Summary and Analysis Chapter 10



Ishmael's journey to survive continues in a state of misery. He worries that each time he faces death, a part of him dies a little. He treasures the few moments of joy that bring relief from his constant sorrow. His thoughts return constantly to his family and his longing to see them and know their fate.

Ishmael and the boys travel from village to village, often finding them abandoned. They sleep a night, forage for food, and move on. In one village, they are allowed to take part in a festival and given a bag of dried meat when they leave the next morning. The meat is stolen and eaten by a stray dog and the boys blame each other. They choose not to harm the dog, but they realize that the day may come when they will be desperate enough to do something completely uncustomary, like eat dog meat for survival.

In this chapter, each of the other boys — Musa, Alhaji, Kanei, Jumah, Moriba, and Saidu — share their stories of the rebels attacking their village. The tales are horrific, including accounts of slaughter, torture, and rape, and Ishmael realizes why they so often rely on silence to protect themselves from their past.

The boys continue moving, walking at night and hunting for food during the day. They sleep during the day in shifts so that someone is always on guard against attacks. They tell stories to each other and Ishmael recalls his name-giving ceremony. Along the way, a crow falls from the sky, which they consider a bad omen, but they are hungry enough to eat the bird. Later, Saidu falls ill and can't respond. When he wakes, they help him to a nearby village and are surprised to see how crowded and lively the village is. The marketplace is running, and people are dancing in the streets. Saidu continues to faint, and the boys decide to rest one day in the village so that he can recover. They are fed and given a veranda to sleep on. A woman finds them and tells each of them news of their family. Ishmael learns that Junior has recently been in the village; Ishmael can't sleep because of his excitement. During the night, Saidu dies, and the boys are responsible for honoring his death and burying his body before they begin travelling again, this time in search of their families.


Like their ancestors, the boys rely on oral tradition and storytelling to both entertain and to explain the world around them. To pass the time one night, Musa tells the story of Bra Spider who also struggled for food and survival. Listening to Musa's story reminds Ishmael of similar evenings listening to stories around his grandmother's campfire. Oral storytelling also plays a key role in the ceremonies of the village, and Ishmael is reminded of the tales told the night of his name-giving ceremony.

The descriptions of the ceremony reveal a traditional culture with clearly defined male and female roles. The women prepare the food and dress to impress each other. The men lead the ceremonies and smoke together. The gender roles are tested in these times of war as women have to learn to defend themselves and boys like Ishmael have to cook to survive.

Even in desperate times, the burial customs are enforced. When Saidu dies, his body must be wrapped in white linen and placed in a wooden coffin. An elder man helps the boys have a funeral service and leads them to a burial ground. Saidu's body must be buried before nightfall or they must take the body from the village. The burial ground has row after row of mounds of freshly dug graves, many of them anonymous. Ishmael's grief and uncertainty overwhelm him. All of the boys sob when they leave the village. Though he feels like he his abandoning his friend by leaving Saidu's body, he knows that they must continue travelling if they hope to live.