“Dead Men’s Path” Characters

The main characters in “Dead Men’s Path” are Michael Obi, Nancy, and the priest.

  • Michael Obi is the new headmaster of the Ndume Central School. He is twenty-six years old and has a passion for “modern” ideas, along with a scornful view of more traditional beliefs.
  • Nancy is Obi’s wife of two years. Like her husband, she is an enthusiastic proponent of modernization, and she dreams of creating beautiful gardens on the school grounds.
  • The priest is an elderly villager who attempts to persuade Obi to reopen a sacred path that cuts through the campus.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Michael Obi

Michael Obi is the protagonist of the short story, the inexperienced, zealous new headmaster of the Ndume Central School. Despite his inexperience and young age, the local mission authorities give Obi the position as headmaster because of his outstanding performance in secondary school and his enthusiasm for modernity. He is extremely outspoken against traditional Nigerian culture and customs and is portrayed as an intolerant headmaster who is focused on modernizing the region, stamping out traditional beliefs, and maintaining beautiful gardens on the school’s campus. His wife describes him as he contemplates his new position:

He was stoop-shouldered and looked frail. But he sometimes surprised people with sudden bursts of physical energy. In his present posture, however, all his bodily strength seemed to have retired behind his deep-set eyes, giving them an extraordinary power of penetration. He was only twenty-six, but looked thirty or more. On the whole, he was not unhandsome.

Soon after beginning his new job, Obi cuts off access to the villagers’ ancestral footpath, which travels through the school’s grounds, and refuses to reopen the path after the village priest petitions him to do so. When a woman in the village tragically dies during childbirth, the other villagers consult a diviner who advises them to offer up sacrifices to the ancestors; they react by destroying the school’s beautiful new gardens and pulling down one of the buildings. At the end of the story, a white supervisor visits to inspect the school’s grounds and writes a scathing report regarding the “tribal-war situation” that has developed as a result of Obi’s “misguided zeal.” It seems likely, then, that Obi may not remain headmaster for very long.


Nancy is Michael Obi’s wife of two years. Like Obi, she is portrayed as a proponent of modernity, and she shares all of her zealous husband’s views. She enjoys being married to a man with such a prestigious title and dreams of being envied and admired as the “queen of the school” by the other teachers’ wives, as well as beautifying the campus: “We shall have such beautiful gardens and everything will be just modern and delightful.” When Obi informs her that the other teachers are all unmarried, Nancy is disappointed and momentarily becomes “skeptical” of the school, though she regains her optimism when she observes her husband’s excitement about the job. In the end, Nancy’s carefully planted gardens are destroyed by the villagers.

The Priest

The priest of Ani is an elderly villager who petitions Michael Obi to reopen the ancestral footpath. Tapping his walking stick on the ground for emphasis, he explains to Obi the importance of the path to the villagers and says that the spirits of their ancestors, their dead, and their unborn children travel along it. The priest is Michael Obi’s foil; he carries on the traditions of his ancestors and tells the self-satisfied young headmaster to “let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch.” Obi, however, refuses to listen.

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