Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Salvation History in Ayi Kwei Armah's Two Thousand Seasons

Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Salvation History in Ayi Kwei Armah's Two Thousand Seasons

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper investigates Ayi Kwei Armah's discourse in Two Thousand Seasons (1973) and unveils the philosophy of history articulated in his narrative. It is premised on the idea that the historiography charted in the novel is modeled on American Puritans' salvation history, also called ecclesiastical history. Armah returned to this apocalyptic tradition to contest various versions of African history and to produce a historical eschatological ideal which encompasses the past, the present, and the future of the African continent.

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This article attempts to unveil the philosophy of history deployed in Ayi Kwei Armah's fourth novel Two Thousand Seasons (1973). Armah is a Ghanaian writer, whose reputation was established by the biting social and political satire of his earlier novels, namely The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Fragments (1970), and Why Are We So Blest (1972). In these social commentaries he fiercely assaulted the failure of African governments to achieve the promises of independence and the increasing Westernization of African cultures under neo-colonialism. With the publication of Two Thousand Seasons, however, he shifted his interest in social reality and political leadership toward a deep concern with the continent's past. His ambitious project led him to engage the field of history, to adopt the form and voice of traditional oral epics, and to envision an eschatological pan-African ideal.

Central to the plot of Two Thousand Seasons is the episode of the slave trade during the last millennium. This episode is revisited via a communalized narrator, who recounts the native revolts against the Arab and the Western invasions of Africa and advocates an inspirational ideology for the future. The plural narrative voice of the novel, its spatial setting, time span, and the actions of its protagonists are all epic, and its vision of the future is eschatological and attains the level of myth-making. In Myth in Africa: A Study of its Aesthetic and Cultural Relevance (1983), Isidore Okpewho praised Armah's achievement because he took "his visionary programme one step further, and in this way perhaps gives us something more than traditional myths do: the potential victory over the forces of destruction is actually realized" (204). The mythopoetic thrust of the novel led Okpewho to identify similarities between some of its narrative situations and biblical archetypes. The consistency of the similarities demonstrates that Two Thousand Seasons may also function as a kind of a religious tract.

It is the interweaving of the religious and the historical as constructed discourses involved in revisionism and reconstruction that I propose to tackle here. My argument is that for Armah to graft to his epic narrative a teleological eschatological dimension (encompassing past, present, and future), he not only returned to the strategies and the pleasures of orature, as amply demonstrated by critics, but he also borrowed the Puritans' ecclesiastical history through which they construed and historicized their removal to New England. In my view, Armah accommodated the main tenets of this philosophy in order to articulate a politics of African history which is different from Leopold Sedar Senghor's philosophy of Negritude and the colonial historiography and to produce a historical vision which encompasses the past, the present, and the future of the continent.

Armah's appropriation of the American Puritans' historical imagination results in two different discursive moments in the narrative: one, an agonistic moment in which Armah contests the versions of African history as inscribed in the philosophy of Negritude and Western colonial anthropology; two, a systematic construction in which eschatological historiography concurs with traditional oral epics to create epic actions and situations and a millenarian vision of renaissance and revival. In so doing, Armah distances his literary creation from Western (secular) epics, which in the words of Mikhail Bakhtin bear no direct relationship to the present (13), and aligns it on native oral epics which, according to Okpewho in his Epic in Africa: Toward a Poetics of the Oral Performance (1979), never represent a "fossilized tradition": "the material of the song [i. …

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