Arrow of God
by Chinua Achebe
Arrow of God Tradition and Customs Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"If we are Christians, we must be ready to die for the faith," he said. "You must be ready to kill the python as the people of the rivers killed the iguana. You address the python as Father. It is nothing but a snake, the snake that deceived our first mother, Eve. If you are afraid to kill it do not count yourself a Christian."
The first Umuaro man to kill and eat a python was Josiah Madu of Umuago. (4.66-67).
The catechist at the Christian church sets the stage for the contest between Christianity and the traditional gods of Umuaro by challenging his congregation to defy the old traditions. In particular, he incites the people of Umuaro to kill and eat the sacred royal python. Such an act would be an abomination according to Ibo culture.
Unachukwu was a carpenter, the only one in all those parts. He had learnt the trade under the white missionaries who built the Onitsha Industrial Mission. In his youth he had been conscripted to carry the loads of the soldiers who were sent to destroy Abame as a reprisal for the killing of a white man. What Unachukwu saw during that punitive expedition taught him that the white man was not a thing of fun. And so after his release he did not return to Umuaro but made his way to Onitsha, where he became house-boy to the carpenter-missionary, J.P. Hargreaves. After over ten years' sojourn in a strange land, Unachukwu returned to Umuaro with the group of missionaries who succeeded after two previous failures in planting the new faith among his people….
Now he was not only a lay reader but a pastor's warden although Umuaro did not have a pastor as yet, only a catechist. But it showed the great esteem in which Moses Unachukwu was held in the young church. The last catechist, Mr. Molokwu, consulted him in whatever he did. Mr. Goodcountry, on the other hand, attempted from the very first to ignore him. But Moses was not a man to be ignored lightly.
Mr. Goodcountry's teaching about the sacred python gave Moses the first opportunity to challenge him openly. To do this he used not only the Bible but, strangely enough for a convert, the myths of Umuaro. He spoke with great power for, coming as he did from the village which carried the priest hood of Idemili, he knew perhaps more than others what the python was. On the other side, his great knowledge of the Bible and his sojourn in Onitsha which was the source of the new religion gave him confidence. He told the new teacher quite bluntly that neither the Bible nor the catechism asked converts to kill the python, a beast full o fill omen. (4.68-70)
Moses Unachukwu is a Christian convert, and educated in the ways of the white man. Such a background give him power in Umuaro, a power that he is not willing to give up. Knowledge of the white man's culture and his ability to speak English are his weapons for securing his position among his people. His weapon of choice in challenging the catechist is, conversely, his intimate knowledge of Umuaro's culture and customs.
"One day six brothers of Umuama killed the python and asked one of their number, Iweka, to cook yam pottage with it. Each of them brought a piece of yam and a bowl of water to Iweka. When he finished cooking the yam pottage the men came one by one and took their pieces of yam. Then they began to fill their bowls to the mark with the yam stew. But this time only four of them took their measure before the stew got finished."
Moses Unachukwu's listeners smiled, except Mr. Goodcountry who sat like a rock. Oduche smiled because he had heard the story as a little boy and forgotten it until now.
"The brothers began to quarrel violently, and then to fight. Very soon the fighting spread throughout Umuama, and so fierce was it that the village was almost wiped out. The few survivors fled their village, across the great river of the land of Olu where they are scattered today. The remaining six villages seeing what happened to Umuama went to a seer to know the reason, and he told them that the royal python was sacred to Idemili; it was this deity which had punished Umuama. From that day the six villages decreed that henceforth anyone who killed the python would be regarded as having killed his kinsmen." (4.72-74).
Moses Unachukwu recounts one of the foundational myths of Igbo religion and life, explaining why they must honor the sacred python. Ironically, the story he tells foreshadows exactly what happens in Umuaro when Oduche decides to challenge the sacred python by locking him in a box. The ensuing animosity between Ezeulu and Ezidemili results in Ezeulu's decision to seek his revenge on the village for disrespecting him. Unfortunately, Ezeulu's god, Ulu, is the loser in the contest.