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Religion and Beliefs in Purple Hibiscus

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In Purple Hibiscus, traditionalists are observed to be marginalized because of their different beliefs, and the influence of Western Colonization on the Nigerian people. This can be seen through the three characters, namely Papa-Nnukwu (Kambili’s paternal grandfather), Papa Eugene, and Father Amadi.

Papa-Nnukwu is part of the traditionalists group in NIgeria. Papa (Kambili’s father and son of Papa-Nnukwu), being a very devoted Catholic, ends all connections with his father simply because of his beliefs. Because of Papa Nnukwu choice of religion, he is permantly excluded from the family as his son does not want to interact with a “Heathen”, A term for people who do not belong to a widely held religion especially one who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. The children are involved in the marginalization of Papa Nnukwu as well; A quick example of this is the fact that Kambili and Jaja are only allowed to spend no more than 15 minutes in the house of their grandfather. Apart from that, he is not even allowed to walk in Papa Eugene’s house; Essentially casting him away from his grandchildren and family as a whole. The contest over Papa Nnukwu’s belief system and how Papa Eugene interprets it, is quite hectic throughout Purple Hibiscus. Although Papa Nnukwu did not have the support of his son, his daughter was well in well present in his life. In fact for several years, Aunty Ifeoma would try to put an end to the diminishing of her father by her brother, by explaining to him that the religion that their father picked happened to worship God but only in a different way. Another instance of this was when Jaja and Kambili slept at their grandfather’s house. The amount of hate and dismissal for traditionalists that Papa Eugene has can be seen when he decides to punish his children by pouring boiling hot water on their feet after questioning; ‘You knew you would be sleeping in the same house as a heathen?’ ‘Yes, Papa.’ ‘So you saw the sin clearly and you walked right into it?’ “I nodded. Yes, Papa’. The justification being that they need to learn from their “wrongdoings” and that hanging out with “Heathens” is very unholy.

Papa Eugene’s manifestation of the effect of colonization can not only be seen with his own father, but other people as well. An example of this is when an old man that supposedly grew up with Eugene’s father, enters the compound when hearing that Eugene was in town. But upon his arrival, Papa Eugene starts screaming frantically, asking “What is Anikwenwa doing in my house? What is a worshiper of idols doing in my house? Leave my house”. After commanding two men to drag Anikwenwa out of the compound, Papa Nnukuwu’s friend starts throwing words a Papa by saying “Ifukwa gi. You are like a fly, blindly following a corpse into the grave”. The comparison in this simile clearly depicts Eugene as being nothing but a colonial product, who is blindly following the ideologies of the White men while marginalizing his people. Aside from diminishing his own people, Eugene doe it as well with the language or dialect of his people. And opposed to using it as a normal person, he rather speaks the language to entail that something bad is happening, whether it’s a sin or unholy act. This is proven many times when something bad is happening, the narrator makes light to it when Papa refers to the Igbo language. An example of this is when he catches Mama permitting Kambili to eat out of a bowl of cereal several minutes before Eucharist, instead of fasting. He then goes on to ask in Igbo “Has the devil asked you all to go on errands for him?. Has the devil built a tent in my house”?. Briefly after asking those questions, chaos ensues as Papa takes his belt off and starts hitting Mama and Kambili. As stated previously, Papa does not associate with the Igbo language, and in turn, decides to go with English as the “language of God” or the civilized way of speaking. Instances where Papa acknowledges that English is the language of the holy people, is when we’re told as a reader. “Papa liked it when the villagers made an effort to speak English around him. He said it showed good sense”. He also “Changed his accent when he spoke, sounding British, when he was with the white religious groups such as Father Benedict and Sister Margaret”. These are part of the proofs when talking about Papa Eugene’s ideology of Catholicism and traditionalists as a whole.

Father Amadi, a priest who incorporates Igbo traditions with Catholicism, is a major opponent to Papa Eugene’s ideology. As he believes that religion or faith is more complicated than what it seems like. Father Amadi is heavily influenced by Catholiscism, but also very open to the traditions of his country. Unlike Papa, Amadi is not a crazy force to be reckoned with. Kambili was a key piece in showing that Papa Nnukuwu’s traditional beliefs were not as different or foul as Papa Eugene would’ve thought them to be.

In conclusion, traditionalists as a whole are looked down upon because of their beliefs. The social group here being (traditionalists) suffer greatly due to the conflict between their beliefs and the colonial influence. As a consequence, Papa-Nnukwu like many others in Purple Hibiscus, are significantly marginalized. 

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Religion And Beliefs In Purple Hibiscus. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
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