Study Guide

Arrow of God Revenge

By Chinua Achebe

Revenge

What happened next was the work of Ekwensu, the bringer of evil. Akukali rushed after Ebo, went into the obi, took the ikenga from his shrine, rushed outside again and, while everyone stood aghast, split it in two.

Ebo was last to see the abomination….Akukali stood in front of him. The two pieces of his ikenga lay where their violator had kicked them in the dust.
"Move another step if you call yourself a man. Yes I did it. What can you do?"

So it was true. Still Ebo turned round and went into his obi. Yes, the gap where his ikenga, the strength of his right arm, had stood stared back at him – an empty patch, without dust, on the wooden board. "Nna doh! Nna doh!" he wept, calling on his dead father to come to his aid. Then he got up and went into his sleeping-room. He was there a little while before Otikpo, thinking he might be doing violence to himself, rushed into the room to see. But it was too late. Ebo pushed him aside and came into the obi with his loaded gun. At the threshold he knelt down and aimed. Akukalia, sensing the danger, dashed forward. Although the bullet had caught him in the chest, he continued running with his machete held high until he fell at the threshold, his face hitting the low thatch before he went down.

When the body was brought home to Umuaro everyone was stunned. It had never happened before that an emissary of Umuaro was killed abroad. But after the first shock people began to say that their clansman had done an unforgivable thing. (2.79-83)

Akukalia has committed an outrage – a sacrilege – against Ebo's personal god. His people recognize that he had done the wrong thing, and that Ebo had no other choice but to exact revenge.

Umuaro might have left the matter there, and perhaps the whole land dispute with it as Ekwensu seemed to have taken a hand in it. But one small thing worried them. It was small but at the same time it was very great. Why had Okperi not deigned to send a message to Umuaro to say this was what happened and that was what happened? Everyone agreed that the man who killed Akukali had been sorely provoked. It was also true that Akukalia was not only a son of Umuaro; he was also the son of a daughter of Okperi, and what had happened might be likened to he-goat's head dropping into he-goat's bag. Yet when a man was killed something had to be said, some explanation given. That Okperi had not cared to say anything beyond returning the corpse was a mark of the contempt in which the now held Umuaro. And that could not be overlooked. (2.85)

If Okperi had simply shown Umuaro some respect, then they might not have taken this conflict to the next level. Akukali had done the wrong thing, true; but an Okperi man had killed their clansman and then said nothing about it. They had to do something in response. The pride of the Umuaro people breeds revenge.

"But let the slave who sees another cast into a shallow grave know that he will be buried in the same way when his day comes. Umuaro is today challenging its chi. Is there any man or woman in Umuaro who does not know Ulu, the deity that destroys a man when his life is sweetest to him? Some people are still talking of carrying war to Okperi. Do they think that Ulu will fight in blame? Today the world is spoilt and there is no longer head or tail in anything that is done. But Ulu is not spoilt with it. If you go to war to avenge a man who passed s*** on the head of his mother's father, Ulu will not follow you to be soiled in the corruption. Umuaro, I salute you." (2.97)

Here, Ezeulu informs his people that a god only blesses your acts of revenge if you are righteous in your acts. If you seek revenge when you brought your trouble on yourself, however, then your god will not stick up for you.

The next day, Afo, saw the war brought to a sudden close. The white man, Wintabota, brought soldiers to Umuaro and stopped it. The story of what these soldiers did in Abame was still told with fear, and so Umuaro made no effort to resist but laid down their arms. Although they were not yet satisfied they could say without shame that Akukalia's death had been avenged, that they had provided him with three men on whom to rest his head. It was also a good thing perhaps that the war was stopped. The death of Akukalia and his brother in one and the same dispute showed that Ekwensu's hand was in it. 2.102

In Igbo mythology, Ekwensu is a spiritual entity in opposition to God, possibly comparable to "Satan" in Christianity. So although the people decide they took (unsatisfactory) revenge on Akukalia's death, they also realize that their choice to do it may have been the wrong choice, and that they may have brought evil upon themselves.

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)

Nobody would consider bringing evil upon themselves by seeking revenge during a purification ceremony. What's interesting is that though they refuse to seek revenge during the ceremony, they will remember it the next day. The purification in this ceremony represents only a temporary cleansing.

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 the white man's revenge will be greater. Their revenge would be futile.

[Ukpaka:] "The white man thinks we are foolish; so we shall ask him one question. This was the question I had wanted to ask him this morning but he would not listen. We have a saying that a man may refuse to do what is asked of him but he may not refuse to be asked, but it seems the white man does not have that kind of saying where he comes from. Anyhow the question which we shall beg Unachukwu to ask him is why we are not paid for working on his road. I have heard that throughout Olu and Igbo, wherever people do this kind of work the white man pays them. Why should our own be different?"

[…]

"The message is not complete," said Nwoye Udora. "It is not enough to ask him why we are not paid. He knows why and we know why. He knows that in Okperi those who do this kind of work are paid. Therefore the question you should ask him is this: Others are paid for this work; why are we not paid? Or is our own different? It is important to ask whether our own is different."

This was agreed and the meeting broke up.

"Your words were very good," someone said to Nwoye Udora as they left the market place. "perhaps the white man will tell us whether we killed his father or his mother." (8.74, 77-79)

The pride of the men of Umuaro is hurt by the fact that they are being forced to give free labor, while the nearby region, Okperi (their enemy), is paid for labor. They wonder why they are treated so disrespectfully. But the final question suggests that they also wonder if the white man has a legitimate reason. Is this treatment an act of revenge?

"It is so," said Akuebue. A man can swear before the most dreaded deity on what his father told him."

"If a man is not sure of the boundary between his land and his neighbour's," continued Ezeulu, "he tells his son: I think it is here but if there is a dispute do not swear before a deity."

It is even so," said Akuebue.

"But when a man has spoken the truth and his children prefer to take the lie…" His voice had risen with every word towards the dangerous pitch of a curse; then he broke off with a violent shake of his head. When he began again he spoke more quietly. "That is why a stranger can whip a son of mine and go unscathed, because my son has nailed up his ear against my words. Were it not so that stranger would already have learnt what it was to cross Ezeulu; dogs would have licked his eyes. I would have swallowed him whole and brought him up again. I would have shaved his head without wetting the hair." (9.80-83)

Ezeulu uses the saying that "a man will not lie to his son" to criticize his own son Obika. Ezeulu suggests that he would seek revenge on Wright if only his son did what was required of him, namely listen to his father. Apparently, there are certain rules governing Ezeulu's ideas of revenge. He will seek revenge for his sons if they fulfill their duties to him as their father. If they don't, however, he refuses to help them.

Ezeulu took out his ground tobacco and put a little in each nostril to help his thinking. Now that Obika was asleep again he felt free to consider things by himself. He thought once more of his fruitless, albeit cursory, search for the door of the new moon. So even in his mother's village which he used to visit regularly as a boy and a young man and which next o Umuaro he knew better than any village – even here he was something of a stranger! It gave him a feeling of loss which was both painful and pleasant. He had temporarily lost his status as Chief Priest which was painful; but after eighteen years it as a relief to be without it for a while. Away from Ulu he felt like a child whose stern parent had gone on a journey. But his greatest pleasure came from the thought of his revenge which had suddenly formed in his mind as he had sat listening to Nwaka in the market place.

These thoughts were a deliberate diversion…His quarrel with the white man was insignificant beside the matter he must settle with his own people. For years he had been warning Umuaro not to allow a few jealous men to lead them into the bush. But they had stopped both ears with fingers. They had gone on taking one dangerous step after another and now they had gone too far. They had taken away too much for the owner not to notice. Now the fight must take place, for until a man wrestles with one of those who make a path across his homestead the others will not stop. Ezeulu's muscles tingled for the fight. Let the white man detain him not for one day but one year so that his deity not seeing him in his place would ask Umuaro questions. (14.11-12)

Ezeulu thinks about his revenge on his people with pleasure and longing. They hadn't respected him as chief priest, they hadn't listened to his advice, and now they are going to get what they deserve. Ezeulu will frame his revenge in terms of the Feast of the New Yam, and his obligations as the chief priest. If Ulu's chief priest isn't in Umuaro, he can't perform the functions required. And if the chief priest can't perform the functions required of him, Ulu will exact his revenge on the people of Umuaro. It just remains to be seen how he will do it. In this sense, it seems like Ezeulu's revenge is indirect.

But in spite of all this Ezeulu's dominant feeling was that more or less he was now even with the white man. He had not yet said the last word to him, but for the moment his real struggle was with his own people and the white man was, without knowing it, his ally. The longer he was kept in Okperi the greater his grievance and his resources for the fight. (15.4)

Though Ezeulu had grievances with both the white man and his people, he is more concerned with seeking revenge on his people. While he's detained at Okperi, he plans how he will get back at them. Though he doesn't reveal his plan through the narration here, he does know that the longer he's away, the more his people suffer.