Arrow of God – Summary

“Arrow of God” is one of the books in the African Trilogy by Chinua Achebe.

Arrow of God

Arrow of God – Summary

Arrow of God is Chinua Achebe’s third novel and the third in the series of books referred to as the “African Trilogy”. Arrow of God was published in 1964 and won the Jock Campbell/ New Statesman prize under African Literature.

Arrow Of God is set between Igbo villages, Umuaro and Okperi, and influenced by events that unfolded from 1914 to 1920 in today’s South East, Nigeria. Umuaro is made up of six villages united under a powerful god, Ulu, and ruled by Ezeulu – partly divine and partly human. The power made him make dreadful decisions at the expense of the Umuaro people. 

Okperi shares borders with Umuaro. The two villages were at war against each other over land at the beginning of the story. This was before a white British colonizer, Winterbottom, also known as ‘Wintabota’ by the villagers, came in and ended the war in favor of Okperi after an intimate consultation with Ezeulu.

Umuaro people resent how the white people disrespect the god’s chosen priest, Ezeulu. They were also angry at Ezeulu for bowing to the wishes of the colonizers to the detriment of their tradition.

The British had established firm control over Umuaro and Okperi. To cut the cost of governance, the British introduced the indirect rule in which loyal locals were chosen to represent and preside over the affairs of their people. This system was strange to the Umuaro people, who have lived a democratic-like life in which the village men and women gather in the market square to decide on their well-being. 

When Winterbottom invited Ezeulu to Okperi, where the colonial government had her headquarter, Ezeulu ignored the invitation and requested Winterbottom to come over and see him if he was interested in seeing him. Ezeulu’s utterance, which appeared disrespectful to a colonizer with a superior mentality, infuriated Winterbottom, prompting him to send two police officers to arrest the recalcitrant Ezeulu.

Ezeulu felt unease after sending Winterbottom’s messenger angrily back to where he came from; therefore, he summoned the elders of the land over the issue. The elders lined up behind him to defy the long-time tradition of Ulu’s priest not leaving his hut to meet a mere mortal. On his way to Okperi, the police officers sent to arrest Ezeulu walked past him without recognizing him.

On getting to Okperi, Winterbottom became seriously ill, leaving no one to order the servants to lock Ezeulu up. The Africans serving in the colonial office fear Ezeulu; they assume he’s a spiritual power which made Winterbottom —their boss— fall sick on Ezeulu’s arrival. They made Ezeulu sit comfortably in the guard-room on the pretense it’s a sitting room to avoid enraging him.

Ezeulu was requested to occupy the throne created by the colonizers and rule on their behalf as a prerequisite to regaining his right, but Ezeulu strongly rejected it. Consequently, he was locked up for months in the colonial prison.

Ezeulu’s sons took different directions as the colonizers successfully got into Umuaro village. Ezeulu sent Oduche to learn the white men’s language and religion. Oduche began to feel different from others due to his association with the evangelists. As a result, he killed the revered python of Idemili while Obika worked for the white, although freely, on a road project linking the two villages — Umuaro and Okperi.

Whosoever kills the python needed spiritual purification from the Idemili’s god. However, when Oduche killed the python, Ezeulu shielded his son from critics’ and villagers’ anger. The village had grown angry at Ezeulu’s choice to please the white men, which made him loose and unable to give his children proper training.

There had been division in Ezeulu’s home caused by him choosing Nwafo, the youngest of his children, over Edogo, the eldest, to succeed him as Ulu’s priest. Edogo believed Ulu’s choice is influenced by Ezeulu. Therefore, he joined Nwaka — Ezeulu’s fierce critic — against his father.

Famine had befallen the village since Ezeulu was thrown into prison for refusing to accept the offer to become the British warrant chief. There was no one to offer Ulu a ritual before harvesting the yam. Before yam harvest, the Ulu’s priest must call a yam feast to appease the god of yam. When Ezeulu finally came out of prison, after several months of languishing there, he refused to call the new yam feast, plunging his subjects into famine. The yams began to rot on the farm since they can’t be harvested without the new yam festival. The villagers begged Ezeulu to do the ritual, but he refused, citing the god for ordering him not to call the feast.

John Goodcountry saw this famine as a God-given opportunity to penetrate the heart of the village. Goodcountry is an African Christian evangelist from Niger Delta. He told the villagers about how his people abandoned their African traditions and followed Christianity and the Western lifestyle. After a while of establishing his ministry in the village, he managed to get a few converts. As Ezeulu refused to call the feast, his subjects began to lose faith in him, and things got worse due to Goodcountry’s preaching that the Christian God would allow them to harvest the remaining yam in the field if only they accepted him.

When Ezeulu’s son, Obika, died during a traditional ceremony, the village was filled with joy. They believed Ulu has decided to punish Ezeulu over his sins and taken sides with the helpless masses suffering famine caused by Ezeulu. Many of the villagers joined the religion of Goodcountry as his God promised to shield the village from Ulu’s harm if they harvested the remaining crops in the field with his name.

The novel is set in the pre-colonial Igbo at the time the British colonizers were trying to establish firm control of the region. Arrow of God, being one of the books that make up the “African Trilogy” has the same themes and settings as “Things Fall Apart” and “No Longer At Ease”. Arrow of God focused on the time the colonizers penetrated Igbo land and were also able to get the masses to follow their ways at the expense of their tradition. The indirect rule that Achebe incorporated into the novel was established in Nigeria by Lord Lugard in 1914. It was fiercely resisted by the locals since it tended to destroy the traditional democratic system of the Igbo people.


Read Also:

Second Class Citizens – Summary and themes

No Longer at Ease – Summary


How Arrow of God ended

Ezeulu got locked up in the colonial prison for refusing to accept their offer to become a warrant chief. Famine befell Umuaro as a result of Eseulu’s absence; the village had no one to call the feast necessary for the new yam harvest. When he finally regained his freedom, he still refused to call the feast, claiming he was ordered by the Ulu god not to do so. The hunger-stricken villagers begged him to call the feast, but he ignored them. Consequently, they decide to rid themselves of the famine by following Goodcountry with a promise that his Christian God will see the villagers harvest their remaining crops in the field without harm.


Who’s the protagonist of the novel?

The novel revolves around Ezeulu. He is determined to preserve the culture of his people in the advance of white men, so he refuses the power the colonizers want to bestow on him.


Comments (1)

  1. I really like and appreciate your article.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

    January 17, 2024 at 12:35 pm

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