- The Prices
- Orleanna Price – Nathan's wife and the mother of their four daughters. Born in Mississippi, she is deferential to her husband but independent-minded
- Nathan Price – Orleanna's husband. An evangelical (Southern Baptist) minister and a World War II veteran from Georgia, determined to "save Africa for Jesus".
- Rachel Price (15 at start of the novel) – the oldest Price girl; blonde and self-centered, she is obsessed with her looks and American consumer culture.
- Leah Price (14 at start of the novel) – Adah's tomboyish twin; intelligent, self-confident, competitive, tenacious, and compassionate. The most outspoken of the women, Leah is prone to dogmatism and concerned with her own salvation.
- Adah Price (14 at start of the novel) – Leah's twin, hemiplegic from birth. Silent but witty, she is brilliant in math and languages, but is envious of her twin. She is also skeptical, sarcastic, envious, and prone to self-pity.
- Ruth May Price (5 at the start of the novel) – the youngest Price girl; she is playful, independent, adventurous, perceptive, and inquisitive.
- Other characters
- The Underdowns – Belgian mission chiefs who welcome and send supplies to the Prices.
- Eeben Axelroot – a corrupt South African mercenary pilot.
- Anatole Ngemba – the village teacher; an orphan, his fluency in English allows him to be an interpreter for Nathan's sermons.
- Brother Fowles – a New Yorker; the Prices' predecessor on the mission. Married to a local woman.
- Mama Tataba – a village woman, formerly employed by Fowles, who works for the Prices. Best known and celebrated for her prestigious quote 'You got to be make hills.'
- Tata Ndu – the chief of Kilanga.
- Tata Kuvudundu – the spiritual leader of the village.
- Nelson – an orphaned village boy; he is Anatole's student who works for the Prices. He is forced to sleep outside in the chicken coop.
- Methuselah – a parrot left by Brother Fowles; it is excellent at imitating human speech.
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