Student Question

What does the quote "let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch" mean in "Dead Men's Path?"

Expert Answers

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In Chinua Achebe's short story "Dead Men's Path," the zealous headmaster Michael Obi ridicules the local villagers for their traditional beliefs and is a staunch proponent of modernity. Michael Obi also takes pride in transforming the outdated Ndume Central School and champions progressive, modern teaching methods. When he discovers a small ancestral footpath running through the compound, he decides to block the path by placing barricades at its entrance. In response to Michael Obi's controversial decision to close the ancestral footpath, the village priest Ani visits the headmaster and tries to persuade him to open the path, which is essential to their traditional beliefs, because they believe that it allows the spirits of their deceased ancestors to depart and children to be born.

Michael Obi responds by telling the village priest that the primary purpose of the school is to eradicate their superstitious beliefs. Ani replies by encouraging Obi to avoid conflict and open the path by saying, "let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch." The priest's aphorism means that although two people disagree and have different beliefs, there is no reason that they should not live peacefully together. Essentially, the village priest is encouraging Michael Obi to exercise tolerance and civility. Similar to the hawk and eagle, Micheal Obi and the villagers inhabit the same region and should respect each other's beliefs. Overall, the aphorism means that people with different views and beliefs should respect their neighbors and live peacefully with each other.

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