When The Arrow Rebounds which is an adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God is a play that reflected the then African Igbo Colonial Society where the emerging Western religion tries to displace the traditional Igbo culture and religious beliefs. This struggle between the traditional belief system and emerging western ideology created tension as one notices division in people’s opinion on the validity of the traditional belief system.
Ezeulu can be said to have fueled this flame which finally consumed him. This can be attributed to his idea of holding unto the tradition and at the same time opening his door to the western religion by sending douche to serve as his eyes in the midst of the westerners. To him it is a wise decision to do so because according to him, he stands the chance of benefitting from the tradition as the Chief Priest and at the same time, the presence of his son in the Christian congregation avails him the opportunity of gaining from them if there is any good thing they have to offer. It was on this account that the elders of Umuaro refuse to take Ezeulu’s invitation by the white man as a strange thing because he has been in good terms with him.
Unfortunately, Ezeulu was held hostage by the and on his return he ceased the opportunity as the priest of ulu to pay the people of umuaro back for keeping quiet over is detention. He sees himself as the arrow with which gods will punish the people of umuaro and so he refused to announce the day of the new yam festival which is a determinant factor for harvest. The people of umuaro sought Ezeulu’s assistance but he came up with the excuse that the sacred yam that is supposed to be consumed during his detention is still remaining and until the yam is eaten the date will not be announced.
Because the people of Umuaro exhausted their patience owing to the fact that their farm produce is damaging, they sought for alternative which the western religion offered. On realization of his failure coupled with obika’s death Ezeulu breaks down mentally and otherwise.
EZEULU: Ezeulu is the chief priest of Ulu, as the chief priest he serves as the eyes and the mouth of the people of Umuaro to the gods. Ezeulu desires good things in life and that is why he made friends with the whites so as to gain from them if they have something to offer. It is on this note that he sent his son to join the Christians while he stays back to benefit from their own gods. It became sad when he realized that one cannot serve two masters at once especially, the opposing kind. Due to his stubbornness Ezeulu refused to listen to the plea and advice of his friends which landed him in misery.
UGOYE : Ugoye is Ezelu’s wife through which the playwright expressed his gender sensitiveness. She is portrayed as a vibrant woman who will always stand out against all odds. When Ezeulu inquired her about Oduche’s where about she was proud to let him know that she doesn’t control Oduche’s movement hence Ezeulu was the one mandated him to join the church and so should be answerable to anything that comes out of it. We can also observe her outstanding quality in the role she played at the beginning of the play. She served as the leader of the women who came and made their great supplication to the great Ulu.
NWAKA: Nwaka is an orator who knows how to manage words. He was proud to let Ezeulu know that he is dancing to the tune of the music he started. Nwaka is a man that sees a thing and calls it by his name without fear of favour. He is a very good example of a true ozo title holder in the society.
AKUEBUE: Akuebue is a typical example of a good friend who sees a bad omen and brings it to the notice of one he calls his friend. Akuebue as a friend advised Ezeulu on the issue of new yam festival but he was too stubborn to listen to him. On the whole issue between Ezeulu and his people he maintains a neutral ground.
OBIKA: Obika is the replica of Ezeulu. He is a determined character that tolerates little of what he sees as an insult. When the messenger came to announce to Ezeulu that the white man wants to see him in okperi he couldn’t control his temper because he sees it as an insult to his father. His determinant character can also be seen when he was asked to run “Ogbazulu Obodo” despite the fact that he has fever. In order to maintain his prestige he ran the “Ogbazulu Obodo” which led to his death.
EZEIDIMILI: As a custodian of his people, ezeidemili is very observant and very keen to uphold the culture and custom of his people. He did not hesitate to send message to Ezeulu when he heard that douche imprisoned the sacred python reminding him of the consequences of such action and what is supposed to be done to placate the gods. On the issue of Ezeulu’s invitation by the white man and him to be taken hostage, ezeidemili maintains his neutral ground. He also advised Ezeulu to communicate with the gods and know their response on the peoples request for the new yam festival day annunciation.
GOODCOUNTRY: Good country is a teacher in the newly emerged western religion. He sees the traditional practice as barbaric and induces the believers to go against them especially on the matter concerning the killing of the sacred python. He ceased the opportunity of the problem of naming the new yam festival day in Umuaro to convert the people of Umuaro to Christianity by assuring them that they are free to harvest their yams only if they transfer their allegiance to the church. Through this he stands the chance of enriching his pocket.
MOSES UNACHUKWU: Moses Unachukwu is one of the newly converts that still holds on to their traditional belief despite their new religious engagement. He believe that what belongs to Caesar should be given to Caesar and that which belongs to God should be given to God. On the issue of killing the sacred python he made it clear to the congregation that he is not in support of them and that anybody who is ready to do so should be ready to face the consequences.
TONY CLARK: Clark represents the white order. He sees African culture and tradition as inferior and wishes to replace it with that of the west. To achieve this, he insisted on eliminating any barrier to his way. When it became clear that Ezeulu is headstrong the hand of friendship extended to him turned into an iron gripper and this Ezeulu was imprisoned to force him to submit because he is seen as the people’s cultural custodian which means that his submission implies the peoples submission.
Talking about the language of the play, the playwright made use of avalanche of proverbs and idiomatic expressions to reflect the traditional African Igbo setting. The communication language of the writer is English language but in order to ornament the play he made use of some native proverbs and idioms to reflect the background of the play. Through language the playwright was also able to define characters and place them in their appropriate positions in the society. For instance, Ezeulu in his riddles will say:
Tun-tun gem-gem; oso mgbada bu n’ugwu.
The mighty tree falls and little birds scatter in the bush.
White ant chews Igbegulu because it is lying on the ground.
Let him climb the palm tree and chew it.
When the handshake goes beyond the elbow we know it has become something else.
Looking at this lines it reveals the setting of the play and the personality involved. Nobody will expect a child to speak in that manner or even an adult who is not intimidated with the custom and tradition of his people.
Generally, looking at the language of the play one sees the playwright giving us the clue to what the play is all about by giving us the background of the play and by defining the characters based on their contemporary environment as regards the play.
Clash of Religion: the dominant theme in the play is that of religious clash between the traditional igbo religion and that of the western Christianity. Prior to the emergence of Christianity the people of Umuaro know only Ulu and other gods who they reverend but with the introduction of Christianity, conflict issued. While people bought the idea of new faith, others sticked to their traditional way of life and others fell into dilemma of which one to choose. Owing to the fact that the emergence of Christianity created an alternative, the people of Umuaro shifted their allegiance to the Christian faith when Ezeulu couldn’t help them solve the problem of new yam festival and harvest.
Greed : It was as a result of Ezeulu’s greed that he sent his son to join the Christians so that he will benefit from both sides. This single act gave the people of Umuaro the impetus to shift their allegiance to the Christian brother because as far as Ezeulu who is the custodian of the tradition and custom of the people could send his own child to join the church, it is then a legible offence for others not to do so. This is exactly what brings the downfall of Ezeulu.
Revenge: Ezeulu felt that the people of Umuaro treated him by not asking about him during the time of his detention and he seeks to revenge on them by refusing to announce the day of the new yam festival because he wanted their yams to perish. Unfortunately the arrow rebounds on him.
Arrogance: Not considering the fact that Ezeulu was advised by his friend Akuebue to listen to the cries of Umuaro he proves stubborn and is later consumed by the same fire he ignited. Ezeulu will never cave in to threat or persuasion rather he chose the path he toes and that defines his personality.
4.2 GENDER SENSITIVENESS IN WHEN THE ARROW REBOUNDS
In African society, women are seen as inferior to men and are not incorporated in some activities especially those that has to do with rituals and performances. With mindset women’s portrayal in African plays are always those of minorities. It took time and efforts of playwrights like Emeka Nwabueze and many other modern writers to acknowledge the important roles of in the society as portrayed in African and Nigerian plays.
Looking at the play, When The Arrow Rebounds by Emeka Nwabuezeit is very obvious that this playwright though not a feminist recognized the indispensable role of women in the African Igbo society. Unlike the normal insignificant portrayal of women in most plays we see this writer bringing womanhood to limelight. At the beginning of the play we see Ugoye and other women playing an important role; something that Achebe refused to notice or what he might have thought unimportant in his work Arrow of God. Ugoye takes the stage and proudly interceded for the whole people.
EZEULU: Great Ulu who kills and saves, we implore you to
cleanse our household of all defilement whether we have
spoken it with our mouth or seen it with eyes or have heard
it with our ears or stepped on it with our foot, or if it had come
through our children or our friends or kinsfolk, let it follow
Normally, women have no right to come into the shrine, let alone speaking on behalf of the people but it is the wish of the playwright to project womanhood and thus creates gender sensitiveness in the minds of the reader as regards the importance of women in our contemporary society.
Through other acts of Ugoye in the play like when she was trying to bring to the notice of Ezeulu that he should be the one answerable to Oduche’s strange behavior as he was the one that sent him on the mission which transformed him. The playwright was able to affirm the validity of womanhood through this play.
Written by Raymond Chukwuma Agwu aka Ray KatiNns. Graduate of Theatre and Film Studies Department University of Nigeria, Nsukka.