The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The most important thing to be said about characterization in Ayi Kwei Armah’s fictional world is that there are no individuals with personalities in the Western sense. A major premise of traditional African culture, as Armah sees it, is that no individual can exist apart from a community. Abena, one of the twenty who are sold into slavery, expresses this principle when, against her better judgment, she agrees to leave the grove with her peer group and board the English ship: “There is no self to save apart from all of us. What would I have done with my life, alone, like a beast of prey?” The most pervasive character in the novel is the narrator, and he-she is not one individual but a voice that survives from generation to generation: present when the traditional peoples abandon the “way,” present during the orgy when the sexually abused women plot against their masters, and present during the pilgrimage to the south. The narrator accompanies the initiates aboard the slave ship and joins the guerrillas in the forest, constantly employs the self-reference “we,” and makes it clear that the voice might be in one generation a woman and in another a man. The narrator is the preserver of “the way,” the voice crying in the wilderness, when the entire population is pursuing alien values.

Some of the voices have names in the narrative: Anoa, the prophetess; Noliwe and Ningome, who inspire the wandering peoples not to give up their search; and...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, an omnipresent griot (poet-historian) and the voice of traditional African culture, specifically that of Ghana. Masculine in tone but speaking in the first person plural (“we”), the narrator is confident in his remembrance and in his interpretation of Anoa’s prophecies as he traces the migration of his people from the deserts of western Sudan to present-day Ghana. In recalling the collective experience and the principles of “the way,” reciprocity and compassionate mutual respect, he also offers vivid, intimate, and detailed descriptions of “connectedness” among the people and with the land. Clearly charting the growth, decay, and transformation of cultural practices and values, he frequently employs rhetorical questions that reveal an obvious disdain for fragmented consciousness and religious dogmatism.


Anoa (ah-NOH-ah), the second prophetess bearing the name, living around 1000. She prophesies five hundred years (a thousand seasons) of cultural decline toward death and five hundred years of return to principles affirming life. Slender, supple, and of stunning beauty, she has a grace that embodies her skills as a hunter. Her “deep” blackness reveals both physical strength and spiritual understanding. Although gentle in manner, Anoa speaks in “two voices,” one that is harassed and shrieking in her knowledge of impending doom for her people and one that is calm and encouraging, seeking to explore causes for the decline and creating hope for survival after the people’s long suffering.


Isanusi (ee-sah-NEW-see), a learned counselor to Koranche, later exiled for his challenge to the king’s authority. A master of eloquence and honest in his assessment of leadership, he refuses to flatter Koranche, who declares him mad when Isanusi reveals the king’s secret alliance with the Europeans. Tired from suffering despair and loneliness resulting from the...

(The entire section is 835 words.)