“Arrow of God” by Chinua Achebe


Written by ELLA

        Arrow of God is a powerful, heartbreaking and sullen story of Nigerian society. In this book, Chinua Achebe, an Igbo Chief and brilliant writer, tells the story of a village named Umaro and their history of worship and British colonization. Achebe employs a masterful method of writing which intertwines his native Igbo dialect as well as the English of the colonizers. Through the eyes of various villagers and British officers, we learn about how miscommunication eventually leads to downfall.

          The most difficult part of this story is remaining strong – that goes for the characters as well as the readers. Sometimes we read from the view of the colonizers, and sometimes, we read in the voice of the villagers who seem to speak in the wisest riddles. We are introduced to everyone in the description of a war between Umaro and the neighboring, Okperi. To solve this war, the colonizers (usually just called “the white man”) decides to be the mediator between the two clans. For some reason, the native Nigerians think that the White men are more intelligent than they are and allow them to make the calls. The head of the British, Caption Winterbottom, decides that both groups must hand over their guns, and he breaks them all (except for those he keeps to mount on his own wall). From the view of the White man, we see how they think themselves superior. They have come into a foreign country to “civilize” the natives. What some fail to recognize is that the natives have their own methods, which have been working thus far. For the colonizers, the internal struggle becomes in deciding whether or not they are being humane. Do you allow these people to govern themselves? Or do you enslave the savages and put them under your command?

        Somewhere off in the distance, Christianity is also approaching. There are a few characters in the book who are either teachers of Christianity, or are being recruited into the religion. The Nigerian tribes worship spirits and animals such as lizards and pythons, and while converts believe that they are “saving” people from worshiping idols instead of God, they end up taking the people for everything they have. At the end of the story, Okperi has been taken over by the British, Umaro is in the midst of a collapse and the people are taking everything they can to the church in order to be “saved” and find “immunity”. To some, this might be perfect… but is it?

         Arrow of God is a story that begs us to redefine “civilized”. Is there truly one book with the answers on how to live life? Even as a Catholic myself, I begged to question the validity of the destruction of these people’s faith. Perhaps there comes a time when we need something new, in order to push us through. I’ve always believed that God (who or whatever that is) speaks to different people in different ways. I’m not sure colonization is right… most times I think it was wrong. Could the people of Umaro have progressed without the help of the white man? Or were they better off the way they were before the White man stepped his foot onto their land? Ezeulu, the chief priest of Umaro, decides that God uses us each as arrows, to do as he pleases. It is neither our ability, nor our duty to determine what his end goal is. 

       This book left me with so many questions and that’s what I thought was beautiful about it. The author doesn’t guide your thought. He lets you attempt to decide for yourself. Anyhow… great read. Hope you can pick it up and enjoy 🙂

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