Idie "Okonkwo"? Really?

In Uncanny X-Men 544, Mr. Sinister makes a reference to, I believe, Hope ("the fledgling chick") allowing Oya to leave Utopia, and he calls Idie by her last name, Okonkwo.

Sinister, listing the Schism sides to himself:"Rachel, Remy, Katherine, the remaining Gurthies, and others I'll list anon went east. Oh--and that Toad creature. Ororo wanted to go but Cyclops persuaded her otherwise.
"Ms. Frost, the lovely Miss Betsy, Erik, King Namor, Piotr and many others stay. Ah! And the fledgling chick lets the troubled Miss Okonkwo escape from under her wing, I believe."

For those who may not know, Okonkwo is a character from the novel Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. I remember reading this book in university (might even still have it on my shelf) and how it dealt with the impact of colonialism on Africa. Wikipedia's summary:

Things Fall Apart is a 1958 English language novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. It is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, and one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". In 2009, Newsweek ranked Things Fall Apart #14 on its list of Top 100 Books: The Meta-List.

The novel depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia—one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo ethnic group. In addition it focuses on his three wives, his children, and the influences of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on his traditional Igbo (archaically "Ibo") community during the late nineteenth century.

Up until this point, I had never actually realized that "Okonkwo" was Idie's last name. It's an interesting reference, I guess, but I can't seem to see why the creators—Fraction and Gillen—would make it. Other than being from a rural Nigerian village, the characters of Oya and Okonkwo seriously could not be more different. Consider:

  • Okonkwo was a village leader, a great warrior, but prone to rashness. He was a strong believer in the old religion and grappled with the coming of Christian missionaries and their message. Eventually, he kills another member of the tribe accidentally. Although he did not mean to kill the boy, the law is clear and he takes his three wives and goes into exile.
  • Oya is a timid young outcast who is hated and feared by the rest of her village. She also has strong faith, but seems to believe she is a demon, referencing "witchcraft" in very typically Christian terms. She does not accidentally kill a villager, but instead knowingly cuts down a group of terrorists in order to prevent a bomb from going off. And far from being exiled from her home, she's allowed to leave Utopia and start a "real" life going to a school.

I understand the urge to tie your Nigerian character to one of the better-known existing Nigerian characters, but why do that if you're going to invert nearly everything about that character? It'd be like referencing Sherlock Holmes only to make him a slobbering idiot. Furthermore, why make that reference if you're going to abandon everything that makes them relevant? It just kind of bothers me a bit considering the serious social issues Things Fall Apart dealt with compared to, well, Schism, which seems to be dealing with "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if Cyclops fought Wolverine?" Now, I'm not saying that comics, even superhero comics, can't deal with serious issues. I've railed against considering speculative fiction as a literary ghetto, here and elsewhere. However, what they've done with Oya seems to be totally unrelated to those issues. Perhaps the writers feel that the topic of the impact of imperial colonialism is a bit too high brow for comics? Perhaps they think the issue of child soldiers is relevant to Nigeria, so why not? I'm just not sure it's a good idea to invite this comparison. It'd be like if they'd written in an Indian X-Man and named him "Saleem Sinai" after the character in Midnight's Children. I mean, really? You want to set the literary bar that high and then deliver something like this?

I dunno. Did anyone else notice this? I know I'm late to the ballgame here as I didn't realize what her last name was until Sinister called her that. It just seems like a really odd choice.

Posted by xerox_kitty

I never knew all that. It's an interesting connection, but a little sad that they didn't bother to tie her character to the name too (or maybe they were afraid of legal ramifications?). Still, I didn't enjoy any of Fraction's stories; they always felt clunky, mismatched and recycled old ideas... so it doesn't surprise me that he recycled a name too. I can imagine him Googling the term Second Coming, stumbling across it by accident & thinking "I'll use that" ;)

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

You just realised that was her name?

Edited by TheCrowbar

God I hated that book, I think I cried for two days after reading it.
Also her last name is in reference to Schism and Wolverine's "Exile" if anything.

Posted by TheGoldenOne
Okonkwo is a fairly common name among the Igbos in Nigeria. It was probably the first Nigerian name they could find and so they just went with it. I don't think there is any connection to be made between the two of them.
Posted by fodigg

@spiderbat87 said:

You just realised that was her name?

Yes, as I said. She's usually just referred to as Idie.

@TheGoldenOne said:

Okonkwo is a fairly common name among the Igbos in Nigeria.

Interesting. I didn't realize that. But—

It was probably the first Nigerian name they could find and so they just went with it.

This is probably still true. That's what kind of seems silly to me. It's less of an issue if the name is common, obviously, but I'm sure there are other names they could have gone with. Of course it could also just be a coincidence and they picked it without ever having read the book.

Posted by jordama

Yeah, I don't think that much thought went into the last name. I tend to agree with TheGoldenOne on this.

Posted by mickaelsurtour

@fodigg said:

The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats's poem "The Second Coming".

OH, Now i bet everyboody can see the connection. Interesting ^^

Posted by clockpenalty2

The issue of child soldiers is *not* relevant to Nigeria.

Nigeria has only ever had a single war (1967 civil war, lasted 3 years) and child soldiers were not a concern at the time.

If you are thinking of child soldiers, you are probably thinking of Liberia or Sierra Leone (or some of the more recent wars that are taking part in the rampant NGO scam and as a result doing stuff designed to make headlines in the west)

Just putting that out there.

Posted by fodigg

@clockpenalty2: A very relevant point. It's been a while since I posted this, I can only imagine I was just spit-balling at that point when I posted that line.

Posted by Blood1991

@fodigg: Perhaps it means she will become this sort of person. I hope so at least because Idie kinda sucks :/

Posted by medulaoblaganda

@jonny_anonymous: marvel messed up. because idie okonkwo is an ibo name. oya is a yoruba goddess name. so marvel made a mistake. am telling you because am a Nigerian and i know what am saying.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous
Posted by medulaoblaganda