The Hundred Wells of Salaga tells the story of two women who live very different lives in pre-colonial Ghana. Aminah, who lives a quiet and peaceful life with her family, sees her life brutally shattered when slave raiders burn down her village and force her and some of her family members into a life of slavery. Wurche, the daughter of an influential chief, struggles with the gender-based roles and customs of her society, and bravely fights for some personal independence and influence. The lives of these two very different women cross paths and merge into one at the height of the slave trade, as their fates and futures become entangled and dependent on one another.
The novel not only explores the roles of women within traditional African societies and cultures, but it also lays bare the realities of everyday Africans during the slave trade and the Scramble for Africa. It sheds light on the inner workings of chieftaincy and traditionally ruled communities, not shying away from the much-contested topic of the involvement of Africans in the selling of fellow Africans to white slave traders.
Even though this is a fictional account, Ayesha Harruna Attah’s book is essential reading for everyone, and it seems that especially Africans in the diaspora may enjoy and benefit from reading this novel, because it clears up the often-held misconception about Africans casually selling their fellow Africans to European slavers. Moro’s story in particular sheds important light onto Africans’ role in the slave trade, as he shares his story of how he became a feared slave raider.
While Attah’s epic reaches less widely in terms of time period and geographical location, ‘The Hundred Wells of Salaga’ inevitably reminded me of the popular novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, in which she tells the story of two half sisters whose lives could not have been more different, but whose legacies eventually merge. Both novels are set in Ghana and revolve around two women whose fates and decisions influence the future of the coming generations, and both explore the consequences of slavery through the decades to come. While Gyasi’s tale has certainly gained great popularity, and while I enjoyed reading it, I found some of the stories rushed, and the ending a little ‘too convenient’. I feel like Attah’s examination of the consequences of slavery and European warmongering is much more successful than Gyasi’s.
Hundred Wells fits less into the ‘popular fiction’ genre than Homegoing, and it is skilfully side-stepping the blockbuster plot twists or voyeuristic perspectives, focusing instead on the depth of the individual characters, their lives and fates. While I can understand why Homegoing has become so popular, ‘Hundred Wells’ treats many of the same themes but in a much more nuanced way.
Ayesha Harruna Attah’s skill as a writer is undeniable. She masterfully weaves universal stories about gender, love, forgiveness, understanding, freedom, and justice into the thick but delicate fabric of African history.
*This book was sent to us free of charge by Cassava Republic ahead of publication.