Whenever Ezeulu considered the immensity of his power over the year and the crops and, therefore, over the people he wondered if it was real. It was true he named the day for the feast of the Pumpkin Leave and for the New Yam feast; but he did not choose it. He was merely a watchman. His power was no more than the power of a child over a goat that was said to be his. As long as the goat was alive it could be his; he would find it food and take are of it. But the day it was slaughtered he would know soon enough who the real owner was. No! the Chief Priest of Ulu was more than that, must be more than that. If he should refuse to name the day there would be no festival – no planting and no reaping. But could he refuse? No Chief Priest had ever refused. So it could not be done. He would not dare.
What kind of power was it if it would never be used? Better to say that it was not there, that it was no more than the power in the anus of the proud dog who sought to put out a furnace with his puny fart… (1.24; 27)
Ezeulu goes back and forth in his mind, wondering if he has real power or only perceived power. Does power rest in him, the chief priest of the deity Ulu, or does power rest in Ulu, the god itself? Ezeulu is not sure, but he knows he would never dare test it.
Ezeulu rose from his goatskin and moved to the household shrine on a flat board behind the central dwarf wall at the entrance. His ikenga, about as tall as a man's forearm, its animal horn as long as the rest of its human body, jostled with faceless okposi of the ancestors black with the blood of sacrifice, and his short personal staff of ofo. Nwafo's eyes picked out the special okposi which belonged to him. It had been carved for him because of the convulsions he used to have at night. They told him to call it Namesake, and he did. Gradually the convulsions had left him. (1.54)
There was real power in the old gods, and in the ways of the ancestors. Nwafo, Ezeulu's favorite son and likely the next chief priest of Ulu, knows the healing power of Ulu.
"We have no quarrel with Ulu. He is still our protector, even though we no longer fear Abame 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 this 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 neighbours and set fire on him? I salute you." (2.101)
Nwaka separates the god, Ulu, from the god's chief priest; in so doing, he argues that Ezeulu is power hungry. In this speech, Nwaka reminds Ezeulu to know his place. Ezeulu's village, Umuachala, has always been the weakest of the six villages, and he will never be king. If his deity doesn't support them in their quest for revenge, they will get rid of it.
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. Winterbottom effectively ended the war by breaking and burning the guns, and settling the question of the land dispute between the neighboring regions. By revealing his nickname, Winterbottom reveals his role as peacemaker, 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.
Nwafo came back to the obi and asked his father whether he knew what the bell [of the Christian church] was saying. Ezeulu shook his head.
"It is saying: Leave your yam, leaving your cocoyam and come to church. That is what Oduche says."
"Yes," said Ezeulu thoughtfully. "It tells them to leave their yam and their cocoyam, does it? Then it is singing the song of extermination." (4.29-31)
The yam and cocoyam are the staple foods of the Igbo peoples. If the church bell is telling people to leave it, then it is telling them to leave their staple food source. In other words, the church bell is requesting that they leave behind their culture and way of life. This is what Ezeulu recognizes when he says that it is singing the "song of extermination" – death to the Igbo way of life.
The struggling inside the box was as fierce as ever. For a brief moment Ezeulu wondered whether the wisest thing was not to leave the box there until its owner returned. But what would it mean? That he, Ezeulu, was afraid of whatever power his son had imprisoned in a box. Such a story must never be told of the priest of Ulu. (4.43)
It's a small scene, but an epic battle, as Ezeulu confronts the shaking box, in which his son has imprisoned the royal python. Ezeulu realizes that this is a contest between the power his son has from acquire the Christian church, and the power he holds as chief priest of Ulu. Ezeulu must confront this unknown power so he can be proven victorious.
"I am sent by Ezidemili."
"True? I trust he is well."
"He is well," replied the messenger. "But at the same time he is not."
"I do not understand you." Ezeulu was now very alert. "If you have a message, deliver it because I have no time to listen to a boy learning to speak in riddles."
The young man ignored the insult. "Ezidemili wants to know what you are going to do about the abomination which has been committed in your house."
"That what happened?" asked the Chief Priest, holding his rage firmly with two hands.
"Should I repeat what I have just said?"
"All right. Ezidemili wants to know how you intend to purify your house of the abomination that your son committed." "Go back and tell Ezidemili to eat s***. Do you hear me? Tell Ezidemili that Ezeulu says he should go and fill his mouth with s***. As for you, young man, you may go in peace because the world is no longer what it as. If the world had been what it was I would have given you something to remind you always of the day you put your head into the mouth of a leopard." (4.108-117)
A new religion has entered the scene, and Ezeulu has sent his son to find out the source of its power. In so doing, Ezeulu has inadvertently set himself up to engage in a power struggle with Ezidemili. He doesn't do well with this challenge to his supreme position as high priest of Ulu. But even as he sends a challenge back to Ezidemili, Ezeulu admits that things have changed – some of his power is lost.
When the discussion began again someone suggested that they should go to the elders of Umuaro and tell them that they could no longer work on the white man's road. But as speaker after speaker revealed the implications of such a step it lost all support. Moses told them the white man would reply by taking all their leaders to prison at Okperi. (8.69)
Though the men want to take revenge against Wright for whipping Obika without cause, they ultimately conclude that they lack the power to do anything about it. The white man's power is greater. Their attempts to punish the white man for what he has done to Obika will be futile and they will only end up punishing themselves.
"Yes, we are talking about the white man's road. But when the roof and walls of a house fall in, the ceiling is not left standing. The white man, the new religion, the soldiers, the new road – they are all part of the same thing. The white man has a gun, a machete, a bow and carries fire in his mouth. He does not fight with one weapon alone." (8.73)
The white man's power lays in many things – religion, military might, government, weapons. This is why he has been able to take over the region, and why the men of Umuaro feel like children who lack the power to stand up to their parent.
"I am not blind and I am not deaf either. I know that Umuaro is divided and confused and I know that some people are holding secret meetings to persuade others that I am the cause of the trouble. But why should that remove sleep from my eyes? These things are not new and they will follow where the others have gone. When the rain come sit will be five years since this same man told a secret meeting in his house that if Ulu failed to fight in their blameful war they would unseat him. We are still waiting, Ulu and I, for him to come and unseat us. What annoys me is not that an overblown fool dangling empty testicles should forget himself because wealth entered his house by mistake; no, what annoys me is that he cowardly priest of Idemili should hide behind him and urge him on."
"It is jealousy," said Akuebue.
"Jealousy for what? I am not the first Ezeulu in Umuaro, he is not the first Ezidemili. If his father and his father's father and all the others before them were not jealous of my fathers why should he be of me? No, it is not jealousy but foolishness; the kind that puts its head into the pot." (12.78-80)
Ezeulu boasts that though Nwaka and Ezidemili challenged him and Ulu five years ago, they haven't yet overpowered him. He's still waiting. Do they actually have what it takes to unseat him? To make Idemili the stronger god? He doesn't think so. There have been problems before because people are jealous of the power he holds as chief priest. This, too, will pass, like all the times before.