Ivory Bangles Analysis - A Silent Song and Other Stories Easy Elimu Study Guide

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Ivory Bangles by Eric Ng’maryo

About the Author

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

The Title

The title "Ivory Bangles" is an appropriate one for this text because the old man's wife is described as being remarkable because of the twenty-four ivory bangles she wears.

These bangles are a significant part of her appearance and identity, as they clank like castanets when she moves and are etched with mnemonic marks for a long love poem. They are thus a symbol of love that the wife enjoys from the old man.

The old man gave them to her when their first child was named, and she wore them proudly, looking like a chief's bride.

The bangles are also mentioned in a conversation between the old man and the chief, in which the chief comments on the woman's comely appearance and the old man defends himself against rumors that he bought the bangles rather than carving them himself.

The ivory bangles are therefore a prominent and memorable feature of the old man's wife, and their inclusion in the title serves as a reference to her and her role in the story.

In addition to serving as a reference to the old man's wife, the inclusion of the word "ivory" in the title is also significant because it highlights the value and rarity of the bangles.

Ivory is a highly prized material that has been used for centuries to create a variety of decorative and functional objects, including bangles.

Its rarity and beauty make it a symbol of wealth and status, and the fact that the old man's wife owns a large number of ivory bangles suggests that she is a woman of considerable importance and standing within her community.

This is further emphasized by the fact that the old man presents the bangles to her as a gift, and by the Chief's admiration of them.

Overall, the title "Ivory Bangles" is an appropriate one for this text because it captures the significance of the bangles as a symbol of the old man's wife's identity and status, as well as their value as a rare and precious material.

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.

The Plot Summary / Synopsis

After seeing something peculiar about a goat he had slaughtered (blood specks on the liver of a goat he had slaughtered), the old man seeks advice from a tribal seer.

After listening to the elderly man, the seer advises him that his wife is going to die (based on the sign from the killed goat), and the only way to avert this is to severely beat the wife and send her to her parents.

The seer's stones predict that the man's wife would die because the spirits are jealous of a happy wife.

The old guy is hesitant to follow this counsel and suggests sacrificing goats instead.

The seer, on the other hand, is sure that in order to save his wife, he must give her a thorough thrashing.

The elderly guy serves as a chief's councillor and is recognized as a minor chief.

Many people are astonished that he only has one marriage, despite his high regard.

When the chief suggests he marry another wife, the guy responds with a riddle. The chief solves the question swiftly and ravels it as "A wife, a co-wife, witchcraft, and death."

This demonstrates that the people hold deeply held ideas about witchcraft and death. The husband adores his wife.

When she gave birth to their first child, he gave her twenty-four handcrafted ivory bangles, some of which were engraved with the lyrics of a long love poem.

The man is troubled during his evening dinner with his wife since he does not know how to break the bad news to his loving wife.

That night, the guy tells his wife about the seer's words. "The spirits want me to give you a ritual beating." (pg. 22)

The woman, however, ignores this and indicates that she knows the seer. He once threatened to cast a spell on her in order to marry her.

The man is adamant that the seer did not place blood specks on the goat's liver and that he is simply the spokesperson of their ancestors who have passed away

The man is ready to follow the seer's directions in order to save his wife's life.

The old man's wife goes to the market and while there, she comes up with a strategy: she intends to return home and cook for her husband before going to her brother's house.

She would go there, sobbing because her husband had beaten her for no reason, and she would refuse to return to him until her clan and her husband's clan reconciled.

The spouse would be fined, and they would drink a beer of reconciliation. This would undoubtedly fool the spirits.

She hears people talking about a herd of elephants coming down from the jungle as she returns home from the market.

She rushes home and performs some gardening before putting "the plan" into action. Her thoughts stray to Leveri, her daughter in law, who only three weeks prior had helped her weed her garden.

Leveri had fled from her husband (the old man and his wife's son), who had severely battered her. The wife is perplexed as to why their son differs from his father.

She is attacked and killed while gardening by an injured bull elephant, which lifts her and stamps on her repeatedly.

She is discovered as a mangled tangle of flesh and blood with shattered ivory bangles."They discovered her in her shallow grave in this state: a mass of flesh and blood and shattered ivory bangles." (pg. 25)

The seer's abilities appear to be proven as his spooky prediction comes true.

The woman dies because she deviates from traditional conventions after her marriage and defies the tribal seer, a people's priest.

Key moments in the story

  • The worrying insight 
  • The elderly guy and his wife's nightly dinner
  • The Chief's recommendation for a second wife
  • The ivory bangles / the old man's son's naming ceremony
  • The shocking revelation
  • The scheme / alternate plan
  • A shopping trip to the market
  • The death of the wife

Characters and characterization

List of Characters

  • Old man: The main character in the story, an elderly man who is a councillor to the Chief and the husband of the old man's wife.
  • Old man's wife: The wife of the old man, who tries to reassure him and distract him from his worries about the prediction of a death in the family.
  • Tribal seer or priest: A tribal seer or priest who provides a consultation to the old man after he notices something strange about a goat he slaughtered.
  • Chief: The leader of the community, who finds the old man's riddles amusing and tells him to take another wife.
  • Old man's son: The son of the old man, who is mentioned in passing during the conversation between the old man and his wife.
  • Old man's daughter-in-law: The daughter-in-law of the old man, who is mentioned as having weeded a part of the banana grove with the old man's wife.
  • Old man's sister-in-law: The sister-in-law of the old man, who is mentioned as being a potential recipient of the old man's wife when she pretends to have been beaten by her husband.
  • People in the market and surrounding community: The people who are present in the market and the surrounding community, who are discussing the presence of the elephants and warning others of their movements.
  • Scouts observing and warning about the elephants: The scouts who are observing the movement of the elephants and warning people of their presence.

Character Traits

The Old Man

  • Respected and trusted: The man is a chief's councillor and is regarded as a small chief.
  • Brave: The old man killed an elephant at a young age.
  • Kind and caring: The old man is hesitant to follow the seer's advice to beat and send away his wife.
  • Resourceful: The old man suggests offering goats as a sacrifice instead of following the seer's advice.
  • Concerned and protective: The old man is worried about the prediction of a death in the family and his wife's safety.
  • Intelligent: The old man is a skilled riddle-teller.
  • Witty: The old man is able to make the Chief laugh with his riddles.
  • Humorous: The old man has a sense of humor, as demonstrated by his ability to make the Chief laugh.
  • Non-conformist / bohemian - refuses to marry a second wife regardless of it being tradition. Tells the chief a riddle showing that he considers having more than one wife as witchcraft.

The old man's wife

  • Attractive - She is an attractive woman who the old man much loves. The chief comments on the woman's comely appearance
  • Reassuring: The old man's wife tries to reassure him and distract him from his worries about the prediction of a death in the family.
  • Protective: The old man's wife plans to go to her brother's house and pretend that her husband has beaten her, in order to trick the spirits into thinking that she is not a happy, contented wife. This shows that she is willing to take measures to protect herself and her relationship with her husband.
  • Distracting: The old man's wife distracts him from his worries and helps him relax.
  • Deceitful - she comes up with a plan fool the spirits into beliving that she had been given a beating as they demanded. Though she does not get the chance to encat her plan in the end.
  • Cunning - She attempts to evade catastrophe as prophesied by the seer by coming up with a clever plan.

Old man's son:

  • Abusive - he beats his wife badly enough that she runs away from him.


  • Hard-working -  helped her mother-in-law weed just three weeks ago before the incident that led to the mother in laws  death.

The Chief

  • Of good humor: It seems that the Chief is capable of experiencing and expressing joy, as demonstrated by his reaction to the old man's riddle. Roaring with laughter could be seen as a sign of cheerfulness or good humor.


  • Alert: The scouts are described as being perched on top of trees, observing the elephants and issuing warnings. This suggests that they are attentive and vigilant.
  • Communicative: The scouts are responsible for relaying information about the elephants' movements to the people in the community. This suggests that they are able to communicate effectively and clearly.
  • Responsible: The scouts are entrusted with the important task of warning people about the potential danger posed by the elephants. This suggests that they are reliable and capable of fulfilling their duties.

People in the market and surrounding community

  • Concerned: They were concerned about the presence of the elephants, possibly practical in their approach to dealing with the elephants. People in the market are concerned about the potential damage that the elephants could cause to their crops and are discussing ways to protect their crops.


The importance of tradition

  • The old man values his current arrangement with his wife and resists the Chief's suggestion that he take another wife, in accordance with traditional customs. The old man's wife also plans to follow traditional customs by going to her brother's house to seek mediation after being beaten by her husband.
  • Other traditions as seen in the story Ivory Bangles include;
    • Believe in the seer
    • Ritual beating/molesting of wife
    • Naming of children is seen as an essential practice. Where the old man gave his wife the twenty- four ivory bangles she wears as a gift to her when their only son was given a name.
    • Practice of polygamy

The role of fate

  • The old man consults with the tribal seer after noticing blood specks on the liver of a slaughtered goat and is told that someone, possibly his wife, will die.
  • This suggests that the old man believes in the power of fate or the supernatural to shape events.

Failure to heed advice and its consequences

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.


The moments shared between the old man and his wife 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’. Her loving care is further seen when she asks him to have his meal first before they can talk about whatthe husband had heard that day.

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

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.'.

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.

The importance of family

  • The old man and his wife are described as being close and having a strong, loving relationship.
  • The old man also has a close relationship with his grandson, who sleeps in his grandmother's bed.
  • The old man's wife also seeks help from her brother, who is standing in the place of her father, after being beaten by her husband.
  • The old man’s grandson is named after him.
  • These examples suggest that family is an important aspect of the characters' lives.

The power dynamics within a community

  • The old man is described as a Chief's councillor and a respected warrior, while the Chief is described as the leader of the community.
  • The old man also resists the Chief's suggestion that he take another wife, which could be seen as a struggle for power or autonomy.

The impact of aging

  • The old man and his wife are described as being elderly, and the old man is described as being "much talked about" because he only has one wife.
  • This could be seen as a theme of the challenges and changes that come with aging, including declining physical health and the potential loss of status or respect within a community.

The relationship between humans and the natural world or Human-wildlife conflict

  • The story mentions the movement of a herd of elephants and the potential impact on the community's crops, which could be seen as a theme of the relationship between humans and the natural world.
  • The story mentions the movement of a herd of elephants, which could potentially cause destruction to the community's crops and homes. This highlights the potential dangers that nature can pose to humans.
  • This could include themes of environmental stewardship, the dangers and benefits of living in close proximity to wildlife, and the ways in which humans and animals interact and depend on each other.
  • 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’ . Elephants had to be killed to obtain the ivory used to make the bangles.
  • 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.' The love is shattered by the same creatures whose ivory was used to make symbols of love.

The role of religion and spirituality

  • The old man consults with a tribal seer, who uses pebbles to predict that someone will die. This could be seen as a theme of the role of religion and spirituality in the lives of the characters and the community. This could include themes of faith, superstition, and the relationship between humans and the divine.

The impact of violence

  • The old man's daughter in law, is described as being beaten by her husband, which could be seen as a theme of the impact of violence on individuals and relationships. This could include themes of power dynamics, gender-based violence, and the long-term effects of trauma.

The importance of communication and understanding

  • The old man's wife plans to go to her brother's house and seek mediation after being beaten by her husband, which could be seen as an attempt to communicate her grievances and seek resolution. This could be seen as a theme of the importance of effective communication in resolving conflicts and maintaining relationships.

Stylistic Devices


Repeating words or phrases.

(There are actually many different types of repetition like anaphora and epiphora.)

  • The phrase "Beware! Beware!" is repeated several times by the scouts to alert the community to the presence of the elephants. This repetition serves to emphasize the danger and urgency of the situation.


Imagery is a literary device used in poetry, novels, and other writing that uses vivid description that appeals to a readers' senses to create an image or idea in their head.

Through language, imagery does not only paint a picture, but aims to portray the sensational and emotional experience within text.

  • The old man's wife is described as being "emblazoned with ivory," which uses imagery to convey her appearance and the value placed on ivory within the community.


A symbol is the use of an object to represent a concept—it’s kind of like a metaphor, except more concise!

Symbolism is a literary device that uses symbols, be they words, people, marks, locations, or abstract ideas to represent something beyond the literal meaning.

  • The pebbles used by the tribal seer to predict the death of someone could be seen as a symbol of the seer's spiritual powers and the connection to the supernatural.


When an idea or animal is given human characteristics. “The sky weeps.”

  • The injured elephant is described as "madly trumpeting," which personifies the animal and gives it a sense of agency and emotion.


Repetition of initial consonant sound.

  • The phrase "People who know how to use poisoned arrows have followed them" uses alliteration with the repetition of the "p" sound.


Hyperbole is a rhetorical and literary technique where an author or speaker intentionally uses exaggeration and overstatement for emphasis and effect.

  • The old man is described as a "very brave warrior," which could be seen as an example of hyperbole or exaggeration to emphasize his bravery.


Comparing two things without using the words “like” or “as”.

  • The old man's wife is described as being "like a girl" when she smiles, using a metaphor to compare her appearance or demeanor to that of a young girl.


Comparing two things using the words “like” or “as”

  • The old man's muscles are described as being "like dogs with bared teeth," using a simile to convey the tension or tenseness of his muscles.


Onomatopoeia is one way a poet can create sounds in a poem. An onomatopoeia is a word that actually looks like the sound it makes, and we can almost hear those sounds as we read. Here are some words that are used as examples of onomatopoeia: slam, splash, bam, babble, warble, gurgle, mumble, and belch

  • The sound of the old man's wife's bangles is described as "clanking softly," using onomatopoeia to convey the sound of the bangles.


Foreshadowing is a literary device used to give an indication or hint of what is to come later in the story. Foreshadowing is useful for creating suspense, a feeling of unease, a sense of curiosity, or a mark that things may not be as they seem.

  • The prediction of someone's death by the tribal seer foreshadows the death of the old man's wife later in the story.


  • The old man's wife's plan to go to her brother's house and seek mediation after being beaten by her husband is described as a way to "fool the spirits," which could be seen as ironic because she ultimately dies despite her efforts to appease the spirits and avoid death.


  • The descriptions of the movement of the elephant herd and the warnings from the scouts create a sense of suspense and tension, as the reader is left wondering where the elephants will go next and whether they will cause any harm.


Flashbacks interrupt the chronological order of the main narrative to take a reader back in time to the past events in a character's life. A writer uses this literary device to help readers better understand present-day elements in the story or learn more about a character.

  • The story includes a brief flashback to the old man's past, when he was made a councillor by the Chief and was asked to take another wife. This adds context and background to the old man's character and his relationship with the Chief.


Ambiguity falls into several different categories:

  • Syntactic ambiguity – Ambiguous statements that may have multiple meanings due to the punctuation of the sentence
  • Semantic ambiguity – Ambiguous statements that could have multiple meanings because of the choice of words
  • Narrative ambiguity – Ambiguity surrounding the plot or characters and their motives
  • Conceptual Ambiguity – Ambiguity about the concepts, themes, or ideas in the text
  • The old man's wife's plan to go to her brother's house and seek mediation is described as a way to "fool the spirits," which is ambiguous because it is unclear whether the spirits can actually be deceived or whether this is simply a belief held by the characters.


Metonymy, figure of speech in which the name of an object or concept is replaced with a word closely related to or suggested by the original, as “crown” to mean “king”

  • The phrase "the Chief's councillor" is used to refer to the old man, using metonymy to describe his role within the community.

Revision questions for Ivory Bangles

  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?
    2. 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
  5. What are the consequences of refusing to carry out the ritual beatings for the old man?

Essay Questions

In your opinion, did the old man's wife deserve to die? Base your answers on the text Ivory Bangles by Eric Ng’maryo

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