Arrow of God
by Chinua Achebe
Arrow of God Tradition and Customs Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Although Ezeulu did not want anybody to think that he was troubled or to make him appear like an object of pity, he did not ignore the religious implications of Oduche's act. He thought about it seriously on the night of the incident. The custom of Umuaro was well known and he did not require the priest of Idemili to instruct him. Every Umuaro child knows that if a man kills the python inadvertently he must placate Idemili by arranging a funeral for the snake almost as elaborate as a man's funeral. But there was nothing in the custom of Umuaro for the man who puts the snake into a box. Ezeulu was not saying that it was not an offence, but it was not serious enough for the priest of Idemili to send him an insulting message. It was the kind of offence which a man put right between himself and his personal god. And what was more the Festival of the New Pumpkin Leaves would take place in a few days. It was he, Ezeulu, who would then cleanse the six villages of this and countless other sins, before the planting season. (6.13)
Because there is no precedent for what Oduche has done, Ezeulu isn't sure how to respond to it. Still, Ezeulu is pretty sure that Ezidemili is asking for something that is unnecessary. Besides, it is the custom for him, Ezeulu, to cleanse the villages of all their sins at the Festival of the New Pumpkin Leaves. So Ezeulu tries to ignore the potentially serious ramifications of Oduche's actions.
Ibe and his people made some vague, apologetic noises.
"What I want to know," said Ezeulu, "is how you will pay me for taking care of your wife for one year."
"In-law, I understand you very well," said Onwuzuligobo. "Leave everything to us. You know that a man's debt to his father-in-law can never be fully discharged. When we buy a goat or a cow we pay for it and it becomes our own. But when we marry a wife we must go on paying until we die. We do not dispute that we owe you. Our debt is ever grater than you say. What about all the years from her birth to the day we took her from you? Indeed we owe you a great debt, but we ask you to give us time."
Onwuzuligbo promised on behalf of his kinsman that Akueke would not be beaten in future. Then Ezeulu sent for her to find out whether she wanted to return to her husband. She hesitated and then said she would go if her father was satisfied. (6.42-44; 48)
This short passage demonstrates several traditions and customs among the Igbo people. First of all, a man must be repaid for the care he has given his daughter throughout her lifetime. The husband's family reaps the benefits in the many children she brings to his household, and her father must be compensated for this in some way. Second, when there is a serious disagreement, and the wife returns to her father's compound, the husband's family must again make up for the food she ate. Third, there must be some assurance that a similar disagreement will not take place again – the consequences could be very serious. Last, it shows how women are not masters of their own destiny. Though Akueke is asked if she wishes to return, the decision is ultimately up to her father.
A stranger to this year's festival might go away thinking that Umuaro had never been more united in all its history. In the atmosphere of the present gathering the great hostility between Umunneora and Umuachala seemed, momentarily, to lack significance. Yesterday if two men from the two villages had met they would have watched each other's movement with caution and suspicion; tomorrow they would do so again. But today they drank palm wine freely together because no man in his right mind would carry poison to a ceremony of purification; he might as well go out into the rain carrying potent, destructive medicines on his person. (7.2)
All the animosity between the two villages is temporarily forgotten because of the great tradition of purifying the region. Nobody would consider bringing evil upon themselves by behaving with dishonor during the important ceremony, the Festival of the New Pumpkin Leaves.