Yesterday evening I finished Chinua Achebe’s Novel — Arrow of God.
This novel is centered around a chief priest, Ezeulu. He is the spokesman of a local deity of 6 villages which came together for the sake of survival against its more formidable neighbours.
Though he is the voice of the god, the leaders of this village chose to reject Ezeulu’s advice to fight with a neighbouring village over a piece of land, and suffered the humiliation of the white man, the British monarch’s representative in colonial Africa, ruling against them.
The opinion of Ezeulu was sought in coming to this judgment which endeared him to the white man who upon being pressured by Britain to include locals in the colonial administration calls on Ezeulu to become ‘King’ in his own land. Ezeulu promptly refuses to be a ‘white man’s chief’ and is thrown into prison to the astonishment of every hearer.
This rejection greatly increases his profile even in the sight of his enemies, and he chose to use this opportunity to teach his enemies a lesson for not listening to him in the past. Because it is in his power to call the New Year Festival without which no man in the village can harvest yams on his farm, he refuses to do so despite being implored to compromise by esteemed elders in the village. He considers himself ‘an arrow’ by which the god can use to punish his people.
A famine follows and of course all blames comes upon Ezeulu. His virile son dies during this period, which the villagers considers an omen that their god was on their side.
As the book ends, the missionary church uses the opportunity to court the attention of the desperate villagers and implore them to come under the Christian god who can provide them immunity to harvest their yams without consequences from their village god.
The reader can see how Ezeulu self-destructs despite his foresight at sending his son to learn the ways of the white man. We can also see the cultural demise of his village as they embrace the Christian god and forsake their local god.
Achebe makes the reader live in the story in his hands. The reader feels admiration for Ezeulu as he stands as his own man, yet wonder at the extent of his self-destruction. Still the reader is not quick to blame him too much as the reader knows the result may have been different if his son sent to be his ‘eyes’ has had his neck firmly on his own head.
You will laugh reading this book as it contains a lot of memorable lines. Some of my favourites:
“When suffering knocks at your door and you say there’s no seat left for him, he tells you not to worry because he brought his own stool”.
“How are your people?” “Nobody has died.”
“When brothers fight to death a stranger inherits their father’s estate”
Some lines cause you to ponder. A few:
“The first thought that comes to Ezeulu on seeing him was to wonder whether any black man could ever achieve the same mastery over book as to write it with the left hand.”
“…even Nwaka sent a son [to the missionary school] — the one who seemed least likely among his children to become a good farmer.”
A great and evocative story of how colonialism eventually overcame one of the last standing villages in Igboland. It is how it was done in the most unlikely way that makes the end such a tragedy.
The book can be long-winding in its description of objects and places and I often skipped paragraphs when the descriptions seem not to have an end in sight, yet I recommend a reading not least because Achebe himself says this is one novel of his he is most likely to be caught sitting down to read.
Ezeulu sends his regards to you all!