Attah, Ayesha Harruna. “The Hundred Wells of Salaga”, Other Press, 2019.
Two Young Women
Ghanaian author Ayesha Harruna Salaga brings us a story about two women in pre-colonial Ghana. We meet Aminah who lives a peaceful life until she is torn from her home and forced on a journey that turns her into a resilient woman and not by choice. Wurche, our other woman, is the daughter of a chief, is determined and desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. The two women come together amid the infighting of Wurche’s people that threatens the region, at the end of the 19th century during the height of the slave trade.
This is a story of courage, forgiveness, love and freedom. We see everything through the eyes and experiences of the two woman and we gain a look at slavery and how colonizing Africa affected each person who lived there at the time.
Aminah and Wurche grew up in vastly different circumstances in West Africa in the late 19th century nonetheless their paths cross. Aminah was kidnapped from Botu and forced into internal slavery and this brought her to Wurche and rebellious princes with royal troubles. At the same time, the quest for power was everywhere—internally from the chiefs and externally from the colonizers. Towns were destroyed as the friendship between Aminah and Wurche deepened.
This novel shows how complicit Ghanaians were the in greed for power which also included the fragmenting of families. Aminah and Wurche’s characters were studies in contrasts. Aminah is calm, kind and obedient while Wurche is arrogant, confident and ambitious. Slavery is personalized through the character of Aminah and it becomes clear how it affected the vulnerability of the common folk.
Wurche shows us how women attempted to push agendas of domination, through arranged marriages and other acts of coercion as well as acts of rebellion the brave women took. We understand the legacies of slavery in Ghana through Aminah and Wurche and it is through them that we meet a German colonizer, an Ashanti slave owner and others. Islam also plays an interesting role in this novel by both teaching values and regulating the lives of women.
Multiple themes including internal slavery, royalty, friendship, rebellion, sexual assault, religion, the quest for power, colonialism, interracial coupling sexuality and domestic violence come together to form an exquisite story that focuses on strong women in a patriarchal society and the complex politics of the slave trade.