino have dared to murder a daughter of Umuofia—the wife of Ogbuefi Udo. The crowd then begins to shout in anger. In the end, it's decided that Mbaino will either choose war or offer a young man and a virgin as compensation for their crime.
In the morning, the town's best speaker gets everyone's attention with a traditional cry and dramatically reveals the Mbaino's crime, inspiring clan members to anger. His speech shows how language moves the clan to action, and we also get a glimpse of how their justice system works. The clan collectively decides what a fair punishment will be.
Umuofia's neighbors fear it as a powerful clan and try to avoid going to war with the Umuofia. The Umuofia, for their part, only go to war when their Oracle accepts it. When Okonkwo arrives at Mbaino as the emissary of war, he is treated with respect, returning two days later to Umuofia with a 15-year-old boy and a virgin. The boy's name is Ikemefuna, and the narrator reveals that Ikemefuna's sad story will continue to be told in Umuofia until the narrator's present day.
The elders, or ndichie, meet and decide that the girl should go to Ogbuefi Udo to replace his murdered wife. As for the boy, the clan decides that Okonkwo will look after him until the elders decide his fate. For the next three years, Ikemefuna lives in Okonkwo's household.
Ikemefuna's fate here is decided by others—the elders, in this case. Okonkwo, with all his strength, becomes Ikemefuna's protector.
Okonkwo rules his household with a heavy hand and short temper, instilling fear in his wives and children. The narrator suggests that this might not indicate that Okonkwo is a cruel man at heart, but Okonkwo's whole life is dominated by the fear of failure and of weakness. Okonkwo still remembers a time when a playmate told him that his father was agbala, and Okonkwo came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, but also the name for a man with no titles. Since then, Okonkwo vowed to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved, including gentleness and idleness.
The story of “Agbala” reveals how masculinity and rank are tied together in traditional Umuofia, as well as the origin of Okonkwo's obsession with strength—the shame he felt when his playmate mocked his father's failure as feminine. But in devoting himself to strength for these reasons, strength becomes a sort of weakness: if Okonkwo's shows strength because he fears failure, then it will make him rigid, as he will always have to act in ways that make him look strong even if such behavior leads to bad outcomes.
During planting season, Okonkwo works long daily hours on his farm and rarely feels fatigue. His wives and young children suffer, however, and are afraid to complain openly. Okonkwo's first son, Nwoye, is twelve years old and already worries Okonkwo with his laziness, which Okonkwo seeks to correct with nagging and beating.
Nwoye doesn't embrace the traditional Umuofia values of aggression and masculinity the way Okonkwo wants him to, and Okonkwo begins to sow the seeds for Nwoye's resentment later in the book by beating and nagging him.
Okonkwo's wealth is clearly visible in his household. He has his own hut, or obi, and behind the obi, each of his three wives has a hut. He also owns a barn with long stacks of yam standing inside, a shed for goats, and a “medicine house” or shrine where he keeps the wooden symbols of his personal god and ancestral spirits.
Okonkwo has claimed that his fortune—which is considerable—comes from hard work, not luck. But it's worth noting that he devotes an entire shrine to his personal god and ancestral spirits.
When Ikemefuna joins Okonkwo's household, Okonkwo hands him over to his most senior wife, who asks if he'll be staying long. Okonkwo, who doesn't have an answer, tells her to do as she's told, so she takes him in with no further questions. Ikemefuna, still unaware that his father had a hand in killing one of the daughters of Umuofia, is terribly afraid and doesn't understand what's going on. He only knows that he's been taken away from his mother and that he traveled to Umuofia with another girl, who he never sees again.
Okonkwo's interaction with his wife demonstrates his power in the relationship. He's flabbergasted that she, as a woman and his wife, even questions him at all. Ikemefuna is described as being truly weak, truly alone. He is someone who needs a protector, which the strong Okonkwo seems like a good candidate to be. Yet the narrator foreshadows Ikemefuna's doom—and that Okonkwo won't ultimately protect the boy—by mentioning with finality that Ikemefuna never sees the girl from his village again.