- Munira – houseboy who goes to Ilmorog in order to teach in its dilapidated school. He falls in love with Wanja and is the arsonist the police seek.
- Wanja – Granddaughter of Nyakinyua. An experienced barmaid who flees her past in the city. She falls in love with Karega, although she is still coveted by Munira. She also sleeps with Abdulla because of her reverence for his actions in the Mau Mau rebellion. An industrious barmaid, she helps Abdulla's shop to become successful, and also sells Theng'eta. She later becomes a prostitute and runs her own brothel before being injured in Munira's arson attack.
- Abdulla – A shopkeeper who lost his leg in the Mau Mau rebellion. His main assests in life are his shop and his donkey, as well as a boy Joseph, who he had taken in and cares for as a brother. He is the only major character to have worked with the Mau Mau during the rebellion.
- Karega – Young man who works as a teaching assistant at Munira's school before becoming disillusioned and heading for the city. After the trip to Nairobi, he becomes enamoured with socialism, and starts to educate himself on its principles and on the law. However, he later becomes disillusioned with the effects of education, and how apt it is in the struggle for liberation. As a youth, he dated Munira's sister who subsequently committed suicide; this was unknown to Munira until Karega reveals it to him and to others after having drunk Theng'eta.
- Nyakinyua – The village's most revered woman, and the grandmother of Wanja. She performs all of the traditional ceremonies in the village. At first she is highly sceptical of Munira's arrival, believing that he will flee the village like his predecessors. After her death, Wanja sells her business to save Nyakinyua's land from the banks and also uses the proceeds to start a brothel.
- Kimeria – Ruthless businessman who is part of the new Kenya elite. Has an interest in Ilmorog for business purposes, and had a previous relationship with Wanja. As the villagers travel to Nairobi to meet with their politician, Kimeria holds Wanja hostage and rapes her.
- Chui – a schoolboy at the prestigious, previously European Siriana school, he leads a student revolt. However, when he returns to lead the school, he enacts an oppression far greater than was present during colonial rule. He later become one of the new Kenya elite, and is involved in business dealings with both Kimeria and Nderi wa Riera.
- Nderi wa Riera – the local politician for Ilmorog's district, he lives and works in Nairobi. He is a demagogue who does not listen to
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