Dan Sandman

29: Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

In Books, Fiction on 19/07/2013 at 12:00 pm

Arrow of God by Chinua AchebeThis gripping novel by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe is the third book of his highly acclaimed African trilogy: a series of books which can be enjoyed out of sequence. The story explores the conflicting relationship between a traditional African ruler called Ezuelu and British Colonial rule. The ancestors of Ezuelu, chief priest of Umuaro, have been sought for wisdom and guidance by the six villages for many years. As chief priest, Ezuelu is an authority on the locally worshipped god Ulu. However, as the story progresses, Ezuelu’s power is put under pressure by the interference of British officers and the white man’s religion Christianity.

To give the story some background, at the very beginning of the 20th century, a system of indirect rule was established in Nigeria whereby the British controlled the military and the tax system whilst local authorities, often aristocratic and friendly towards the British, were chosen to rule over other areas of life. As long as the military controlled the guns, this system of indirect rule provided a cheap and sparsely staffed way for Britain to make a profit.

The plot of Arrow of God tells the story of the people effected by indirect rule. It begins with a battle between the chief priest’s village Umuaro and the nearby village Okperi. A British officer called Winterbottom intervenes in the battle and admires Ezuelu for his honesty. Later, Ezuelu is asked to become a Warrant Cheif under the Administration, but Ezuelu refuses to take Winterbottom’s offer and is temporarily put in prison. At first Ezuelu is admired by his people for saying no to the white man, but Ezuelu’s anger and the anger of his spirit side – through which Ulu communicates – leads to tragic circumstances. Ezuelu is an arrow of god: striking against his people as they turn away from Ulu towards Christianity.

Achebe’s writing grabs the reader’s attention through a direct, descriptive and (at times) essay like style. The rich dialogue catalogues many old proverbs and brings to life the translated speech of the villagers. When the story moves to depict the British Administration, we are shown an insight into the language of bureaucracy where big decisions are made in distant countries for political gain. The beauty of Achebe’s writing style is its ability to transport the reader into a complex world; therefore, encouraging the reader to engage with complex issues.

I would highly recommend this book to friends interested in reading good books that teach you things. Because it’s well written and because the plot is exciting, Arrow of God paints an accessible yet chilling portrait of colonial Africa. Seen mostly from the perspective of individual characters struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of colonialism, this compellingly sad story simultaneously celebrates traditional Nigerian customs. This book is as starkly relevant today as when it was written in 1964.

An important book.

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