Igbo Mythology, Fate, and Free Will in Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities

Igbo Mythology

In Igbo mythology, Chukwu is the creator of all things and the chi is the guardian spirit. The chi lives in the body of their host and serves as a witness. When their host dies, the chi gives an account (to Chukwu) of how the host lived their life.

The chi has limited power because they cannot see the future and therefore cannot influence free will or interfere with the natural course of events. However, the chi can present helpful images and thoughts in their host’s mind and dreams. Most importantly, the chi can plead to Chukwu on their host’s behalf “to grant the soul safe passage into Alandiichie, the habitation of the ancestors.” They can help to explain why the host made particular decisions.

I continued to flash the thought in his mind many times that day, but the voice of his head would counter each time and tell him that it was too late.

Chinonso’s chi

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma opens with Chinonso’s chi pleading for leniency before Chukwu. This is unusual because Chinonso is still alive. This tells the reader that Chinonso has done something unthinkable to warrant his chi’s early intercession with Chukwu. 

Chinonso’s chi narrates the story through flashbacks and describes the events that lead to the book’s opening chapter. The chi recounts how Chinonso met Ndali, how they fell in love and dreamed of getting married. We learn that Ndali is from a wealthy family and she is in school to become a pharmacist. Chinonso is uneducated and a poultry farmer. Although Ndali’s family tries to keep them apart, Chinonso is eager to do anything to ensure they can be together. Jamike, Chinonso’s friend lures him to Cyprus under the guise of an opportunity to attend a university. This, they agree, would allow Chinonso to become educated so that he can then marry Ndali. 

Chinonso arrives in Northern Cyprus instead and finds that he has fallen victim to a scam. From there, things go downhill and eventually lead to his grief and disappointment. These circumstances instigate the events that lead to Chinonso’s chi pleading on his behalf, way before his death. 

No matter the weight of grief, nothing can compel the eyes to shed tears of blood. No matter how long a man weeps, only tears continue to fall.

Fate or Free Will 

Some may read An Orchestra of Minorities as a tragic love story, and others may read it as the demise of a man. Chigozie Obioma may have intended for Chinonso to be a complex character, but I did not find that to be the case. Everything that happens to Chinonso shape and define him; just as the events that transpire transform Ndali and Jamike. Chinonso’s circumstances are not extraordinary. 

In the end, Chinonso’s chi is pleading with Chukwu—and in some ways with the reader—to forgive him for what he has unknowingly done. To forgive Chinonso, the reader will have to decide whether his experiences were orchestrated by fate or free will. 


It is possible that I did not give this book a chance because I kept comparing it to the author’s debut novel, The Fisherman; a story that I’ve written about here. This follow up, to me, was unnecessarily wordy and did not live up to the hype. 

I am fascinated by Igbo mythology and enjoyed that aspect of the book. Chigozie Obioma’s attention to detail and the images he provides in the beginning will be helpful to readers.

Overall, I was disappointed not to have liked this book as much as I did, The Fishermen. This love story—despite the authors attempts to make it sound like a new tale—just was not for me. 

Who are the minorities? According to Obioma, “No matter how privileged you think you are, on a spiritual level, we are all minorities–small things.

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Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

In Born A Crime, Trevor Noah, host of the popular late night program, The Daily Show, compiles stories from his childhood in South Africa.

Trevor was born in 1984 to a Black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss-German father; a union that was considered illegal under apartheid. 


Trevor writes about the system of oppression in South Africa and how the structure was carefully studied and carried out. Examples of how to oppress people were deliberately taken from other countries, including the U.S.

By the time South Africa became a democracy, racism and white supremacy were already deeply institutionalized. Even after Nelson Mandela was elected president and the African National Congress came into power, Black people still lacked opportunities and adequate resources to lift their families out of the circumstances that apartheid manufactured. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and books by other South African writers, journalists, and scholars provide a rich account of apartheid and the legacy of the racist regime.


Born a crime is not a linear story. The book is a set of vignettes about Trevor’s life. Many stories will make you laugh out loud, and others will leave you gasping. These stories highlight important themes from the impact of colonialism in South Africa to the privileges that come with being presumed to be white. Born a crime also explores Christianity, language, gender, and violence.

One of my favorite stories in the book centers on Trevor and his friend “Hitler” (yes, I know. Trevor’s point exactly), a star dancer in Trevor’s crew. In this scene, Hitler is dancing at a Jewish gathering where Trevor is DJing and cheering “Go Hitler! Go Hitler! Go Hitler!” They eventually get kicked out.

Trevor shares this story to describe the impact of colonialism on name preferences in South Africa. During apartheid, Black South Africans were forced to give their children names “that white people could pronounce.” As a result, many Black South Africans named their children Hitler because they were missing the context of historical events.

Trevor notes that the South African education system inadequately teaches students about history. In many instances, the experiences of oppressed groups are glaringly missing as if history is a one-sided phenomenon. Although names are often selected from the Bible, according to Trevor, the parents that named their children Hitler were probably unaware that apartheid was modeled after Hitler’s racist policies. Trevor’s accounts are like the history textbooks in the U.S. that misrepresent slavery or leave it out completely.


Trevor Noah is a brilliant storyteller. In Born A Crime, he weaves serious discussions of social inequities in South Africa to hilarious anecdotes about his upbringing, childhood mischief, and experiences with his friends and family.

Born A Crime was very much about Trevor as it was about his mom, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, a woman who resolved to ensure that Trevor experienced life on his own terms.

The book was a quick read. I tried to read it slowly, so I had something to look forward to but ended up finishing it in one weekend. The book will be adapted to a movie and Lupita Nyong’o will play Trevor’s mother

I’m looking forward to watching these stories play out in the film. 

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