Arrow of God

Arrow of God Quotes and Analysis

“We have no quarrel with Ulu. He is still our protector, even though we no longer fear Abam warriors at night. But I will not see with these eyes of mine his priest making himself lord over us. My father told me many things, but he did not tell me that Ezeulu was king in Umuaro. Who is he, anyway? Does anybody here enter his compound through the man’s gate? If Umuaro decided to have a king we know where he would come from. Since when did Umuachala become head of the six villages? We all know that it was jealousy among the big villages that made them give the priesthood to the weakest. We shall fight for our farmland and for the contempt Okperi has poured on us. Let us not listen to anyone trying to frighten us with the name of Ulu. If a man says yes his chi also says yes: And we have all heard how the people of Aninta dealt with their deity when he failed them. Did they not carry him to the boundary between them and their neighbors and set fire on him? I salute you.”

Nwaka, Ch. 2

These words are spoken by Ezeulu’s rival and competitor, the skilled orator Nwaka of Umunneora. Nwaka has long been resentful that the Chief Priest comes from Umuachala, the weakest of the six villages, and that his god is Ulu, rather than his own Ezidemili. In this speech, mounted six years before the events of the novel in a meeting of important men to discuss Umuaro’s land dispute with Okperi, he accuses Ezeulu, who has taken an opposing side, of assuming powers not allotted to him, insinuating that he acts as a supreme political leader such as a king, rather than as the divine servant the Chief Priest was instated to be. His criticism helps establish the complex nature of Igbo gods in the story as fearsome and divine, yet also as designed by the people to serve them. In the end, Nwaka levels a not-so-veiled threat at Ezeulu by reminding him that, just as they were instituted by men, such gods can be destroyed by them after they no longer serve.

“I have traveled in Olu and I have traveled in Igbo, and I can tell you there is no escape from the white man. He has come. When Suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool. The white man is like that. Before any of you here was old enough to tie the cloth between the legs I saw with my own eyes what the white man did to Abame. Then I knew there was no escape. As daylight chases away darkness so will the white man drive away all our customs. I know that as I say it now it passes by your ears, but it will happen. The white man has power which comes from the true God and it burns like fire. This is the God about Whom we preach every eighth day.”

Moses Unachuku, Ch. 8

Here, Moses Unachukwu, an African who converted to Christianity after seeing the British brutally quash the tribe of Abame, tells the younger men of Umuaro, who are angry at the indignity of having to work on the white man’s road without pay while suffering his blows, that they must nonetheless submit to him. He uses an Igbo proverb to convey his sentiment that, though he believes the white man brings suffering, he is also convinced that his presence is inevitable and irreversible. We see how his religious capitulation was motivated by fear.

“A man does not speak a lie to his son,” he said. “Remember that always. To say My father told me is to swear the greatest oath.”

Ezeulu, Ch. 9

Speaking to Nwafo, his youngest and favorite son, here, Ezeulu expresses a cultural value repeated numerous times throughout the book that asserts that what a man tells to his son should be revered as the truth. This sentiment demonstrates the sanctity of the paternal relation and the high value placed on honor and pride.

“The man was a complete nonentity until we crowned him, and now he carries on as though he had been nothing else all his life. It’s the same with Court Clerks and even messengers. They all manage to turn themselves into little tyrants over their own people. It seems to be a trait in the character of the negro.”

Winterbottom, Ch. 10

Winterbottom, speaking to Clarke, makes a characterological assessment emblematic of the anthropological stereotypes that European powers used to help justify colonialism. In called the “negro” tyrannical by nature, he extrapolates an a priori truth from a context in which colonial intervention destroyed traditional social structures. This quote also helps explain Winterbottom’s critique of indirect rule, and reflects on the historical reality of corruption and abuse of power to which it often led to, as Frantz Fanon famously argued in The Wretched of the Earth.

”a man should hold his compound together, not plant dissension among his children.”

Edogo, Ch. 12

Edogo, Ezeulu’s eldest son, speaks these words to Akuebue when asking him to reason with his father over his decision to send Oduche to the missionary school. Edogo suspects that the Chief Priest is meddling in Ulu’s will by proactively trying to disqualify one of his sons from becoming his successor (selected by Ulu). Edogo is critical of his father for his tyrannical, headstrong ways, and envious of his father’s favoritism of Nwafo, his youngest son.

“The man who brings ant-infested faggots into his hut should not grumble when lizards begin to pay him a visit.”

Ezeulu, Ch. 12

This Igbo proverb, which appears multiple times throughout the text, expresses a sentiment somewhat similar to the English saying, “you reap what you sow.” Here Ezeulu says it to Akuebue about the people of Umuaro, who he feels invited the aggressive interventions of the white man by fighting among themselves. His use of the phrase is not without its irony, as it is Ezeulu who ultimately brings the gravest discord to his “hut” through his own actions.

“A disease that has never been seen before cannot be cured with everyday herbs. When we want to make a charm we look for the animal whose blood can match its power; if a chicken cannot do it we look for a goat or a ram; if that is not sufficient we send for a bull. But sometimes even a bull does not suffice, then we must look for human. Do you think it is the sound of the death-cry gurgling through blood that we want to hear? No, my friend, we do it because we have reached the very end of things and we know that neither a cock nor a goat nor even a bull will do. And our fathers have told us that it may even happen to an unfortunate generation that they are pushed beyond the end of things, and their back is broken and hung over a fire. When this happens they may sacrifice their own blood. This is what our sages meant when they said that a man who has nowhere else to put his hand for support puts it on his own knee.”

Ezeulu, Ch. 12

Here Ezeulu speaks to Akuebue about his reasons for sending Oduche to the Church. It gives us a glimpse of the desperation undergirding his actions. Despite their divisiveness among his people and motivation by pride, here we get the sense that Ezeulu feels his hands are tied, and that the severity of his actions must match the gravity of the dark times.

“His quarrel with the white man was insignificant beside the matter he must settle with his own people. For years he had been warning Umuaro not to allow a few jealous men to lead them into the bush. But they had stopped both ears with fingers. They had gone on taking one dangerous step after another and now they had gone too far. They had taken away too much for the owner not to notice. Now the fight must take place, for until a man wrestles with one of those who make a path across his homestead the others will not stop. Ezeulu’s muscles tingled for the fight. Let the white man detain him not for one day but for one year so that his deity not seeing him in his place would ask Umuaro questions.”

Ezeulu, Ch. 14

These are thoughts Ezeulu thinks while detained in Okperi for refusing to accept the title of Warrant Chief from the British. They show Ezeulu edging toward a momentous decision to take grave punitive action against his own people that has been a long time coming. They also reveal Ezeulu’s belief that, by detaining him, the white man is only enabling his larger struggle against the people of Umuaro, thus serving a useful role, going so far as to regard the British as his “ally” in the “real struggle was with his own people.” (176)

“Every man has his own way of ruling his household,” he said at last. “What I do myself if I need something like that is to call one of my wives and say to her: I need such and such a thing for a sacrifice, go and get it for me. I know I can take it but I ask her to go and bring it herself. I never forget what my father told his friend when I was a boy. He said: in our custom a man is not expected to go down on his knees and knock his forehead on the ground to his wife to ask her forgiveness or beg a favor. But, a wise man knows that between him and his wife there may arise the need for him to say to her in secret: “I beg you.” When such a thing happens nobody else must know it, and that woman if she has any sense will never boast about it or even open her mouth and speak of it. If she does it the earth on which the man brought himself low will destroy her family. That was what my father told his friend who held that a man was never wrong in his own house. I have never forgotten those words of my father’s. My wife’s cock belongs to me because the owner of a person is also owner of whatever that person has. But there are more ways than one of killing a dog.”

Ezeulu, Ch. 14

Ezeulu’s comments to Akuebue are a rare moment of intimate reflection on the patriarchal dynamics present in Arrow of God. Speaking to his friend, Ezeulu speaks to the secretive displays of weakness or tenderness that might sustain a marriage, while reenforcing the imperative to remain outwardly a strong patriarch and head of household. Ezeulu concludes the admission with a reminder that woman are thoroughly the property of men.

“I say who told you that this was your own fight to arrange the way it suits you? You want to save your friends who brought you palm wine he–he–he–he–he!” Only the insane could sometimes approach the menace and mockery in the laughter of deities—a dry, skeletal laugh. “Beware you do not come between me and my victim or you may receive blows not meant for you! Do you not know what happens when two elephants fight? Go home and sleep and leave me to settle my quarrel with Idemili, who in envy seeks to destroy me that his Python may again come to power. Now you tell me how it concerns you. I say go home and sleep as for me and Idemili we shall fight to the finish; and whoever throws the other down will strip him of his anklet!”

Ezeulu, Ch. 16

Ulu speaks to Ezeulu—half-man, half-god—after the latter’s return from Okperi. Ezeulu has second thoughts about his punitive plan when the people show his respect and affection upon his return. Here, Ulu seems to chide him for wavering, cautioning him not to get in the way of his dispute with the god Idemili, who rules Umunneora. Given the book’s conclusion, we are left to wonder if Ezeulu is merely deluding himself, using Ulu to embolden him in his own aims, or whether Ulu is actively misleading his Chief Priest in order to precipitate his own destruction.