Madmen and Specialists

by Wole Soyinka

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Characters

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Bero

Bero is the titular “specialist.” He is the village physician until he agrees to serve in the civil war that ravages his nation; while serving, he undergoes a career change, becoming a Specialist in the Intelligence sector. Bero embraced his new vocation completely, making him callous and uncaring. Anti-social and short, Bero is an unsympathetic character. His brusque nature is off-putting, as his avowed (and enjoyed) cannibalistic experience. Despite this, Bero is intelligent and, in some ways, continues to care about his family, whom he strives to protect—be it from themselves or others. He engages in philosophical dialogues with his father, debating many existential subjects on the nature of life and the social order. Ultimately, his rebellion against his mentally-unwell father ends with violence and death, though Bero does not seem remorseful for his actions. 

Si Bero 

Si Bero is Bero sister. Before he left for the war, he requested that she take up his mantle and serve as the village physician. She is trained as a traditional healer but has also learned the herbal remedies of the two earth mothers and joined their natural cult. Although she failed to repay their knowledge, the two women view Si Bero as strong and independent; they praise her virtues and knowledge while acknowledging her weakness in the face of her family. Si Bero is a loving woman who cares deeply for her brother and father. When Bero returns and treats her cruelly, she is crushed; doubly so when she learns that he is hiding their father and will not allow her to help heal his illness.

Old Man 

Bero’s father, known in the play as the Old Man, is an adherent to the cult of the deity As. While working at the front lines of the war, the Old Man was responsible for rehabilitating those wounded and disabled in battle. However, the Old Man did not just teach his patients how to function. Instead, he instructed them to believe in As, indoctrinating them—as he did to the four named mendicants—through the ritual practice of worship through cannibalism. The Old Man is stubborn and staunch in his beliefs. He is an educated man and an accomplished speaker, and readers realize that he is a master manipulator who is well-trained in convincing others of his beliefs. 

Iya Agba and Iya Mate

Iya Agba and Iya Mare are earth mothers: older women specializing in herbal healing and natural magic. They speak in complex, mystical codes and are serious about protecting the secrets of their practice. After Si Bero fails to live up to their expectations, they set fire to her herbs and ensure that she cannot pass on the secrets of their cult to others.

Aafaa

The most vocal and opinionated of the mendicants is Aafaa. He served as a priest during the war but was discharged for psychosomatic seizures, which left him debilitated and unable to work. Aafaa dislikes his newfound social position and resents those upon whom he is reliant, such as Si Bero. Although he is a vocal follower of As, Aafaa resents authority and often rejects the Old Man’s teachings and Bero’s instructions. 

The Cripple

Like the other mendicants, the Cripple is disabled. His legs are injured, so he cannot walk. Although he also embraces the practice and teachings of As, the Cripple often questions the nature of events and his faith in the deity. At the end of the play, as the Old Man’s monologue reaches its crescendo, he continually remarks: “I have a question.” Enraged by his questioning, the Old Man orders him beaten; the other mendicants hit...

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him over the head, stunning him as he utters the incomplete sentence: “My question is…” His heretical questioning leads the Old Man to attempt to dissect him in an act of ritual sacrifice and, in doing so, reconvert the questioning mendicants.

Goyi

Primarily distinguished by the steel back brace that supports his twisted spine, Goyi is yet another mendicant. He is combative and often disagrees with Aafaa’s inane ideas; their arguments fuel much of the group’s comical discourse. 

The Blind Man 

Like the Cripple, the Blind Man is named for his affliction, although he was not born blind. He is the most amiable of the mendicants, and Si Bero often relies on his help, as he cannot see the abundance of herbs she has gathered, nor can he identify them for later use. 

The Priest

The Priest is a visitor to Si Bero and Bero’s home. He is a long-time friend of their father and enjoys arguing and rapid-fire debates. After Bero returns home, the Priest is excited, as he baselessly feels that Si Bero does not make his medicine correctly and looks forward to a man making it again. The notion of cannibalism shatters his oblivious arrogance, and he leaves in a hurry.

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