The Hundred Wells of Salaga

Written by Ayesha Harruna Attah
Review by Thomas j. Howley

Near the end of the 19th century, as transatlantic slavery has been essentially abolished, internal slavery persists in Ghana. Two quite different young Ghanaian women have lives which come to intersect amidst indigenous turmoil and the attempts of competing pre-colonial European powers to establish a presence among the local people. Aminah is happy in the arms of her family and the people of her simple little village. In contrast, Wurche is a princess and daughter of a powerful clan chief. Yet neither of them is destined for anything resembling a tranquil life.

In a terrifying raid in the middle of the night, Aminah’s village is set upon by slavers. Close family members are either killed outright or taken away separately. Wurche is forced to marry another chief, which will reflect well on her father. But internal squabbling among the various clan lines causes Wurche’s life to take a desperate and negative turn. As the story progresses, Wurche gives birth to a baby boy with the delightful name of Wumpini, and the affable Aminah becomes her slave, and ironically, confidant and savior.

I selected this book to review because it’s a narrative of a time, place, and events which are little-known among westerners. The gifted author did not disappoint. I suspect this great little novel reflects the stark reality of daily life that transpired not just in Africa but across the globe for millennia until quite recently. Horridly, it continues in some areas still. Wurche’s desire for her people to maintain unity and disdain internal rivalry in the face of threats from outsiders is cautionary still today. With a style that’s neither pretentious nor preachy, the author is a fabulous storyteller who provides unique insight into fascinating history. Strongly recommended.