“ …When a handshake passes the elbow it becomes another thing.”
Arrow of God, by critically acclaimed Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, is an allegory about the struggle between tradition and modernism in colonial Nigeria, told through the lens of an Igbo fetish priest, Ezeulu, who innocuously finds himself caught in a lifechanging cascade of events that quickly spiral out of control. As the chief priest of the God, Ulu, the protector of a commune of six villages in Igboland, Ezeulu, is a powerful man, with enormous influence over his clansmen. Despite being such a mighty traditional fetish priest, Eezeulu, wisely recognizes the inexorable hegemony of the British as they expand their influence over the Igbo hinterland through their systematic colonization of Nigeria and concomitant propagation of Christianity amongst the local population. This leads Ezeulu to pursue a pragmatic approach to relations with the British in which he strives to balance being cordial with a healthy skepticism about the threat posed by Christianity and colonization to their traditional Igbo way of life. One day Ezeulu’s power as a fetish priest is inadvertently put to the test, by a British colonial administrator, Mr. Winterbottom (aka Winterbota) who seeks an audience with Ezeulu, in order to bestow a prestigious colonial honor upon him. Through a series of misunderstandings, the situation escalates into an awkward confrontation that pits Ezeulu against the colonial administrator, at a critical period just before the yam harvest. At first, a mysterious illness afflicting Mr Winterbottom, makes it appear as if Ezeulu has the upper hand in the conflict, through his seemingly potent priestly prowess, despite the fact that he is unawares of Winterbottom’s plight and is furthermore perplexed by his mistreatment at the hands of the British colonial authorities. Later, as a direct result of this altercation, Ezeulu is unexpectedly flung into an existential crisis in the commune of villages. This puts his reputation as the chief fetish priest to the test and inadvertently catalyzes the spreading of Christianity in the villages, as means to resolve the crisis. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Achebe’s lyrical, African proverb-laden prose. I found the vivid portrayal of traditional life in the village, the at-times comical interaction of British colonial administrators and their proxies with the Igbo villagers, as well as the symbolism and superstitions of traditional Igbo culture greatly enriching to the story. My only minor critique of Arrow of God, is that there were at times too many characters introduced into the narrative by Achebe, which made it challenging to keep track of who was who. At some point in the story I just decided to focus on the handful of main characters, and accepted that I would not always be able to connect the dots for every character. For this reason I have given Arrow of God a solid 4 stars.
Have you read Arrow of God or another of Chinua Achebe’s books? Which of his other books did you enjoy reading the most? And which of her books would you recommend for me to read next? Please feel free to share your thoughts or reactions in a comment below. Thanks as always for stopping by! Also, if you would like to receive more updates about my writing please consider joining my newsletter mailing list by subscribing below.