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Arrow of God (1964) by Chinua Achebe, a political and cultural novel, is set in Nigeria in the early twentieth century when colonization by British government officials and Christian missionaries was well underway. In this novel two cultures confront their differences. Achebe portrays the disrupting effect an externally imposed power system (the
British) has on an internally imposed power system (African tradition and customs). Conflicts within the Igbo society coupled with repercussions from external invasion result in disaster for the Igbo society which disintegrates from within and reorients itself to Christianity. This reorientation will lead not only to the assimilation of Western values and beliefs, but also to the eventual loss of the Igbo cultural identity. Arrow of God, Achebe's third novel, is an intricate and complex narrative. Ezeulu, the main character, is the chief priest of Ulu, a god created by the people almost a
century before when the six villages of Umuaro united to withstand the Abam slave raiders. As chief priest, Ezeulu is responsible for safeguarding the traditions and rituals of the people. For example, Ezeulu watches each month for the new moon. He eats a sacred yam and beats the ogene to mark the beginning of each new month. Only the chief priest can name the day for the feast of the Pumpkin Leaves or for the New Yam Feast, which ushers in the yam harvest. Ezeulu considers himself "merely a watchman" (3) for Ulu. "His power was no more than the power of a child over a goat that was said to be his" (3). Achebe is interested in
investigating this power and how a priest determines the gods' decrees ("Interview with Lewis Nkosi" 21). .
breaks one of the villager's personal gods which prompts the people of Okperi to kill the messenger from Umuaro igniting open conflict. the chief priest of the god.Winterbottom. All six villages of Umuaro side with Nwaka and override Ezeulu. Captain T. Nwaka leads a group of villagers who want to go to war against Okperi.Structurally. is sent to Okperi to announce the war. Idemili. The initial conflict between the two men is over a land dispute between Umuaro and the nearby village of Okperi.K. Nwaka is a prosperous man and a supporter of Ezidemili. the District Officer. an emissary from Umuaro. stops . in a fit of anger. Akukalia. Arrow of God begins en medias res with a flashback to explain a disagreement between Ezeulu and Nwaka five years before. Akukalia. The war ends abruptly when the British get involved. Feeling as if he was not properly received. Ezeulu opposes them.
Oduche. told in flashback.the war and breaks all the guns in Okperi and Umuaro. foreshadows the future conflict between Ezeulu and his people. Goodcountry. was also impressed with Captain Winterbottom. and Nwafo. it would be prudent to have one of his own sons in the inside circle. which will fracture the community. All of this. thus impressing Captain Winterbottom with his lack of bias. Ezeulu has four sonsEdogo. Obika. he realizes that if the white men take over the country. "I have sent you to be my eyes there" (189) he says. as it seems obvious they will. Ezeulu sends Oduche to study Christianity with the white missionaries led by Mr. Akuebue discourages Ezeulu's decision to . Ezeulu later testifies on Government Hill that the people of Umuaro had no claim to Okperi land. Ezeulu's old friend. Ezeulu. Ezeulu initial motive is so that Oduche might learn the wisdom of the white men (42). Later. on his part.
The idea of indirect rule allows the colonizers to rule the .send Oduche to the white men. Oduche is instructed by Mr. Ezeulu does not punish his son. but the snake is discovered and is released unharmed. Goodcountry to kill the sacred python. . Oduche places a python in a footlocker. "When you spoke against the war with Okperi you were not alone . The incident further fuels the divide between Ezeulu and his enemies. Ezeulu is summoned to Okperi to Government Hill for a meeting with Winterbottom who wants to make Ezeulu a "puppet" chief. Nevertheless. Ezeulu sends his son.But if you send your son to join strangers in desecrating the land you will be alone " (134). Shortly after this. Even though everyone in Umuaro knows that Oduche is responsible for this desecration of a sacred symbol. governorGeneral of Nigeria from 1912-19. . The British attempted to instigate a policy advanced by Lord Lugard.
Assistant District Officer Tony Clarke makes the offer to Ezeulu that the British would like to make him a ruler. Before Ezeulu leaves for Okperi. Nwaka draws attention to Ezeulu's friendship with the white men who are taking the Igbo land.colonized people through appointed native chiefs (MajaPearce 18). which detains him for two more months. Ezeulu's enemy. When he is released he stubbornly moves the New Yam . Ezeulu refuses to eat the yams. Ezeulu angers Winterbottom by delaying his departure for Okperi. Ezeulu cannot eat the sacred yams or announce the new moons. Angry with his people for letting the British detain him. Winterbottom has become ill and is in the hospital. During his imprisonment. Ezeulu declines to be "a white man's chief" (175). When Ezeulu arrives on Government Hill he is imprisoned. Ezeulu angers the British administration.
Aware that he is punishing and hurting his people." Ezeulu says. The people take Obika's death as a sign that Ulu had either chastised or abandoned his priest and "that no man . They begin to question the chief priest and ask that the custom be altered. While the people argue and starve. "I only call a new festival when there is only one yam left from the last.Festival forward two months. Today I have three yams and so I know that the time has not come" (207). the yams cannot be harvested and they rot in the fields causing avfamine. Ezeulu's son Obika dies suddenly while performing as Ogbazulobodo. the night spirit. in a ritual for a funeral. "You all know our custom. Ezeulu likens himself to the arrow in the bow of Ulu. The people become divided between their loyalty to Ulu and their loyalty to the survival of the community. By refusing to announce the feast.
beautifully resonant. in . the people of Umuaro turned to Christianity. that no one ever won judgment against his clan" (230). then. Achebe's achievement. harvesting the yams and taking a sacrificial offering to Mr. tragic and theological. Because Ulu failed them. and his defeat in a page or two be the fulcrum of a Christian lever upon his people.however great was greater than his people. Ezeulu is a tragic hero who imperiled his community to make a point. is an ending few Western novelists would have contrived ("Letter from John Updike" 56). That Ezeulu. Goodcountry who received them with open arms. should be so suddenly vanquished by his own god Ulu and by something harsh and vengeful within himself. as I think about them. Of the ending John Updike says that the events of the conclusion "proved unexpected and. whom we had seen stand up so invincibly to both Nwaka and Clarke.
is to portray his obvious love and respect for the Igbo people balanced with an honest representation of their lives.this novel. and culture. conflicts. .
Top Dialogues .
Conducting a dialogue with Achebe's other novels shows that all of Achebe's texts look at Nigeria "from the inside. spear rattling "savages". . The main character.html) is set in precolonial Nigeria and addresses the first encounters of the Igbo people with the British invaders. Another traditional text that influenced Achebe is Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson. As if pointedly playing with Conrad. though perfectly fair ones . Clark.Examining the influence traditional canonical texts had on Achebe leads to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902) (http://www. Achebe realized that the African characters are stereotypes and that Conrad is giving the typical colonial view of the "natives. Things Fall Apart (1958) (http://www. have totally different reactions to .html).heartofdarkness. which are about Nigeria from the beginning of British colonization in the 1890's through the military coup in the 1960's. also set in Nigeria. and Wright as one dimensional stereotypes. then perhaps someone ought to try and look at this from the inside" (Pieterse and Duerden 4). . Achebe creates complex and complicated human beings existing within an equally complex and complicated society. Achebe's first novel. Achebe presents his European characters. When studying the venerated Conradian text." Arrow of God is the third of four novels Achebe wrote between 1955-1965.thingsfallapart. So successful is he that one critic misses the apparent irony and takes Achebe to task saying. Okonkwo. The two main characters. "Once again the white characters are not much more than parodies. some day Chinua Achebe must give us a white man whom he takes as seriously as he does his Ibos." In contrast to Conrad's half-naked. struck Achebe as "a most superficial picture of-not only of the country-but even of the Nigerian characters. Winterbottom. silent. like the main character Ezeulu in Arrow of God. however. rather than a series of dei ex machina" (Moore 52). This novel. and so I thought if this was famous. is destroyed by setting himself apart from his people.
Achebe's characters have both good and bad traits. Arrow of God is a novel. While both texts deal with a colonized situation.one of the best known Latin American post colonial texts. which are equally exposed and explored in the novel. there are similarities and differences. One obvious difference is genre. while Menchu's text is a testimonio. that "there's no dialogue between us" (143). Achebe's point is that the Igbo people were in some way susceptible to assimilation by Western culture because they could not reconcile the internal discord within their own culture. The main character is an educated Nigerian man who attempts to negotiate a past and present Nigerian society in the 1950's-a time of great political change. Anthills of the Savannah (1987) (http://www.anthillsofthesavannah. but she does not draw any conclusions from the implications. Perhaps the same dissension within led to the subjugation of Menchu's Mayan culture by the Spanish.irigobertamenchu. a Nigerian village.html) is set in both the Nigerian capital of Lagos and in Umuofia.manofthepeople. and that the government uses these divisions within the culture to exploit the people (143).html) raises questions about power and military rule in Nigeria after independence from Britain. . she places the blame on the government. No Longer at Ease (1960) (http://nolongeratease. Menchu admits that the Indians are "separated by ethnic barriers. The action is set in contemporary Nigeria after achieving independence from British rule. linguistic barriers". saying "this is what the White Man did. Instead.html).html) investigates the impact of politics on native culture. Rigoberta Menchu (http://www. A Man of the People (1966) (http://www.colonization. Comparing Achebe's Arrow of God to Rigoberta Menchu's I. it's the fault of the White Man" (69). Achebe's novel does not idealize the indigenous African people as Menchu's text idealizes the Guatemalans. but it is not a theme she explores as readily as Achebe.
nor was she writing a novel. is more intent on unearthing the reasons why the Igbo culture put up so little resistance to Western ways. Somebody showed them the way. by her failure to be more balanced. is not an "artist" in the sense Achebe means. of course. technicolour idyll. . "The Role of the Writer in a New Nation": "The question is how does a writer re-create the past. He speculates that "the society itself was already heading toward destruction . which is involved.Achebe. We cannot pretend that our past was one long.[T]here were internal problems that made it possible for the European to come in. It is well for the reader of Menchu to keep in mind that Menchu is on a crusade and that her anger is a sort of righteous anger that fuels the emotion of her story. Will he be strong enough to overcome the temptation to select only those facts. Menchu. Contemplating these books and the way they convey their cultures. on the other hand. but may not give a completely balanced view of reality. A conflict between two brothers enables a stranger to reap their harvest" (Egejuru 125). never blames the colonizers directly. . . unlike Menchu. . . But it is not only his personal integrity as an artist. or. Achebe.This is where the writer's integrity comes in. which flatter him? If he succumbs he will have branded himself as an untrustworthy witness. I am reminded of a question Achebe raises in an essay entitled. at least slightly detached. We have to admit that like other people's past ours had its good as well as its bad sides" (158). This conflict between 'two brothers' is one Menchu . The credibility of the world he is attempting to recreate will be called into question and he will defeat his own purpose if he is suspected of glossing over inconvenient facts. [but] Europe has a lot of blame . . Menchu opens the door for detractors who feel her testimony at times borders on propaganda. However. Quite clearly there is a strong temptation to idealize it-to extol its good points and pretend that the bad never existed .
Arrow of God.does not elaborate on. one Menchu sidesteps but Achebe tackles head on. why Igbo betrays Igbo is a cultural psychological question. When the villagers capture the government soldier she says that for the pregnant girls raped by the soldiers. something unbearable" (148). Both texts present counter narratives and counter histories to the "official" European narrative.menofmaize. is a counter narrative. Neither Achebe nor Asturias demonizes the colonizers. the baby was "like a monster. Another interesting textual dialogue is to compare Achebe's text with other counter narratives. implying that the bloodlines could not mix. both authors show the faults within the indigenous culture they represent . Why brother is fighting against brother. instead. like the Latin American text of Miquel Angel Asturias' Men of Maize (1949) (http://www. Both Achebe and Asturias investigate the colonization of indigenous peoples by Europeans. yet she later says the soldier was also an Indian.html). not from a different race at all.
Top Notes .
He is so important that many scholars believe him to be the originator of modern African literature (Gikandi 2). Achebe went to Government College in Umuahia in Eastern Nigeria during the years. Achebe. On the other my father's brother and his family. "On one arm of the cross we sang hymns and read the bible night and day.Biography Chinua Achebe. short story writer and essayist.1930 to Isaiah Okafor and Janet Achebe. blinded by heathenism. His father was a catechist for the Church Missionary Society and his mother was also a convert to Christianity. 19441948. He originally intended to study medicine. offered food to idols. novelist. Sol Plaatje. but changed his . is considered one of Africa's most important novelists. He says. After being educated in the village school. even though there were many impressive African writers who preceded Achebe such as Amos Tutuola. Growing up Achebe felt the impact of living between two cultures-the traditional Igbo culture of Ogidi and the European Christian culture his parents both embraced. That was how it was supposed to be anyhow" (Morning Yet on Creation Day 68). Thomas Mofolo. and Peter Abrahams. christened Albert Chinualumogu. was born at Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria November 16. His father was in charge of the village school run by the Church Missionary Society.
In 1964 he published Arrow of God. he had been taught that European values and culture were "superior" to his native Igbo culture. He has continued to publish books. short stories. a British style university. Amherst. Brazil and Britain. In later years Achebe became Visiting Professor of Literature at the University of Massachusetts. In 1954 Achebe became Talks Producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service and studied in London with the BBC in 1956. Storrs. Achebe took issue with this point of view. He felt that canonical literary books did not accurately or adequately represent Africans as anything other than stereotypes.major to the arts. Anthills of the Savannah was published in . Achebe returned to Eastern Nigeria and became a spokesman for Biafra. In 1963 Achebe traveled to the United States. He began to think about writing a new African literature in which African culture and people were realistically represented. children's books and essays. During 1960-1961 he went to East Africa on a Rockefeller Fellowship. By the time he graduated in 1953 from University College at Ibadan. and the University of Connecticut. In 1961 Achebe married Christie Chinwe Okoli and became Director of External Broadcasting for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service. After the military coup in Nigeria in 1966. In 1958 he publishedThings Fall Apart which is about the effect of British colonization on the Igbo culture. His latest book.
There is a saying in Ibo that a man who can't tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body.al. Or an African-the same: what does Africa mean to the world? When you see an African what does it mean to a white man? (Appiah et. . The writer's duty is to help them regain it by showing them in human terms what happened to them. "The worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect.) Achebe's goal. . African and a writer . "I'm an Igbo writer. Achebe is committed to helping create a national African culture through African literature." he says.1989. as a writer is to instruct. then. what they lost. "I would be quite satisfied if my novels . This is what it means to be black. and as an African writer. black first. He says. I must see what it is to be black-and this means being sufficiently intelligent to know how the world is moving and how the black people fare in the world. Achebe received the Nigerian National Merit Award for intellectual achievement. no. Each of these identities does call for a certain commitment on my part. then a writer. He can also assist them in reclaiming it. Nigerian. The writer can tell the people where the rain began to beat them" ("The Role of the Writer in a New Nation" 158) In his novels. Achebe shows his people where and how they lost their identity. "because this is my basic culture.
Achebe's novels not only teach Africans. gods. and shrines. they also enlarge the knowledge and understanding of non-Africans about the Igbo culture. and political systems.(especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past-with all its imperfections-was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them" ("The Novelist as Teacher" 45). male and female. The Ibos have one supreme god. Each village has its own marketplace. The Igbos. is given a chi at birth-a personal god who controls that person's fate (Innes 2) British colonization between 1900-1910 formed . as well as about universal truths of human nature. Chukwu. or Ibos. These many diverse tribes each have their own dialects. Each Ibo. Brief History There are three main ethnic groups in Nigeria-the HausaFulani. the Yoruba. of southeastern Nigeria are one of 250 tribes. and the Igbo. culture.
Culture. Obiechina (1971). E.2 06/post/nigeria/nige riahistov. Anene. Echeruo and E. Obiechina.N.N.motherl andnigeria.html) and (http://65. The following sites give a brief summary of the history of Nigeria: (http://www.107. This system remained in effect until 1960. The King in Every Man (1971). Igbo Traditional Life. Culture and Literature. For more information on the Igbo's see: J. Southern Nigeria in Transition (1966). Tradition and Society in the West African Novel (1975).C.J.the many tribes into the one nation of Nigeria. The British set up a system of direct rule. edited by M. Richard Henderson.html) .C.211.com/histo ry. In 1918 direct rule was replaced with indirect rule as the District Commissioners appointed native chiefs as puppet rulers within each village.
motherlandnigeria. Economics. Contents are extensive and include: Geography. Chat Rooms. Culture. Languages. Transportation. Healthcare. Classified. Festivals.html>> This site has a discussion of Precolonialism. Famous Nigerians. Patriotic information.c om>> This site is maintained by Boomie Olunbunmi. Democracy Watch. http://www. Names and Origins. Kidzone. Travel information. Holidays.Top Links <<http://www.com/ho me/index. Embassies. Notable Women of Nigeria. Music.nigeriannation. <http://www. Codes of Honor. Pictures. The Arts. Recipes. colonialism and Postcolonialism and a Nigerian History Overview. Historical Government. Attire. Proverbs.65. colonial. . Nigerian organizations. Legal system. Games. There is also information on women's history with a detailed look at the role of Nigerian women in pre-colonial. Stories. Education. Agriculture. and postcolonial Nigeria. Government. Humor. People. Tourist Attractions. Sports.107. Food and Drink.206/post/ nigeria/nigeriahistov. Marriage.211. Brief History. Other links. Education. Telephone.asp?sessionID=39372259 This site has Biographies.
Personals.cc. Polls.com/famous>> Proverb links include: <<http://www. Information on Achebe can be found at:<<http://www. Also. Literature. Folk Tales. Nigerian News. Religions.org>> <<http://www.Ethnic Groups. Nigerian Nation Store.lifeinafrica. Quizzes.com>> Top Teaching .edu/~carey webb This site provides information about teaching African Literature.NameSite. under "Selection of Resources on the World Wide Web" one can find background information and current affairs on Africa.wmich.com>> <<http://www. Government. Message Center. Music.motherlandnigeri a. Recipes. http:////vms.AfriProv.
and post-colonial perspective. This section will examine both techniques. Achebe. . British colonization in Africa from a pre-colonial. some prefer to goround students with background reading and supplemental texts before reading the primary text. a reader may fail to comprehend or appreciate its significance.Arrow of God can be taught in many ways. Assigning reports on Nigeria. examining the role of the family and women in Ibo society or how the British invasion upset the natural checks and balances within the Ibo culture would be one way to help students beginlearning more about the time period and the conflicting cultures Achebe portrays. Without understanding the culture represented in the text. as well as the strategy of approaching the book as a counternarrative In teaching any cultural text the teacher is confronted at the outset with the reality that the student will need background information. the Ibos. colonial. Some teachers prefer to confront the primary text and allow it to explicate its own background information.
However. historical/cultural contrasts and comparisions. identify the central conflict. Another focus might be to examine Achebe's use of . rhetorical techniques. it would be helpful to raise questions at the beginning that the student can keep in mind as he reads. point of view. the interrelationship between literature and politics. Nwaka. Such questions might be "Who is the arrow of God?" "Could Ezeulu disobey Ulu?" "Did you sympathize with Ezeulu or the starving people? "Why did Ezeulu not eat the sacred yams?" "What will be the result of Umuaro's conversion to Christianity?" After the students have read the text in depth analysis can be assigned examining narrative techniques. and the antagonist. If so. Ezeulu. theme. identify other protagonist/antagonist conflicts in the text. compare and contrast the protagonist. since the text itself is a place of cultural interaction some instructors might opt to forego background information and immerse the students directly in the text. The students could analyze Ezeulu's character and compare it with his sons' characters. character analysis.
clarify character. One could study African folktales. they both serve a utilitarian purpose. Achebe writes. To do this it would be beneficial for the instructor to become acquainted with Achebe's . For a detailed analysis of Achebe's use of proverbs see Austin Shelton's "'The Palm-Oil' of Language: Provrebs in Chinua Achebe's Novels. songs. "Among the Ibo the art of conversations is regarded very highly and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten" (7). Another suggestion is to explore the text as a counternarrative. This is what proverbs are supposed to do" (Lindfors 67). Achebe uses proverbs as a way to communicate the African oral tradition within the frame of the western novel. "when I use these forms in my novels. and also delight through elegance and aptness of imagery. and explain the culture. An examination of how proverbs work in the novel would be a way to discuss theme. and proverbs.language. In Things Fall Apart." Modern Language Quarterly 30(1969): 103. which is to reenact the life of the people that I am describing. Achebe says.
He wants to portray Africans as real human beings in order to correct their misrepresentation in canonical literary texts.article "The Novelist as Teacher. Other novels about British colonization would work as well." In this essay Achebe explains his purpose in his novels. or Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm. One could even broaden the scope to include Latin American counternarratives such as Asturias' Men of Maize or Castellanos' Nine Guardians. Rudyard Kipling's Kim.M. E. George Orwell's Burmese Days. Examining how Arrow of God works as a counternarrative is an excellent segway to studying Point of View. Forrester's Passage to India. then read Achebe's essay "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness" would be an ideal way to compare and contrast Arrow of Godwith a canonical literary text and confront the stereotypes Achebe points out. Having the students read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. for example. To find the latest articles and books on Achebe consult the MLA .
background studies on anthropology. 1991. Igbo studies. interviews. politics. critical commentary sources.International Bibliography. religion. New York: The Modern Language Association of America. . andCallaloo. history. the Journal of Commonwealth Literature. and information on audio visual aids see Bernth Lindors' Approaches to Teaching Achebe's Things Fall Apart. For biographical sources.
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