Dead Men’s Path is a short story by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe.
Michael Obi was recognized as “a pivotal teacher” by the Mission authorities. He had had a sound secondary school education. He was a young and energetic person. He had many wonderful ideas to improve education. Ndume Central School was a backward school in many ways. The authorities wanted him to run this school on modern lines. So he was appointed headmaster of this school in January, 1949.
Obi was a man of progressive ideas. He always condemned narrow and old views of other headmasters. He was quite outspoken and criticized old and senior persons. He said that some of these teachers would be better employed as traders in the Onitsha market. He accepted his job with great enthusiasm as he wanted to do something new for the school.
His wife, Nancy also shared her husband’s passion for modern methods. They planned to have beautiful gardens and to make everything modern and best. Nancy had already begun to see herself as the admired wife of young headmaster, the queen of the school. She thought that the wives of the other teachers would envy her position. But the fact was that no other teacher in that school was married yet. She felt disappointed.
Obi was stoop-shouldered and looked frail. But he had a great fund of physical energy. His eyes had an extraordinary power of penetration. He was only twenty-six but looked thirty or more. He decided to run the school most efficiently. He had two aims. He insisted on high standards of teaching and second, to turn the school compound into a place of beauty. Nancy fully co-operated with him. Her dream-garden came to life with the coming of rains. The school soon surpassed other schools.
One evening, Obi saw an old woman walking across the school compound. Obi was pained to see that the villagers had made a path right across the compound. Another teacher told him that the path had religious importance for the villagers as it connected the village shrine with their burial place. Obi asked what it had got to do with the school. The teacher said nothing. He said that there was a big row some time ago when an attempt was made to close it. Obi got the path blocked with barbed-wire.
Three days later, the village priest ofAni called on Obi. He said that their ancestral path should not be closed. He told Obi that the path had existed before Obi or his father was born. The whole life of the village depended on it as the ancestors visited them by it. Moreover, it was the path used by children going to be born. Obi simply smiled at the superstitious belief of the old priest. He ridiculed such beliefs. He said that it was the duty of the school to remove such blind beliefs. He advised the priest to construct another path and offered to help him. The priest advised him to choose a mid-path out of this row. Obi told the priest that the compound could not be a thoroughfare. The priest went away, though he was dissatisfied.
Two days later, a young woman in the village died in childbirth. The diviner said that the ancestors had been insulted by the fence. Her death was due to this insult. The next morning, the villagers destroyed the flower beds, tore up the hedges and pulled down on of the school buildings. The white inspector visited the school. In his report he blamed Obi and his misguided enthusiasm for the war like situation developing between the school and the village. This he took a serious not of Obi’s actions.