Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1850
Chapter 1The Wrestling Match opens with a conflict that disrupts a quiet evening in the compound of Obi Agiliga, when his senior wife, Nne Ojo, yells at his sixteen-year-old nephew, Okei, for Okei’s sullen bad manners. Okei has been adopted by his uncle because his family was killed in the Biafran War, or Nigerian Civil War, and the event has left him confused and rootless. Also, like some of his agemates, he has had some education, which makes him reluctant to labor on his uncle’s farm, work he sees as demeaning, exhausting, and fruitless, since every year they end up going hungry no matter how hard they work. Like teenagers everywhere, he is fed up with being nagged and told, “When I was your age” by his uncle and others.
His uncle tells him that some of his age-mates have been stealing from old people. Okei discusses this with his friends Nduka and Uche, who are shocked, and also annoyed at the fact that because they are all in the same age-group, they will all be blamed. Like Okei, Nduka and Uche are fed up with being told they have to grow up, with being nagged to work on their parents’ farms, and with being compared to the “good” boys of their agegroup, who did not go to school and who are content to work on the farms.
Chapter 2 Okei and his friends head toward the neighboring village, Akpei, to meet girls from their own village who are coming home from selling plantains there. The girls walk the distance instead of selling in their own village because they can make a little more money at the other market. The boys overhear the girls bathing in a stream and gossiping, saying that maybe the boys did rob someone, since everyone in the other village is talking about it and “there’s no smoke without fire.” They also comment on the fact that because the boys have been to school, they are “bigheaded.” Unlike the girls, who have to work all the time, the boys have plenty of free time to get into trouble, and the girls complain about the way the people in the other village are saying bad things about their boys. The main gossiper is Kwutelu, a seventeen-year-old who is the leader of her age-mates. She is known for her sense of style and her sharp tongue. Her friend is Josephine, a quieter girl.
Okei is upset by their gossip. He tells his friends that they must go around the village the next day and make announcements that all the members of their age group will meet for a discussion, but he doesn’t say what for.
Chapter 3 Obi Agiliga is working on his farm, and takes a rest in the heat of the day. He wishes he could have more help on the farm, and his youngest son, Onuoha, asks him why Okei won’t join them. Onuoha admires Okei’s strength, and Obi Agiliga worries that when he is older, he will turn into a shirker like Okei. However, he understands that Okei is confused and troubled, both by the violence in his past and by his education, which is at odds with traditional culture.
Obi Uwechue, a man from the neighboring village of Akpei, visits him and explains that the boys of his village are also restless and bored, starting fights and making trouble. He suggests that the village elders give the boys of both villages something to worry about. “I think we will have to create a big worry for our young men,” Obi Uwechue says....
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“By the time they have finished solving that problem they will be wiser.”
Obi Agiliga agrees, saying that the girls of the villages will be useful, since they tend to gossip and they can be useful in the plan. “Leave the rest to me,” he says.
Chapter 4 The next morning, Uche and Nduka meet each other at the stream and discuss how to make the announcement of their age-group meeting. Uche wants to show off by making the announcement in English, but Nduka scoffs at this, saying it will exclude people who don’t know English, and is inherently wrong anyway, because if everyone used education to exclude someone else, Uche would be left out by the people who are already in college. Uche decides to use the traditional method of beating a gong and yelling out the announcement, and Nduka writes the message on notebook paper and hands the sheets out to people.
At the meeting, Okei is elected the leader of his age group. The group decides that the insults the other village has heaped on them will be settled by a wrestling match. The best wrestler from each village will be involved. They will not invite the village elders to judge the match; it will be strictly judged by young people.
Obi Agiliga comes home from a long day at the farm, and tells them all, “Clear out, you lazy, good-for-nothing pilferers of fishes and muggers of the old.” He knows very well that they are not bad boys; he’s just egging them on to prove their worth. “These boys thought they were the only people who have ever been young,” he chuckles to himself. “They will learn, sure they will learn.”
Chapter 5 Okei begins practicing wrestling, getting up early, running, and toughening himself. He and Nduka wrestle on the path to the stream, and Kwutelu and the girls come by and tease them, telling them they’ve heard the boys steal fish and steal from old people. Okei says he doesn’t know who the thieves are, but if he did, he’d tell them to go to Kwutelu’s house and rob it. She tells him time will tell if he’s guilty or not, because tradition says the innocent will win at a wrestling match.
Chapter 6 Kwutelu goes home and tells Josephine that Okei threatened her. They discuss the situation, and Josephine says she thinks the elders from both villages have stirred up the trouble on purpose.
Kwutelu’s father, Obi Uju, comes home from his farm. He lives apart from Kwutelu’s mother, and she is so close to him that she often sleeps in his house, not her mother’s. Kwutelu tells him about Okei’s threats, exaggerating and saying that he threatened her personally. This angers him, and he goes to bed early that night.
Later, when Kwutelu comes in to sleep, he hears her opening the door and assumes it’s Okei, come in to rob and make trouble. He grabs a knife and, in the dark, attacks the robber. It’s not Okei, it’s Kwutelu, but before he realizes it, he cuts off her ear.
Chapter 7 Okei was home sleeping when this occurred, so he is exonerated; still, it’s a tragedy that this happened to Kwutelu. The accident has a chastening effect on her, however; she’s now more quiet, less teasing, less forward. It also changes Okei, who begins to trust his uncle and aunt because they spoke up for him and protected him from the charges of robbery. “He is sleeping now,” Obi Agiliga’s wife tells him. “I think he is beginning to trust us at last. He knew that you would take care of everything.”
Chapter 8 Okei wakes up and wonders what really happened the night before. He gets up early and resumes his wrestling training. Uche shows up and tells him about Kwutelu’s ear, and also mentions that God will be on their village’s side during the wrestling match, because they are in the right. Okei wisely says that the other side will be praying just as hard, and “God will not come down and wrestle with the Akpei boys for us.”
Obi Agiliga and Obi Uwechue talk and discuss the knifing. They are sorry because they know that through their encouragement of the girls to gossip, they are indirectly responsible. However, they agree that the situation could have been much worse; Kwutelu could have been killed. They also note that the boys are all busy, and don’t have time to harass anyone in the footpath, steal fish, or make any other trouble. Obi Agiliga notes that they are beginning to act and think a little more like adults, and says, “even my nephew is beginning to look at me as if I am somebody at last. Before, I was just an old man to be shouted at.”
Chapter 9 On the next market day, the girls go to the neighboring town as usual to sell plantains, but the tensions over the intervillage wrestling match have risen to the point where no one will buy from them. An old woman tells them they may as well give their plantains to her for free, because otherwise they will have to carry them home. This turns out to be true. Empty-handed, they go home and have to throw their plantains away because the plantains will spoil anyway. They are upset by this, because they were planning to use the money they earned to buy fine new clothes to show off at the wrestling match. When the male elders hear about this, they “smile with a conspiratorial wink,” because it’s all a part of their plan.
Chapter 10 The boys’ age group meets again. They choose Okei and Nduka to wrestle for their village. A farmer’s son tells Okei that his uncle was a master wrestler, and he should go to him for advice to learn the proper wrestling dance. Okei reluctantly agrees.
Chapter 11 Okei is shocked to think that he and his agemates could ever make any mistakes, and dismayed that he will have to get advice from his uncle. But he goes to his uncle, who teaches him a host of master moves and agile dances. Through this, the two become closer.
Chapter 12 In Chapter 12 the preparations for the wrestling match and the yam festival, even Kwutelu joins in the singing to praise Okei, the village wrestler. Okei’s uncle tells him that even if he loses, it’s important for him to do his best.
Chapter 13 On the day of the match, the villagers beat their drums to announce the event. The rival villagers arrive, and the match begins. The young people in charge vow that the match will be friendly and will solve the problems between the two villages, and the old men chuckle and wink knowingly at each other.
Chapter 14 The match begins as a friendly contest, but soon degenerates into a brawl, in which every boy is fighting another boy from the opposite village. At the height of the fight, the elders from the two villages wade into the melee and beat the drums and shout. Eventually, everyone calms down. Obi Agiliga announces that the fight has been very suc- cessful, and that now everyone has learned that “in all good fights, just like wars, nobody wins. You were all hurt and humiliated. I am sure you will always remember this day.”