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L'autre

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Janine Dove-Rumé
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Michel Naumann
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Tri Tran

IV. Nouvelles littératures

Why “the Other” in Two Thousand Seasons?

Mustapha Ben Zahra

Résumé

Two Thousand Seasons reconstruction of African history allows Africans to explore the atrocities of “the Other”, and it adopts corrective measures to the economic, cultural and political oppression of postcolonial Africa. The work demonstrates that the Arabs and the Europeans are responsible for the destruction of the continent and its values. They inflicted physical and mental damage on Africans with the help of their religions. They enslaved the natives and created masters and slaves. Using violence, the revolutionaries could end slavery and the European exploitation. Armah’s strategy for a true independence and a free society from Western domination lies in the restoration of “the way”, the revolution against oppression, the abolition of kingship and Pan-Africanism. To some extent, the recreation of African history has allowed Armah to dismantle some Western myths about Africa and Africans. Hence, Armah destroys to construct. The destruction of “the Other” in his fictionalized account of the attack on Africa is the construction of the African identity and the African society. In other words, he tries to make Africans understand themselves and their mission through understanding what exactly happened to them in history by the foreign forces. It is an understanding of the self through “the Other” and his colonialist ideology.

Texte intégral

1Historically, Africa has gone through many stages such as slave trade, colonialism, independence and neo-colonialism. These phases have inflicted on Africa loss of dignity, political and economic domination, distortion of African history, denial of African culture and the formation of stereotypical images for the African other. As an outcome, African society has been imprisoned into socio-political hardship, injustice and a sense of inferiority. Like his African committed counterparts, Ayi Kwei Armah, the Ghanaian novelist, produced Two Thousand Seasons to show the atrocities committed by the colonialists and to liberate the race from the shackles of neo-colonialism. This curative discourse based on historical reconstruction of African history has necessitated the novelist’s representation of “the Other”. In this paper, it means the foreign forces that invaded Africa. In Armah’s recreation of African history, they are the Arabs and Europeans.

“THE OTHER” VERSES THE NATIVE

  • 1 Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, “The Writer in a Changing Society”, Homecoming, London, Heinemann, 1972, p. 47.

2Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has said that “a writer responds, with his total personality, to a social environment which changes all the time... for the writer himself lives in, and is shaped by, history”1. Ngugi implies that African creativity, inspired by history, is a response to the forces that have been at play in the African past. Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons is a good example. Armah’s creative consciousness travels into the past to search for values that can revitalise the corrupt African life depicted in the earlier novels. The focus of this historical work, therefore, is an urgent concern for the liberation of the African mind from the disquieting legacy of alien myths and prejudices. Armah’s thematic concern has necessitated a representation of “the Other” because no healing process can deny the causes of the sickness of African society. In Two Thousand Seasons, “the Other” is the outside forces, the Arabs and Europeans, which have deteriorated Africa and Africans. In the world of the novel, the author makes use of polarity and opposition to represent “the Other” and the native or the self. In this way, “the Other is the colonizer, the invader, the oppressor and the victimizer. The native is the colonized, the invaded, the oppressed and the victim. These irreconcilable polarities form the centre of Armah’s counter-discourse. The way the novelist introduces “the Other” reinforces the polarity of the novel. The Arabs are introduced as beggars who were given help because it was part of the African people s life to assist guests. However, the Arabs deceived them. In this case, Africans are seen as welcoming people, but the Arabs are seen as betrayers and exploiters. Europeans are introduced in this way:

  • 2 Ayi Kwei Armah, Two Thousand Seasons, London, Heinemann, 1973, p. 77. All subsequent references bet (...)

The white people asked for lands. The people told them land was not a thing to be possessed... If they wanted shelter they always be welcome as guests... At night they brought their ship closer to Enchi and from it sent hot balls of iron flying through the air to destroy their hosts.2

  • 3 Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Oxford Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 37-3 (...)

3Here, Armah is stimulating the African audience to remember the disaster caused by European imperialists in the nineteenth century. According to the writer, the imperialists went against the “hospitality” of “the way” and settled themselves by military raids. In relation to this, Armah makes clear the imperialists ends in Africa. They wanted “to set up on our land a factory, a hunting station and a church... to mine the hills of Anoa for gold” (100). Armah highlights that the real motive of the invasion of Africa is economic drive. Boehmer has emphasized that the true objective of colonialism has all the time been economic.3 Once again, Africans were represented as generous and hospitable, but European imperialists were portrayed as invaders. To sum up, “the Other” is associated with destruction and spiritual infection, the native is associated with healing and recreation. These are key aspects of “the way”.

“THE WAY” OF THE NATIVE

4The native is represented not as an individual character since the novel promotes the communal commitment to the cause of the liberation of the continent from the domination of the centre. Instead, he is represented by a revolutionary group, and the mythical ethos called in the novel “the way” stands for the native’s different aspects of life. “The way” exhibits the glorious qualities of a far-distant past: the pre-colonial period of African history. According to Armah’s account, “the way” involves qualities that are in opposition to the values of “the Other”:

Our way is reciprocity. The way is wholeness. Our way knows no oppression. The way destroys oppression. Our way is hospitable to guests. The way repels destroyers. Our way produces before it consumes. Our way creates. The way destroys only destruction (39).

  • 4 Hugh Webb, “The African Historical Novel and the Way Forward”, African Literature Today, ed. Eldred (...)
  • 5 Tsegaye Wodajo, Hope in the Midst of Despair: a Novelist’s Cures for Africa, New Jersey, Africa Wor (...)

5Apart from these attributes, political, social, cultural and ideological aspects of “the way” emanate throughout the novel because “the process of reading the work is the process of growing understanding of the way”4. In bringing back the past, the author asserts that African people were united, and they were living in “beautiful relationships”, Armah’s phrase for harmony. Tsegaye Wodajo has well pointed that “regardless of the historical accuracy of such an assertion, Armah’s representation of pre-colonial Africa as hospitable is important from the African anti-colonial perspective. It raises the self-esteem of Africans who have been made to believe that they were invaded because they were weak”5. Thus, “the way” is called up to inform African readership that there has been a dignified African society before the contact with “the Other”. In this sense, Armah confirms what Chinua Achebe has said about the reclamation of the past and re-creation of history that are fundamental to African literature:

  • 6 Chinua Achebe, “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation”, African Writers African Writings, ed. G. D (...)

This theme put quite simply-is that African people did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans; that their societies were not mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty, that they had poetry, and above all, they had dignity. It is this dignity that many African people all but lost during the colonial period and it is this that they must regain.6

6More than this, the notion of “the way” allows the writer to answer back and break European colonialists’ myths about the African other:

We are not a people of yesterday. Do they ask how many single seasons we have flowed from our beginnings till now?. We shall point them to the proper beginning of their counting. (p. 1)

  • 7 K. Damodar Rao, The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah, New Delhi, Prestige Books 1993 p. 92.
  • 8 In the eighteenth century, many negative views about Africa and Africans were developed in Europe t (...)

7He traces the origin of African people to a dim past. In recapitulating the two thousand seasons, the work, then, becomes the writer’s response to the “Other”’s distortion of African history “by means of a viable native standpoint”7. As a matter of fact, Armah challenges the writings of white historians who denied for Africa culture and participation to world civilization8. Armah emphasizes the negative image of alien powers by creating scenes and passages where physical and mental evil have been practiced on African people. This is meant to stimulate the African audience to remember the atrocities of the contact of Africans with foreign forces.

WOMEN

8The following scene deals with strange behaviours of the Arabs towards African women:

Great was the pleasure of these lucky Arab predators as with extended tongue they vied to see who could with the greatest ease scoop out buttered dates stuck cunningly into the genitals of our women lined up for just this their pleasant competition.(21)

  • 9 Eustace Palmer, The Growth of the African Novel, London, Heinemann, 1979, p. 229.
  • 10 Abena P. A. Busia, “Silencing Sycorax: on African Colonial Discourse and the Unvoiced Female,” Cult (...)
  • 11 There are many colonial texts in which Africans and Africa were denied their humanity. They were tr (...)

9Armah mocks the Arabs and pours much venom towards them. He opposes the purposeful life of African people to the Arabs’way of life when he reduces them to “bestial beings indulging in the most repulsive orgies”9 To create incompatible polarities, the writer calls the Arabs’way of life “the white road” that is characterized only with consumption without production. The Arabs are seen as dehumanizing African women by treating them as an object for their games and pleasure. This shows how the Arabs overturned the social structure of African society. In old times, there was gender equality. Women used to participate in all social duties as the beginning of the novel testifies. The main idea Armah wants to fix in the mind of the reader is that the oppression of women and the spread of social inequality are splits in African tradition. In fact, the Arabs’ view of African women is a reminder of the representation of the black woman in the colonial text. Abena Busia has clarified that “one of the primary characteristics in the representation of the black African woman in colonial fiction is the construction of her inactive silence”10. The colonial texts deprived her of her capacity to articulate and act11. Armah evokes such stereotypical image of the black woman so as to subvert it. In contrast to the Arabs’ treatment of African women and their representation by colonial works, he foregrounds women by giving them an essential role and a noble mission in the liberation of the race.

RELIGION

10Beside the physical destruction, the writer’s historical survey inserts one of the cases in which “the Other” is seen as a mental destructive mechanism:

The mind can also suffer attack, the mind can also fall to conquest. A mind attacked and conquered is guided easily away from the paths of its own soul. The body is then cut off from its spirit as in sleep, yet still instinct with the conquerors’ imposed commands, a soulless thing but active... Such a body is set to persist in such obedience even if its conqueror’s were a distance of days and days away, a time of seasons separate. Such are zombies. And among us such were the askaris. (28)

11The author implies that colonizers brainwashed the indigenous people’s minds by imposing their religions. Islam and Christianity are depicted as the colonizers’ means of captivating the minds of the people of “the way”, and they are tools of changing the people’s identity:

Our coming here is a high favour unto you, a heaten people. We bring you whiteness, which is godliness itself... Conte and be saved. Come to the church, come into whiteness, come into purity. Throw your names to oblivion. Take white names, and denounce those who would fight against the whiteness of our road. Rebels against whiteness they are rebels against god. (200)

12At the same time, the novelist presents the European invaders’ view of Africans: whiteness is good; blackness is evil. White people are civilized; black people are savage. Armah dismantles such view by portraying African values as positive and European colonialists’ values as negative. To some extent, the novel resists all forms of the colonialist distortion of African personality;

We have not found that lying trick to our taste, the trick of making up sure knowledge of things possible to think of, possible to wonder about but impossible to know in any such ultimate way. We are stunted in spirit, we are not Europeans, 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. We are not so wrapped in soul, we are not Arabs, we are not Muslims to fabricate a desert god chanting madness in wilderness and call our creature creator. That is not our way. (3)

13Furthermore, the consequence of Islam and Christianity is the creation of zombies and askaris to serve them. According to the author, the two religions created masters and slaves, the thing that is against the equality of “the way”.

SLAVERY

14Slavery, as the work demonstrates, is another atrocity of colonialism. The work brings about this issue when it portrays in detail the action of John, the slave dealer:

The tall slave driver pushed the burning iron against the captive’s chest where the oil had been smeared and held these a full moment. The tortured man yelled with pain, once smoke rose sharply from the oily flesh, then the iron rod was snatched back. Where its end had touched the captive’s skin there was now raw, exposed flesh. The skin had come off in two pieces each as long as a middle finger and half as broad. (118)

  • 12 Ode Ogede, Ayi Kwei Armah: Radical Iconoclast, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2000, p. 109.

15The novelist depiction of the inhuman treatment of the slaves offers a unique insight into the trauma and the experience of slavery. Ode Ogede has rightly argued that “by representing in his writing a sense of horrors, degradation, and humiliation of the experience of slavery, Armah participates in the process of racial reengineering of the black person. He urges every one of us to keep alive the memory of that most difficult of periods in black history, and the sense of the past... is essential to the future direction of society.”12. Implicitly, the writer sheds light on the contradiction between Christian theories of universal brotherhood and the practice of slavery. In this sense, Two Thousand Seasons may be considered as a condemnation of religious and humanitarian discourses used by the imperialist centre to justify the enslavement and the domination of the periphery or the margin. Thus, the truth of colonialism is revealed. It is successfully displayed by the creation of contradictory extracts, expressions and phrases which enable the novelist to be ironic towards “the Other”’s discourse. For example, the phrase “be saved” used by the priest actually means its true significance: be enslaved. Whereas “the way” used to enjoy equality and coexistence, colonialism went against it by tricking Africans into slavery. The novel condemns it and tries to show the way to the liberation of the race.

THE LIBERATION

  • 13 Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976, (...)
  • 14 Ime Ikiddeh, «Ideology and Revolutionary Action,» Présence Africaine, n° 139, 3rd. Quarterly, 1976, (...)
  • 15 Juliet Okonkwo, «The Intellectual as Political Activist,» Présence Africaine, n° 130, 2nd. Quarterl (...)
  • 16 Chidi Amuta, Towards a Sociology of African Literature, Oguta, Zim Pan-African Publishers, 1986, p. (...)
  • 17 Ibid., p. 141.

16The liberation of African people means the building of an African society that is free from Western political, cultural and economic domination. That is to say, it is the destabilization of a relationship that was established between the colonizer and the excolonized after the independence of the colonies. Behaving as a healer, Armah provides the ingredients of a resolution to have a free continent. They are the return to “the way”, belief in the revolution, rejection of kingship and Pan-Africanism. Initially, the return to “the way” is to enjoy the traditional communal life that is based on egalitarianism. Armah implies that this can be done if Africans selectively embrace once again their own social and cultural qualities they lost during colonialism. Restoring “the way” does not mean to look at the past as ideal. It is made clear that the past is meaningful in the present and necessary for the future. This is what Wole Soyinka has called “the visionary reconstruction of the past for the purposes of social direction”13. However, Armah implies that Africans should look at their past from a critical point of view. For example, his historical account inserts that there was a slight separation in precolonial community, and the Arabs could exploit it to dominate Africans. Armah indicates that some Africans whom he calls “the feeblest minds” (33) are to some extent responsible for being exploited. Secondly, the work declares that no liberation from the domination of “the Other” is possible without a revolution. In Two Thousand Seasons, the revolution is symbolized in the violent group action that freed them from slavery and that was guided by Isanusi, the inspirer of the revolutionaries. The writer denotes that a revolution needs leaders, sacrifice and the use of violence. Isanusi is the leader of the work; he “combines the roles of the traditional seer, teacher and griot and of a progressive modern leader reminiscent of Cheguevera, fidel Castro or Mao Tse Tung14. He motivates the insurgents and inspires them. Also, he educates them and takes upon himself “the education of the young in the history of the nation and in the ideology of revolution, interpreting his society’s history and providing a basis for the evaluation of new experience”15. He teaches the revolutionaries in the history of the black race to motivate them; he instructs them that power is something to work for the community, not against it. Isanusi’s sacrifice is a key point in the revolution. It is symbolized in his death when king Koranche sent an assassin to kill him. Isanusi exposed himself to death to respect his belief in the revolution and to be true to himself. In addition, Armah advocates violence in his book, and the preoccupation with it is a response to the disastrous violence, with which the African psyche was tortured. Armah’s violence is what Chidi Amuta has called “restorative violence”16. Not only is this kind of violence an effective means to get Africa rid of exploitation and oppression of the coloniser, but it is also a way to restore the African values. Therefore, it is “both an act of subtle revolt and a reaffirmation of their humanistic ideals and essence”.17 In this sense, Armah confirms:

We do not utter the praise of arms... we praise but the living relationship itself of those united in the use of all things against the white sway of death, for creation’s life. (205)

  • 18 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, New York, Grove Press, 1963, (...)

17Armah’s advocacy of violence is based on that of Frantz Fanon. Fanon observed that the struggle for liberation “can only triumph if we use all means, including, of course violence”.18 Then, the abolition of kingship is embodied in the death of the king Koranche, who helped the European colonisers to enslave Africans.

  • 19 Emmanuel Ngara, Stylistic Criticism and the African Novel, London, 1982, p. 136.

18Two Thousand Seasons exterminates kings because they betrayed their people by their self-seeking. They “turned the honoured position of caretakers into plumage for their infirm selves” (63). Finally, Armah incorporates a pan-African vision in his rebuilding of a new Africa. Armah places the African people’s struggle within a racial framework. As Emmanuel Ngara has suggested, Armah’s most apparent way to assert the unity of the African people is his use of African names19. These are derived from all over Africa “Kimati, Soyinka, Dedan, Umeme, Chi, Mpenzi, Inse, Nandi, Kibaden, Kima, Mensa, Ngazi, Kisa, Tete, Kesho, Irele, Okai, Ankonam, Akole, Kakra, Nsa” (155). These names form a pan-African world since they bear Yoruba, Igbo, Zulu, Gikuyu and Akan origin. They include critics like Irele, writers like Soyinka and martyrs in the fight for freedom like Kimati. Armah invites all artists and intellectuals to participate in the construction of a free and strong continent. He urges Africans to share brotherhood and be unified. He seems to say that Africans have to create what may be called “an African bloc” to confront and collaborate with other economic and political alliances.

19To conclude, Two Thousand Seasons’ reconstruction of African history allows Africans to explore the atrocities of “the Other”, and it adopts corrective measures to the economic, cultural and political oppression of postcolonial Africa. The work demonstrates that alien forces are responsible for the destruction of the continent and its values. They inflicted physical and mental damage on Africans with the help of their religions. They enslaved the natives and created masters and slaves. Using violence, the revolutionaries could end slavery and European exploitation. Armah’s strategy for a true independence and a free society from Western domination lies in the restoration of “the way”, the revolution against oppression, the abolition of kingship and Pan-Africanism. To some extent, the recreation of African history has allowed Armah to dismantle some Western myths about Africa and Africans. Hence, Armah destroys to construct. The destruction of “the Other” in his fictionalized account of the attack on Africa is the construction of African identity and African society. In other words, he tries to make Africans understand themselves and their mission through understanding what exactly happened to them in history by foreign forces. It is an understanding of the self through “the Other” and his colonialist ideology. In fact, Armah behaves as an educator and a healer. On the one hand, he educates Africans in the history of their continent. He teaches them that nothing good can be done for Africans by non-Africans. On the other hand, he writes with the purpose to contribute to improving the continent. Armah is actually true to his art.

Bibliographie

CITED WORKS:

ACHEBE Chinua, “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation”, African Writers on African Writings, ed. G. D Killam, London, Heinemann, 1979.

AMUTA Chidi, Towards a Sociology of African Literature, Oguta, Zim Pan-African Publishers, 1986.

ARMAH Ayi Kwei, Two Thousand Seasons, London, Heinemann, 1973.

BOEHMER Illeke, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995.

BUSIA Abena P. A, “Silencing Sycorax: on African Colonial Discourse and the Unvoiced Female”, Cultural Critique, 1980-90.

FANON Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, New York, Grove Press, 1963.

IKIDDEH Ime, “Ideology and Revolutionary Action”, Présence Africaine, n ° 139, 3rd. Quarterly, 1976.

NGARA Emmanuel, Stylistic Criticism and the African Novel, London, Heinemann, 1982.

OGEDE Ode, Ayi Kwei Armah: Radical Iconoclast, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2000.

OKONKWO Juliet, “The Intellectual as Political Activist”, Présence Africaine, n° 130, 2nd Quarterly, 1984.

PALMER Eustace, The Growth of the African Novel, London, Heinemann, 1979.

RAO K. Damodar, The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah, New Delhi, Prestige Books, 1993.

SOYINKA Wole, Myth, Literature and the African World, Cambridge, Camebridge University Press, 1976.

WA THIONG’O Ngugi, “The Writer in a Changing Society”, Homecoming, London, Heinemann, 1972.

WEBB Hugh, “The African Historical Novel and the Way Forward”, African Literature Today, ed. Eldred Jones, n° 11, London, Heinemann, 1980.

WODAJO Tsegaye, Hope in the Midst of Despair: a Novelist’s Cures for Africa, New Jersey, Africa World Press, 2005.

Notes

1 Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, “The Writer in a Changing Society”, Homecoming, London, Heinemann, 1972, p. 47.

2 Ayi Kwei Armah, Two Thousand Seasons, London, Heinemann, 1973, p. 77. All subsequent references between parentheses will be taken from the same edition.

3 Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Oxford Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 37-38.

4 Hugh Webb, “The African Historical Novel and the Way Forward”, African Literature Today, ed. Eldred Jones, n° 11, London, Heinemann, 1980, p. 86.

5 Tsegaye Wodajo, Hope in the Midst of Despair: a Novelist’s Cures for Africa, New Jersey, Africa World Press, 2005, p. 118.

6 Chinua Achebe, “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation”, African Writers African Writings, ed. G. D Killam, London, Heinemann, 1979, p. 8.

7 K. Damodar Rao, The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah, New Delhi, Prestige Books 1993 p. 92.

8 In the eighteenth century, many negative views about Africa and Africans were developed in Europe to justify the slave trade and European colonialism. Such racist views were summed up by the ideas of the Scottish philosopher David Hume who said in his essay “Of National Character” that he is “apt to suspect the negroes and in general all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences...”

9 Eustace Palmer, The Growth of the African Novel, London, Heinemann, 1979, p. 229.

10 Abena P. A. Busia, “Silencing Sycorax: on African Colonial Discourse and the Unvoiced Female,” Cultural Critique, 1980-90, p. 84.

11 There are many colonial texts in which Africans and Africa were denied their humanity. They were treated as non-humans. One of those books is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

12 Ode Ogede, Ayi Kwei Armah: Radical Iconoclast, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2000, p. 109.

13 Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976, p. 106.

14 Ime Ikiddeh, «Ideology and Revolutionary Action,» Présence Africaine, n° 139, 3rd. Quarterly, 1976, p. 138.

15 Juliet Okonkwo, «The Intellectual as Political Activist,» Présence Africaine, n° 130, 2nd. Quarterly, 1984, p. 88.

16 Chidi Amuta, Towards a Sociology of African Literature, Oguta, Zim Pan-African Publishers, 1986, p. 141.

17 Ibid., p. 141.

18 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, New York, Grove Press, 1963, p. 37.

19 Emmanuel Ngara, Stylistic Criticism and the African Novel, London, 1982, p. 136.

Auteur

Moulay Ismail University, Meknes

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2008

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540