Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah
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 is 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 African 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 s more strategic and skillful character. Two thousand Seasons draws to a close with Africans I 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