Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.

This quote, from the narrator’s recounting, in Chapter 1, of how Unoka calmly interacted with someone to whom he owed money, alludes to the highly sophisticated art of rhetoric practiced by the Igbo. This rhetorical formalness offers insight into the misunderstandings that occur between the Igbo and the Europeans. Whereas the latter value efficiency and directness in their dealings, the Igbo value an adherence to their cultural traditions, which include certain patterns of dialogue considered inefficient by Western standards. The metaphor of words as food is highly appropriate, given the almost exclusively agricultural nature of Igbo society. They award the same value that they place on food, the sustenance of life, to words, the sustenance of interaction and hence community.