What is the primary conflict the headmaster faced in the story "Dead Men's Path"?
This is primarily a man versus society conflict. In the story, the protagonist is Michael Obi; his main conflict is with the villagers of Ndume.
While the villagers cherish their time-tested and revered religious traditions, Michael views these beliefs as antithetical to modernization and progress. As the new principal, Michael hopes to restructure the academic programs and to revolutionize teaching methods at Ndume Central School.
Michael is enthusiastic about Ndume's future, but he fails to take into account the deep respect for tradition among the village people. In a conversation with a teacher, he laments the use of an unsightly footpath that crosses the school grounds. The teacher relates that the footpath joins the village shrine to a traditional burial place, but Michael ignores the import of what the teacher tells him. He commissions heavy sticks to be deposited at the entrance and exit sections of the footpath, and he orders both sections to be reinforced with barbed wire.
Meanwhile, the village priest begs Michael to reconsider his unforgiving stance. He tells Michael that the dead walk the path to the afterlife by it and that revered ancestors visit the living by it. He also reiterates that newborn children enter the world through the foot path. Michael scoffs at what he considers backward superstitions that have no place in a modern world.
The priest ominously proclaims that both should agree to "let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch." However, Michael is resolute in his stance; he refuses to compromise on the situation.
The impasse is resolved the next morning when Michael wakes up to find the school grounds vandalized, the flower beds destroyed, and one of the school buildings torn down. So, Michael's modernization efforts fail because he neglects to show respect for the entrenched beliefs of the villagers.