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Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa, by Ama Ata Aidoo.

February 10, 2014

Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa: Two Plays, by Ama Ata Aidoo.   Longman (1995), Edition: 1, Paperback, 124 pages

Two powerful plays by a leading African author about conflicts between spouses and between parents and children.

I generally find it difficult to read plays, but when I saw a video with a scene from Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa, I knew I needed to read these.  As Africans developed their own literary traditions after independence, Aidoo was one of a group of women who insured women’s voices would be included.  I have read and enjoyed her writing before, especially her novel Changes.  Often blending prose and poetry, she has continued to be a leading Ghanaian author who publishes in a variety of genres.  I particularly like how her stories are about the relationship of Africans with each other.  Even her concern over the impact of slavery focuses on Africans rather than slave traders from Europe and the Americas.

Both Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa explore conflicts that develop when powerful extended families are confronted with sons and daughters who move beyond their circle of control.  Both plays deal with the legacy of slavery in Africa.  Both  include the voices of ordinary villagers commenting on the action, much like the chorus does in Greek plays. Both are mildly sympathetic with the independence of sons and daughters, but for me their real strength lay in the ability to convey positively why the parents were justified in trying to keep them within the family. It is easy for westerners like myself to identity with the rebellion of the next generation, but harder to understand why traditions and kinship must also be honored.  Aidoo conveys the families’ position with particular force.

Aidoo wrote Dilemma of a Ghost in the 1960s when she was still a college student.  In it the son of an African family goes to the United States to study and returns with an African-American wife; in their eyes she is a “white-black woman” who is the “daughter of slaves. ” The family is appalled by her behavior, and she is confused and unwilling to accept their values.  No one seems able to move out of the impasse, until the mother offers to teach the bride about family traditions. The play resonates with a children’s song about a ghost unsure of what path to take next.

Shall I go

To Cape Coast,

Or to Elmina

I don’t know,

I can’t tell.

I don’t know,

I can’t tell.

Anowa is set in an earlier period of African history when slavery was being practiced.  A young woman, Anowa, chooses to marry a man whom her parents reject as unworthy.  The couple leaves with Anowa angrily promising never to return.  The couple develop a successful business traveling around buying and selling skins.  As they begin to become wealthy, the husband decides to buy slaves so that they can have some leisure. Anowa is disturbed by the presence of slaves.  She has no desire to stay behind with no work to do.  The greed and reliance on slaves seems to sap the husband’s “manhood” and drive the childless wife mad.  Conflict between a daughter and her parents becomes conflict between husband and wife that escalates into tragedy.

I continue to find plays difficult to read and feel that I miss much of what is happening because I know so little about African life.  Yet I was very moved by these plays.  I strongly recommend them to all readers, especially to non-Africans seeking to understand African dilemmas in their own terms.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2014 11:08 am

    Marylin, you reviews are spot on!

    I read both plays in the Uni and even saw a powerful performance of Anowa. You see in Africa our traditional systems are what defines us as a people. it is so much a cohesive force that all our actions, even in modern day behavioral patterns are rooted in them. So that Aidoo seems to be saying that Anowa’s marriage would have collapsed anyway even if there had not been problems since her parents were against it in the first place. Once the mouth that eats pepper and salt put that mouth in Anowa’s affair, there was bound to be disaster.

    In Dilemma of a Ghost, there is the suggestion that Eulalie should have studied the traditions of Ato’s people and adapted herself if her marriage is to succeed. She should learn to prepare snails for Ato, so to speak.

    These two plays are wonderful and has so much relevance even today. Interracial marriages are common now in Ghana but I dare say that much adaptation and accommodation on both sides is required to make it work.

    Even today, we do take our parents’ concern into consideration when choosing our partners or entering into marriage! Where such concerns are not heeded, there is always the fear of failure at the back of the minds of the couple!

    • February 22, 2014 9:31 am

      Thanks. I wish I could see them performed. Yes, several books I have read recently have told me that, and not just African ones. I just wrote a review of Japanese novel which complicates the picture for me.

  2. Richmond Adu Gyamfi permalink
    January 2, 2015 5:34 am

    Thanks be to the author, Ama Ata Aidoo, for this intriguing drama . I have read it and has given me many didactic lessons.

  3. May 15, 2017 3:58 am

    Reblogged this on misscyx's Blog.

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