Author: Ayi Kwei Armah
Publisher: Per Ankh
Year: 1973 (this edition 2000)
Two Thousand Seasons is Ayi Kwei Armah's bold attempt at recreating the 'lost' history of Africa. It starts from before the beginning where Africans were following The Way and ends at the point where Africans were or are fighting slavery, yet it does not end there at all. This is a story that shreds long-held belief systems into tatters. Institutions and what had always been referred to, wrongly though according Armah's Narrative, as Tradition - such as the Chieftaincy institution and the inequality against women - do not stand up to Armah's critical observation and construct. 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 people 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.
The narration of the story is unique. The narrator of the story is not an omniscient one, but one that surpasses time. The narrator is part of the people but a phantom part whose identity was never revealed. He/She was there when Anoa prophesied the coming of the destruction, was there when the Arabs fled to the deserts, was there at the crossing of 'bogland' to Edina, was there at the coming of the people from the sea, was there when the plot to destroy the destroyers was hatched and executed. There is less conversation in the story and every action is rather told by this narrator. In fact, the prologue and the first chapter seemed impregnable at first reading. However, the reader finds his/her rhythm and understanding from the second chapter. The novel uses a lot of symbols and it requires an individual to dig deep to comprehend what is being said. Armah, has a way with words. For instance he describes the clothes that was used to bribe the chief Koranche as 'clothes of colors bright to fascinate children's eyes set in adults head'... Such description and turn of phrase abound in this narrative and there are many statements that could stand on their own and make interesting quotes.
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.