The Wrestling Match Characters
Obi Agilaga is the uncle of Okei, who took the boy in when his parents were killed in the Biafran War in Nigeria. Like most of the people in his village, he is a farmer, and grows yams, which the family subsists on. He is well-off enough to hire helpers, but watches them carefully, because he knows they may take any opportunity to sneak off and shirk doing work; however, he is also fair, and when he takes a rest from the hard work and midday heat, he insists that they do so, too. He wishes he had more help, because he is worried about harvesting all the yams before the village’s yam festival. When he was an adolescent, he was the leader of the wrestling group of his age, and when Okei is elected to wrestle in a match with the neighboring village, he teaches Okei all he knows about wrestling. “I have to teach it all to this young man here. It is his turn now. My turn has come and gone.” He also wisely tells Okei, “Even if you lost, it won’t be a complete loss because you would have added a new art to the game of wrestling, and then you would have taken part and done your best.”
A girl in Okei’s age group, she, like her friends, walks many miles to the rival village of Akpei to sell plantains, because they can get a little more money for them there.
A seventeen-year-old girl, she also sells plantains in the neighboring village’s market. She is the oldest in her age group, the most sophisticated, and the leader; the others all model their behavior after hers. She has a sharp, mocking tongue, and likes to tease. She is engaged to someone from another village, and soon will leave her home to marry and live with him. When she comes quietly into her father’s house at night, he attacks her, thinking she is Okei, and cuts off her ear. After the accident, she is more quiet and less mocking of others.
One of Okei’s friends, he is also sixteen, but unlike Okei he is short and stocky. He also has a very sharp tongue, and loses his temper easily. Nduka, like Okei, is cynical about older people and their supposed wisdom; he remarks, “trouble with these old men is that they say things simply to hurt, without any proof.”
Senior wife of Obi Agiliga, she is exasperated with Okei’s adolescent bad manners, and his reluctance to contribute to the family welfare by working on their farm. She is quick-tempered, and threatens to get other boys to beat up Okei if he doesn’t behave.
A thin, lanky sixteen-year-old boy, he has gone to school, which sets him apart from his uncle and many of the other young people in his village. He doesn’t want to work on a farm, as his ancestors have always done; he complains that the work is endless, and every year they run out of food. However, he doesn’t know what he does want to do, and is restless and bored. He’s also fed up with his uncle’s telling him “when I was your age,” and telling him what to do. In addition, he is still troubled by the deaths of his family; he was spared only because he went out into the backyard while the soldiers killed them. He is regarded as intelligent by others in his village, and his friends admire him because he is taller, more polished, and originally came from a wealthier family, which, in their opinion, makes him a natural leader for his age group. The girls of his age, however, mock him as being a little too bigheaded. He is actually modest, and when he is elected leader, is doubtful of whether they have made the best choice.
When he is elected leader, he’s assigned to wrestle a boy from the neighboring village to settle a rivalry between the two. He takes this seriously, and immediately begins toughening himself up, running and wrestling with his friends to improve his chances of winning. This shows that he is not inherently lazy, as his reluctance to work on the farm might make him seem; he simply needs a focus for his energies.
Agiliga’s twelve-year-old son, who works on the farm and is obedient and well-behaved. He wishes Okei would come to the farm and help.
Uche, whose nickname is “Mbekwu,” or “Tortoise,” is easy-going and laughs often, at everything and everyone, a habit that others find annoying. He is an age-mate of Okei and Nduka. They, and others their same age, are all known as “Umu aya Biafra,” or “Babies born around the [Nigerian] civil war.” Like Okei and Nduka, he is tired of being told to prove his manhood by going and laboring on the family farm. He likes Josephine, but tells others she is just a friend. He inadvertently gets into trouble when he goes to the neighboring village to fish in the river, and unintentionally muddies some cassava pulp that the women of that village have left in the river to soak.
Kwutelu’s father; she is his favorite daughter, and often sleeps at his house instead of her mother’s, because it’s more relaxing. He is very protective of her, and when he hears rumors that girls are being harassed, he is determined to prevent anyone from hurting her. Like Obi Agiliga, he is a farmer, and is worried because he doesn’t have enough workers to harvest all his yams before the yam festival. He hears a rumor that Okei threatened Kwutelu, and goes to sleep with a well-sharpened knife; when he hears someone coming into his house after dark, he gets the knife and goes after them, cutting off an ear. The person turns out to be Kwutelu, coming in to sleep.
A man from Akpei, the neighboring village, who comes to see Obi Agiliga to discuss the problems both villages are having with their adolescent boys. He explains that the young men are restless and bored, have too much education and too much time on their hands, and that they are picking fights with girls and making minor trouble for the adults. He tells Obi Agiliga that they should create a diversion for the young men, some kind of “minor worry” or problem that they will have to solve. “By the time they have finished solving that problem they will be wiser,” he says.