Friday, March 10, 2017
Oduche, Ezeulu's Son in Chinua Achebe's in Arrow of God, Writes to His Father
Dear Nnaanyi, Ogbuefi Eze Eziokwu,
I am writing to you this letter as a way of providing you with a report of my experience with the white man’s ways, particularly because you asked me to be your eyes and your ears in what the white man has brought to our land. I wish you had lived a bit longer for me to give you this report directly in your obi, two of us alone. That would have pleased me greatly. I know you would have put in a word here and there in response and would have couched your advice in a powerful proverb or two. I hear that one can actually talk to a dead relative through a letter by writing it and burning it on the dead person’s grave. I don’t know whether it is true, whether it works, but I want to try it. I am going to burn this letter on your grave secretly, around midnight. I am not sure our priest would approve of that – and I have neither asked for his views on it nor his permission. I want to try it secretly first, without letting anyone know.
Father, I know that you would first like to know whether I have mastered the white man’s magic of putting down thoughts in the form of marks on paper. Yes, I have. Of course, the evidence of that fact is that I am the one writing this letter privately! I wish you could rise from your grave and see me. Or can you see me? Can you also read what I am writing since you are now a spirit? I really would be delighted if you could read my letter by yourself, not employing the services of another spirit who is literate. You never can be sure, that other spirit could, afterwards, let out our secret. He could pass the information to another spirit who cannot keep secrets and before you know it, one of our church members would get the information in his dream and I would be disgraced! Just as I am your eyes and ears here, it would be nice if you become my eyes and my ears too in the land of the spirits, revealing things to me once in a while, please.
Ogbuefi, it is not how the chewing of the bitter kola sounds to the ears that it tastes on the tongue. It is good to embrace the white man’s values – learn something like writing a letter and reading it or other written things, as well as join the white man in his worship – but these are not the whole story. Do you know that with all that learning and all that praying, the people still practise wickedness, still discriminate and hold on to selfishness? There is still a lot of quarreling here and there in church and in school; there is still the nwannadi in everything. You would think that those who have attended school would be more refined and peaceful. It is not so! Indeed, father, human beings will always be human beings; their conversion to new life can never be complete! I am ashamed to tell you about the nwannadi they are doing to me in assigning positions in our church council. I indicated that I would like to serve as secretary, because I can write very well now, having completed my Standard Six. Even the priest commented that he was amazed at the speed at which I could learn and was very happy with me. That Thomas the son of Ilo opened the mouth with which he eats yam and cocoyam and said that I was too ambitious, that I should wait for my own time! I even heard from a reliable source that he said that people won’t take the church seriously if I become secretary!
I passed my Standard Six examination and should have been selected to go to teacher’s college, but Enoch the catechist suggested that Oliver the son of Edogo should go instead, that he was the first to indicate interest. You see, they just want to show me that they have influence. They even ridiculed me because my father was the priest of Ulu, asking me whether you have seen the new moon now and can authorize the eating of the new yam. When they gang up against me like that, they won’t call me by my baptism name, Paul, again, but would prefer to call me Oduche. “Oduche!” “Oduche!” Yes, I am Oduche and will always be. I am no longer anxious to be addressed as “Paul.” I am Oduche the son of Ezeulu! Not that I cannot withstand njakiri, but using it constantly to attack my person as a convert is not acceptable at all. If I had known that I would meet that kind of politics in the new religion, I would not have joined in the first place. I blame myself. Father, is it not the person that Imo sees his feet that it carries away?
I know you were not pleased with the way I treated that sacred python I put inside a box. I was meaning to apologize for it. It was Enoch that persuaded me to do it to prove my conversion and seriousness to other converts. The same person has turned back to say that there is a curse in my family and it is because of that that we do strange things! I am sorry that I listened to him; it was an act of extreme zeal. Please, forgive me for doing that and almost causing the family to be ostracized.
This other message would infuriate you. I hear the white people plan to stay in our land and to rule us for a long time. I don’t like that at all. I thought they just brought education and a new religion to help us to become better human beings. Now, they are talking about ruling us for a long time as if we are their slaves. I thought they would just show us the way and allow those of us who have embraced their ways to rule our land. How can strangers become the landlords? Does the stranger know or understand the ways of our people? They just used the religion to deceive us and rule our land.
Father, I want to be your eyes and your ears in a meaningful way. I now realize that I am not just there to listen and observe the white man’s ways and the white man’s plans. I am there also to say something and to do something about what I see. Isn’t that a better way to be your eyes and your ears, to be you, actually?
Eze Eziokwu, Ezeulu! Eze Gadagwom! I greet you! Now that you are not here physically, I long for your noble presence greatly. Sometimes, I wish I could see you and share my feelings of anger and disappointment with you. I need your wise counsel now. If you can get this letter, I would really be very happy. I have to end the letter here. I don’t want it to be a long one. If you get it, talk to me in my dream, please.
Thank you very much.
Your loving son,