Arrow of God

Arrow of God Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9


The Festival of Pumpkin Leaves begins. The villages gather as they always have, momentarily setting aside the tension between Umunneora and Umuachala. Ugoye goes with the special intention of asking for Oduche’s absolution.

Dressed in ceremonial garb, Ezeulu performs a ritual that involves reenacting the First Coming of Ulu. The women of Umuaro hurl their pumpkin leaves at his feet as a symbol of their sins and the sins of their household.

In a budgetary pinch, John Wright requests unpaid labor from Umuaro to supplement that of African workers from Okperi who are building his road from Okperi to Umuaro. It is decided that two age groups of young Umuaroan men will alternate working for him. Obika and his ne’er-do-well friend Oduefu get into a bet that results in them getting drunk on powerful palm wine and arriving late for work on the road one day. Wright is in a foul mood and whips Obika, who runs at him in anger and subsequently receives twelve lashes.

The young men meet to discuss their response to the offense. They contemplate refusing to work, but, drawing on the brutalities he witnessed against the Abame, Moses Unachukwa (who serves as their translator) warns that there is no escaping the white man. Heeding him, the men decide they must deal cautiously with the white man (“the white man is like hot soup, and we must take him slowly from the edges of the bowl…” 86). They decide that Unachukwu should ask Wright why they must work for free while the gang from Okperi receives a wage.

Ezeulu recovers from the festival ceremony. When he hears of what happened in Okpeiri, his first reaction is to chide Obika and to reassert the dangers of palm wine.

While carving a mask Edogo thinks about his father's unequal affections for his sons. He wonders whether Ezeulu chose Oduche to send to the church as a means of proactively disqualifying him from becoming his successor as Chief Priest, and contemplates his father’s favoritism of Nwafo. He claims that neither he nor Obika have a desire to become Chief Priest, but realizes that Ulu could still choose him, or Oduche, despite Ezeulu’s possible meddling.

Ezeulu’s friend and contemporary, Ogbuefi Akuebue, visits the Chief Priest. They discuss the matter of Obika’s whipping, and debate whether or not he struck the first blow. Edogo remarks that his father did not wait to hear Obika’s side of the story before drawing conclusions. Ezeulu laments the state of affairs in which his own sons think they are wiser than their father, but Akuebue tells his friend he thinks he is too harsh on Obika.


During the Festival of Pumpkin Leaves ritual, we see the embattled Ezeulu at the height of his fearsome religious authority. Scholar Marcel Ikechukwu Sunday Onyibor points out that here Ezeulu, dressed in ceremonial garb with the left half of his body painted in white clay, embodies the principle of duality that governs Igbo society. He represents a balance between man and the divine, and the individual and the community. In the Festival of Pumpkin Leaves, he represents Ulu’s function of protecting and ensuring the well-being of the people. Yet this moment of seeming harmony offsets the rest of the plot, in which, Onyibor argues, Ezeulu upsets this cosmic balance by “attaching too much importance to himself and Ulu,” over and above the people both are intended to protect (“Igbo Cosmology,” Onyibor).

In Wright’s actions we see the sadistic, straightforwardly exploitative elements of colonialism (as opposed to the more paternalistic elements represented by Winterbottom and Clarke). In the deliberations of the young Umuaroan men, author Achebe makes vivid their colonial predicament: how to confront a powerful antagonistic force without upsetting it to anger. Again we get the sense of an unstoppable juggernaut and see the people of Umuaro scrambling to try to deal with it strategically.

Surrounded by Ezeulu’s sons, the subject of the Chief Priest and Akuebue’s conversation is paternal authority. It is clear that Ezeulu believes that, regardless of whether or not Wright hit him first, what happened with Obika stems from a lack of reverence for his father’s words and advice. Moreover, throughout his interactions with his sons and his friend, we see how much Ezeulu is motivated by pride, and how he is inclined to adopt a resigned, self-defeating attitude toward events in order to be right; he refuses to investigate the situation to learn the truth.

During Akuebue’s visit the friends perform Igbo social rituals of hospitality: smearing the clay, breaking the kolanut, sharing palm wine and snuff. The kolanut breaks into six loaves—an uncommonly high number—providing an ambiguous omen.

Akueke is more sympathetic to Ezeulu’s sons than their father is, and he uses his friendship with Ezeulu to try to soften the latter’s position. Throughout the text, he balances an intimate understanding of Ezeulu with a skepticism about his actions, on numerous occasions adopting a diplomatic role between him and others. As such, Ezeulu’s friend and contemporary functions as the Chief Priest’s less-cynical, less-prideful foil.