The Characters

Nyasanu is one of the most fully developed and complex characters in Yerby’s canon. Nyasanu is the son of a politically powerful man who has nearly insatiable ambitions for himself and his son. As the son of a village chief, Nyasanu becomes the heir to substantial power.

After his father is killed in battle, Nyasanu assumes the mantle of village chief and begins a steady climb to prominence and wealth. It becomes apparent, however, that Nyasanu is trapped; the more he controls, the less he is able to control. He is aware of the pitfalls surrounding him, but he is powerless to change his position. He owes his ultimate allegiance to Gezo; when Gezo commands him to marry Princess Yekpewa, he must, and the action causes his downfall. Nyasanu accepts his fate, which is to be captured and sold into slavery. He remarks stoically that “no man is powerless who is prepared to suffer the consequences of his actions.”

Opposing Nyasanu are Gbochi, Prince Atedeku, and Princess Yekpewa. Gbochi is a weak man who becomes embittered by his brother’s success and schemes against him. Atedeku is self-centered and malicious, as is his half sister Yekpewa; though these characters are not nearly so formidable as Nyasanu, together they manage to plot his downfall.

King Gezo is generous but not always astute. He rewards Nyasanu for his bravery in battle by furthering his political career and awarding him Princess Yekpewa in marriage; he does not, though, understand that the latter is less a gift than a burden. Gbenu, Nyasanu’s father, is a wise leader and a brave warrior, qualities he transmits to his son. Kpadunu, Nyasanu’s close friend, is thoughtful and loyal; in battle, he sacrifices his own life to protect Nyasanu.

Characters Discussed

Nyasanu

Nyasanu (nyah-SAH-new), the second son of a village chief in Dahomey. Nyasanu is thrust into prominence by fate. He is content with his life, but after his father’s death in battle, he assumes the mantle of chief of his village and begins a steady climb to political prominence and wealth. It becomes apparent that Nyasanu is trapped: The more he controls, the less he is able to control. He is aware of the pitfalls of his position but is powerless to change it. He owes his ultimate allegiance to King Gezo. When Gezo tells him to marry his daughter, Princess Yekpewa, Nyasanu must, and this act leads to his downfall. Nyasanu accepts his fate, which is to be captured and sold into slavery. He stoically comments that “no man is powerless who is prepared to suffer the consequences of his actions.”

Gbenu

Gbenu (geh-BAY-new), the father of Nyasanu and chief of an important Dahomean village. A high-ranking vassal of King Gezo, Gbenu is a wise leader and brave warrior. These qualities are inherited by his son. After Gbenu’s death, Nyasanu assumes the title of village chief and becomes responsible for his father’s widows.

Gbochi

Gbochi (geh-BOH-chee), the homosexual brother of Nyasanu and eldest son of Gbenu. He is prevented from succeeding his father because he lacks the necessary leadership skills. Gbochi becomes embittered and plots his brother’s downfall.

Gezo

Gezo (GAY-zoh), the king of the Dahomeans. After Nyasanu defeats the combined enemy forces of the Maxi and the Auyo, Gezo rewards Nyasanu for his bravery by granting him the hand of his daughter in marriage. This royal influence succeeds in obtaining further recognition for Nyasanu; he is awarded the position of provincial governor.

Princess Yekpewa

Princess Yekpewa (YAYK-pay-wah), the daughter of Gezo and wife of Nyasanu. Proud of her royal rank, scornful of Nyasanu’s other wives, and unwilling to submit to Nyasanu’s authority, Princess Yekpewa schemes with Gbochi and her half brother Prince Atedeku to overthrow Nyasanu.

Kpadunu

Kpadunu (keh-pah-DEW-new), a friend of Nyasanu who intends to become a sorcerer. Kpadunu has long discussions with Nyasanu and explores the philosophical implications of traditional Dahomean magic and statecraft. Designated as Nyasanu’s first friend, Kpadunu has special obligations to Nyasanu and sacrifices his own life in battle to protect his friend.