When the Umuaro people began to encounter the spreading European colonialists, most realized that the colonialists were not like their other enemies and that they could not be defeated in the same way. So, even those most fiercely opposed to the colonial presence at first eventually conformed to its power. However, Ezeulu, the tragic hero of Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God, was not the typical Umuaro villager. As the chief priest of the powerful deity Ulu, Ezeulu felt that he could be subordinate to no one and accordingly rose up in direct confrontation with both the colonialists and his own community. Even as strong of a man as Ezeulu could not fight successfully against such outnumbering odds; Ezeulu was defeated completely and witnessed the breakdown of his family, his religion, and even his own sanity.
The first contact that the Umuaro villagers had with the colonialists in the novel came as the result of a war stemming from a land dispute with a neighboring village, Okperi. Ezeulu's actions in this conflict would shape the future relationship between himself and colonial Captain Winterbottom, called Wintabota by the villagers. The conflict leading up to the war began in an Umuaro meeting of the elders. Being a democratic society, the village had no chief and therefore relied on the assembly to make decisions, such as whether or not to go to war. Nwaka, an important Umuaro elder, led the people to believe that they should attack the Okperi people because they had infringed upon farmland that traditionally belonged to Umuaro. Ezeulu did not agree with the war and believed that it would not be accepted by the gods. Therefore, he said, "If you choose to fight a man for a piece ...
... middle of paper ...
...tting their old god. As Ezeulu realized that the title of Ezeulu would not be passed on to one of his remaining sons (and that they would probably not accept it even if it was available), he lost his sanity. Everything that had been important to him, his family, his religion, and his community had abandoned him. Now, even his own mind turned against him.
Achebe's Arrow of God is such a powerful novel because it shows that the immense power of colonialism can cripple even the strongest of men like Ezeulu. While we watch Ezeulu spending the remainder of his waning life living "in the haughty splendor of a demented high priest" spared the knowledge of the final outcome, a question forms in our minds: if Ezeulu could not stand up to the white man, what chance did the average man have? (229).
Achebe, Chinua. Arrow of God. New York: Anchor Books, 1969.
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