Quite early in the new year, this 2014, I began to prepare for a paper on the role or involvement of
2014 is also the year of Arrow of God. This is why we are gathered here today at
Arrow of God, Achebe’s most complex novel, his “richest, most mysterious … one of the finest works of fiction in English written in this century”, according to Robert Wren (Robert Wren, Achebe’s World, 1990: 75), remains an inexhaustible farmland for bounty harvests. Fresh readings and re-readings of the novel bring forth ever more yields. This also applies to the examination/re-examination of the literature across the spectrum of distinguished critics of the novel. It is striking, right from the outset, that the certainties of Igbo national independence witnessed in the age of Things Fall Apart have now clearly dissipated as Ezeulu charts the paths and terms of the consequential relationship between him and Ulu, the god that he serves, and the key centres of bourgeoning European-conquest power in Umuaro and neighbouring Igbo states. Pointedly, Ezeulu instructs son Oduche to attend the mission school as his “eyes and ears” (Chinua Achebe, The African Trilogy, 1988: 365) in this power dispensation. But Oduche is much more important here than just a tactical tool in Ezeulu’s defence arsenal as this paper demonstrates.
As in the other texts of the Achebean oeuvre, including A Man of the People, which has been aptly illustrative, Arrow of God presents a highly imaginative and anticipatory power of Achebe’s insight to the turbulent trajectory of post-(European)conquest African history and politics. The paper will explore how this insight anticipates the catastrophe of the Igbo genocide. Thus, the Igbo double jeopardy of foreign conquest and occupation and genocide appears to sum up Achebe’s mission.
The narrator is the author himself who tells the story in the third person, giving himself the privilege of entering the characters’ minds and recording their innermost thoughts. The narrator is addressing both an African and a western English-speaking audience. He is very successful in his use of African idioms in an English novel – non-Igbo speakers are able to follow the story and to understand the Igbo proverbs and expressions used in the novel. There are, however, some minor shortcomings in the language. Achebe uses many Igbo terms such as chi, obi, ogene. These are not translated and the reader is expected to understand them in the context in which they are used. In some instances, however, these untranslated terms are somewhat obscure, the reader can only have a vague idea of what they stand for, and this tends to slow down his reading speed as he attempts to puzzle out what they mean … Arrow of God is too culture-bound and sociologically oriented. The emphasis on the multifarious aspects of Igbo society tends to distract the reader and to hamper the smooth flow of events … Yet another source of difficulty is the novel’s complexity of theme and plot and the large number of characters involved. Achebe tries to contain the whole cultural fabric of Igbo society and the various forces threatening it in one volume. This necessitates bringing in too many characters to whom the reader must be introduced before he can clearly see who is playing what role in the conflict. Also, many contradictions are involved… (79)
Now the shadows lengthened. The Europeans had also been busily building up and training strong African armies. Africans trained to hate, kill and conquer Africans. Blood of Africans was to sprinkle and further darken the pages of their history … Indeed,So, ages before the Blydens and the Equinaos and the Garveys, and the DuBoises and the Azikiwes and the Nkrumahs and the Makonnens would begin to theorise and offer progressive, liberatory perspectives on “pan-Africanism”, the enemies of Africa had already unleashed “pan-African-‘Goodcountry’-assemblages” of terror on Africa and Africans to despoil and conquer
Africawas conquered for the Europeans by the Africans [themselves], and thereafter kept under [conquest] control by African police and African soldiers. Very little European blood was ever spilled.
(John Coltrane Quartet, “Wise One” [Coltrane, tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums; recorded: Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US, 27 April 1964])
Mu je mu kashe nyamiri
Mu chi mata su da yan mata su
Mu kwashe kaya su
(English translation: Let’s go kill the damned Igbo/Kill off their men and boys/Rape their wives and daughters/Cart off their property)
4. In May 1969, Olusegun Obasanjo, who had recently
taken over the command of the Benjamin Adekunle-death squad, orders his air
force to shoot down any Red Cross planes flying in urgently-needed relief
supplies to the millions of surviving but encircled, blockaded and bombarded
a week of his infamous order, 5 June 1969, Obasanjo recalls, nostalgically, in
his memoirs, unambiguously titled My Command (1981),
genocidist air force pilot Gbadomosi King “redeem[s] his promise”, as Obasanjo
puts it (Obasanjo, 1981: 79). Gbadomosi King shoots down a clearly marked,
incoming relief-bearing International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) DC-7
aircraft near Eket, south
Just in case it isn’t quite obvious, Chinua Achebe publishes a sequel to Arrow of God 48 years later. Here in
**Paper presented at the Arrow of God at 50 symposium, Centre for African Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London/Igbo Conference (symposium conveners: Dr Kwadwo Osei-Nyame Jnr and Dr Louisa Uchum Egbunike), Saturday 4 October 2014.
Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is visiting professor in the graduate programme of constitutional law at Universidade de Fortaleza and author of Longest genocide – Since 29 May 1966 (forthcoming, 2015)
Afigbo, AE. Ropes of Sand. Oxford: Oxford University, 1981.
Ekwe-Ekwe, Herbert. “Elections in
Mudimbe, Valentine. “Reading There was a Country”. Journal of Asian and African Studies, Vol. 48, No. 6, 2013, pp. 671-682.