Published On: Tue, Feb 23rd, 2016


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FROM THE LIVE STAGE with Patrick-Jude Oteh

0803 700 0496, 0805 953 5215 (SMS only)

Ezeulu is that fictional character created by Chinua Achebe in his novel Arrow of God. The thoughts of Ezeulu below are my own assessment of the High Priest of Ulu finding his authority is under threat by rivals in the clan, by the functionaries of the colonial government and even in his own family. He suddenly adopts a cosmic view of events and in his thoughts, surely in the battle of the deities, he is merely an arrow in the bow of his god? With such an unbending idea of events around him, with his increasing rigidity, he is prepared to lead his people on even if it leads to destruction and the annihilation of all that the people hold dear. In the end he finds in his own tragedy that the will of the people always prevails. It is a story that has a melody that expresses both triumph and tragedy in the human fact that with great power come heavy responsibilities.

Ezeulu, has always fascinated me. In my work as a stage director, he has always held more attraction for me than the other universal character created by Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo whose tragedy and story is a straight forward one but we dare not say the same for Ezeulu perhaps because of the introduction of the cosmic element in his own tragedy. With the death of his son and his own eventual madness, he seems to make us ask, whose voice was he listening to? His own voice or the voice of the gods whom he had served faithfully and this is the question he asks even with the snapping of his mind or maybe one could say that in that one minute of illumination and insight, he asks this question before his mind goes into that void that is madness.

At that moment when he was ‘invited’ by the white district officer and he realises that he has been arrested, his anger at his clansmen that they did not come to visit or commiserate with him in his moment of humiliation by the district officer makes him determined not to announce the sighting of the new moon which will allow the tribes to start planting. The Christians had gone ahead to plant looking forward to the harvest. His own people could not and they risked the tragedy of having their yams rot in their barns and in the soil. They could not plant and they could not harvest. One would ask at this point – was he exerting his revenge on his people or was he truly speaking with the voice of the gods that they had commanded him not to announce the date for planting or harvesting? The collective souls of the entire community was thus left wandering in the void.

The study of Ezeulu is a deep psychological study into the mind of man. His situation can be compared to the voices these days that stridently claim – Thus says the Lord – how do you argue with such a man or with such a voice? Who can testify to what has been sown in my mind in one minute of supreme and divine illumination? Who can contend with such an argument once such a proclamation has been made? But to the clans, there was a way out. The High Priest can eat the remaining yam on behalf of the gods and declare a date. But Ezeulu’s argument was that he would be visiting an abomination on his head and that of his family and the gods had not given him such an order. But the elders also argue that the gods cannot watch their people destroy themselves while waiting for their order for the planting season to commence.

With the growing distrust, his only friend in the clan while counselling caution, asks Ezeulu to search his heart and ask whose voice he has been hearing – his own to retaliate against his people or truly the voice of the gods. In the ensuing silence, it was only madness that resolved the matter.

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