Realising the Sacred: Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God

  • Mark Mathuray


In ‘Chi in Igbo Cosmology’, Chinua Achebe attempts to explicate aspects of the sacred worldview of the Igbo through an analysis of the nature of chi, which he claims is central to Igbo psychology.1 Without an understanding of chi, he maintains, ‘one could not begin to make sense of the Igbo world-view’ (93). Achebe argues that in the language of the Igbo, the two distinct meanings of chi, a ‘god-agent’ and a transitional period between night and day, actually reveal a common etymology – both are related to the sun, and hence to Chukwu (literally, the Great Chi), the Igbo supreme deity. Chi, in an important sense, partakes of the nature of Chukwu. As a god-agent, chi, the spirit-double of every terrestrial being, is responsible for the creation and destiny of its terrestrial counterpart. Chi is thus the ultimate source of destiny for each individual. This religious understanding that every Igbo person is ‘both a unique creation and the work of a unique creator’ generates a belief in the fundamental worth and independence of every human being and a political organisation that is marked by a ‘fierce egalitarianism’ (‘Chi’ 98, 103). However, Achebe is quick to point out that, unlike the Western ideal of individual autonomy, the Igbo immediately set about balancing what he would call in a later essay this ‘extraordinary specialness’, this ‘unprecedented uniqueness’, through a curtailment of the individual’s power by making it subordinate to the will of the community (‘The Writer’ 39).


Symbolic Order Realist Text African Literature Narrative Closure Social Totality 
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© Mark Mathuray 2009

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  • Mark Mathuray

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