Arrow of God is a 1964 novel by Chinua Achebe. It is Achebe's third novel following Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease. These three books are sometimes called The African Trilogy. The novel centers around Ezeulu, the chief priest of several Igbo villages in Colonial Nigeria, who confronts colonial powers and Christian missionaries in the 1920s.
The phrase "Arrow of God" is drawn from an Igbo proverb in which a person, or sometimes an event, is said to represent the will of God. Arrow of God won the first ever Jock Campbell/New Statesman Prize for African writing.
The novel is set amongst the villages of the Igbo people in British Nigeria of the 1920s. Ezeulu is the chief priest of the god Ulu, worshipped by the six villages of Umuaro. The book begins with Ezeulu and Umuaro getting in a battle with a nearby village, Okperi. The conflict is abruptly resolved when T.K. Winterbottom, the British colonial overseer, intervenes.
After the conflict, a Christian missionary, John Goodcountry, arrives in Umuaro. Goodcountry began to tell the villages tales of Nigerians in the Niger Delta who abandoned (and battled) their traditional "bad customs," in favour of Christianity.
Ezeulu is called away from his village by Winterbottom, and he is invited to become a part of the colonial administration, a policy known as indirect rule. Ezeulu refuses to be a "white man's chief" and is thrown in prison. In Umuaro, the people cannot harvest the yams until Ezeulu has called the New Yam Feast to give thanks to Ulu. When Ezeulu returns from prison, he refuses to call the feast despite being implored by other important men in the village to make a compromise. Ezeulu reasons to the people and to himself that it is not his will but Ulu's; Ezeulu believes himself to be half spirit and half man. The yams begin to rot in the field, and a famine ensues for which the village blames Ezeulu. Seeing this as an opportunity, John Goodcountry proposes that the village offer thanks to the Christian God instead so that they may harvest what remains of their crops with "immunity".
Many of the villagers have already lost their faith in Ezeulu. One of Ezeulu's sons dies during a traditional ceremony, and the village interprets this as a sign that Ulu has abandoned their priest. Rather than face another famine, the village converts to Christianity.
Ulu, the villages of Umuaro and Okperi, and the colonial officials are all fictional. But Nigeria in the 1920s was controlled by British Colonial authorities, indirect rule was tested as a governing strategy, and many of the Igbo people abandoned their traditional beliefs for Christianity. The novel is considered a work of African literary realism.
Achebe's first novel Things Fall Apart tells the tale of Okonkwo, a leader in his community until colonialism enters. Arrow of God similarly describes the downfall of a traditional leader at the hands of colonialism. The central conflicts of the novel revolve around the struggle between continuity and change, such as Ezeulu refusing to serve Winterbottom, or between the traditional villagers and Ezeulu's son who studies Christianity.