Study Guide

Arrow of God Men and Masculinity

By Chinua Achebe

Men and Masculinity

"There is no cause to be afraid, my son. You have seen Eru, the Magnificent, the One that gives wealth to those who find favour with him. People sometimes see him at that place in this kind of weather. Perhaps he was returning home from a visit to Idemili or the other deities. Eru only harms those who swear falsely before his shrine." Ezeulu was carried away by his praise of the god of wealth. The way he spoke one would have thought that he was the proud priest of Eru rather than Ulu who stood above Eru and all the other deities. "When he likes a man wealth flows like a river into his house; his yams grow as big as human beings, his goats produce threes and his hens hatch nines." (1.85)

Part of the measure of manhood is the wealth of your household. Though a portion of that may be bought from the sweat of your own back, part of it is destiny and can't be controlled. It depends on whether the gods like you and bless the work of your hands. The fact that Obika has seen this man "revives" Ezeulu's confidence in him (1.76) because it indicates that he will be a man of measure and wealth.

Obika was one of the handsomest young men in Umuaro and all the surrounding districts. His face was very finely cut and his nose stood gem, like the note of a gong. His skin was, like his father's, the colour of terracotta. People said of him (as they always did when they saw great comeliness) that he was not born for these parts among the Igbo people of the forests; that in his previous life he must have sojourned among the riverain folk whom the Igbo called Olu.

But two things spoilt Obika. He drank palm wine to excess, and he was given to sudden and fiery anger. (1.100-101).

Obika might have been the perfect vision of Igbo manliness if he didn't drink so much, and if he wasn't so hasty and quick to anger.

"We cannot say your son did wrong to fight for his sister. What we do not understand, however, is why a man with a penis between his legs should be carried away from his house and village. It is as if to say: You are nothing and your kinsmen can do nothing. This is the part we do not understand." (1.115)

When Obika's half-sister comes home after her husband has beaten her, Obika takes his revenge on his brother-in-law, Ibe. Obika beats Ibe almost to the point of death, leaving him tied up in Ezeulu's compound. The in-laws that return for Ibe say they understand Obika's need to protect his sister. They counter, though, that you don't take a man away from his family. When you do it, you are insulting not only his manliness, but also the manliness of his in-laws.

"I would not have spoken again today if I had not seen adults in the house neglecting their duty. Ogbuefi Egonwanne, as one of the three oldest men in Umuaro should have reminded us that our fathers did not fight a war of blame. But instead of that he wants to teach our emissary how to carry fire and water in the same mouth. Have we not heard that a boy sent by his father to steal does not go stealthily but breaks the door with his feet? Why does Egonwanne trouble himself about small things when big ones are overlooked? We want war. How Akukalia speaks to his mother's people is a small thing. He can spit into their face if he likes. When we hear a house has fallen do we ask if the ceiling fell with it?" (2.27)

Ezeulu suggests that real men know the dangers of war and work to prevent it. But today, the men of Umuaro are not showing wisdom. They are showing their desire for war because they are sending a volatile boy to do their work for them. Ezeulu warns that people should not be surprised if these boys don't know how to resolve this dispute peacefully.

"Go back to your house," shouted Akukali, "or I will make you eat s***."

"If you want to shout like a castrated bull you must wait until you return to Umuaro. I have told you this place is called Okperi."

Perhaps it was deliberate, perhaps accidental. But Ebo had just said the one thing hat nobody should ever have told Akukali who was impotent and whose two wives were secretly given to other men to bear his children.

The ensuing fight was grim. (2.75-78)

Intended or not, Ebo insults Akukalia's manliness. Since Akukalia happens to be impotent (the worst thing for an Igbo man), Akukalia takes the reference personally, and takes his action to extreme measures.

For those seeking but a comfortable living and a quiet occupation Nigeria is closed and will be closed until the earth has lost some of its deadly fertility and until the people live under something like sanitary conditions. But for those in search of a strenuous life, for those who can deal with men as others deal with material, who can grasp great situations, coax events, shape destinies and ride on the crest of the wave of time Nigeria is holding out her hands. For the men who in India have made the Briton the law-maker, the organizer, the engineer of the world this new, old land has great rewards and honorable work. I know we can find the men. Our mothers do not draw us with nervous grip back to the fireside of boyhood, back into the home circle, back to the purposeless sports of middle life; it is our greatest pride that they do – albeit tearfully – send us fearless and erect, to lead the backward races into line. "Surely we are the people!" Shall it be the Little Englander for whom the Norman fought the Saxon on his field? Was it for him the archers bled at Crecy and Poitiers, or Cromwell drilled his men? Is it only for the desk our youngsters read of Drake and Frobisher, of Nelson, Clive and men like Mungo Park? Is it for the counting-house they learn of Carthage, Greece and Rome? No, no; a thousand times no! The British race will take its place, the British blood will tell. Son after son will leave the Mersey, strong in the will of his parents today, stronger in the deed of his fathers in the past, braving the climate, taking the risks, playing his best in the game of life. (3.18)

This short passage, quoted from the fictional book on colonizing Africa, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, suggests quite a lot about what it means to be manly in British culture. Manliness stands in clear opposition to female values of hearth and home; the man goes out into the world, facing unknown dangers, to protect and extend the British Empire. According to this source, a British man must make upholding his race and his country his number one priority.

Mr. Clarke had been desperately searching for a new subject. Then luckily he lit on a collection of quaint-looking guns arranged like trophies near the low window of the living-room. "Are they native guns?" He had stumbled on a redeeming theme.

Captain Winterbottom was transformed.

"Those guns have a long and interesting history. The people of Okperi and their neighbours, Umuaro, are great enemies. Or they were before I came into the story. A big savage war had broken out between them over a piece of land. This feud was made worse by the fact that Okperi welcomed missionaries and government while Umuaro, on the other hand, has remained backward. It was only in the last four or five years that any kind of impression has been made there. I think I can say with all modesty that this change came about after I had gathered and publicly destroyed all firearms in the place except, of course, this collection here. You will be going there frequently on tour. If you hear anyone talking about Otiji-Egbe, you know they are talking about me. Otiji-Egbe means Breaker of Guns. I am even told that all children born in that year belong to a new age-grade of the Breaking of Guns." (3.55-57)

Captain Winterbottom's power is symbolized in the guns he carried away from the war between Okperi and Umuaro. (He brought about an end to the war by breaking and burning the guns, and then settling the question of the land dispute between the neighboring regions.) By revealing his nickname, Winterbottom illustrates his role as peace-maker, settling the disputes of subjects. But this also symbolizes his manhood, as we see in his boast that the children of that year have also been named for him.

"One thing you must remember in dealing with natives is that like children they are great liars. They don't lie simply to get out of trouble. Sometimes they would spoil a good case by a pointless lie. Only one man – a kind of priest-king in Umuaro – witnessed against his own people. I have not found out what it was, but I think he must have had some pretty fierce tabu working on him. But he was a most impressive figure of a man." (3.61)

Here Winterbottom reveals that part of the colonial administrative power is in infantilizing an entire group of people; he insults men from another culture, by considering them to be "children" in the eyes of the Administration. He also reveals his admiration for Ezeulu, who told the truth, by calling him a real man. In fact, Winterbottom refers to him as an "impressive figure of a man."

"Is it true, Obika," asked one of the men, "that your new bride has not returned after her first visit?"

"Yes, my friend," Obika replied light-heartedly. "My things always turn out differently from other people's. If I drink water it sticks between my teeth."

"Do not heed him," said Ofoedu. "her mother is ill and her father asked if she could stay back and look after her for a while."

"Aha, I knew the story I heard could not be true. How could a young bride hesitate over a handsome ugonachomma like Obika?"

"Ah, my friend, come out from that," said the half-drunk man. "She may not like the size of his penis."

"But she has never seen it," said Obika.

"You are talking to small boys of yesterday: She has not seen it!" (7.19-25)

This lighthearted banter between the men about Obika's new bride suggests that being handsome and well endowed are important characteristics for manhood. (These attributes are also important in Western culture.)

"This is what I tell my own children," said Akuebue to Edogo and the two boys. "I tell them that a man always has more sense than his children." It was clear he said this to mollify Ezeulu; but at the same time it was clear he spoke truth. "Those of you who think they are wiser than their father forget that it is from a man's own stock of sense that he gives out to his sons. That is why a boy who tries to wrestle with his father gets blinded by the old man's loin-cloth." (9.94)

A crucial part of any Igbo man's manhood is his identity as a father and his years on earth. In the West, youth is often worshipped, but among the Igbo, age is venerated and respected. The older you are, the more wisdom you have accumulated, and the more respected you are. The saying that a young man who wrestles with his father is blinded by his loin cloth is also a reference to the two men's sexuality, and their role in procreation. The father's sexuality is more potent than his son's because he has already fathered the next generation and, if he has had grandchildren, the generation after that. This is why the son is blinded by his loincloth – the piece of clothing that hides his father's sexuality.