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IVORY BANGLES-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories


IVORY BANGLES By Eric Ng’maryo – Tanzania

About the Author- Ng’maryo.

Eric Ng’maryo is a published poet who has written poems such as Escape and The Journey of Us. Although he is a practicing advocate in Tanzania, he is also respected for his creative writings which include the short story ‘Ivory Bangles’

Points to guide interpretation of the story

  • The pebbles message to the old man.
  • The tradition that demands wife battering. What happens to the old man when he fails to carry out the ritual beating?
  • Polygamy and its value — The view of the old man regarding polygamy.
  • The relationship between the old man and his wife
  • The conflict that exists between humans and wildlife.
  • Effects of failing to heed the advice given to an individual.



The title captures the bangles that the wife wears- Twenty-four ivory bangles that were gifted to her by the old man on the day their firstborn and now only son was named.

The Ivory bangles thus are a symbol of love that the wife enjoys from the old man.

The title also signifies the human-wildlife conflict that exists. For the old man to carve the bangles for his wife, he had to shoot an elephant with a poisoned arrow to get the ivory he used.


  1. The old man

He is the chief’s councilor, a respected elder who is also a woodcarver and a brave warrior.

He is married to only one wife. This causes some concern since it is unheard of for a chief to be monogamous. It portrays him as an alienated person who fails to follow the ways of his people.

He is expected to beat his wife to avert her death, as the seer’s pebbles dictate but is hesitant to do so

  • The wife

She is an attractive woman who the old man much loves.

She treats him with affection making him return the favour by not molesting her until old age.

Her cunning attempt to evade catastrophe as prophesied by the seer leads to her death.

The old man tells the chief that he carved the ivory bangles for herself using the ivory he shot from the elephant using a poisoned arrow.

When he gets home, his wife warmly receives him and his attempts to disclose the seer’s message do not succeed until much later in the night. The wife asks him to have his meal first, and after the two enjoy an intimate moment. When he later discloses the pebbles’ message to his wife, she comes up with a scheme on how to cheat the pebbles.

The following day, the old man goes to work while the wife goes to the market, where she hears people talking about a herd of elephants approaching the plains. She strategizes on the things she would do before faking her beating and going back to her brother’s home. On her way home, she hears cries from scouts who warn people to beware of the approaching herd of six elephants led by a giant bull.

After getting home, the wife prepares a meal for her husband and decides to go till a piece of the grove that the husband had said was weedy. Unfortunately, she is killed by the bull elephant that catches her unaware. The people find her in a shallow grave after being crushed by the elephant. Her ivory bangles are also shattered. Her foreshadowed death is a lesson that failing to heed wise advice can lead to a disastrous outcome.

IVORY BANGLES-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories



  • A visit to the seer and pebbles demand – pg21-22
  • Shared moments between the old man and his wife —pg 22- 23.
  • The naming ceremony of the old man’s son -pg 23
  • The scheme —pg 24
  • A visit to the marketplace -pg 24-25
  • The wife’s death- pg 25

The following are some issues that arise from the episodes:


Believe in the seer

The old man visits the seer, considered a priest of the people (Pg. 21).

He goes to the seer because of his superstitious nature. He had to consult the seer since he had noted blood specks on the liver of a goat that he had slaughtered (pg. 21).

Ritual beating/molesting of wife

When the old man visits the seer, the pebbles disclose that the spirits were jealous of a happy wife, a woman unmolested by the husband until old age (pg. 21). It is not

acceptable for a wife to enjoy a comfortable life with her husband in this community.

The husband is thus expected to molest his wife to ensure that she does not enjoy happiness. Failure to do so would lead to a disastrous outcome as the pebbles foretell the wife’s death.

The pebbles demand that the old man give his wife a thorough beating (ritual beating) and then send her back to her parents (pg. 22). Although the man tries to seek an alternative way to appease the spirits, like offering several goats, the pebbles insist that he must give a wife thorough beating and send her to her parents after the beating.

The tradition of wife-beating/molestation is further seen through the old man’s son. Unlike his father, the son had embraced the culture of wife battering, something that bothers his mother moments before her death. She is weeding the weed- infested grove when she remembers they had weeded the same patch only three weeks before, together with her daughter-in- law Leveri. She reminisces how her son had beaten Leveri to ‘a fingernail’s distance to her grave’ (pg. 25). This shows the violent nature of her son and how traditional he was since he embraced wife- beating.

IVORY BANGLES-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

Naming of children

The naming of children is seen as an essential practice. We learn that the twenty- four ivory bangles that the wife wears were gifted to her when their only son was given a name (pg. 23).

The value of child naming is also seen because the old man’s grandson is named after him. The writer refers to the young boy as her ‘husband’ (pg. 23).

Polygamy and its effects

The tradition of polygamy and its value comes out during the moments shared by the old man and his wife. After serving him his evening meal, the wife patronises the old man by calling him the son of a chief. The writer explains the position held by the old man — the chief’s councilor (pg. 22). This position makes him a respected man. It, however, raises some debate as people talk much about him since he is monogamous. This is seen where the writer says, ‘He still was the chief’s councilor, much respected, but also much talked about because he had only one wife. . ‘(Pg.22).

His monogamous status was a concern for the ageing chief, who told him to get another wife (pg.23). This shows that the old man’s society values the tradition of polygamy, and one who does not engage in it is considered a failure.

The old man, however, holds a differing opinion about polygamy. His response to the chief via a riddle shows his view of polygamy:

A woman went to the riverside

Tie woman wanted to fetch water

The woman had one water pot

The woman arrived at the water point

The woman found another water pot

The woman came back with a pot

The woman brought a water pot with potsherds, not water (Pg. 23

The chief’s interpretation of the riddle:

“A wife, a co-wife, witchcraft and death” (Pg.23) explains that the old man considers having more than one wife as witchcraft


The moments shared between the old man and his wife (pg. 22-23) point to their love. The kind of reception the old man receives when he gets home shows how much the wife loves and cares for him. ‘His wife come unstrapped his leather sandals and led him behind the house to the lean-to, bathed him and rubbed him with sharp smelling unguent’ (pg. 22). Her

loving care is further seen when she asks him to have his meal first before they can talk about what the husband had heard that day (pg. 22).

How the husband addresses the wife also shows that he loves her. Despite her old age, the husband calls her “girl” (pg. 22), a form of endearment. He also appreciates the meal she has cooked for him. “You cook, woman,” he thanked, stretching himself and yawning (pg. 22).

Their love is also seen from the intimacy they share once the wife joins the old man where he lay. The old man tries to talk her about the demands of the seer, but she ignites his pas leading to an intimate moment. ‘He unsprang slowly, when it came, it was like an intricate tattoo on a drum, coming unexpectedly and stopping suddenly, leaving the air quiet and pure.'(Pg. 23).

Tie twenty-four ivory bangles that the old man gifted his wife on the day of naming their son also show how much he loved her. Specifically, the eight bangles she wore on either hand were etched with mnemonic marks for a long love poem (pg. 23).

IVORY BANGLES-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories


The flashback of the naming ceremony of the old man’s wife ‘As she moved the twenty-four ivory bangles she wore clanked like many castanets’ (pg. 23). Elephants had to be killed to obtain the ivory used to make the bangles.

The truthfulness of this observation is seen when the chief also noted how attractive the old man’s wife looked in the many ivory bangles she wore. The old man proudly explains to the chief that he made the bangles himself from the ivory he got when he shot an elephant using a poisoned arrow (pg. 23).

Towards the end of the story, people in the marketplace talk about the herd of elephants approaching the plains. They fear the destruction that the herd will cause. They hope that those who know how to use poisoned arrows will save the situation (pg. 24). The ultimate sign of the conflict is the death of the old man’s wife, who a wounded bull elephant kills. In an ironic turn of events, the old man’s wife, whose husband had killed an elephant and used its ivory to make bangles for the wife as a sign of love, ends up killed by a wounded elephant. ‘After bashing her on trees and banana plants, the wounded bull elephant put her on the ground and repeatedly stamped on her. They found her thus in a shallow grave: a mass of flesh and blood and shattered ivory bangles.'(pg.

25). The love is shattered by the same creatures whose ivory was used to make symbols of love.


The seer’s advice to the old man who consulted him is that the pebbles demanded a ritual beating of his wife to avert the death of wife. Old man is hesitant and offers to give some goats, but the pebbles insist on the beating and send her off to her parents after beating. Instead of heeding the seer’s advice, the old man and his wife develop a scheme on how to cheat the pebbles. The wife proposes putting up a show by pretending to have been beaten.

Their failure to follow the demands of the pebbles results in what the seer had foretold-The death of the wife who the wounded bull elephant kills as she is weeding. Although the wife’s death is closely linked to the seer’s warning, it can also be seen to be due to the wife’s recklessness and failure to heed the warnings of the scouts. The wife heard the scouts warning when they noted the elephants were approaching. ‘As she slowly made her way home, she heard the cries. They came from scouts who were perched on trees, observing elephants and warning people of the beasts’ movement… ‘Beware! People of Mtorobo’s homestead! The five she elephants are now in your banana grove! The bull is on the path coming from the stream’ (pg. 24-25).

The wife chooses to weed at the groove instead of heeding the warning and staying home. NB: The writer has extensively used flashbacks to help us understand the past life of the old man and his wife.


  1. What is the effectiveness of flashbacks in this story?
  2. What is ironic about the following?
    1. The wife being called “girl” by the husband?
    1. How the wife dies?
  3. What has the writer achieved by extensive use of dialogue?
  4. Using an oral literature device in the story communicates

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