Arrow Of God by Chinua AchebeArrow Of God by Chinua Achebe

Arrow Of God

byChinua Achebe

Paperback | March 18, 2010

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Set in the Ibo heartland of eastern Nigeria, 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.

The third book in Achebe's "African Trilogy", following Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God is the story of Ezeulu, the chief priest of several villages who wrestles with colonial powers as he butts heads with Christian missionaries dispatched to the area. A fictional discussion of Colonial rule in 1920's Nigeria, Achebe brings religion and family relations into a discussion of politics and national identity.
Chinua Achebe (1930–2013) was born in Nigeria. Widely considered to be the father of modern African literature, he is best known for his masterful African Trilogy, consisting of Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, and No Longer at Ease. The trilogy tells the story of modern Nigeria over three generations from first colonial contact to urb...
Title:Arrow Of GodFormat:PaperbackDimensions:240 pages, 7.98 × 5.17 × 0.62 inPublished:March 18, 2010Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385667809

ISBN - 13:9780385667807


Read from the Book

CHAPTER ONE This was the third nightfall since he began to look for signs of the new moon. He knew it would come today but he always began his watch three days early because he must not take a risk. In this season of the year his task was not too difficult; he did not have to peer and search the sky as he might do when the rains came. Then the new moon sometimes hid itself for days behind rain clouds so that when it finally came out it was already halfgrown. And while it played its game the Chief Priest sat up every evening waiting. His obi was built differently from other men’s huts. There was the usual, long threshold in front but also a shorter one on the right as you entered. The eaves on this additional entrance were cut back so that sitting on the floor Ezeulu could watch that part of the sky where the moon had its door. It was getting darker and he constantly blinked to clear his eyes of the water that formed from gazing so intently. Ezeulu did not like to think that his sight was no longer as good as it used to be and that some day he would have to rely on someone else’s eyes as his grandfather had done when his sight failed.Of course he had lived to such a great age that his blindness became like an ornament on him. If Ezeulu lived to be so old he too would accept such a loss. But for the present he was as good as any young man, or better because young men were no longer what they used to be. There was one game Ezeulu never tired of playing on them. Whenever they shook hands with him he tensed his arm and put all his power into the grip, and being unprepared for it they winced and recoiled with pain. The moon he saw that day was as thin as an orphan fed grudgingly by a cruel foster-mother. He peered more closely to make sure he was not deceived by a feather of cloud. At the same time he reached nervously for his ogene. It was the same at every new moon. He was now an old man but the fear of the new moon which he felt as a little boy still hovered round him. It was true that when he became Chief Priest of Ulu the fear was often overpowered by the joy of his high office; but it was not killed. It lay on the ground in the grip of the joy. He beat his ogene GOME GOME GOME GOME . . . and immediately children’s voices took up the news on all sides. Onwa atuo! . . . onwa atuo! . . . onwa atuo! . . . He put the stick back into the iron gong and leaned it on the wall. The little children in his compound joined the rest in welcoming the moon. Obiageli’s tiny voice stood out like a small ogene among drums and flutes. He could also make out the voice of his youngest son,Nwafo. The women too were in the open, talking. ‘Moon,’ said the senior wife, Matefi, ‘may your face meeting mine bring good fortune.’ ‘Where is it?’ asked Ugoye, the younger wife. ‘I don’t see it. Or am I blind?’ ‘Don’t you see beyond the top of the ukwa tree? Not there. Follow my finger.’ ‘Oho, I see it. Moon, may your face meeting mine bring good fortune. But how is it sitting? I don’t like its posture.’ ‘Why?’ asked Matefi. ‘I think it sits awkwardly – like an evil moon.’ ‘No,’ said Matefi. ‘A bad moon does not leave anyone in doubt. Like the one under which Okuata died. Its legs were up in the air.’ ‘Does the moon kill people?’ asked Obiageli, tugging at her mother’s cloth. ‘What have I done to this child? Do you want to strip me naked?’ ‘I said does the moon kill people?’ ‘It kills little girls,’ said Nwafo, her brother. ‘I did not ask you, ant-hill nose.’ ‘You will soon cry, long throat.’ The moon kills little boys The moon kills ant-hill nose The moon kills little boys . . . Obiageli turned everything into a song.  Ezeulu went into his barn and took down one yam from the bamboo platform built specially for the twelve sacred yams. There were eight left. He knew there would be eight; nevertheless he counted them carefully. He had already eaten three and had the fourth in his hand. He checked the remaining ones again and went back to his obi, shutting the door of the barn carefully after him. His log fire was smouldering. He reached for a few sticks of firewood stacked in the corner, set them carefully on the fire and placed the yam, like a sacrifice, on top. As he waited for it to roast he planned the coming event in his mind. It was Oye. Tomorrow would be Afo and the next day Nkwo, the day of the great market. The festival of the Pumpkin Leaves would fall on the third Nkwo from that day. Tomorrow he would send for his assistants and tell them to announce the day to the six villages of Umuaro. Whenever Ezeulu considered the immensity of his power over the year and the crops and, therefore, over the people he wondered if it was real. It was true he named the day for the feast of the Pumpkin Leaves and for the New Yam feast; but he did not choose it. He was merely a watchman. His power was no more than the power of a child over a goat that was said to be his. As long as the goat was alive it could be his; he would find it food and take care of it. But the day it was slaughtered he would know soon enough who the real owner was. No! the Chief Priest of Ulu was more than that, must be more than that. If he should refuse to name the day there would be no festival – no planting and no reaping. But could he refuse? No Chief Priest had ever refused. So it could not be done. He would not dare. Ezeulu was stung to anger by this as though his enemy had spoken it. ‘Take away that word dare,’ he replied to this enemy. ‘Yes I say take it away. No man in all Umuaro can stand up and say that I dare not. The woman who will bear the man who will say it has not been born yet.’ But this rebuke brought only momentary satisfaction. His mind, never content with shallow satisfactions, crept again to the brink of knowing. What kind of power was it if it would never be used? Better to say that it was not there, that it was no more than the power in the anus of the proud dog who sought to put out a furnace with his puny fart. . . . He turned the yam with a stick. His youngest son, Nwafo, now came into the obi, saluted Ezeulu by name and took his favourite position on the mud-bed at the far end, close to the shorter threshold. Although he was still only a child it looked as though the deity had already marked him out as his future Chief Priest. Even before he had learnt to speak more than a few words he had been strongly drawn to the god’s ritual. It could almost be said that he already knew more about it than even the eldest. Nevertheless no one would be so rash as to say openly that Ulu would do this or do that. When the time came that Ezeulu was no longer found in his place Ulu might choose the least likely of his sons to succeed him. It had happened before. Ezeulu attended the yam very closely, rolling it over with the stick again and again. His eldest son, Edogo, came in from his own hut. ‘Ezeulu!’ he saluted. ‘E-e-i!’ Edogo passed through the hut into the inner compound to his sister Akueke’s temporary home. ‘Go and call Edogo,’ said Ezeulu to Nwafo. The two came back and sat down on the mud-bed. Ezeulu turned his yam once more before he spoke. ‘Did I ever tell you anything about carving a deity?’ Edogo did not reply. Ezeulu looked in his direction but did not see him clearly because that part of the obi was in darkness. Edogo on his part saw his father’s face lit up by the fire on which he was roasting the sacred yam. ‘Is Edogo not there?’ ‘I am here.’ ‘I said what did I tell you about carving the image of gods? Perhaps you did not hear my first question; perhaps I spoke with water in my mouth.’ ‘You told me to avoid it.’ ‘I told you that, did I? What is this story I hear then – that you are carving an alusi for a man of Umuagu?’ ‘Who told you?’ ‘Who told me? Is it true or not is what I want to know, not who told me.’ ‘I want to know who told you because I don’t think he can tell the difference between the face of a deity and the face of a Mask.’ ‘I see. You may go, my son. And if you like you may carve all the gods in Umuaro. If you hear me asking you about it again take my name and give it to a dog.’ ‘What I am carving for the man of Umuagu is not. . . .’ ‘It is not me you are talking to. I have finished with you.’ Nwafo tried in vain to make sense out of these words. When his father’s temper cooled he would ask. Then his sister, Obiageli, came in from the inner compound, saluted Ezeulu and made to sit on the mud-bed. ‘Have you finished preparing the bitter-leaf ?’ asked Nwafo. ‘Don’t you know how to prepare bitter-leaf ? Or are your fingers broken?’ ‘Keep quiet there, you two.’ Ezeulu rolled the yam out of the fire with the stick and quickly felt it between his thumb and first finger, and was satisfied. He brought down a two-edged knife from the rafters and began to scrape off the coat of black on the roast yam. His hands were covered in soot when he had finished, and he clapped them together a few times to get them clean again. His wooden bowl was near at hand and he cut the yam into it and waited for it to cool. When he began eating Obiageli started to sing quietly to herself. She should have known by now that her father never gave out even the smallest crumbs of the yam he ate without palm-oil at every new moon. But she never ceased hoping. He ate in silence. He had moved away from the fire and now sat with his back against the wall, looking outwards. As was usual with him on these occasions his mind seemed to be fixed on distant thoughts. Now and again he drank from a calabash of cold water which Nwafo had brought for him. As he took the last piece Obiageli returned to her mother’s hut. Nwafo put away the wooden bowl and the calabash and stuck the knife again between the two rafters. Ezeulu rose from his goat-skin and moved to the household shrine on a flat board behind the central dwarf wall at the entrance. His ikenga, about as tall as a man’s forearm, its animal horn as long as the rest of its human body, jostled with faceless okposi of the ancestors black with the blood of sacrifice, and his short personal staff of ofo. Nwafo’s eyes picked out the special okposi which belonged to him. It had been carved for him because of the convulsions he used to have at night. They told him to call it Namesake, and he did. Gradually the convulsions had left him. Ezeulu took the ofo staff from the others and sat in front of the shrine, not astride in a man’s fashion but with his legs stretched in front of him to one side of the shrine, like a woman. He held one end of the short staff in his right hand and with the other end hit the earth to punctuate his prayer: ‘Ulu, I thank you for making me see another new moon. May I see it again and again. This household may it be healthy and prosperous. As this is the moon of planting may the six villages plant with profit. May we escape danger in the farm – the bite of a snake or the sting of the scorpion, the mighty one of the scrubland. May we not cut our shinbone with the machete or the hoe. And let our wives bear male children. May we increase in numbers at the next counting of the villages so that we shall sacrifice to you a cow, not a chicken as we did after the last New Yam feast. May children put their fathers into the earth and not fathers their children. May good meet the face of every man and every woman. Let it come to the land of the riverain folk and to the land of the forest peoples.’ He put the ofo back among the ikenga and the okposi, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and returned to his place. Every time he prayed for Umuaro bitterness rose into his mouth, a great smouldering anger for the division which had come to the six villages and which his enemies sought to lay on his head. And for what reason? Because he had spoken the truth before the white man. But how could a man who held the holy staff of Ulu know that a thing was a lie and speak it? How could he fail to tell the story as he had heard it from his own father? Even the white man, Wintabota, understood, though he came from a land no one knew. He had called Ezeulu the only witness of truth. That was what riled his enemies – that the white man whose father or mother no one knew should come to tell them the truth they knew but hated to hear. It was an augury of the world’s ruin. The voices of women returning from the stream broke into Ezeulu’s thoughts. He could not see them because of the darkness outside. The new moon having shown itself had retired again. But the night bore marks of its visit. The darkness was not impenetrable as it had been lately, but open and airy like a forest from which the undergrowth had been cut. As the women called out ‘Ezeulu’ one after another he saw their vague forms and returned their greeting. They left the obi to their right and went into the inner compound through the only other entrance – a high, carved door in the red, earth walls. ‘Are these not the people I saw going to the stream before the sun went down?’ ‘Yes,’ said Nwafo. ‘They went to Nwangene.’ ‘I see.’ Ezeulu had forgotten temporarily that the nearer stream, Ota, had been abandoned since the oracle announced yesterday that the enormous boulder resting on two other rocks at its source was about to fall and would take a softer pillow for its head. Until the alusi who owned the stream and whose name it bore had been placated no one would go near it. Still, Ezeulu thought, he would speak his mind to whoever brought him a late supper tonight. If they knew they had to go to Nwangene they should have set out earlier. He was tired of having his meal sent to him when other men had eaten and forgotten. Obika’s great, manly voice rose louder and louder into the night air as he approached home. Even his whistling carried farther than some men’s voices.He sang and whistled alternately. ‘Obika is returning,’ said Nwafo. ‘The night bird is early coming home today,’ said Ezeulu, at the same time. ‘One day soon he will see Eru again,’ said Nwafo, referring to the apparition Obika had once seen at night. The story had been told so often that Nwafo imagined he was there. ‘This time it will be Idemili or Ogwugwu,’ said Ezeulu with a smile, and Nwafo was full of happiness. About three years ago Obika had rushed into the obi one night and flung himself at his father shivering with terror. It was a dark night and rain was preparing to fall. Thunder rumbled with a deep, liquid voice and flash answered flash. ‘What is it, my son?’ Ezeulu asked again and again, but Obika trembled and said nothing. ‘What is it, Obika?’ asked his mother, Matefi, who had run into the obi and was now shaking worse than her son. ‘Keep quiet there,’ said Ezeulu. ‘What did you see, Obika?’ When he had cooled a little Obika began to tell his father what he had seen at a flash of lightning near the ugili tree between their village, Umuachala, and Umunneora. As soon as he had mentioned the place Ezeulu had known what it was. ‘What happened when you saw It?’ ‘I knew it was a spirit; my head swelled.’ ‘Did he not turn into the Bush That Ruined Little Birds? On the left?’ His father’s confidence revived Obika. He nodded and Ezeulu nodded twice. The other women were now ranged round the door. ‘What did he look like?’ ‘Taller than any man I know.’ He swallowed a lump. ‘His skin was very light . . . like . . . like . . .’ ‘Was he dressed like a poor man or was it like a man of great wealth?’ ‘He was dressed like a wealthy man. He had an eagle’s feather in his red cap.’ His teeth began to knock together again. ‘Hold yourself together. You are not a woman. Had he an elephant tusk?’ ‘Yes. He carried a big tusk across his shoulder.’ The rain had now begun to fall, at first in big drops that sounded like pebbles on the thatch. ‘There is no cause to be afraid, my son. You have seen Eru, the Magnificent, the One that gives wealth to those who find favour with him. People sometimes see him at that place in this kind of weather. Perhaps he was returning home from a visit to Idemili or the other deities. Eru only harms those who swear falsely before his shrine.’ Ezeulu was carried away by his praise of the god of wealth. The way he spoke one would have thought he was the proud priest of Eru rather than Ulu who stood above Eru and all the other deities. ‘When he likes a man wealth flows like a river into his house; his yams grow as big as human beings, his goats produce threes and his hens hatch nines.’  Matefi’s daughter, Ojiugo, brought in a bowl of foo-foo and a bowl of soup, saluted her father and set them before him. Then she turned to Nwafo and said: ‘Go to your mother’s hut; she has finished cooking.’ ‘Leave the boy alone,’ said Ezeulu who knew that Matefi and her daughter resented his partiality for his other wife’s son. ‘Go and call your mother for me.’ He made no move to start eating and Ojiugo knew there was going to be trouble. She went back to her mother’s hut and called her. ‘I don’t know how many times I have said in this house that I shall not eat my supper when every other man in Umuaro is retiring to sleep,’ he said as soon as Matefi came in. ‘But you will not listen. To you whatever I say in this house is no more effective than the fart a dog breaks to put out a fire. . . .’ ‘I went all the way to Nwangene to fetch water and . . .’ ‘If you like you may go to Nkisa. What I am saying is that if you want that madness of yours to be cured, bring my supper at this time another day. . . .’  When Ojiugo came to collect the bowls she found Nwafo polishing off the soup. She waited for him to finish, full of anger. Then she gathered the bowls andwent to tell her mother about it. This was not the first time or the second or third. It happened every day. ‘Do you blame a vulture for perching over a carcass?’ said Matefi. ‘What do you expect a boy to do when his mother cooks soup with locust beans for fish? She saves her money to buy ivory bracelets. But Ezeulu will never see anything wrong in what she does. If it is me then he knows what to say.’ Ojiugo was looking towards the otherwoman’s hut which was separated from theirs by the whole length of the compound. All she could see was the yellowish glow of the palm-oil lamp between the low eaves and the threshold. There was a third hut which formed a half-moon with the other two. It had belonged to Ezeulu’s first wife, Okuata, who died many years ago. Ojiugo hardly knew her; she only remembered she used to give a piece of fish and some locust-beans to every child who went to her hut when she was making her soup. She was the mother of Adeze, Edogo and Akueke. After her death her children lived in the hut until the girls married. Then Edogo lived there alone until he married two years ago and built a small compound of his own beside his father’s. Now Akueke had been living in the hut again since she left her husband’s house. They said the man ill-treated her. But Ojiugo’s mother said it was a lie and that Akueke was headstrong and proud, the kind of woman who carried her father’s compound into the house of her husband. Just when Ojiugo and her mother were about to begin their meal, Obika came home singing and whistling. ‘Bring me his bowl,’ said Matefi. ‘He is early today.’ Obika stooped at the low eaves and came in hands first. He saluted his mother and she said ‘Nno’ without anywarmth. He sat down heavily on the mud-bed. Ojiugo had brought his soup bowl of fired clay and was now bringing down his foo-foo from the bamboo ledge. Matefi blew into the soup bowl to remove dust and ash and ladled soup into it. Ojiugo set it before her brother and went outside to bring water in a gourd. After the first swallow Obika tilted the bowl of soup towards the light and inspected it critically. ‘What do you call this, soup or coco-yam porridge.’ The women ignored him and went on with their own interrupted meal. It was clear he had drunk too much palm-wine again. Obika was one of the handsomest young men in Umuaro and all the surrounding districts. His face was very finely cut and his nose stood gem, like the note of a gong. His skin was, like his father’s, the colour of terracotta. People said of him (as they always did when they saw great comeliness) that he was not born for these parts among the Igbo people of the forests; that in his previous life he must have sojourned among the riverain folk whom the Igbo called Olu. But two things spoilt Obika. He drank palm-wine to excess, and he was given to sudden and fiery anger. And being as strong as rock he was always inflicting injury on others. His father who preferred him to Edogo, his quiet and brooding half-brother, nevertheless said to him often: ‘It is praiseworthy to be brave and fearless, my son, but sometimes it is better to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of a coward to 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.’ But for all that Ezeulu would rather have a sharp boy who broke utensils in his haste than a slow and careful snail. Not very long ago Obika had come very close indeed to committing murder. His half-sister, Akueke, often came home to say that her husband had beaten her. One early morning she came again with her face all swollen. Without waiting to hear the rest of the story Obika set out for Umuogwugwu, the village of his brother-in-law. On the way he stopped to call his friend, Ofoedu, who was never absent from the scene of a fight. As they approached Umuogwugwu Obika explained to Ofoedu that he must not help in beating Akueke’s husband. ‘Why have you called me then?’ asked the other, angrily. ‘To carry your bag?’ ‘There may be work for you. If Umuogwugwu people are what I take them to be they will come out in force to defend their brother. Then there will be work for you.’ No one in Ezeulu’s compound knew where Obika had gone until he returned a little before noon with Ofoedu. On their heads was Akueke’s husband tied to a bed, almost dead. They set him down under the ukwa tree and dared anyone to move him. Thewomen and the neighbours pleaded with Obika and showed him the threatening ripe fruit on the tree, as big as water pots. ‘Yes. I put him there on purpose, to be crushed by the fruit – the beast.’ Eventually the commotion brought Ezeulu, who had gone into the near-by bush, hurrying home. When he saw what was happening he wailed a lament on the destruction Obika would bring to his house and ordered him to release his in-law. For three markets Ibe could barely rise from his bed. Then one evening his kinsmen came to seek satisfaction from Ezeulu. Most of them had gone out to their farms when it had all happened. For three markets and more they had waited patiently for someone to explain why their kinsman should be beaten up and carried away. ‘What is this story we hear about Ibe?’ they asked. Ezeulu tried to placate them without admitting that his son had done anything seriously wrong. He called his daughter, Akueke, to stand before them. ‘You should have seen her the day she came home. Is this how you marry women in your place? If it is your way then I say you will not marry my daughter like that.’ The men agreed that Ibe had stretched his arm too far, and so no one could blame Obika for defending his sister. ‘Why do we pray to Ulu and to our ancestors to increase our numbers if not for this thing?’ said their leader. ‘No one eats numbers. But if we are many nobody will dare molest us, and our daughters will hold their heads up in their husbands’ houses. So we do not blame Obika too much.Do I speakwell?’ His companions answered yes and he continued. ‘We cannot say that your son did wrong to fight for his sister. What we do not understand, however, is why a man with a penis between his legs should be carried away from his house and village. It is as if to say: You are nothing and your kinsmen can do nothing. This is the part we do not understand.We have not come with wisdom but with foolishness because a man does not go to his in-law with wisdom.We want you to say to us: You are wrong; this is how it is or that is how it is. And we shall be satisfied and go home. If someone says to us afterwards: Your kinsman was beaten up and carried away; we shall know what to reply. Our great in-law, I salute you.’ Ezeulu employed all his skill in speaking to pacify his in-laws. Theywent home happier than they came. But itwas hardly likely that they would press Ibe to carry palm-wine to Ezeulu and ask for his wife’s return. It looked as if she would live in her father’s compound for a long time.  When he finished his meal Obika joined the others in Ezeulu’s hut. As usual Edogo spoke for all of them. As well as Obika, Oduche and Nwafo were there also. ‘Tomorrow is Afo,’ said Edogo, ‘and we have come to find out what work you have for us.’ Ezeulu thought for a while as though he was unprepared for the proposal. Then he asked Obika how much of the work on his new homestead was still undone. ‘Only the woman’s barn,’ he replied. ‘But that could wait. There will be no coco-yam to put into it until harvest time.’ ‘Nothing will wait,’ said Ezeulu. ‘A new wife should not come into an unfinished homestead. I know such a thing does not trouble the present age. But as long as we are there we shall continue to point out the right way . . . Edogo, instead of working for me tomorrow take your brothers and the women to build the barn. If Obika has no shame, the rest of us have.’ ‘Father, I have a word to say.’ It was Oduche. ‘I am listening.’ Oduche cleared his throat as if he was afraid to begin. ‘Perhaps they are forbidden to help their brothers build a barn,’ said Obika thickly. ‘You are always talking like a fool,’ Edogo snapped at him. ‘Has Oduche not worked as hard as yourself on your homestead? I should say harder.’ ‘It is Oduche I am waiting to hear,’ said Ezeulu, ‘not you two jealous wives.’ ‘I am one of those they have chosen to go to Okperi tomorrow and bring the loads of our new teacher.’ ‘Oduche!’ ‘Father!’ ‘Listen to what I shall say now. When a handshake goes beyond the elbow we know it has turned to another thing. It was I who sent you to join those people because of my friendship to the white man, Wintabota. He asked me to send one of my children to learn the ways of his people and I agreed to send you. I did not send you so that you might leave your duty in my household. Do you hear me? Go and tell the people who chose you to go to Okperi that I said no. Tell them that tomorrow is the day on which my sons and my wives and my son’s wife work for me. Your people should know the custom of this land; if they don’t you must tell them. Do you hear me?’ ‘I hear you.’ ‘Go and call your mother for me. I think it is her turn to cook tomorrow.’

Editorial Reviews

"Chinua Achebe is a magical writer — one of the greatest of the twentieth century."— Margaret Atwood"It is a measure of Achebe's creative gift that he has no need whatsoever for prose fireworks to light the flame of his intense drama. Wothry of particular attention are the characters. Achebe doesn't create his people with fastidiously detailed line drawings: instead, he relies on a few short strokes that highlight whatever prominent features will bring the total personlaity into three-dimensional life."— Time"The power of majesty of Chinua Achebe's work has, literally, opened the world to generations of readers. He is an ambassador of art, and a profound recorder of the human condition."— Michael Dorris"He is one of the few writers of our time who has touched us with a code of values that will never be ironic. This great voice."— Michael Ondaatje