Short for Tambudzai, she is the teenage protagonist of the novel. Tambu is extremely driven to be educated, even though her parents are more focused on her brother's advancement simply because he is male. When Nhamo dies, Tambu gets the opportunity to move to the mission to study. She develops a deep connection with her cousin, Nyasha, and together, the two girls navigate adolescence in postcolonial Zimbabwe.
Tambu's cousin, the daughter of Maiguru and Babamukuru. She has a British education, and finds it jarring to return to Shona society in Zimbabwe. She becomes a guide and a close friend to Tambu when she arrives at the mission. Nyasha refuses to conform to her father's image of womanhood and eventually suffers from a severe eating disorder.
Tambu's mother who does all the physical labor at their homestead. Tambu helps whenever she can so that her mother does not tire herself out. Ma'Shingayi grew up in terrible poverty and wants to keep her children close to home, especially after Nhamo's death. She suffers from severe depression after Tambu leaves.
Tambu's father, who is short-sighted, uneducated, and lazy. Tambu loses respect for him after he tries to steal the money that she earned selling mealies in town. He drinks a lot and cheats on his wife with her sister, Lucia. His family is the poorest out of all his siblings, mostly because of Jeremiah's ineffectiveness.
Tambu's wealthy, educated uncle, who funds her brother's education and then hers. He is not "the sort of person who is easily cajoled;" he supports his entire family and wants to work towards their betterment. He still holds onto many of his traditional values about gender roles, leading him to clash with both his wife (Maiguru), his niece, and his daughter (Nyasha).
Babamukuru's wife and Tambu's aunt. She has a master's degree in philosophy, but her own ambitions have taken a backseat to her role as a wife and mother. Over the course of the novel, she learns to stand up to her husband and supports Tambu when she is accepted to the convent school. Dangarembga characterizes Maiguru as hen-like through the use of figurative language. She "fusses, coos, and clucks" and "shakes her feathers," "chirruping away."
Tambu's male cousin, Babamukuru and Maiguru's son, and Nyasha's brother. He is "big, athletic, and handsome". He attends a mostly white boarding school in Salisbury. He does not participate in family events and later on, Tambu alludes to his romance with a white woman.
Tambu's arrogant elder brother. He likes to torment Tambu with the fact that he can have an education and she cannot because she is a woman. After a year at the mission school, he pretends to forget how to speak his native language, Shona. He dies from a mysterious illness in 1968. Because of his death, Babamukuru brings Tambu to the mission in his place.
Tambu's outspoken aunt, who is married to Takesure. Her opinionated nature often gets her in trouble, leading some of the men in the village to brand her a witch. She is carrying Takesure's child but has also been having sex with Jeremiah, her sister's husband. While she is six months pregnant, Lucia accompanies her pregnant sister to the mission to give birth. Lucia, eager to stay on, asks Babamukuru for a job, and he helps her. She eventually enrolls herself in Grade One classes.
Tambu's little sister
Tambu's little sister (older than Rambanai).
Tambu's Sunday school teacher, who helps her sell her maize cobs. He lies to a white couple, telling them that Tambu is an orphan, and obtains a generous handout, which he helps Tambu put towards her education.
Tambu's grandmother, who worked hard every day until her death. Tambu recalls helping her grandmother in the garden and listening to her "history lessons," which consisted of cultural myths and family history. Through her grandmother, Tambu learns how her uncle, Babamukuru, educated himself to become successful.
Tambu's aunt and Jeremiah's sister. She is grossly overweight, but this makes her intimidating rather than comical. She, like Jeremiah, treats Babamukuru like a king.
Jeremiah's younger brother. He does not have an advanced degree, but he is trained as a teacher and his family does not struggle too much financially.
The maid at Babamukuru's house at the mission. She is talkative, but also very formal while carrying out her duties.
One of Tambu and Nyasha's classmates, and one of Nyasha's best friends. She is the daughter of a white missionary.
The younger of Nyaradzo's two older brothers.
The older of Nyaradzo's two brothers. After the Christmas dance, Nyasha flirts with him, which ignites the conflict between her and Babamukuru.
A distant relative of Babamukuru, who was sent to Jeremiah's homestead to help out. Instead, he started having sex with Lucia and contributing to Jeremiah's general laziness. He is weak and Lucia easily bosses him around.
Lucia and Takesure's baby boy, whom she takes with her to the mission.
Tambu's baby brother who is born after she moves to the mission.
The nun who is both Mother Superior and Principal of the Sacred Heart convent school.
Nervous Conditions Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Nervous Conditions is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.