ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)  


They say it will be reward enough when we have lost our way completely, lost

even our names; when you will call your brother not Olu but John, not Kofi but

Paul; and our sisters would no longer be Ama, Naita, Idawa and Ningome

but creatures called Cecilia, Esther, Mary, Elizabeth and Christina. . . .



Books by Ayi Kwei Armah

Why Are We So Blest?  / Two Thousand Seasons  /  The Healers  / Osiris Rising / Fragments  / The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born

*   *   *   *   *

Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah

Review by Osei Alkebulan

African scholar and historian John Henrik Clarke once pointed out that in colonizing the world, Europeans also colonized information about the world. The savage theft of land and resources, the wholesale murder of millions—this physical assault was accompanied by an ideological assault from which Africans are still trying to recover.

In recent years, many of us have stepped up to challenge the backward, racist ideology that permeates much of what is written about African people, history and culture. Ayi Kwei Armah is one author who has taken on the task of reconstructuring out story. The body of work he has produced is just one example of how even creative outlets can be used to further our struggle for liberation.

Armah's novel Two Thousand Seasons was first published in 1973 and was reprinted last year by Per Ankh, an African publishing cooperative based in Senegal. Its significance is profound for all Africans fighting to reclaim out stolen land and resources, primarily because it tells a story built upon the progressive theories of African revolutionaries such as Nkrumah, Garvey, and Diop. Armah lays the foundation for this in the opening pages of the novel by asserting that "we are not a people of yesterday," "that we black people are one people we know," and that "[Africa] is ours, not through murder, nor through theft, not by violence or any other trickery. This has always been our land. Here we began."

Two Thousand Seasons is a fictionalized account of the attack on Africa that has taken place over the last 1,000 years. Using the collective voice of a particular group, it traces the overall development of African history as it has unfolded for countless millions of our people.

Beginning in eastern Africa, the story follows a people as they encounter and are subjugated by Arabs, forcing them to migrate to the western part of the continent where they come up against the horrors of the slave trade. Ultimately, they enter into a campaign of resistance that continues even beyond the novel's end.

History of Role of Women, Religion and Social Equality

A number of issues related to our current struggle to reclaim Africa are addressed in the book. Questions concerning women, religion, and social equality are dealt with, all within the context of a fierce struggle to resist foreign domination. These elements combine to form the novel's basic premise—that the liberation of a land and resources is a necessary first step in reclaiming a way of thinking and understanding the world that has been battered, corrupted, and altered by foreign influence.

Throughout the story, Armah propagates the legitimacy and appropriateness of a worldview that is intrinsically African. He simply calls this worldview "the way" or "our way." "The way" is not a religion; in fact, the term religion is discarded in all descriptions of traditional African thought. The dialectic term "reciprocity" is used instead and is defined as "not merely taking, not merely offering. Giving, but only to those from whom we receive in equal measure. Receiving, but only from those we give in reciprocal measure. How easy, how just, the way."

This characterization draws a distinct line between the philosophical understanding that has existed between Africans since ancient times, and the relatively new religious doctrines that to this day contribute to our enslavement.

These religious doctrines, which so easily lend themselves to oppression, are challenged early in the novel. "We are not stunted in spirit, we are not Christians that we should invent fables a child would laugh at and harden our eyes to preach them daylight and deep night as truth," Armah says. We are not so warped in soul, we are not Arabs, we are not Muslims to fabricate a desert God chanting madness in the wilderness, and call out creature creator. That is not out way."

This indictment of Christian and Islamic religious musing is followed by an explanation or how Africans view the world, as well as our place in it. In delineating this worldview, Armah takes a stance that is arguable materialist. He states, "What we do not know, we do not claim to claim to know. WE have no need to claim to know. Many thoughts, growing with each generation, have come down to us, many wonderings. The best have left us thinking it is not necessary for the earth to have been created by any imagined being. We have thought it better to start from sure knowledge, call fable fables, and wait till clarity.

The validity of a traditional African worldview is again asserted as Armah contrasts the structure of society prior to invasions with the societal transformations that is the result of foreign presence.

At the start of Two Thousand Seasons, there is a general social equality, there is no ruler or king as such, and those given jurisdiction over the community (chiefs or "caretakers" as they are referred to by Armah) are accountable to the people. In addition, male/female equality is recognized, and women share in all tasks related to governing and maintaining society. This structure is overturned, however, when Africans come under Arab domination. For the first time, African women experience exploitation and oppression as they are forced to serve as sex slaves for decadent Arabs.

Struggle Between those for Independence and Those Copying Imperialist Ways
Even after Africans free themselves from Arab domination, effects of that experience linger and are manifest in the ways some of them want to restructure society.

This creates a split among Africans. A struggle emerges between the "producers" (those who wish to return to the way) and the "parasites" (those who wish to emulate the ways of foreigners). Armah connects the urges of the latter to a misguided fascination with the power of white people. "They urged on us the setting up of a king from among the parasites to whom all—parasites, producers, women, children, in the condescension of the white destroyer's road—would be bound in unthinking, unquestioning allegiance. In such arrangements, the admirers saw the roots of the white predators' power."

Implications of the decision to abandon long-held notions of social equality are far reaching. Traditionally, gender equality was experienced in the larger context of general social equality. In other words, men weren't seen as superior to women just as no one in society was seen as superior to anyone else.

However, as society is transformed and certain people are given power over others, the role of women is transformed and women are confined to roles of child bearers and homemakers. "In the suppression of women first, in the reduction of all females to things—things for pleasure, things for use, things in the hands of men—these admirers of the white predator's road saw a potent source of strength for men"

These societal changes eventually give rise to opportunism, form collaborator kings who, for their personal benefit, allow Europeans to set up an outpost of the slave trade, to "askaris" who make a living by aiding in the destruction of their own people.

The point Armah makes in all this is that social inequality, the oppression and exploitation of women, allowing certain people to rule over everyone else—all of these things constitute a break from African tradition.

Armah not only outlines how those breaks from tradition develop, creating a pathway for both the physical and ideological domination by foreign peoples. He also challenges the notion that Africans somehow welcomed enslavement by chronicling the movement for resistance.

There has never been a time when Africans accepted oppression. In the book, every move made to dismantle African society is met with resistance. As the fight for freedom escalates, the movement assumes more strategic and skillful character. Two Thousand Seasons draws to a close with Africans in the midst of a fierce battle to counter the ravenous slave trade and to recruit more and more people who are wiling to make this struggle their life's work.

Herein lies what is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this novel. The story captured in the book begins way before the first page and continues far beyond the last. The book ends, yet the struggle being fought continues, as it will until all African peoples have freedom, power, and self determination.

First printed in The Burning Spear, Volume 22, Number 4, July-October 2001. Newspaper of the African People's Socialist Party

*   *   *   *   *

The novel opens with a lyrical prologue in which the narrator, who assumes the role of a griot, the poet-historian of the village, calls out to other gifted voices to realize their proper “vocation.” They must understand that the past one thousand years (two thousand seasons) in Africa have been, first, a movement toward death, and then, a movement away from death, that Africa has been following alien ways—which are death to the black culture. The prologue announces the purpose of the novel: to retell the story of Africa, in particular the story of Ghana, from . . . ENotes

*   *   *   *   *

This is a literature in its truest form, the words, the style of writing, so beautiful, so mesmerizing, as the words take form, taking you on this journey. I have to admit, I found the first couple of chapters a difficult read. It’s packed! You understand so much and yet so little, as you read on, it nicely unravels its mysteries.

As is obvious from other reviews,  Two Thousand Seasons is hard to sum up. I try. It is a soulful journey into the greed, materialism, pain, struggle, betrayal, pride and beauty of the continent, everyone is present, the Nigerian, Ghanaian, South African, etc. Destruction reigns and can only be uprooted by returning to "the way, our way." A glimmer of hope is offered by the rise of a few visionaries who come to see the truth of this, and stand determined to fight the good fight, the fight against destruction.

Never mind that it was first published c.1974, the wisdom contained in this book remains poignant. Few see. Some of these lack true conviction to take action. "The way" largely remains shunned and despised. Zombism is crowned, as mindless following remains the order of the day.  I strongly recommend buying this book, and please read it. My review does it very little justice. Also, if you have not been fortunate to read 'The Beautiful Ones are not yet Born' then please do so.—Enitan Akinosho

*   *   *   *   *

This book plainly states the path to rejuvenation of African people . . . return to the way, our way . . . meaning return to African culture which gives African people strength . . . the strength that allowed us to create kingdoms and full fledged civilizations, intellectual centers before Europe existed. The first page brought tears to my eyes. I read this book every day as if I was married to it. It will resurrect you with its imagery and rejuvenate your spirit . . . and simply reconnect you with your African self. It is poetry, it is is drums beating inside your soul. Read this book, and buy it for all of your friends.—S. A. Kane

*   *   *   *   *

Two Thousand Seasons  by Ayi Kwei Armah, is a deeply profound and monumental text, for those who understood it. It is titled an historical novel, however it really doesn’t fit into any of the european defined structures for books. The term ‘novel’ implies “fictional,” “untrue,” “made up” and the like. One critique agrees. “Indeed the term ‘novel’, though it appears clearly on the title page, sits oddly on a book so apparently remote from the existing novelistic models.” (p. 64, The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah by Robert Fraser).

Two Thousand Seasons IS about actual accounts told from our oral tradition and only the exact names of people and places have changed. For those of us who know our connected history, it reads like autobiography of disconnectedness and reconnectedness. There have been some critiques that have said that there is no connection of Black people and that Armah’s history is off. I personally do not want to waste wrist energy typing that stuff but, for those interested, the text is Ayi Kwei Armah’s Africa by Derek Wright beginning on p. 221.

Beyond a literary critique of this masterful work, Two Thousand Seasons is a text that can help Africa’s children return home, return to ourselves and return to OUR WAY (OUR WAY). It shows possibly how we let the arabs and europeans into our societies and our lives. We were trippin’!!! We had started to get lax in performing rituals, in exercising reciprocity, in being connected Afrikan people. We did not listen to the Oracles, Sages and Prophetesses. We turned our backs on that which had sustained us. Is it possible that the last 500 years have been an Afrikan Ancestral Butt whippin’? Was it allowed so it could whip us back into Afrikans? Will it continue until enough of us faithfully and from the heart return to OUR WAY (OUR WAY)? Man of Money

*   *   *   *   *

Useful insights I feel as a good course of reversal follow.

Creation calls the utterer to reach again the larger circle. That communication must be the beginning of destruction's destruction, the preparation for creation's work. That, not an incestuous, unproductive, parasitic gathering, is our vocation , that our purpose. We will not betray this remembrance: that all unconnected things are victims, tools of death.

The disease of death, the white road, is also the unconnected sight, the fractured vision that sees only the immediate present, that follows only present gain and separates the present from the past, the present from the future, shutting each passing day in its own hustling greed.

The disease of death, the white road, is also unconnected to hearing, the shattered hearing that listens only to today’s brazen cacophony, takes direction from that alone and stays deaf to the whispers of those gone before, deaf to the soft voices of those yet unborn.

The disease of death, the white road, is also thinking, the broken reason that thinks only of the immediate paths to the moment’s release, that takes no care to connect the present with past events, the present with future necessity.

Our vocation goes against all unconnectedness. It is all to create the way again, and where even the foundations have been assaulted and destroyed, where restoration had been made impossible, simply to create the way.

The story flows with the rhythm of history as it unfolds. To me, the importance of this book becomes the realization that no matter how many times history has been distorted, misinterpreted, it cannot be destroyed, history has a way of telling itself to the self. Rastafari Kristine

*   *   *   *   *

Armah's novel [Two Thousand Seasons] is a pan-African epic. In many ways it is a summing up of the African experience for the past two thousand seasons. Armah reduces it effectively to "a thousand seasons wasted wandering amazed along alien roads, another thousand spent finding paths to the living way."

Two Thousand Seasons is a novel of seeking, of loss and redemption. He warns: "Woe the race, too generous in the giving of itself, that finds a highway not of regeneration but a highway to its own extinction." He traces the paths taken: the many false ones, and the true ones. The place of origin, the home, is an unspecified African country, standing for all of (sub-Saharan) Africa. The story truly begins with the coming of the predators who bring ruin. First it is the the Arabs, then the Europeans—"whites" all. And always there are the weak and complicit locals, showing from the first a "fantastic quality ( . . . ): fidelity to those who spat on them", helping to bring ruin from within.

The first predators to appear come as beggars. Their pitiful appearancehardly to be taken seriouslyis misleading. They are cunning and patient. They use their religion to inspire and hold sway over the weak, turning them against their fellow Africans. The predators reduce them "to beasts" by starving their minds with their foreign religion and "indulging their crassest physical wants." These beaststhe perfidious askaris, who will play an important role in keeping the locals subjugated throughout the thousands of seasonsare pathetic, but though the others hold them in contempt (calling them "white desert-men's dogs") they become the willing and often very effective tools of the predators.

Time and again Armah shows the African to have been party to his own culture's demise, willing to deal with the (white) devil and selling out (often literally) his fellow man. The "white man from the desert" patiently makes inroads, returning stronger and wiser each time. The locals do not know how to protect themselves: 

This time again the predators came with force—to break our bodies. This time they came with guile also— a religion to smash the feeblest minds among us, then turn them into tools against us all. The white men from the desert had made a discovery precious to predators and destroyers: the capture of the mind and the body both is a slavery far more lasting, far more secure than the conquest of bodies alone.

There are revoltsof great ferocity. The gluttony of the predators is their own undoingyet it is never enough that is undone. Success is limited, the next wave of predators seemingly always at the ready. The locals never seem the wiser for what happened. The locals flee, "our hope being that new places, new circumstances, might bring us back to reciprocity, might bring us closer to our way, the way." But it is apparently only "the way" of a few. Leadership is a problem: the rulers are the worst of the lot. Armah has nothing but contempt for the powers that were: "The quietest king, the gentlest leader of the mystified, is criminal beyond the exercise of any comparison." This certainly holds for his prime example, the greedy fool Koranche.

The whites who come after the Arabs are not merely predators but destroyersthe armed colonial European powers. And Armah is certain: "There is nothing white men will not do to satisfy their greed"or: "Monstrous is the greed of the white destroyers, infinite their avarice." Fortunately for them then, there is little Koranche and his flatterers won't do to satisfy their greed either:

 Among the white destroyers there was no respect for anything we could say. They had come determined to see nothing, to listen to no one, bent solely on the satisfaction of their greed, of which we had ample news. But the king was infatuated with the white destroyers and would not heed the people's will, as quick in its expression as it was clear: to tell the white men to go.

Among the destroyers are missionaries, too, with a different poisonous religion. It seems too simple, too ridiculousand yet it too will subvert the ancient society from within. Wise Isanusi warns time and again of the dangers, but he is not heard or, at first, understood. Later, after they have been sold into slavery by their king and escaped "his words came back an echo to what we had lived to know." Finally, they are determined not to look into the past, or "return to homes blasted with triumphant whiteness." They would "seek the necessary beginning to destruction's destruction."

Isanusi sees how long the road ahead is, warning that this generation "would not outlive the white blight," that only the groundwork could be laid, the beginnings undertaken. Despite "the treachery of chiefs and leaders, of the greed of parasites that had pushed us so far into the whiteness of death" there is some hope for the futurebut not an immediate one. Two Thousand Seasons is a story of triumphs of the spirit and the will, despite unspeakable horrors, oppression, and betrayals. Enslaved, there is a daring escape from the shipand then the rescue of others. The white predators are beaten at their own games, their own arms stolen from them and then turned against them. Treachery does not stop, but there are successes, small movements along the right way. 

Much of this is dramatically related, though some of the chronicle is overly simple and overly stark. It is a very broad canvas Armah is painting: two thousand seasons, and almost all of Africa's history of that time reduced to these two hundred pages. It is a stirring, angry, often horrifying, often touching read. But ultimately it is too simplistic. The valiant triumphs that are recounted don't reflect the actual sad history of the continent. The white predators and destroyers are more complex creatures than Armah is here willing to acknowledge.

Much that he relatesthe weakness of the native leaders, the perverting effect of Islam and Christianity, the greed of the whites (and blacks alike)is convincing. But there was more complexity at work there, and most of it Armah glosses over. Worse yet, "the way," the grand, promised way to salvation is naïve and unrealistic. Noble, yes, but not a path likely to be taken. Idealism is all well and good, but it should also convinceand here, unfortunately, it doesn't. Armah's anger is well-placed, and often well (if too vigorously and subjectively) expressed. His idealism, his solution, is something that readers want to embrace, but truth and fact stand in the way. The history of the continent in the seasons since he has finished the novel sadly show the many wrong paths that continue to be taken. Armah's voice is not a lone one, but in Africa actions often speak louder than words and for the past three decades actions have only reinforced the ugly picture of the continuation of the destructive past he painted. Complete-Review

*   *   *   *   *

Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons is simultaneously a work of art, an oriki for Pan Africanism, a manifesto against white supremacy and an ancestral alarum—a reminder of the best of who we have been, who we have become, and who we still can—and must—be. As a work of art its contributions to African literature and literature more broadly are singular and unprecedented in the history of literature. That this is not acknowledged or even raised as a possibility has to do with the themes Two Thousand Seasons  takes up—Pan Africanism as the most vital and vibrant expression of African self love and self determination; Maat as the highest expression of the African moral code and social order; collectivism as the fiercest expression of a community’s spiritual development; that ego, individualism and division are the disease—love and connected consciousness the antidote; that African liberation and the quest to end global white supremacy are both human possibilities and responsibilities—and the writer’s uncompromising stance against Europe’s continuing onslaught on African humanity and progress. Appreciating what makes Two Thousand Seasons an unprecedented artistic achievement can best be understood by placing it alongside a novel that many believe—rightly or wrongly—to be the best African novel ever written, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In this way we can see how these two African artists construct their art from two different íwàgbayé (worldviews).  .  . .

Achebe’s Things Fall Apart  was written, in part, as a response Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, in an effort to correct Conrad’s racist depictions of Africa and Africans. Defending the image and interests of African people is always commendable, and it is clear that Achebe was defending the image of African peoples, but whose interests was he protecting? This raises a couple questions: 1) For whom was he speaking, that is, what community was Achebe representing? 2) To whom was Achebe speaking, that is, what community was he speaking to? In other words, as an African artist, writing a novel about African people, who was Achebe creating his art for and in whose tradition was he standing when created it?

First let’s consider the title of Achebe’s book,
Things Fall Apart. The title of a book is like naming a child, the name a parent chooses for tells us something about the nature of the parents and their vision for the child. So from whose tradition did he derive the name (title) of his book, the African tradition or the European tradition? Did he look to Ptahotep, the writer of the first book ever? No. Did he look to the book of Khun Anup for answering inspiration? No. Does he reach for any of the ancient masters of the arts of eloquence, dielis like Mamadou Kouyate, Tiondi Magassouba, Sogolon Djata, or Balla Fasseke? No. Does he reach for any Igbo traditionalists? No. He reaches for Yeats, a European, writing out of his own Irish cultural tradition, and uses his poem, “The Second Coming” to provide the asili (seed) for his “African” novel:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

From whose classical tradition does Achebe’s novel derive its narrative structure, the Kemetic tradition? No. He employs a European classical form, the Greek tragedy for his narrative foundation and upon which he then overlays the Igbo story. In effect, he dresses Sophocles in kente and a kufi offers it as African narrative. The destructive and disrupt clash between Africa and Europe is told through the eyes of an individual (Okonkwo) and not from the perspective of the entire Igbo community. Okonkwo is positioned as the prototypical tragic hero in the Greek tragedies. The Greek tragedies are comprised two basic elements: 1) Hamartia, which are basically a character flaws such as arrogance or impetuousness which proves to be harmful to others; and Peripeteia—a fall from grace as a result of the character flaw.

It was Aristotle who noted that peripeteia was the most powerful part of a plot in a tragedy along with discovery—Okonkwo doesn’t lead a victorious quest to remove the Europeans that have defiled his culture, instead he kills himself, which is a violation of his own culture. Once you understand symbolic significance of that gesture, it is not surprising that Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has been celebrated in the West as a great work of “African fiction,” because it is within the western literary tradition that the novel intentionally places itself and thus defers to. And it is toward the European community that the novel is intended to be in conversation with. Africans, however, are allowed to eavesdrop. . . .

In Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons we encounter a radically different notion of African fiction. From the first sentence of the first chapter, we are clear that this novel is operating from a different íwàgbayé: “We are not the people of yesterday.”

Right away Armah is signaling the reader that this story will not be told through an individual “I” but through the collective “WE.” This marks a signal achievement in the history of modern literature, never before had someone attempted to write a novel in a collective—WE—voice before. But who is Armah’s audience? In the interest of Maat, let us ask of Armah’s novel the same questions we asked of Achebe’s novel. 1) For whom was he speaking, that is, what community was he representing? 2) To whom was he speaking, that is, what community was he speaking to? In other words, as an African artist, writing a novel about African people, who was Armah creating his art for and in whose tradition was he standing when created it? A passage from the prologue provides our answer:

“Our way, the way, is not a random path. Our way begins from coherent understanding. It is a way that aims at preserving knowledge of who we are, knowledge of the best way we have found to relate to each other, each to all, ourselves to other peoples, all to our surrounding. If our individual lives have a worthwhile aim, that aim should be a purpose inseparable from the way”

Like Achebe, Armah’s novel is also written in part as a response to another novel, Le Devoir de Violence (Bound To Violence) by the Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem (1968). Yambo Ouologuem novel was a severe critique of African nationalism, and little more than an apologia for neocolonialism. Like Things Fall Apart, it was well received and celebrated in the west, winning Prix Renaudot one of France’s highest literary awards. Two Thousand Seasons was shaped by Armah living in Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania which was engaging in a African socialist project. Both “conversations” with Ouologuem and with Nyerere’s ujamaa vision shaped the animating vision of Two Thousand Seasons. Armah in constructing Two Thousand Seasons chooses to write an Africanized form of English, then builds his narrative on the ancient African prophesy of Anoa which forecast two thousand seasons of tumult eventual triumph, and two Akan narrative traditions to drive his story Anansesem—history of a people as told through the family and Abakosem—history of a people as told through the history of a nation. In so doing he is consciously employing Sankofa time—which can best be conceptualized as a circle in spiral form—rather than linear time.   

Two Thousands Seasons takes place over a one thousand year period of African history—500 year seasons in which the maafa precipitates Africans descent into the desert (white supremacy) and 500 year season crawling towards the spring water (Pan Africanism rooted in Maat). “Spring water flowing to the desert, where you flow there is no regeneration.” The story revolves around a group of twenty teenagers—11 males and nine females—who are captured, sold into slavery and later escape. However instead of returning to their families, they make the fateful decision—as a collective: to move along the slaving coast and risk their freedom and their lives by freeing other Africans. In other words, they make a conscious decision to place collective survival ahead of individual survival; to become freedom fighters. The notion of personal sacrifice in the interest of revolutionary struggle is soft nod to one of Armah’s biggest influences, Frantz Fanon: “If our individual lives have a worthwhile aim, that aim should be a purpose inseparable from the way”

Nothing with Armah is accidental, so one must ask, why 20 teenagers, why not ten, fifteen or twenty-five teenagers? To answer the question of the twenty freedom fighters we have to look further into the vision that animates Armah’s art. Armah is a Pan Africanist in this regard he sees Africans as one people, and thus rejects the idea of micro-nationalism, viewing national identities as part of the disease of division that afflicts African people. Thus Two Thousand Seasons is written from a Pan or ALL African perspective, and Armah uses names, mythologies and oral traditions from across the entire continent to inform his artistic/ political/ moral vision.

Including the Yoruba, here in a fist bump to Wole Soyinka, Armah uses the twenty teenagers as the living embodiment of the 21 roads or life paths of the Yoruba orisa Esu, the messenger and the owner of the crossroad. Each of 20 freedom fighters represents a possible road to liberation. But now we have an algebraic conundrum: there are only twenty teenagers and we have just noted that Esu has twenty-one roads, so we are missing one person. We must solve for X. Where is the missing 21st person, or rather who is the missing 21st person? Ah, we have our first mystery. In order to solve for X and unlock the first mystery, the reader has to know something about Yoruba mythology or Òrìsà /Ifá, specifically they must know something about the relationship between Esu and Yemoja. . . .

So who is the missing person, the 21st freedom fighter in the novel? YOU. You, the reader are the missing person; you make up the 21st road, the road to liberation, the road to the future. Armah has included the reader into the story because the goal is for the reader, after having read the book, to do—“to link memory with forelistening” and to make “your vocations utterance heard.” By using the collective WE rather than the individual I, the goal is to draw you into the story so that when you emerge you are moved to action. Armah by relying on the collective voice is asking the reader to write the rest of the story, to answer the ancestral call, and continue the quest for liberation, with their actions—to rediscover and recreate the way, our way. Facebook

*   *   *   *   *

Have we forgotten the cause of our long wandering? Did we not learn near the desert how priests and warriors are twin destroyers, the priest attacking the victim mind, the warrior breaking bodies still inhabited by resisting wills? All honest people who have come to us have come because they sought to do themselves good among us, as part of our people, and they said so. These white men, they do not want to be part of us. But here they have come claiming they have crossed the sea from wherever it is they come from just to do us good. They are pretenders. They are liars. We have asked them for nothing. We should not have let them come among us. They have no desire to live with us. They will live against us.(153-154)

'The whites intend a lasting oppressions of us' . . . He told us in the town Poano he had heard a white man, a missionary whose white greed was so subtle it looked forward to the ending of the open trade of human beings, to the beginning of a subtler destruction. This white missionary thought there would be far greater profit in keeping the victims of the trade here on our own land, having the kings and courtiers use them to mine and grow whatever the whites need, then offering the product to the white destroyers . . . Isanusi said this white missionary would be busy finding ways to eternalize our slavery through using our leaders in a cleverer kind of oppression, harder to see as slavery, slavery disguised as freedom itself. ‘The whites intend a long oppression of us.’ (163)

(The narrator) Our choices in the life we were ready to begin would not be many: we could fit into existing arrangements, abandoning our dreams of that better world, dreams of our way, the way. Or we could try to realize the way. That would mean fighting against the white road, the white people’s system for destroying our way, the way.

We listened to Isanusi. We did not know then the knowledge contained in his words was immediate, urgent knowledge. We thought we would have time to absorb it, time to adjust to its meaning. We had none. Isanusi tried to warn us but we misjudged him. We thought there was a distance between his words and reality, a space for us to manoeuvre in. There was none . . . . He warned us to stay completely clear of the new arrangements, the positions which had already become mere jobs for parasites.

(Isanusi) "The way things have become, if you do not want to be parasites you need time in which to think of what else there is to be. And above time, courage to do what you conclude you ought to do, which is more difficult . . . ."

(Isanusi) "If you knew who you were, you would accept no invitations from Black men who call white people friends. Such unnatural friendships are fed by bloody interests. You will live to be their victim." (164-166)

*   *   *   *   *

In Armah's novel women are held esteem and were the ones who planned and executed the fall of the Arab invasion and also fought side by side with men, and in some situations surpassed them, both in numbers and in strength, when the plan to destroy the destroyers was implemented. The story was set in some years before and during the slave trade. Before the coming of the destroyers, there were no chiefs or kings but rather caretakers carefully selected from any family and thus any individual who has been initiated and has shown enough beauty of mind, and character could become a caretaker. Armah describes Koranche, the king, as 'an empty, strutting fool, suffered to strut this way only because of thin social conventions.'

Lands were not something that were cut up and owned by people and no one bows to anybody or owns anybody. In effect the ownership of property was communal. Christianity and Islam are both rebuffed and laughed at in the novel: '... It is the white men's wish to take us from our way—ah, we ourselves are so far already from our way—to move us on their road; to void us of our soul and put their spirit, the worship of their creature god, in us. . . . They say it will be reward enough when we have lost our way completely, lost even our names; when you will call your brother not Olu but John, not Kofi but Paul; and our sisters would no longer be Ama, Naita, Idawa and Ningome but creatures called Cecilia, Esther, Mary, Elizabeth and Christina. ...'

The story did not take place in a given country, though it's about the slave trade, but in towns such as Anoa, Poano, Edina and the rest. The people are Africans, and are neither Ghanaians nor Nigerians for Soyinka, Oko, Nandi, Ndlela, Dovi, Kimathi, Umeme, Chi and many others were all denizens of Anoa. Thus, Africa, in the novel, is an entity without borders and so were its people who followed the way of reciprocity.

Anoa, the first to bear such name, prophesied the coming of a destruction, one that would persist for two thousand seasons and one that would take us from the way onto a path not known before. Hence, the coming of the people of the desert and those of the sea--the predators, the destroyers, the ostentatious cripples--and their hold over the people of Anoa was an event that was no surprise but it was the attitude towards them that was surprising.

What remains clear in the novel is the people's complicity in the events that destroyed them and took them away from the way, for there were individuals like Otumfur whose paunch thrives on flattery and so would say anything that would get to the head of the king. There were also greed-filled people like Edusei and Koranche whose eyes and heart are far from the way and in their laziness of mind and body want to live on others, make slaves of them and fill their bellies from their sweat and so worked for the Destroyers. Besides, the people were also filled with 'foolish generosity', one that do not follow the way of reciprocity. Another angle of the people's complicity in their enslavement had to do with their own ignorant and standoffish attitude that made them think that the deeds and demands of these predators would not stand the test of time and so did nothing, that like a disease, it would heal itself.

The poeple of Anoa became zombis and askaris working for these white destroyers, the predators, the slave masters. However, hope was kept alive at every turn of event as people, like Isanusi, who know the way decided to hold on to it and teach others who were eager to learn. There were people whose love for the way goes beyond the gratification of the self and such people were always willing to take Anoa back to the way, and even though they never fully succeeded, more importantly was the fact that they never despaired, they never were discouraged and they never gave up. . . .

However, since Armah wanted to portray Africa and the African way as the way for our liberation, I was slightly shocked that at certain points he went in for the anglicized spellings of names, for instance Koranche instead of Korankye. This decision may have come as a result of not trying to portray a particular tribe or ethnic group in the novel but to use a blanket spelling for all names. To me this does not detracts from the novel. The novel is a masterpiece, one that I can read and read and learn something new every time. My recommendation is not to read this once. There are times when you lose track of the narrative and reading requires much attention. Fred Uagyeman

*   *   *   *   *

Ayi Kwei Armah (born 1939) is a notable Ghanaian writer. Born to Fante-speaking parents, with his father's side Armah descending from a royal family in the Ga tribe in the port city of Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, Armah, having attended the renowned Achimota School, left Ghana in 1959 to attend Groton School in Groton, MA. After graduating, he entered Harvard University, receiving a degree in sociology. Armah then moved to Algeria and worked as a translator for the magazine Révolution Africaine. In 1964, Armah returned to Ghana, where he was a scriptwriter for Ghana Television and later taught English at the Navrongo School.

Between 1967 and 1968, he was editor of Jeune Afrique magazine in Paris. From 1968-1970, Armah studied at Columbia University, obtaining his MFA in creative writing. In the 1970s, he worked as a teacher in East Africa, at the College of National Education, Chang'ombe, Tanzania, and at the National University of Lesotho. He lived in Dakar, Senegal, in the 1980s and taught at Amherst and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Wikipedia  

*   *   *   *   *

Armah started his career as a writer in the 1960s. He published poems and short stories in the Ghanaian magazine Okyeame, and in Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and New African. Armah's first novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), was an allegorical story of the failure of an African ruling. The protagonist is an anonymous railway office clerk, simply called "the man," who struggles in the slums against poverty on one side and material greed on the other. He is pressured by his acquisitive family and fellow workers to accept the norms of society, bribery and corruption in order to guarantee his family a comfortable life. His virtues go largely unrewarded, his wife thinks him a fool, and his relatives prosper. At the end of the novel, the moral strength of "the man" is contrasted to a once-powerful politician, who has been deposed in a military coup. In the essay "Africa and Her Writers" (1972), presented at the Eliot House, Harvard University, Chinua Achebe perceived Armah as a "a brilliant Ghanaian novelist, but an "alienated native" and argued that it was a mistake to set the novel in Ghana, not in some "modern, existentialist no-man'land", because if "the hero is nameless, so should everything else be". As a reaction to the criticism, Armah replied with several abusive letters to Achebe.

In Fragments (1971), the protagonist, Baako, is a "been-to," a man who has been to the United States and received his education there. Back in Ghana he is regarded with superstitious awe as a link to the Western life style. Baako's grandmother Naana, a blind-seer, stands in living contact with the ancestors. Under the strain of the unfilled expectations Baako finally breaks. As in his first novel, Armah contrasts the two worlds of materialism and moral values, corruption and dreams, two worlds of integrity and social pressure. Why Are We So Blest? (1972) was set largely in an American University, and focused on a student, Modin Dofu, who has dropped out of Harvard. Disillusioned Modin is torn between independence and Western values. He meets a Portuguese black African named Solo, who has already suffered a mental breakdown, and a white American girl, Aimée Reitsch. Solo, the rejected writer, keeps a diary, which is the substance of the novel. Aimée's frigidity and devotion to the revolution leads finally to destruction, when Modin is killed in the desert by O.A.S. revolutionaries. . . .

Not many African authors have dealt with the slave trade in the African past. However, this subject was touched on by Armah in Two Thousand Seasons(1973), an epic, in which a pluralized communal voice speaks through the history of Africa, its wet and dry seasons, from a period of one thousand years. Arab and European oppressors are portrayed as "predators," "destroyers," and "zombies". The novel is written in allegorical tone, and shifts from autobiographical and realistic details to philosophical pondering, prophesying a new age. The Healers (1979) mixed fact and fiction about the fall of the celebrated Ashante empire. The healers in question are traditional medicine practitioners who see fragmentation as the lethal disease of Africa.

Armah remained silent as a novelist for a long period until 1995 when he published Osiris Rising, depicting a radical educational reform group, which reinstates ancient Egypt at the center of its curriculum. Kirjasto

*   *   *   *   *

Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening"  / Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening" 2 / Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening" 3

Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening" 4 / Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening" 5 

 Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening" 6  / Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening" 7  / Ayi Kwei Armah—"Awakening" 8

*   *   *   *   *

Basil Davidson's  "Africa Series"

 Different But Equal  /  Mastering A Continent  /  Caravans of Gold  / The King and the City / The Bible and The Gun

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

*   *   *   *   *

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

*  *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music)





posted 7 August 2010




Home  The African World Transitional Writings on Africa 

Related files: Achebe Another Birthday in Exile  Banning Chinua Achebe in Kenya   Mezu and Achebe: An Inside Knowledge   Reading Rose Ure Mezu's Chinua Achebe  Okonkwo's Curse  Achebes Female Characterisation