The novel opens with a lyrical prologue in which the narrator, who assumes the role of a griot, the poet-historian of the village, calls out to other gifted voices to realize their proper “vocation.” They must understand that the past one thousand years (two thousand seasons) in Africa have been, first, a movement toward death, and then, a movement away from death, that Africa has been following alien ways—which are death to the black culture. The prologue announces the purpose of the novel: to retell the story of Africa, in particular the story of Ghana, from the moment in history when the people first abandoned the “way” to the coming of the Europeans at the end of the nineteenth century.
The first third of the novel traces the migration of the Ghanaian people from the semi-arid regions of the Western Sudan to their present home. It insists that there was a time when Africans (Ghanaians) lived under a communal code of mutual respect. The fall of the ancient way of life began when the African community, through a “ruinous openness,” welcomed strangers into their midst, the Arabs of North Africa. These “predators” gradually began to force their culture, including their religion, on their hosts and enslaved their bodies and their minds. The consequences became visible when black men began to consider themselves superior to women, who eventually assumed the tedious daily chores and hence a de facto responsibility for the society. The prophetess Anoa arose to warn of two thousand seasons of suffering. The women revolted against the Arab elite in a bloody orgy and drove them from their region, but the predators returned to reestablish their authority. Since the only hope seemed escape, a large number of the population secretly left their homes to journey to the South in search of a new land to settle. The pilgrimage, with its fears of pursuit, conflicts with hostile...
(The entire section is 776 words.)