Shifting from the way things are usually done in society may attract affliction. This is the dominant issue in Eric Ng’maryo’s short story Ivory Bangles. It describes the death of a woman. The author seems to suggest that the woman dies only because her husband and she defy the instructions of the seer.

Key events in Ivory Bangles

  • The worrying insight
  • The evening meal
  • Second wife
  • The ivory bangles
  • The revelation
  • The alternative plan
  • The wife’s death

Characters in Ivory Bangles

  • The old man
  • The wife
  • Their only son
  •  The seer
  • Makusaro – sister-in-law
  • Leveri – daughter-in-law
  • Kabanda – grandson


When we deviate from established norms, we invite misfortune or adversity.

Ivory Bangles Summary

The husband is distressed after the seer instructs him to give his wife a thorough beating and send her to her parents after the beating. The man consults the seer after he notices blood specks on the liver of a goat he had slaughtered.

The seer’s pebbles say the man’s wife is going to die because the spirits were jealous of a happy wife. To avert the death, the pebbles say he has to give her a thorough beating.

During the evening meal with his wife, the man is disturbed since he doesn’t know how to deliver the bad news to his loving wife.

The man is a chief’s councillor and is regarded as a small chief. As much as he is respected, many are surprised that he has only one wife. When the chief suggested that he marries another wife, the man replies using a riddle. The chief quickly and ravels the riddle as “A wife, a co-wife, witchcraft and death”. This reveals that the people have deep seated beliefs about witchcraft and death.

The man loves his wife dearly. When she had their first child, he gifted her twenty four  handcrafted ivory bangles some etched with the words of a long love poem.

That night the man divulges the seer’s words to the wife.

“The spirits want me to give you a ritual beating.” (pg. 22)

The woman dismisses this and hints that she knows the seer. He once wanted to marry her and had threatened to put a spell on her.

The man is adamant that the seer did not put blood specks on the goat’s liver and that he is only the mouthpiece of their dead ancestors.

The man is ready to carry out the seer’s instructions in order to avert the wife’s death. The wife talks him out of it, proposing that there is another way.

While at the market, she thinks of her plan: She intends to go home and cook for the husband before going to her brother’s place. She would go there weeping that her husband had beaten her for no reason, and would refuse to go back to him until her clan and her husband’s clan meet to reconcile them. The husband would be asked to part with a fine and they would drink beer of reconciliation. This would certainly fool the spirits.

The woman returns home amidst cries of village scouts warning people about wandering elephants.

The woman decides to weed the weedy part of her grove. While hoeing,  her thoughts wander to Leveri, her daughter-in-law, who had helped her weed just three weeks ago. She had run away from her husband who had beaten her badly. The woman does not understand why their son is different from his father.

From nowhere, an elephant emerges, attacks and kills the woman.

“They found her thus in her shallow grave: a mass of flesh and blood and shattered ivory bangles.” (pg. 25)

The powers of the seer seem to be confirmed since his eerie prediction comes to pass.

The woman dies because she deviates from customary norms after her husband and she defy the tribal seer, a priest of the people.

Do you think the woman deserved to die?