Summary

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Last Updated May 22, 2024.

Introduction

Arrow of God is a novel by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, first published in 1964 by Heinemann. It is the third volume in Achebe’s The African Trilogy, along with Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease. Like the two previous novels, Arrow of God explores the intrusion of British colonial forces in Nigeria and how it adversely affected native Nigerians' traditional way of life. 

The novel is a recipient of the first-ever Jock Campbell-New Statesman Award in 1965, bestowed to works by writers born in Africa or the Caribbean. BBC and The Reading Agency included it in their 2022 “Big Jubilee Read,” and it holds a place of honor in the Heinemann African Writers Series. 

Plot Summary

The novel takes place in the mid-1920s, set in Umuaro, Nigeria, a region composed of six villages united under the deity Ulu. 

Five years before the novel's start, a violent land dispute broke out between Umuaro and the neighboring region, Okperi. While Umoaro's chief priest, Ezeulu, advocated for non-violence, Nwaka—one of the wealthiest men in Umuaro—supported the war. 

Eventually, the long-lasting dispute ended, though only because Captain Winterbottom of the British colonial administration intimidated the villagers of Umuaro and broke their guns, bestowing their land to Okperi. 

Flipping back to the present, readers see that Chief Priest Ezeulu’s third son, Oduche, has been attending the Christian church in Umuaro for two years. Emboldened by John Goodcountry, the local priest who preached against the worship of animals, Oduche captured a python—an animal deemed sacred by Umuaro—and locked it in his chest. While Ezeulu eventually discovers the chest and frees the animal, his son's betrayal tarnishes his family’s reputation—and his own as a religious figure.

Soon afterward, Ezeulu sets a date for the Feast of the Pumpkin Leaves, a holiday wherein the six villages come together to “purify” themselves before planting their crops. 

On the night of the feast, Ezeulu’s second-eldest son, Obika, drinks too much palm wine. He arrives late the next day to help with the construction of the road connecting Umuaro and Okperi—a project of the British administration. As a result, he is whipped by the supervisor, a white man named Mr. Wright. 

Despite his faults, Obika is soon married to Okuata, a beautiful girl from the neighboring village, Umuezeani. The next day, Ezeulu receives a visit from Captain Winterbottom’s messengers, who are on orders to escort him to Okperi. Impressed by Ezeulu’s truthful testimony during the Umuaro-Okperi dispute, Winterbottom plans to appoint him the Paramount Chief of Umuaro. However, Ezeulu insults the Court Messenger by initially declining the invitation, and he slowly makes his way to Okperi.

Winterbottom comes down with a grave illness, so his next-in-command, Tony Clarke, takes charge. He is insulted at Ezeulu’s late arrival and refuses to meet with him immediately, allowing him to languish in prison. After thirty-two days of confinement, Ezeulu is finally granted an audience with Clarke, who offers him the position of Paramount Chief. However, Ezeulu's disposition toward the white man has soured at this point, and he refuses the offer. 

Upon returning to Umuaro, Ezeulu receives high praise for defying Clarke. A few weeks later, however, the villagers temper their praise; high-ranking village representatives visit Ezeulu to press him for his failure to announce the date for the New Yam Feast. The ceremony marks the beginning of the new year, wherein every grown man must offer a sizable yam to the shrine of Ulu in preparation for the harvest. 

Due to Ezeulu’s extended imprisonment in Okperi, he could not eat the sacred yams that he uses to mark the passage of time. The representatives implore him to eat the three remaining yams, citing that they will shoulder any divine consequences. However, Ezeulu refuses. He consults with the deity Ulu and announces that the feast will take place in two months. 

Although the feast’s postponement will lead to the villagers’ crops rotting...

(This entire section contains 906 words.)

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in the ground, no man dares harvest them without Ulu’s blessing. Taking advantage of this crisis, Goodcountry announces that the villagers may offer their yams to his God instead, who will protect their harvest from the wrath of Ulu. Due to his spiteful timing of the feast, Ezeulu has become a hated figure in Umuaro. 

One of the villagers, Aneto, asks Obika to run as ogbazulobodo for his father’s burial. Obika agrees even though he is ill, fearful of worsening his family’s reputation. However, the strenuous ritual causes him to collapse and die. Ezeulu is crushed by his son’s death, which the villagers interpret as a sign that Ulu has turned his back on the Chief Priest. A few days after Obika’s death, men from all over Umuaro offer their yams during the church’s harvest service, showing Goodcountry's—and, by extension, Christianity's—victory over Umuaro and its God. 

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