Characters in Bosede Ademilua-Afolayan’s Once Upon an Elephant

The characters in Once Upon an Elephant include Ajanaku, Serubawon, Iya Agba, Desola, Odejimi, Demoke, Omoyeni, and Odekunle.

Characters in Once Upon an Elephant
Characters in Once Upon an Elephant

Once Upon an Elephant by Bosede Ademilua-Afolayan tells the story of how Olaniyonu, the bastard son of Oba Akinjobi, is singlehandedly enthroned by Serubawon as the king of an unnamed Yoruba village, against the dictates and the recommendations of his fellow kingmakers. Serubawon seeks to fashion Olaniyonu, who has come to address himself as the mighty Ajanaku (elephant), into a very powerful man, whom he can direct as he deems fit, through Ijedodo rites which require the blood of virgins. Like the proverbial elephant in a Yoruba tale, Olaniyonu’s thirst for power will soon bring about his downfall. But that is not what this post is about. In this post, we are going talk about the characters in Bosede Ademilua-Afolayan’s Once Upon an Elephant.

Once Upon an Elephant collage
Once Upon an Elephant collage

The characters in Once Upon an Elephant include Ajanaku, Serubawon, Iya Agba, Desola, Odejimi, Demoke, Omoyeni, and Odekunle. We are going to identify some of these characters and the roles they play in Once Upon an Elephant.


Ajanaku, also known as Olaniyonu, is King Akinjobi’s successor. He is the central character in Once Upon an Elephant. He is portrayed as a despicable, power-hungry villain who will stop at nothing in his ruthless pursuit of becoming king and attaining immortality.


He resorts to bribery, intimidation and violence to achieve his goals. He tries to bribe the king makers (Odejimi, Odegbami, and Ogundele) with gifts to get them to support him becoming king, though only Ogundele accepts them. Ajanaku equally threatens Delani’s life when he stands in the way of Ajanaku taking Omoyeni as his wife against her will.

Ajanaku rapes multiple virgins as part of the abhorrent Ijedodo ritual for immortality. The blood of the virgins is fed to demons who keep Ajanaku alive while the virgins die a slow death. Desola, the daughter of Serubawon, is his last needed virgin victim for the ritual. He also beats up Odekunle, Desola’s fiance, in this ritual rape process. He shows no remorse for these heinous acts of sexual violence.

The truth is revealed later in the play that Ajanaku is not the biological son of the former king, but rather the product of an adulterous affair between Serubawon and Adebisi. This means Desola, the girl he rapes, is his half-sister.

At the end of the play, Ajanaku meets his fatal end as Iya Agba breaks the blood connection between Ajanaku and an ailing Desola. Odekunle is instructed to wrap a charmed red cloth around Ajanaku’s neck. This act restores Desola to good health while Ajanaku dies.


Serubawon is one of the important characters in Once Upon an Elephant. He is the king’s medicine man, priest, and the leader of the king makers. He is also a close friend of King Akinjobi. He is portrayed as a deceitful, hypocritical character who is driven by selfish ambition and a willingness to employ deceit and unethical means to achieve his goals.

He betrays King Akinjobi by having an adulterous affair with Adebisi, one of King Akinjobi’s younger wives, which results in the birth of Ajanaku. When caught by Iya Agba, instead of owning up to his transgressions, Serubawon maliciously lies and slanders Iya Agba, destroying her respected position in the palace through false accusations of infidelity.

Serubawon is portrayed as obsessed with power. This is why he seeks to make his illegitimate son Ajanaku the new king before and after Akinjobi’s death, even though Ajanaku is not the rightful heir, in order to maintain his own access to the palace. Thus, he forcefully installs Ajanaku as the king without the consent of the other king makers.

Serubawon performs the abhorrent Ijedodo ritual for Ajanaku, which involves raping six virgins, to make Ajanaku immortal. Tragically, one of the virgins Ajanaku rapes as part of the ritual is Serubawon’s own daughter Desola.

At the end of Once Upon an Elephant, when the truth about his affair with Adebisi and Ajanaku’s illegitimacy is revealed, Serubawon hangs himself out of shame and guilt. He is thus depicted as a deplorable character who sacrificed integrity, loyalty and ethics in his ravenous pursuit of power and immortality for himself and his illegitimate son.

Once Upon an Elephant held in palm
Once Upon an Elephant held in palm.

Iya Agba

Iya Agba is the first and most senior wife of Oba Akinjobi, the former king. She is addressed by several names in the play: “Iya Agba,” “Fadeke,” “mad woman” but her real name is Omofadeke Adunni. She is one character that helped expose the web of deception surrounding Ajanaku’s illegitimate claim to the kingship.

Iya Agba is a victim of lies and deceit. Serubawon and Adebisi falsely accuse her of infidelity, fearing that she would expose their affair to the king. She is consequently thrown out of the palace by Oba Akinjobi, treated like an outcast in the village, and called a “mad woman” by the villagers.

While villainized and outcast for years, she does not back down from her convictions. She bides her time, holding onto the truth about Ajanaku’s paternity. At the climactic Jobele festival, Iya Agba dramatically reemerges to expose Serubawon and Ajanaku’s misdeeds.

She reveals through a powerful monologue how Serubawon and Adebisi had betrayed the king, conceived Ajanaku through their affair, and lied to cover it up by slandering her. She is also instrumental in Ajanaku’s downfall and Desola’s healing. She instructs Desola to embrace Ajanaku to reclaim her life after he had raped her for the ritual. She also guides Odekunle to wrap a charmed red cloth around Ajanaku’s neck, which strips him of his ill-gotten powers from the ritual.


Desola is the daughter of Serubawon and Demoke. She is in a romantic relationship with Odekunle with whom she is preparing for their wedding. She is unfortunately raped by Ajanaku as the last virgin needed to complete the requirements for the depraved Ijedodo ritual.

After being raped, she begins to die slowly as the dark ritual takes effect on her. An ailing Desola, on the brink of death, is brought back to good health at the Jobele festival where she is instructed to embrace Ajanaku to neutralize the ritual’s hold over her life.


Odejemi is a member of the Hunters’ Guild, a group responsible for the selection of a new king according to tradition. Along with Odegbami, Odejimi disagrees with Serubawon’s attempt to install Ajanaku as the king of the village without following proper procedures. He also refuses to accept the bribe/gifts that Ajanaku offers to sway the king makers’ decision.

His son, Odekunle, is the fiancé of Desola who is beaten by Ajanaku’s guards in the bush when she is abducted to be raped for the ritual.


Demoke is the wife of Serubawon and the mother of Desola. She is complicit in the slandering of Iya Agba. She falsely testifies against Iya Agba. Her false witness against Iya Agba leads to the woman’s banishment from the palace.


Omoyeni is truly in love with Delani, who had served her father Ajasa in order to be able to marry her. However, she ends up being taken as a wife by Ajanaku against her wishes. She becomes pregnant, and it is revealed that the pregnancy she is carrying belongs to Delani, not Ajanaku her husband. She reunites with Delani at the end of the play.


Odekunle is the fiancé of Desola and the only son of Odejimi and Iyale. He is beaten by Ajanaku’s men in the bush when Ajanaku tries to rape Desola. Acting on Iya Agba’s instruction, he wraps a charmed red cloth around Ajanaku’s neck which restores Desola from the brink of death and culminates in Ajanaku’s death.

Other Characters in Once Upon an Elephant

Other characters in Once Upon an Elephant by Bosede Ademilua-Afolayan include the following:

Iyale: She is Odejimi’s wife and Odekunle’s mother. Unlike the other villagers, she is friendly to Iya Agba. She interacts with her and confides in her. She is the one that brought the issue of Desola’s failing health to Iya Agba.

Delani: He is Omoyeni’s lover. He is threatened by Ajanaku who snatches Omoyeni from him. It is discovered later in the play that he is responsible for Omoyeni’s pregnancy.

Odegbami: He is another member of the Hunters’ Guild, opposed to to Serubawon’s plot to make Ajanaku the king.

Ogundele: He is a member of the Hunters’ Guild who accepts gifts/bribes from Ajanaku to further his cause to become the king.

Akinjobi: He is the king before Ajanaku’s reign, who is sick and eventually dies in the play. We do not encounter him in the play, but much is said about his prolonged illness which temporarily stunts the ambition of Ajanaku to be enthroned as the king. He is betrayed and lied to by those closest to him (Serubawon and Adebisi).

Adebisi: She is the younger wife of Akinjobi and the mother of Ajanaku. Like Akinjobi, Adebisi is only mentioned in the dialogues of the characters in the play. She is said to have involved in a sexual relationship with Serubawon behind the king’s back, which results in the birth of Olaniyonu (who will come to identify himself as Ajanaku). She conspires with Serubawon to falsely accuse and slander Iya Agba of infidelity to deflect from her own transgressions. Her affair with Serubawon is the original sin that precipitates the entire chain of events, betrayals, and the illegitimate attempt to make Ajanaku king.

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