When the French colonized West Africa, missionaries were sent to rebuild and revamp the school system. The new headmaster Michael Obi tried to modernize the backward school he was assigned to. In doing so, he did crossed the line when he blocked off a spiritual pathway crossing from the graveyard to the village intersecting the school.
Obi’s modern character and values stand in stark contrast to
the tribal character and traditional values of the residents of Ndume, the village where he has
been sent to serve as schoolmaster. Throughout the story, the villagers are described as
ignorant, superstitious, old, and hobbled—the very opposite of Obi.
Within the first paragraph of the story, the central character,
Michael Obi, is described as young, energetic, enthusiastic, and outspoken. Achebe links Obi’s
youthful energy to his passion for modernizing the education of African children.
In conclusion, Dead Man’s Path, is a story that depicts a struggle between two themes; traditionalism and modernism. The third theme, change, come into place as some forces want changes that will make traditionalism pave way for modernism while there other forces resisting this kind of change. In attempt to change the villager from their traditional way life into modernism, Obi did not use very diplomatic channels and this resulted into a conflict that ended up badly.
Archaeology in Africa must avoid erecting fences like those privileged by Mr. Obi. Distancing people from their ancestors separates archaeology from the past and the present, preventing an interconnection between both. Bassey Andah saw the dangers of distancing the ancestors.
The priest also warns that if Obi interdicts the path, then he will cut "the path of children coming in to be born." Obi ridicules the elder, informing him that the purpose of the school is to eradicate such beliefs and to "teach our children to laugh at such ideas"
An almost disused path runs from the village through the school grounds, connecting the village shrine with an ancestral burial ground. Worried about what the white government education officer will think of it when he comes to inspect the school, Michael has heavy sticks planted across the path to prevent the school grounds from becoming the village "highway". The village priest sternly warns him that "this path was here before you were born and before your father was born. The whole life of this village depends on it". Michael scoffs that "the whole purpose of our school [...] is to eradicate just such beliefs as that".
African headmaster who takes on a new job in a village where the people are superstitious and cling to traditional tribal ways. The story addresses the cultural conflicts between “new” British ideas and “old” African customs. The story takes place at Ndume Central School in Africa in January of 1949.
Enlisting the help of his young wife, he transforms the school compound into an English garden, replete with flowers and hedges around the school buildings. When he comes to learn about a little-used path through the school compound that connects the village shrine with the place of burial, he constructs a fence to keep villagers from using the path through the school.
Obi's wife makes the school ground westernized and domestic with flower beds and bushes surrounding the building. This drastic change becomes insulting to the villagers' way of life. The missonaries are trying to make the village the way they think it should be without any consideration for the already existing culture that thrives there.
Consider Nigeria. The country had its borders drawn by the British in 1914, with little regard for ethnic and social cohesion among its hundreds of tribes. After independence in 1960, the Brits rigged the first election to ensure that power went to the conservative elements in the north, who came to believe that it was their natural right to rule Nigeria. In subsequent years, the country was racked by ethnic strife, secession and civil war. No Nigerian statesman was able to reach across to other tribes.
When a young village woman dies two days later in childbirth the locals, fearing that "the path of children coming in to be born" has been blocked, destroy part of the school. The white supervisor then writes a report about a "tribal war situation developing between the school and the village" as being perpetuated by the misguidance of the new headmaster, thus revealing the hypocrisy of colonial authority.
The Michael should have anticipated a rivalry with the mission's attempt at change. If Obi anticipated this disaster, he could have done more to prevent the damage done to the school. I believe Obi should have tried harder in order to make the villagers feel comfortable with the change around them.