I finally finished reading Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe! Of the over twenty books Chinua has graced the literature world with, I may not appear a reader worth her salt to say that I have read only two others: Things Fall Apart and The Man of the People.
In Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe wonderfully tells the story of a Chief Priest of Umuaro, a rural Nigerian Igbo village during the colonial times. The book portrays the unyielding character of Ezeulu, the Chief Priest, throughout the narration as he unpacks the history of how the six villages that formed Umuaro came to be.
The book is set up at a time when the British had started establishing colonial structures and were slowly penetrating the interiors of rural Nigeria, eventually even catching up with the resistors like Umuaro. The book explores the conflicts caused by the disruption of the traditional structures by the British as the elders employed different approaches in dealing with the inevitable encroachment of the colonisers. These conflicts reveal historical deep-seated issues among the elders, the most prominent being the one between Nwaka a prominent man in the village against Ezeulu.
The antagonism became an avenue for the British Administration, led by Captain Winterbottom to interfere with the affairs of the natives. This reflects the often quoted saying in the book, “…when brothers fight to death a stranger inherits their father’s estate”. The question that lingers in the reader’s mind in the course of the book is whether or not the Ezeulu’s Chief priesthood would survive the challenges it is presented with.
To say the least, Chinua’s storytelling prowess came out clearly in his narration of Arrow of God. He begins with a conflict that sets the tone for the rest of the book. I wasn’t able to predict the direction in which the book was taking neither had I the slightest idea of how the book would have ended.
I particularly appreciated the dichotomy in the narration which alternated between the situation of the British Administrators and that of the villagers. This gave the narration ‘breaks’ from an otherwise dense prose. These two narrations eventually merge as the reality of the new world order under the British dawns in Umuaro.
The author details the lives of the colonial administrators highlighting some of their own disagreements and personal struggles. This sort of humanized these characters for me as I would have naturally been predisposed to view them laterally as mere ‘oppressors. This specifically true with the character Tony Clarke, the Assistant District Officer whose fear and anxiety in facing his boss, Captain Winterbottom even during a social interaction is brought out.
The story paints a picture of the struggle that African societies went through during the invasion of the white man. Most of the Igbo people were at crossroads in determining how to relate with the British Administration. As others collaborated and reaped the benefits of this, others, like Ezeulu, figured that the only way around the situation was learning their ways. This resulted in a controversial decision which nearly cost him his legitimacy as the leader of his people.
Arrow of God is a classic example of a book that, if not careful, I’d pick with excitement and it eventually ends up gathering dust in my unread books section. This is not to say that I did enjoy the book but it definitely not a book that should be read in one gulp. It is best served in sips, in between another book or activity.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who does not shy away from a continuous dense prose style of writing and who is interested in historical fiction.