Okonkwo did not inherit a barn from his father, since Unoka had no barn to pass on. There is a story in Umuofia of how Unoka went to consult the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves to find out why he always had a miserable harvest. As Unoka began to describe the situation to the priestess, she interrupted to tell him that he had offended neither the gods nor his fathers, but that he was known for being lazy and weak. “Go home and work like a man,” she concluded.
Okonkwo made his fortune himself, with no help from his father. The story describes how Unoka did the opposite, relying on outside help before being rebuffed and told to work and do his masculine duty. The Oracle's response to Unoka shows how mystical aspects of Umuofia religion support practical societal customs and beliefs.
Unoka is described as an ill-fated man with a bad chi or personal god. He died of swelling in his stomach and limbs, which is an abomination to the earth goddess and prevented him from having a proper burial. He was instead carried to the Evil Forest and left to die. When they carried him away, he brought his flute with him.
Okonkwo did not inherit a barn, title, or wife from his father, but in spite of these disadvantages, he began to sow the seeds for a successful future even during his father's lifetime. He threw himself into work, out of fear of his father's pitiful life and shameful death.
Okonkwo wills himself to work hard and become successful. He throws himself into manly duties of labor.
Okonkwo worked to earn his first seed-yams with Nwakibie, a wealthy man in his village. Okonkwo brought him a kola nut and waited until the meal and small talk were finished before asking for some yams to sow. Nwakibie granted him 800 yams, a more generous offer than Okonkwo had thought he would receive, and Okonkwo left feeling happy. With his meager harvest, he hoped to feed his mother, two sisters, and father, as well as himself.
Okonkwo demonstrates his strong will and initiative by asking Nwakibie for seed-yams to sow. He follows tradition, bringing a kola nut and waiting until the end of the meal to make his request. His strength inspires others, and results in Nwakibie giving him more sees than he asks for.
The year Okonkwo took the seed-yams from Nwakibie turned out to be the worst year for harvesting in living memory. Flooding and drought killed most of his yams, despite Okonkwo's best efforts. One man hanged himself because of the year's terrible harvest. Okonkwo later says that since he survived that awful year, he'll survive anything.
Despite Okonkwo's hard work, he can't predict the weather, and he runs into very bad luck. Okonkwo attributes his survival of that year to his own strong will, but in doing so he does not learn the lesson that even great strength, will, and hard work are not always enough to withstand greater forces of fate or luck such as the whims of nature.