- A Vision of the Ideal:Armah's Two Thousand Seasons
In a paper published not long ago in Ufahamu, Kofi Anyidoho tries to explain "some of the sensations [Ayi Kwei] Armah's Two Thousand Seasons generates by reinterpreting and recreating historical and contemporary Africa through a system of ideas, images, and symbols carefully structured into a visionary ideal" (109). To Anyidoho, although history is Armah's point of departure, he transforms historical experience and subverts and recreates history. And this subversion and recreation calls for certain adjustments in the way we apprehend historical reality. Because the world Armah recreates is a "visionary world," it may fall short of the expectations of people who are used to conventional historical realism. If we accept Anyidoho's thesis that "[t]here is no such thing as a complete history, a history which represents the past as it truly was" (109), we are then compelled by Armah's approach to African history in this novel to believe that his vision in Two Thousand Seasons is a vision of the ideal, especially when we consider the central position he accords the ethos of "the way" as a guiding principle in precolonial Africa, and which could [End Page 549] be exploited in charting a new course for Africa. Armah's vision is thus both backward-looking and forward-looking. Anyidoho has thoroughly explored the historical dimension to Armah's novel, but he does not fully address the question of the visionary ideal. Our concern in this paper, therefore, is to ascertain the essence of this ideal in relation to Africa's contemporary problems. For Armah situates these problems within the context of a comparison of what life was before colonialism and what it was during and after colonialism.
Armah suggests that there was an African ideal before the advent of Arab and European colonialism, an ideal that sustained precolonial Africa. This ideal took the form of an egalitarian philosophy that formed the pivot of all social organization and social interaction. However, the experience of colonialism wipes this out and replaces it with an individualism cultivated through the divisive practices and selfish tastes introduced by whites. Armah's recapitulation and projection of his vision is therefore his own way of establishing "where the rain began to beat us," as Achebe does in his rural novels. For, as he puts it in Two Thousand Seasons, "A people losing sight of origins are dead" (xiii).
Armah is aware that the various European attempts to falsify African history are an integral part of the efforts to programmatically destroy the African social essence, "the way": "That is also part of the wreckage of our people. What has been cast abroad is not a thousandth of our history, even if its quality were truth . . . the haze of this fouled world exists to wipe out knowledge of our way, the way. These mists are here to keep us lost . . ." (2). Armah's project, then, is to help clear these mists about the African past by digging into the ethos that sustained that past. He approaches his task, in Wole Soyinka's words, as "the visionary reconstruction of the past for the purposes of a social redirection" (106). He digs into the past, retrieves an almost lost gem, "the way," and presents it as the most viable option open to the Africa of the future. It is a call for a return to a lost African Eden.
Armah begins his reconstruction with the implied thesis that in the beginning all black African peoples were one. This primordial unity was important in the cultivation of the sense of communalism and humane values that were encysted in the philosophy of "the way" and that contributed to the smooth running of the society. The precolonial African society into which the Arab and European invaders stepped was therefore peaceful, congenial, productive, and rich. Ime Ikiddeh suggests that by going back to the nature of the society before the Arab invasion, Armah is attempting to answer one central question: what are the roots of the African tragedy? In answering this question, Armah traces the historical experience of the Akan from the precolonial to the colonial era...