The play begins with a Dead Man and a Dead Woman breaking free from their burial in the soil in the middle of a forest. They ask those that pass by to "take their case." The Man and Woman were a captain and his wife in a past life and were tortured and killed by an Emperor by the name of Mata Kharibu and his Queen, nicknamed Madame Tortoise. The Dead Man and his wife have come to the Gathering of the Tribes, and were sent here by Aroni, a god, with permission from the Forest Head, in place of the forefathers that the living have requested to join them.
Four characters come through the forest initially: Rola, a prostitute, once known as Madame Tortoise and a queen from the previous life; Adenebi, a court historian in the time of the Emperor Mata Kharibu, now a council orator; Agboreko, who was a soothsayer to Mata Kharibu in a past life and plays the same role in this life; and finally, Demoke, who is now a carver but was once a poet in the court. Aroni has selected these four in order for them to gain knowledge about their past lives and to atone for their sins.
Another character, Obaneji, is actually the Forest Head disguised in human form. He invites the characters to join in a welcome dance for the Dead Man and Woman. Eshuoro, a wayward spirit seeking vengeance for the death of Oremole, Demoke's apprentice, comes and interrupts the proceedings. He claims that Demoke killed him by pulling him off the top of an araba tree they were carving, which caused him to fall to his death. Ogun, the god of carvers, stands up for Demoke against Eshuoro's claim. We learn that Demoke encouraged the cutting of the araba tree, and also that there was a great fire in which 65 of 70 people were killed.
As the play moves forward we are taken back in time into the court of Mata Kharibu, where we learn that the Dead Man was a soldier who led Karibu's men. The soldier refuses to go to war against another tribe because Kharibu has taken the tribe leader's wife, Madame Tortoise.
All of the characters from the earlier part of the play (but from later in time) are seen as the court counselors of Kharibu. They do not help the soldier, who is castrated and given to a slave dealer. The scene ends as the soldier's wife comes in, pregnant. It is left up to the audience to determine how she is killed.
The forests are then smoked out by humans with a petrol truck. The Forest Head says that he must "pierce the encrustations of soul-deadening habit, and bare the mirror of original nakedness." He exits knowing that he is alone in his fight. Demoke is led to climb up a totem he built by Eshuoro, who lights the totem on fire. Demoke falls and joins his father and the other mortals and they discuss what they have learned.