Peasant Autonomy
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Story 68

South-east Nigeria – the 1920s

The high priest stands alone

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Crashdburnd)

South-east Nigeria.

What is a high priest of Ulu to do? For Ezeulu, from the village of Umuaro, this is not a difficult question. He is the high priest of Ulu, and he knows what his duty is. Quite simply, he has to do what Ulu asks him. Nothing more or less. He is 'an arrow on the bow of god' as the Igbo say. And being a high priest, he has to take the lead, and show his people the right path. Even when nobody understands him and when he stands entirely alone.

Ezeulu has sent his son Oduche to the Christians. 'To be my eyes and my ears', he explained. He wants to know exactly how the whites think, how they organize themselves, and what their new projects are. In this manner, it is perhaps possible to manoeuvre in such a way that a bit of their autonomy will be saved. Times have changed. Now the white men are the rulers. Each year, they strengthen their grip on the villages.
The people are not grateful to Ezeulu for sending his son to the Christians. The traditional ones suspect him of trying to find favour with the whites.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Mad African)

South-east Nigeria.

The minister of the Christian church in Umuaro is Mr. Goodcountry. He is an African from another part of Nigeria. He strongly encourages disagreement among the villagers who are on the side of Ezeulu, traditional ones who don't want to give in an inch, and those who have joined the Christians. They have already turned their backs on the traditional god Ulu.

Ulu does not surrender easily. By the mouth of his high priest, he refuses to proclaim the start of the harvest. The yams rot away in the earth. A famine comes forth. The people of Umuaro are desperate. They are furious with Ezeulu. As a massive crowd, they go over to the Christians. Goodcountry promises them that his god will protect them against the wrath of Ulu. Ezeulu stands alone.


In Arrow of God (1964), the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe describes carefully and with a lot of sympathy the village life in the land of the Igbo. He focuses on the tensions between the ones who want to stick to their old customs at any cost and the ones who thoughtlessly want to join the white men.

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