The European Police Officer
He comes to the village to find out who murdered the thief. His chief function is to reveal the differences in values between European and local justice systems. By enforcing a Western legal system, the European police officer represents a colonial mind-set that views African culture as backwards and Europe as superior. His presence also disrupts the community when he demands that someone take responsibility for the death of the thief.
The Injured Thief
The nameless thief who is first beaten and then buried beneath a pile of green leaves is left for dead. Unfortunately for Nyagar, the thief has only been knocked unconscious and will end up murdering him.
The husband of Nyamundhe, Nyagar decides to go back to rob the supposedly dead thief and ends up getting killed by him. He is already a successful and prosperous man in his clan and does not need the money that the thief who is covered in leaves has around his neck. Thus his motivation for acquiring this unnecessary wealth needs to be contextualized within the history of colonialism. In other words, Nyagar’s greed can be seen as an internalization of Western attitudes that crave material wealth. In rejecting the traditional ways of the clan that would have prevented him from taking the thief s money, Nyagar sets himself up for his own murder. His greed results not only in his downfall but also contributes to animosity among the clan members after they discover Nyagar beneath the leaves.
She is the other wife of Nyagar, who does not seem that disturbed by Nyagar’s absence the morning after the thief was buried beneath the green leaves. Her appearance makes clear that Nyagar is a wealthy man since certain traditional societies in Africa allow for more than one wife depending on the economic status of the husband.
She is the wife of Nyagar who disappears from his side in the middle of the night and forgets to bolt the gate after she leaves his hut. After the thief kills Nyagar, Nyamundhe becomes the focus of the story. In particular, she defies the European system of justice by calling into question the reasoning behind the European’s insistence on taking her husband’s body away to be studied and dissected. She also reveals that the clan is not so sure of itself after Nyagar’s body is discovered. People eye each other with suspicion and fear that an evil spirit has descended on them. This suspicion weakens their stance against the European police officer and makes the men look foolish. By embracing the traditional rituals for burying the dead, Nyamundhe attempts to salvage the customs of her people and deflect the influence of Western ideologies and beliefs. Her song states quite solemnly and directly what she has lost, and in a grander sense, it reflects on the larger losses that her people have suffered under the strict regulations of colonialism.
Clan Leader Olielo
Olielo is a cousin of Nyagar who metes out justice within the clan and provides a leadership role when the thief is killed. Olielo must confront the European police officer at the end of the story and defend the murder of the thief. By understanding how the European legal system works, Olielo is able to subvert it by claiming that the whole village is responsible for the murder and not one person. By making this claim, Olielo deflects attention from individual motivation to group responsibility, showing the difference in value systems between the Western view of justice that seeks justice for all crimes committed, disregarding the circumstances, and the Luo tradition that views some murder as being justified within a particular context such as endangering the security of the clan.
Omoro is Nyagar’s friend who gets stabbed by one of the cattle thieves. Nyagar helps stop Omoro’s wound from bleeding and then makes sure that he gets home all right.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Grace Ogot, Published by Gale, 2002.