Chinua Achebe’s short story “Dead Man’s Path” tells the story of Michael Obi, a zealous missionary determined to impress his superiors in the Mission Authority. Obi prides himself in his “modern methods.” He is excited to overhaul the Ndume Central School where he has been appointed headmaster. However, Obi’s obsession with modernity and idolization of Western ideals leads to violent conflict with the traditional beliefs of local villagers when he closes a pathway for ancestral spirits.
The culture clash between modern and traditional Nigerians in “Dead Man’s Path” is interesting because the potential for coexistence is made so obvious. The school and the village had coexisted in relative peace for years. When Obi first closes the path with a barbed wire fence, the village shaman visits Obi to humbly explain the religious and cultural significance of the path. The clear implication was that, if Obi had allowed the occasional crossing through the school-grounds, the village would have had no problem with the fence. After the destruction of the school grounds, even the white Supervisor from Mission Authority wrote that Obi had been full of “misguided zeal” and was responsible for the destruction. The British overseer of the missionary schools expected coexistence and was shocked at the level of conflict he found in Ndume.