The story begins with the birth of Akoko, the first girl in a family of seven boys. Akoko is the daughter of Chief Odero Gogni of Yimbo and his second wife, Aketch. Though fond of crying, (hence the name ‘Akoko’), she develops quite fast and by the age of seven and a half months, she is able to walk.
At the age of four, she gets a sister and she is initiated when the time is right. By the time she is seventeen, her father begins receiving marriage proposals for her. However, her stubborn father and her twenty one brothers make it difficult for her to get a suitor even by her nineteenth birthday.
Many suitors come to seek Akoko’s hand in marriage but they are all turned away by her father. At last, a young man by the name of Owuor Kembo, Chief of Sakwa, in full war regalia, arrives and impresses Chief Gogni as a man full of ‘nyadhi‘.
Chief Gogni sets Akoko’s bride price at thirty head of cattle which is two and a half times the usual bride price – this is meant to be a test on the suitor. To the surprise of many, and out of pride, young Chief Owuor does not bargain, much to the chagrin of his younger brother Otieno.
The marriage is set for the fourteenth day of the following month and Akoko is called in for the visitors to see her. Unlike other girls of her time, she walks in bravely looking straight at her future husband and young Chief Owuor, immediately, falls in love with her.
On the fourteenth day of the following month, thirty head of cattle are driven into the compound of Chief Gogni in the company of many young men. The visitors are received by some local young men and guided to a hut where they feast late into the night.
At the first cockcrow, Akoko is ‘stolen’ from Chief Gogni’s compound amid a lot of noise and her screaming. She is taken to Sakwa where she is received with a lot of ululations and everyone in the village comes to get a glimpse of Chief Owuor’s ‘mikai‘ (the first wife).
After ten months, she gives birth to a baby boy – Obura and four years later, a girl – Nyabera. Owuor is very protective of the girl while he is under pressure from her mother to marry a second wife.
While Akoko is caring for her children, her mother-in-law is blaming her for not getting more children and for preventing his son from marrying another wife. She alleges that Akoko has bewitched his son.
The news of the mother-in-law’s allegations reach Akoko who wakes up the following day wailing and screaming. This disturbance attracts a sizable crowd and she narrates her troubles, with the mother-in-law, to everyone – this happens while Chief Owuor is away on a friend’s burial.
In haste, Akoko gathers a few belongings and leaves her matrimonial home and the children behind.
When Owour returns, he is angered by his mother’s actions and calls for the council of ‘Jodongo‘ who agree to send messengers to Yimbo to report that a delegation of elders would be coming to negotiate the return of Akoko. The messengers are received coldly and only the dictates of ‘chik‘ save them from harm.
The ‘Jadongo‘ from Sakwa and Yimbo converge for a meeting to discuss the events that led to Akoko’s actions. Both Akoko and Owuor are given chances to present their versions of events.
Akoko admits that she loves her husband but that her mother and brother-in-law had insulted her by calling her ‘a witch’. Owuor, on the other hand, is defensive and admonishes Akoko for being rash and irresponsible in her actions.
Oloo castigates Akoko for being impatient but also acknowledges the gravity of the accusations since they were an insult on the whole Yimbo clan. In the end, the parties agree that Owuor pays a goat to appease Akoko’s mother and Akoko is ordered to go back to Sakwa the following day.
Shortly after her return, Akoko conceives and gives birth to a baby boy named Owang’ Sino. Meanwhile, Otieno, the younger brother to Owuor, has four wives and eighteen children. He treats his wives like sluts in contrast to Owour who treats Akoko like a queen.
Obura, who is now seventeen, is interested in what is happening in the world now being ruled by white men. He wants to go and see the world but his father admonishes him and reminds him of his duty as the next chief.
Obura, who has been very quiet and obedient, changes drastically to a moody seventeen year old. His parents wake up, one day, and discover that he has disappeared.
Chief Owuor assembles two search parties and sends them off to look for his son. However, they return empty-handed with the shocking news that Obura had been picked up by some white men. This news is devastating to Akoko who believes that she will never see her son again.
Misery engulfs the Owuor homestead for almost two years since Obura’s disappearance. Chief Owuor and Akoko are affected so much that they do not talk about the issue.
One day, messengers for the ‘Sirikal‘ (colonial government) arrive in Chief Owour’s compound. They come to inform the Chief that the First World War was over and that the British had won. They also report that three young men from his village had taken part in the war. Unfortunately, only one – Nyaroche Silwal – had survived.
They present the Chief with a bracelet sent to him by the white men in honour of Obura’s service. The Chief is furious and throws it away, only for Nyabera to pick it and hide it. The village goes into mourning for the Chief’s son as tradition dictates.
In this chapter, Nyabera is deeply affected by the death of her brother, Obura. With the of her mother, she finally accepts it and heals. She grows up to be an intelligent and hardworking girl and when she turns eighteen, suitors start calling.
Finally, a suitable suitor called Okumu is accepted because he comes from the nearby village and Akoko hopes to see his daughter often. After two marry, they are blessed with a child who dies immediately and the next two are sickly.
In the meantime, Owang’ Sino tries to fit into the shoes of his late brother with little success. He decides to marry quickly especially since his father was sick. A suitable girl is found but before a bride price is paid, the Chief dies.
Akoko mourns her husband’s death by donning his monkey skin and headdress and a spear in one hand and a shield in the other. She sings dirges in his honour.
After the funeral, the marriage negotiations conclude and Alando Nyar is brought home as Owang’ Sino’s wife. The couple is blessed with a baby boy – Owuor.
Misfortune befalls Akoko when Owang’ Sino chokes to death and the Chiefdom has to go to the hateful Otieno until Owuor can be of age.
Otieno takes over the Chief’s stool and he use the opportunity to grab his brother’s wealth and even wants to take Akoko’s belongings. Akoko’s intelligence and foresight leads her to Kisuma to seek the assistance of the white man.
She takes her grandson, Owuor, to her brother Oloo and visits Nyabera to tell her of her journey. She also urges Nyabera to believe that Were would give her a child who would live.
After five days with Nyabera, Akoko embarks on her journey to Kisuma with the company of Oloo’s twins – Opiyo and Odongo – to seek justice.
Oloo sends his sons – Opiyo and Odongo – to accompany Akoko to Kisuma. Akoko tries to send them back but they refuse. On the journey, the twins are amazed at Akoko’s bravery even in darkness. Akoko also takes the opportunity to teach the twins about the history of Ramogi.
When they arrive near Kisuma, they meet Otuoma, a stranger, who agrees to accommodate them before they could see the D.O. the following day.
The next day, Otuoma escorts Akoko and the twins to Kisuma where he helps her file a case and book an appointment with the D.O. They are told to return in three days time.
The D.O. listens to Akoko’s grievances through an interpreter and he agrees to make his own investigations. After a month, a party is sent from Kisuma to carry out an investigation into Akoko’s allegations.
The party reports to the visiting D.C. that what Akoko had alleged was true. The D.C. consults with his council of elders and he decided to send a contingent of askaris to Sakwa to, forcefully, remove Chief Otieno from power.
Otieno is forced to return all he had grabbed from Akoko and his seat is given to a council of elders, to elect one of them, to rule the village until the rightful owner – Owuor – comes of age.
The journey to Kisuma had helped Akoko realize that the hereditary Chief system would not last and she decides to pack her belongings and head back to Yimbo where she stays with her brother, Oloo.
Part 2: The Art of Giving