Dead Men’s Path by Chinua Achebe

This short story is included in:

Girls at War and Other Stories by Chinua Achebe (hier online bestellen)

The story:
“Dead Men’s Path” takes place in 1949 during the period when Great Britain ruled Nigeria. British intervention in Nigeria dates to the eighteenth century when the British displaced the Portuguese as leaders of the slave trade there. After the British parliament banned slavery in 1807, the British began making treaties with African tribal leaders to gain control of the territory. By 1906 Britain controlled all of Nigeria. The Colonial Office adopted the system of indirect rule, with traditional leaders continuing in power while owing allegiance to the colonial authority. Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960. Chinua Achebe summarizes postcolonial consciousness in Nigeria: “It would be foolish to pretend that we have fully recovered from the traumatic effects of our first confrontation with Europe. . . ."

In this short story “Dead Men’s Path,” Chinua Achebe gives the protagonist an exciting chance to fulfill his dream. Michael Obi was fixed officially headmaster of Ndume Central School, which was backward in every sense. He had to turn the school into a progressive one, however the school received a bad report when the supervisor came to inspect. Why did the school get a nasty report and Obi could not become a glorious headmaster even though he put his whole life into it? In order to find out the answer, we have to examine Michael Obi’s personality and the event that made the supervisor to write an airier result.

Michael Obi was a secondary school teacher. “The Ndume Central School had always been an unprogressive, so the mission authorities decided to send a young and energetic man to run it” (331). Obi was a juvenile and a jaunty man. Within Obi’s confidence, the reader can see his ardent desire. “He had many wonderful ideas and this was an opportunity to put them into practice” (331). By this golden chance he wanted to show other people how a school should be run. Obi wanted “his associates to give all their time and energy to the school” (331) because they were not married. He and his wife were very excited to work for the school. They both had made a plan to make the school modern and delightful. Even though Obi accepted his responsibility with enthusiasm, he could not become a great principal. Why? There should be some kind of obstacle in his plan.

Michael Obi had built a miserable garden around the school. “Beautiful hibiscus and allamanda hedges in brilliant red and yellow marked out the care- fully tended school compound from the rank neighborhood bushes” (331-332). “ Obi had two aims. A high standard of teaching was insisted upon and the school compound was to be turned into a place of beauty” (331). One evening Obi saw an old woman from the village walking slowly right across the compound. “On going up there he found faint signs of an almost disused path from the village across the school compound to the bush on the other side” (332).

From one of his teachers, he discovered out that the path connects the village shrine with the villagers’ place of burial. To close that path, “Obi planted heavy sticks closely across the path at two places where it entered and left the school premises. These were further strengthened with barbed wire” (332). Since he was well prepared with all solutions to all problems, how come he could not become a man of the school? Why did the superintendent not like this passionate school?

The main reason the supervisor did not write a decent report was the condition of the school premises. When the Government Education Officer came to inspect the school, “the beautiful hedges were torn up not just near the path, but right round the school, and flowers were tripled to death. One of the school building was pulled down” (333). The author did not tell us who lacerated this school. After reading the story, we can tell that it was the people of the village, because “a young woman in the village died in childbed. A diviner was immediately consulted and he prescribed heavy sacrifices to propitiate ancestors insulted by the fence” (333). Obi did not know that the villagers could do this; otherwise, he should have found another way to stop the people until the supervisor came, but nothing can stop the future.

Michael Obi’s hopes were achieved much earlier than he expected, but his desires did not gain any success. He was blamed for the duff result of the school and the affray within the village and the school. The Government Education Officer did not write a good report, in addition, “tribal-was situation developed in between the school and the village” (333). Obi and his wife had set the fashion in everything. He had put his all efforts to make the school marvelous and beautiful. Still, one morning, Obi woke up among the ruins of his work.

Extract from book:
Michael Obi’s hopes were fulfilled much earlier than he had expected. He was appointed headmaster of Ndume Central School in January 1949. It had always been an unprogressive school, so the Mission authorities decided to send a young and energetic man to run it. Obi accepted this responsibility with enthusiasm. He had many wonderful ideas and this was an opportunity to put them into practice. He had had sound secondary school education which designated him a “pivotal teacher” in the official records and set him apart from the other headmasters in the mission field. He was outspoken in his condemnation of the narrow views of these older and often less-educated ones.

“We shall make a good job of it, shan’t we?” he asked his young wife when they first heard the joyful news of his promotion.

About the author:
Chinua Achebe (1930– ) was born in Nigeria. The son of Christian missionaries, he was educated at the Church Missionary Society school where his father taught until, at 14, he was selected to attend the Government College at Umuahia, one of the best schools in West Africa. Educated in English at the University of Ibadan, Achebe taught for a short time before joining the staff of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in Lagos. After cofounding a publishing company, he became a professor of English at the University of Nigeria.

Achebe has said that his duty as an African writer is "to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement" resulting from British colonialism. His novels include Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1988). His early novels show cultural clashes between traditional Igbo life and British missionaries and government. His later novels deal with corruption and other aspects of postcolonial African life. Achebe has also published collections of short stories, poetry, essays, and books for juvenile readers.

Girls at War and Other Stories by Chinua Achebe
Taschenbuch: 128 Seiten
Verlag: Anchor Books; Auflage: Reprint (September 1991)
Sprache: Englisch
ISBN: 0385418965
Preis: € 10,60

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