What it is:
Ezeulu, headstrong chief priest of the god Ulu, is worshipped by the six villages of Umuaro. But he is beginning to find his authority increasingly under threat – from his rivals in the tribe, from those in the white government and even from his own family. He still feels he must be untouchables – surely he is an arrow in the bow of his God?
Armed with this belief, he is prepared to lead his people, even if it means destruction and annihilation. Yet the people will not be so easily dominated.
Why I read it: I saw it on shelf of the library, after loving Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe so much, I wanted to complete the African Trilogy.
What I thought:
Arrow of God is one that Achebe has re-read the most (as he says in the introduction). I didn’t know this is the third in his famous African Trilogy (Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease being the first two) but thought according to chronological order this book appears to be the logical second.
For years leaders in all communities juggle many difficult tasks. In management speak, the leader has many stakeholders and it is his job to please (or appease) them all. In Ezeulu’s case, juggling the Colonial Administration and his family members’ needs. Ezeulu has two wives Matefi and Ugoye who cannot see eye to eye. Eldest son Edogo thinks his father Ezeulu tries to send his elder son Oduche to missionary school learn the ways of the white man and prepare for the youngest son Nwafo to succeed his priesthood. As the head of the tribe, Ezeulu is walking a fine line between being friends with the white man and between upholding the cultures of his village.
I suppose the all-inclusive leadership is not wide a practice then :), where: “Ezeulu’s only fault was that he expected everyone – his wives, his kinsmen, his children, his friends and even his enemies – to think and act like himself. Anyone who dared to say no to him was an enemy. He forgot the saying of the elders that if a man sought for a companion who acted entirely like himself he would live in solitude. – page 94”
Solitude gives you a clue to what happens next when the clans men couldn’t be certain what Ezeulu is thinking; a fact that is further aggravated by Ezeulu’s refusal to finish his yams (one a month until the time for harvest season) and announce the harvest season.
In this book, the colonial administration is personalised in the personal thoughts and emotions of Captain Winterbottom (nick Wintabota by the locals) and his successor Mr. Clark. While the local tribes are forced to choose sides between the colonial rule and ways of the village, Captain Winterbottom has been under another kind of stress. “Indirect rule” is the ideology that rules the day and he is under direct orders to find a chief for Umuaro. Captain Winterbottom is portrayed as the more humane and reluctant colonial master with empathy towards the locals and do not always agree with policies issued from Central. Alas, the orders are not his. Captain Winterbottom will have to decide if he issue the orders or face a replacement from officer who can do the job.
I read the book with certain wonder how Ezeulu will ever extradite himself from the misunderstanding and demands that have been created in such changing times. There is way that he could please all, as choosing side with the colonial administration will attract the wrath of his own kin and defending his village by not cooperating with the colonial administration put him at risk of arrest. Since there is no right way, the fate of Ezeulu, despite protection from his ancestors’ gods, seems to be doomed.
‘It is praiseworthy to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of a coward to the point at the ruins where a brave man used to live. The man who has never submitted to anything will soon submit to the burial mat.’ – page 11
“The white man, the new religion, the soldiers, the new road – they are all part of the same thing. The white man has a gun, a matchet, a bow and carries fire in his mouth. He does not fight with one weapon alone.” – page 86
Getting the final word in:
Arrow of God is a complex work of deep meaning and significance but I am afraid it is all lost in me with so many characters jumping out of the blue and from out of nowhere which confuse my point of reference. There are occasionally glimpses of charm that I so missed from Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, but not enough.
I wish I would have read the book with a clearer mind and a lot more patience but in this instance I don’t quite get it but it doesn’t mean you would feel the same. I take forever (a month) to finish this book. It is a good portrayal of the threat of dying old traditions superseded with new wave of change that no man nor tribe could stop it from happening. I look forward to read the third book in the African Trilogy, No Longer at Ease.
If this a political conference: It is like walking into a room of political figures, chief of states / tribes, not knowing who is who and as a result, gets very confused as to what their motives are.
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Classics 2010, originally published in 1965; Length: 232 pages; Setting: 1920’s Nigeria. Source: Reading Library copy. Finished reading on the 21st July 2012. Reading this for African Challenge hosted by Kinna Read.
To remind of the plot and chapter summaries, Shmoop.com offers a good one.
Other review from Amy Reads