The Characters

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Last Updated May 29, 2024.


Godfrey Munira is a schoolteacher who decides to reopen the New Ilmorog Primary School after years of working in various schools around Limuru. He works under an educationist and ruthless businessman named Mzigo. Through the years, he goes from being the sole teacher in Ilmorog to having his own staff. Although the villagers are initially wary of Munira, as he is an outsider, they warm up to him because of his dedication to their children. 

Considered the black sheep of his family, Munira has an awkward and distant relationship with his father, Ezekieli, a wealthy landowner. Munira considers his expulsion from the all-boys high school Siriana to be one of his major failures in life. His expulsion resulted from joining the strike headed by Chui, a star student who goes on to be a successful businessman like Mzigo. 

Because Munira sees himself as a mere “spectator of life,” it is perhaps fitting that the events of the novel unfold primarily through his eyes. Although he despairs over this perpetual “outsider” status, he does not attempt to become a more proactive person like Wanja, whom he loves unrequitedly. Eventually, Munira grows to see Wanja as a Jezebel figure; he starts the fire in the brothel to “save” Karega from her “embrace of evil.”


Like Munira, Abdulla is initially an outsider in Ilmorog. He arrives with a donkey and his little brother Joseph, setting up a modest shop where Munira and the other villagers also go to drink. Because of his gruff and stoic nature, even his friends know very little about him. When Abdulla joins the community delegation to Nairobi, the villagers catch a glimpse of his true character: charming, brave, and highly skilled in hunting and foraging. 

Abdulla fought for the Mau Mau rebellion, with his stumped leg resulting from an ambush orchestrated by Kimeria—the same one that led to Nding’uri’s death. Although he became hopeful when Kenya finally achieved independence, he waited in vain for land reforms, employment opportunities, and other such promises that never came. Eventually, he resolves to kill Kimeria even at the expense of his own life—to avenge Nding’uri, Wanja, and himself. 


Because Wanja Kahii is the granddaughter of Nyakinyua, one of the most respected elders in Ilmorog, the villagers warmly welcome her sudden arrival. She immediately makes herself useful by helping Nyakinyua with her farming and Abdulla with his shop. Due to her beauty, intelligence, and fiery nature, both Munira and Abdulla gradually fall in love with her. 

It is eventually revealed that Wanja carries many emotional burdens—the heaviest of which is the infant she aborted as a teenager because the father, Kimeria, had refused to take responsibility for it. She ends up working as a barmaid after running away from home. While her deepest, most heartfelt desire is for a second chance to become a mother, Ilmorog’s unfortunate transformation pushes her to cynicism and prostitution. 


Stubborn and perpetually curious, Karega is the youngest of the four main characters. He is hungry for inspiring stories of revolt and rebellion, such as Abdulla’s time fighting for the Mau Mau. As a highly reflective person, he struggles to reconcile his idealism with the unjust, uncaring world around him. Unlike Munira, however, Karega does not shy away from confronting difficult ideas and situations head-on. 

Because of his naivete, Karega remains oblivious to Munira’s infatuation with Wanja. His dismissal from the New Ilmorog Primary School breaks his heart. However, five years later, he returns to Ilmorog, now stronger and wiser from his experiences fighting for workers’ rights all over Kenya. He brings this fight...

(This entire section contains 817 words.)

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to the village, heading the Ilmorog Theng’eta Breweries Union.


As one of the village’s most esteemed elders, Nyakinyua is very protective of Ilmorog. She ensures that Munira has good intentions with the children of Ilmorog, supports the community delegation to Nairobi, and even wishes to fight for her land rights before her death. Despite such fierce qualities, Nyakinyua is also very warmhearted and wise. 


While introduced as Abdulla’s little brother, it is eventually revealed that Abdulla merely found Joseph scavenging in a dump and took him in, pretending to be his older brother. Joseph does not hint whether he is aware of this lie. Regardless, he is grateful to Abdulla for raising him. He wishes to fight for “the liberation of the people” like Abdulla did. 

Nderi wa Riera

Although he is their elected representative, Nderi wa Riera does nothing for his constituents in Ilmorog. He even interprets the community delegation’s pleas for help as an insidious plot to smear his name. As part of his revenge, he industrializes Ilmorog, exploiting its resources and workers in the process. Kimeria, Chui, and Mzigo are three powerful businessmen who join him in this venture.