Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

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Written in 1978, "The Healers" is a 309-page novel by Ayi Kwei Armah set against the backdrop of the early British colonization of the Ashanti kingdom (now Ghana) during the late 1800s. The title refers to a group of traditional medical practitioners concerned that allowing European colonization to fragment the African continent will be the indigenous population's ultimate undoing.

Armah's prose is dramatic and suspenseful, detailing the escapades of a strong twenty-year-old man named Densu who is just coming into his own as he navigates a society on the cusp of change. Densu has formidable fighting skills and is being courted by a local power broker, Ababio, to take over the throne, although he steadfastly refuses.

Ababio fears the current king is too antagonistic toward the white colonialists (which will ultimately hurt their society) thanks to the undue influence of society's so-called "healers" and wants a king he can groom as an appeaser. However, Densu also empathizes with the anti-colonial healers, and Ababio eventually frames Densu for the murder of the king.

Densu winds up on the run as a fugitive struggling to prove Ababio's deeds and his innocence, all while exploring his own desire to join the ranks of the healers. He is simultaneously immersed in the rising tensions between the dark-skinned natives and white-skinned colonialists, using his skills to resolve conflicts between weaker allies and a much stronger adversary and to restore balance to his people through the act of healing.

The themes behind the "healer" concept are subtle and underplayed by the author, but they ultimately present an idea that healers are the people in society who lay the foundation for a brighter future. This concept speaks of sacrifice and patience and willingness to face even the most daunting adversaries for the long-term health of society, even if injustices and ills continue to prevail in the short run.

Healers are presented in a revered light as people who unite and inspire: people selflessly doing the work of the community. The book evokes a sense of hope and idealism, despite bitter circumstances, and frames healing itself as an act in harmony with the natural environment by those who make up in spiritual power what they may lack in physical power or material wealth.

And while class struggle between "haves" and "have-nots" plays heavily into the plot, Densu's ability to master healing as he transcends class status himself, demoted from courted royalty to penniless fugitive, evokes the idea that your potential to be a healer is tied not to the position you were born into in life, but to the choices you make.

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