Arrow of God – Chinua Achebe
Arrow of God is an unforgettable portrayal of the loss of faith, and the struggle between tradition and change. Continuing the epic saga of the community in Things Fall Apart and the curse of bribery in No Longer at Ease, it is the third volume of Achebe’s African trilogy.
Ezeulu is the priest – and arrow – of Ulu, the god of the village of Umuaro. The village itself, relatively isolated from colonial administration, largely goes about its own business unhindered, but intrusions do take place. One such earned Ezeulu the trust of Winterbottom, a trust that is to prove damaging later. Another – peripherally – is the intrusion of Christianity in the form of a church established near Umuaro by one John Goodcountry, a church to which Ezeulu sent one of his own sons in order to become a Christian and serve as his eyes and ears, though it is clear this engenders within the son split loyalties between his father and Christianity, a faith he begins to adopt as his own with increasing dedication.
A third encounter affecting Ezeulu directly comes with the building of a road. The administration decides to bring in unpaid labour in order to hasten the project onwards, and another of Ezeulu’s sons is volunteered as one of the labourers. A wayward lad, given to sloth and over-indulgence in the local beverage, he turns up late for work with a hangover and taunts the overseer with his attitude. The overseer, an Englishman, beats him severely for doing so.
Ezeulu, then, is not as well disposed to the colonial administration as he might be when Winterbottom decides to set Ezeulu up as a local chief in the area following the policy of indirect rule whereby trusted locals take positions of authority on the administration’s behalf. He summons Ezeulu to attend him, such summons always being delivered by locals who, running the administration’s errands, cannot resist using their position to levy taxes and to gain benefits by making demands with the supposed authority of the administration itself. Their arrogance in delivering their message further compounds Ezeulu’s negativity and, moreover, they do not know the basis upon which the summons has been made, further frustrating Ezeulu who finds the summons peremptory. Ezeulu resists, refuses on the basis that a man in his position is not to be summonsed in this fashion, but fellow villagers – not wishing to offend the white administration – prevail upon him to attend.
Set in the Ibo heartland of eastern Nigeria, in Arrow of God, one of Africa’s best-known writers describes the conflict between old and new in its most poignant aspect: the personal struggle between father and son.