The Case for Penal Abolition and Ludic Ubuntu in Arrow of God

by Mechthild Nagel

Working Papers WP 15-09
September 2015
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

Chinua Achebe, the novelist and visionary critic, has given us a subtle critique of the function of prisons in the colonial context, and his trilogy refracts the haunting carceral-colonial reality for Igbo society in remarkable ways. And yet, commentators and critics have overlooked it. What I will argue is the following: 1) the prison within the context of colonial law is a key trope in Achebe’s novels; 2) Arrow of God makes a case for the traumatic effects of a prison sentence; and 3) Achebe’s sharp critique of the colonial practices not only invites a reading of penal abolitionism but also a strategy of resistance of a ludic Ubuntu. This paper argues that the prison is the central organizing tool of oppression, whereas most commentators focus on the “clash
of cultures” engendered by the advent of Christianity. In fact, Arrow of God invites a reading of Christianity as an ambivalent good. The formidable clash of cultures is unveiled in the realm of traditional versus colonial juridical discourses.

Keywords: Colonial imprisonment, ludic Ubuntu, prison as social death, Igbo resistance  

Mechthild Nagel is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Gender and Intercultural Studies at the State University of New York, College at Cortland. She was a Visiting Scholar at the Religious Studies Department, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen (Spring 2015). She can be contacted at Mecke.Nagel(at)cortland.edu.