Study Guide

Arrow of God Chapter 18

By Chinua Achebe

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Chapter 18

  • Ezeulu finally realizes that he will get his revenge when Umuaro is most vulnerable – the Feast of the New Yam.
  • The feast occurs at the end of the old year and the beginning of the new – harvest time. A man cannot harvest any of his new yams before the feast. At the feast, every man in the village took a large yam to Ulu's shrine and placed it there. They were able to count and find out how many men were in each village each year. If they had increased in number, they were grateful. If there was a decrease, they sought answers from diviners.
  • It was also the only day in the year that the minor deities in each of the six villages received tribute from people they had helped the preceding year.
  • It was the only festival where gods and men celebrated together.
  • Ezeulu's assistants try to visit him and find that he has gone to Akuebue's house. They waited until he returned. Then they told him the reason for their visit.
  • One of them, Nwosisi, speaks up and says that it has been four days since the new moon has come and Ezeulu has yet to call the feast.
  • Another assistant pipes up and says that there have actually been twelve new moons since the last New Yam feast.
  • Ezeulu says they have done a good job to come and ask questions. But he turns to the man who said it has been twelve moons, Obiesili, and asks when he was the one who figured out the time of the new moon for Umuaro.
  • Chukwulobe says they thought that Ezeulu has lost count.
  • At that, Ezeulu gets angry.
  • He says they are the ones who have lost count. He has never needed to be reminded of his duties as priest.
  • But Ezeulu doesn't remain mad when they leave. In fact, he seems pretty happy.
  • Soon, he hears Nwafo and Obiageli talking outside his hut. He listens carefully. When Nwafo comes inside his hut, he questions him, demanding to know what he had told Obiageli.
  • Nwafo, a bit afraid, admits that he was telling her how to scare away a python. They were saying, "Run, python! There's a Christian here!" (18.31). Even Ezeulu has to laugh. He wants to know if it ran away and Nwafo admits that it did.
  • Ezeulu's refusal to call the New Yam feast is the latest news in Umuaro. People are shocked. This had never happened before. If Ezeulu doesn't call the feast, they can't harvest, and if they can't harvest, they will starve.
  • Ten of Umuaro's most respected men ("of high title" 18.37) come to see him. Nwaka is among the group, which shows how desperate they were to seek Ezeulu's forgiveness.
  • The men approach the topic gingerly, saying that they had heard there was a disagreement over the New Yam festival. Fear is spreading in Umuaro.
  • Ezeulu welcomes them and says that there is no disagreement. His assistants had come to him and said it was time to announce the festival, but he told them he didn't need to be reminded when to announce it.
  • These men know the custom, he says. He can't call the feast until he has only one yam left, but he has three yams.
  • Onenyi Nnanyelugo speaks for all of them. He says that this is indeed the custom, and they can't change it. The white man caused this problem by keeping Ezeulu away for so long. But can they sit still and watch their wives and children go hungry?
  • Ulu doesn't want to destroy Umuaro. So, he begs Ezeulu, please find a way around this.
  • Ezeulu is steadfast. He can't do other than what is the custom. If he eats the yams before the time, he is "eating death" (18.62).
  • Anichebe Udeozo says that they are living in new times. This has never happened before because there was never a white man before. He pleads on behalf of Umuaro, asking Ezeulu eat the yams. Antichebe adds that if Ezeulu doesn't eat the yams, it will be the fault of the entire village.
  • Ezeulu says that is impossible. The village can't take the punishment. As chief priest, the punishment will be his alone. And he also has family who will suffer.
  • They ask whether Ulu has said he is annoyed.
  • Ezeulu admits that Ulu said two new moons came and went, but there was nobody to break kolanut with him; Umuaro was silent.
  • The men say they have heard him and now they are prepared to do what is necessary to receive his forgiveness.
  • Ezeulu says he'll go back and ask Ulu, but the price may be steep.
  • Ofoka asks him whose side he's on.
  • But the other men quiet him and say they will wait until they hear from Ezeulu. Nnanyelugo directs the conversation towards the topic of change; they all discuss traditions that have died or altered.
  • Ezeulu goes to Ulu's shrine in the morning. He hears the church bells ring as he performs the rituals needed. It sounds very near.
  • Ezeulu announces that he has heard nothing from Ulu and Umuaro must wait for two more months. The people begin to panic.
  • People had fought in Umuaro before. But none had been quite so severe as this one. Everybody took sides and everybody saw Ezeulu as Public Enemy #1. His family was blamed, too. Matefi, for example, finds that some women at the market hike the prices of items for sale to unreasonable heights.
  • Matefi calls Obika and asks him to talk to Ezeulu. Obika asks what she expects him to say. Matefi is sad and says she knew he wouldn't listen to her. Obika says he can't listen to her when she takes sides against the family.
  • Ofoka says he always believed Ezeulu was a sane man but now he thinks revenge is more important to Ezeulu than anything else.
  • Akuebue admits he's had similar thoughts, but ultimately, he thinks Ezeulu would only give the true message of Ulu.
  • Ofoka says he wasn't saying Ezeulu would lie. But he points out that Ezeulu refuses to let the village take the consequences for eating the yams. It is obvious he's trying to punish Umuaro.
  • Akuebue defends Ezeulu, saying his grievance can't be that strong.
  • Ofoka says that a priest like Ezeulu will ruin his own deity.
  • Akuebue counters that perhaps a deity like Ulu will ruin his own priest.
  • But John Goodcountry, the catechist at St. Mark's CMS Church, sees this as an absolutely wonderful thing. His class had doubled in size.
  • From his arrival, Goodcountry had been hard-nosed about certain customs. He had gone nose-to-nose with Moses Unachukwu in the affair over the python.
  • Unachukwu had sent the bishop a threatening letter about the need for the Christians in Umuaro to leave the python alone. The bishop had written Goodcountry to tell him to back off. This confirmed people's belief that they needed people like Moses Unachukwu, who was educated in the ways of the white man. So more people sent their children to school. Goodcountry assumed that the growth was due to his proselytizing.
  • The New Yam harvest crisis provided Goodcountry another opportunity. He decided that the church could have a harvest service that would create funds that would be used to build a new church. So he tells his members that if they sacrifice yams to God, then they could harvest their crops and ignore Ulu.
  • One member asks if the heathens can bring their one yam. Goodcountry says they can bring as many yams as they want. The member says that the custom is to bring Ulu only one yam. Moses Unachukwu steps in and says that if Ulu, a false god, only takes one yam, then the true God surely deserves more than one.
  • So people learn that if they want to harvest their food, they can bring their offering to the Christian God and they will be protected from Ulu's wrath.
  • Though in any other time period, the people might have laughed, they do not laugh now.

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