During the five years after the Breaking of Guns, Ezeulu and Nwaka grew to hate each other so much that people believed one of them would kill the other.
Though Nwaka was known to say what he thought, people feared for him, since he had reminded the god Ulu about what happened to another god that had failed their people in earlier years. It's tempting fate, they said.
But Nwaka survived. He didn't even get sick. That may be why the Mask he wore was boastful at the Idemili festival that year. What he talked, he challenged Ulu again.
In the five ensuing years, people wondered how it was that Nwaka got away with challenging Ulu with no punishment. They began to believe that Nwaka had some power.
And in fact, Nwaka had one important backer – the priest of Idemili (the personal deity of Umunneora) a man by the name of Ezidemili.
Ezeulu knew that Ezidemili was helping Nwaka, and he knew that the priests of these lesser deities were jealous, but he didn't think they would go so far as to challenge Ulu.
Nwaka and Ezidemili had been friends since they were young; aligning himself with Ezidemili turned Nwaka into Ezeulu's personal enemy.
Ezidemili explains that Idemili has been around since the beginning of time, whereas Ulu was made by the people.
Idemili, which means Pillar of Water, holds up the rain clouds. He belongs to the sky.
This is why Ezidemili can't sit on the ground, and why he won't be buried in the earth when he dies.
But the priest of Ulu could be buried that way, so why doesn't Ezeulu chose to be buried in the ground? It's because the first Ezeulu was jealous and asked to be buried with the respect and honor accorded to Idemili.
Ezeulu sits and listens to the church ringing its bell, calling people to worship. He had sent his son Oduche to learn the ways of the white man because he believed they had some power, but now he was afraid that the ways of the white man would take over.
Oduche comes out of the inner compound dressed for church. He greets his father.
Nwafo comes by and asks Ezeulu if he knows what the bell is saying. Nwafo relates Oduche's explanation that it is saying, "Leave your yam, leave your cocoyam, and come to church" (4.30).
Ezeulu calls that the "song of extermination" (4.31).
They are interrupted and Nwafo runs off to find out what's happening. He returns to report that Oduche's box is moving.
They go look at the box, and Akueke says they can't believe what they are seeing. Ezeulu tells her to be quiet.
It seemed like the box had something in it struggling to break free.
Ezeulu carries the box outside to open it with a machete, which Obika brings to him. He sets the machete aside and asks Obika to bring him a spear instead. He wedges the thin end open with the spear, and is shocked to discover a royal python.
The women chatter about the abomination, while Ezeulu asks where Oduche is. Ezeulu threatens to kill his son, and the mothers begin to wail while the royal python slithers away.
Anosi tells Ugoye, Oduche's mother that she should find her son and tell him not to return today. Anosi heads into the village and tells everyone he meets what Oduche had done to the royal python.
By noon, the story had reached Ezidemili, the chief priest of the god Idemili, who owned the royal python.
In order to understand why it is such a big deal to harm or even move the royal python, we need some background.
The narrative now enters a flashback. Ezeulu had promised the white man he would send a son to the church, but it took him three years to fulfill that promise. That was two years ago.
Oduche hadn't wanted to go at first. But he decided to do it because his father spoke to him like a man to a man.
Ezeulu told his son that the world was changing and it was important to know about these people who had brought the change. Oduche would be his eyes and ears in the white man's world, a fact that didn't make his mother, Ugoye, happy. She tried to get Ezeulu to change his mind, but Ezeulu was steadfast.
Oduche soon came to love church. He learned the language easily. He was popular with his teacher and the church members.
Then they got a new teacher, John Goodcountry, who explained how early Christians in the Niger Delta tried to purify their region from evil customs. He suggested that as Christians, they must be prepared to be martyred. And they must be ready to kill the royal python, rather than to treat it as holy.
Josiah Madu was the first Umuaro man who killed and ate the royal python. But few people found out about it and few Christians were willing to follow his example.
Moses Unachukwu, a carpenter and evangelist, had built the church at Umuaro – both physically and spiritually. The other teachers gave him the respect he deserved, but John Goodcountry ignores him.
Unachukwu told a story to the church, reminding them of the curse God put on the snake's head. He told them about how there used to be a seventh village in Umuaro called Umuama. Six brothers in the village of Umuama killed the python and ate it.
Only four of the brothers got enough food to eat. They began to fight, and the fighting spread throughout the village of Umuama until they destroyed each other. The few survivors fled to Olu, where they live today.
The six remaining villages consulted a seer and discovered that the reason the men had turned on each other was that the python was sacred to the deity Idemili, and Idemili had punished the men for eating it.
Mr. Goodcountry rebukes Moses for telling such a story in church. Now he asks for somebody to speak up on God's behalf.
Oduche raises his hand. He mentions that the Bible clearly tells us to crush the serpent's head.
Mr. Goodcountry berates Moses, saying that though he claims to be the first Christian of Umuaro, a child has spoken wiser words than he has.
The congregation claps and Moses gets angry. He warns the teacher to do his work and leave the royal python alone, or he will not last, just like the other teachers who came and went.
So Oduche decides to kill one of the pythons that live on the roof of his mother's hut. He'll do it with a stick so nobody will know he's the one that did it.
This ends the flashback.
Six days later, Oduche had lost some of his courage. He decided just to take the smaller python, but he can't bring himself to kill it. He pops it into his box, relieved that the python will suffocate on its own without him killing it.
Edogo, Ezeulu's first son, left home early to carve a mask for a new ancestral spirit. He couldn't do it at home, but had to do it in the spirit-house, which was private and secret and uninitiated people weren't allowed. Today he could hear his neighbor, Anosi, gossiping about his (Edogo's) family.
Anosi tells his listeners that he saw the royal python locked inside a box. The people criticize Ezeulu and claim his act is destructive, an abomination.
By the time Edogo reaches home, Ezeulu is in a rage, angry at all the gossiping neighbors. He threatens the neighbor ladies with physical harm if they do not leave.
When Edogo tells his father what he heard at the marketplace, Ezeulu asks him if he did anything about it. Ezeulu explains that if people are accusing Ezeulu of committing an abomination, Edogo should defend his father's honor.
Edogo is angry and accuses his father of bringing this on himself by sending Oduche to the white man's church.
At sunset, a visitor from Umunneora arrives. Ezeulu doesn't even offer him kolanut because there is so much hostility between him and Umunneora, the village of the god Idemili.
Ezidemili, the chief priest of Idemili, sent the visitor. He wants to know what Ezeulu is going to do about the abomination his son committed against his deity. How will he purify his house?
Ezeulu, even further angered, tells the visitor to "go back and tell Ezidemili to eat s***" (4.117).
The young man tries to respond, but Ezeulu tells him that if he values his life, he'll quietly leave.