32. They and Us Killed Us, A Review of Ayi Kwei Armah's The Healers

Title: The Healers
Author: Ayi Kwei Armah
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Per Ankh
Pages: 351
ISBN: 2-911928-04-0
Year of Publication: 1978 (this edition 2000)
Country: Ghana; Africa

Authors write for different reasons. To some writing has a therapeutic effect. Some write to express a personal opinion, some write toward an idea whereas others write from an idea. Others also write to project the views, aspirations and culture of a tribe. But Ayi Kwei Armah uses his writing to achieve a wider, larger objective of African unification.

PLOT: The period of the story is the nineteenth century when the colonialists are fighting the Asantes for control of the land and the Asantes are also fighting the Fantes to reclaim their land. The Healers tells of a young man, Densu, who was framed up for the murder of the heir apparent to Esuano's throne by his guardian Ababio, after the latter had unsuccessfully convinced the former to step up and claim the position. But Densu attracted by the work of Damfo, a healer decided to become a healer and so turned down his guardian's request and moved to the Eastern Forest where Damfo and his daughter Ajo, lives.

Meanwhile, at Cape Coast the colonialists had manipulated the chiefs and kings to provide the men required to fight the Asantes. The great battle that ensued saw fighters coming in from across the continent such as Dahomey, Hausas, Ada, Ga, Aneho, Akim, Ekuapem, Kru, Temne, Mande, Sussu and many others. Thus, whereas the Healers were working through inspiration to unite the continent, the British colonialist using manipulation had brought together soldiers to fight the Asantes. The kings of Asante also afraid of losing their position of power succumbed to the colonialist, thus leading to defeat and division. 

On the other hand, the kings of Asante blamed the healers for their decision and so sent soldiers, those who were to fight the whites, to ferret out the Healers and kill them.

The story is narrated by an omniscient narrator who showed himself or herself through emotional outburst such as an address to certain individual to surfeit him or her with words so that he or she could continue to narrate the story:
Ah, Fasseke, words fail the storyteller, Fasseke Belen Tigui, master of masters in the art of eloquence, lend me strength ... Send me words Mokopu Mofolo. Send me words of eloquence (page 63)
MY THOUGHTS: As an informal sequel to Two Thousand Seasons, The Healers tells of how for their crave for food to fill their paunch, drinks to glaze their eyes and pamper their nerves and silken clothes to lie upon, the so-called kings and chiefs of Africa plotted the continent's dis-unity. Thus, those who have taken oaths with the gods' swords and sworn upon the gods' names to serve the people became the served.

Ayi Kwei Armah exposes the causes of Africa's disunity: self-importance, the crave for power, lack of knowledge regarding origins and the smallness of the leaders' (kings and chiefs mainly) mind. If not for the love of power how then could Ababio frame his god-son, the orphan Densu, for the murder of the heir-apparent so that he, Ababio, would ascend to the throne at Esuano with ease? or the queen mother of Kumase work against the war strategy of Asamoa Nkwanta, the mighty warrior for the Asantes (the Osajefo), because she fears that should the war be won the latter would fight them for the throne at Kumase? According to the queen mother
the wisdom of a king lay in knowing at all times what to do to remain a king. If what should be done now was to yield a bit to the whites, better that than lose all power to an upstart general (page 331)
If not for the lack of knowledge regarding origins, how then could the Asantes see themselves different from the Fantes, the Akims, the Ekuapems and many others, when they are all Africans?

Though Armah discussed the causes of Africa's disunity, he does not drum only doom and does not pretend to have quick answers to the problem. According to him there are the Healers whose greatest work is to work towards the unification of Africa. To these Healers this scattering and individualism of Africans are but a temporary phase in the affairs of men and though they are persecuted by the kings and queens and chiefs of Africa they are not giving up. Slowly and carefully they believe they would realise this long-term objective.

Armah's penchant for writing on Africa's unification and recreating Africa's past does not blind him to certain inhuman practices accepted as tradition. In fact, he speaks vehemently against such acts and attributes them to selfishness, lust for power and ignorance.

Scaling up Armah's novel, it becomes easier to see these events in present-day Africa. How many times haven't Africans working to create the unity of the continent been killed: spiritually or physically? Think of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and many others. Think also of the author's own halleluya when he wrote his famous novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and his immediate crucifixion and fall from grace when he wrote Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers. Why? Because these two novels blame the whites and some ignoramuses of Africa for Africa's current predicament. Because these novels show how Africans can put the past aside and work towards the future, towards the goal of black unification. Because when such a unification is achieved these people of power would lose their positions and such positions would no longer be necessary. And this is what the Ostentatious Cripples and the Vultures are not prepared to hear or to have it heard. Yet, like Healers such as Damfo, Armah knows the final result of their small works may not be realised now or even in their lifetime; it may be realised centuries after we are all gone. The peaceful and the most enjoyable part is that IT SHALL COME TO PASS when the parts shall become whole.
Finally, Armah bemoans in this novel of how every affair of man is about competition, about victory and loss rather than about collaboration. Currently, if a company had to pollute rather than incur huge financial losses, it would pay its way to pollute even if such pollution would lead to the death of men and of things. In the media it is common to see TV crews fighting to cover a child dying of hunger than to see them actually helping the child. It is profit first, life last. Whatever would put money in the bank account would be highly competed for even if it would lead to the death of its victims. This is how capitalism has been defined today.

In reading The Healers you can see Armah in motion, moving to and working from Senegal and talking to the people of the continent, sowing the acorns of realisation and working tirelessly to ensuring that the healing of Africa's wound, the spiritual awakening of dead souls, that the path to origins would once again be found. I end with a beautiful quote from the book:

Let the error raise its own correction (Page 8)
I recommend this book to every individual. However, I say read Two Thousand Seasons before reading this. This is not just a novel, it is a text book, a book that inspires understanding, love, and begs for action.

In Ghana, a copy of this novel could be obtained from the University of Ghana's bookshop. Current issues are published by the author's publishing house PER ANKH, where copies could be obtained.


  1. I'm digging this.
    Will soon get a copy of this book.

  2. thanks Mike... it is a good read.

  3. i have read this book and but for the slow pace at which i read these days i would have read it a second and a third time even.

    now i'd look for Two Thousand Seasons as you've recommended.

  4. You know you're the one who inspired me most to buy this and read. I would want you to get TTS. Armah's books could be read numerous times.


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