The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Olumba and Wago the leopard-killer dramatize in The Great Ponds the pride of the warrior temperament and the lengths to which it can go. Both behave as though not only the progress of the war but also the welfare of their villages depend on their personal efforts. Olumba assumes the entire burden of Chiolu’s claim to Wagaba Pond by making himself the target of divine intervention for six months. Wago, on the other hand, defies the divine and spoils the moral integrity of his village by forcing its dibia to perform a spell against Olumba’s life. Olumba, at least, as his strength ebbs and his household crumbles, learns humility and a compassion for his wives that he did not have before. Moreover, his bravery is tested and deepened in a new way, for he must battle mental illness— a “voice” that is in him but seems apart from him that continually tells him that his efforts to survive are in vain. Wago, it appears, succumbs to such a “voice,” for his open attack on Olumba and his subsequent suicide in Wagaba Pond suggest that he has lost his mind completely.

Like Olumba, Ikechi, the young Chiolu warrior, learns through adversity to temper his pride. He also learns, by helping to represent his village in diplomatic missions and by traveling to locate the missing women, the frustration and complexity engendered by the war. When Chisa, the chief’s daughter, finally returns, Ikechi has matured. Though his father is on the point of death, he is able to comfort Chisa, accepting the fact that she has been raped and that her high spirits have been broken.

Eze Diali and Eze Okehi, the chiefs of Chiolu and Aliakoro, respectively, are a study in the inability of tribal...

(The entire section is 697 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Olumba (oh-LEWM-bah), the principal warrior of the Chiolu village. A short but muscular middle-aged man, he is respected widely as a brilliant strategist in warfare and is equally respected for his skills with the knife and bow. Although he is not yet an elder, his suggestions on tactics in battle and his views on negotiations for peace are frequently followed by the chief and other elders. A devout, even zealous, believer in the gods, he looks up when he walks. He spends much of his time at home in ritual meditation and possesses a vast collection of charms and amulets to protect himself during battle. Olumba’s manner before the villagers reflects dignity and an even-tempered judgment, but inwardly he wrestles with fits of anger and despair. His pride as a warrior yields to the best interests of Chiolu when he swears on oath to the gods so that they might judge the rightful village’s ownership of fishing rights to Wagaba Pond. As the influenza epidemic strikes both Chiolu and Aliakoro villages, Olumba becomes physically emaciated and mentally disoriented, wrestling with spirits who attempt to kill him. Although he survives a final attack by Wago, his hollowed eyes look out over a village decimated by the deadly virus, making the triumphant judgment of the gods meaningless in the wake of the community’s many victims.

Wago the Leopard-Killer

Wago the Leopard-Killer (WAH-goh), the principal warrior of Aliakoro village. A skilled hunter renowned for his three leopard skins, he is brave and strong but sometimes so aggressive that he is outwitted strategically in battle. In peace negotiations, Wago shows little respect for the elders of his own village and even less for his enemies, often punctuating discussions with loud boasts, rude insults, and thinly veiled lies. He is an excellent stalker, capable of intense concentration on his prey. The middle-aged Wago’s deep-set eyes embody his stubborn determination, regardless of the wisdom of his views. He shows little respect for his gods, preferring to rely on his own strength and swiftness; when his physical abilities fail him or his crude style of negotiation collapses, he resorts to a weird, condescending laughter. Impatient when the gods do not kill Olumba as a result of his oath, Wago pretends to be a leopard and attacks the ailing Olumba, only to be mortally wounded by Ikechi. He escapes to Wagaba Pond and commits suicide by drowning himself,...

(The entire section is 1027 words.)