In Anowa, her second play, Ama Ata Aidoo borrows heavily from the heritage of oral literature for the structure, the language, the themes and the characters of the play. She consciously uses these art forms and effectively shows the merits and intricacies of these traditional art forms while adapting them to deal with modern issues in Ghanaian society such as the effects slavery and capitalism have had on the Ghanaian people. It is as she says "more or less my own rendering of a kind of . . . legend, because according to my mother, who told me the story, it is supposed to have happened." This play, set in the late 1800's at an important moment in the history of Ghana, describes some of the earlier encounters of African societies with Western traders. Drawing on the tradition of oral literature, through the means of which many societies passed on their histories from one generation to the next, Aidoo portrays a crucial historical moment in Ghanaian history through the personal tragedy of Anowa and Kofi Ako.
Aidoo, in the prologue, sets the play in Abura, in Fantiland, "less than thirty years/[after] When the lord of our houses/Signed that piece off paper - /The bond of 1844 they call it -/ binding us to the white men/ Who came from beyond the horizon." The background of the play is thus the beginning of colonialism in Fantiland. The bond of 1844 which is referred to was a group of separate but connected treaties that legalized the imposition of the British legal system throughout Fantiland, and promised British protection to the Fanti signatories in the event of aggression from the Ashanti, one of the most important enemies of the British and the Fanti. Thirty years later, in 1874, at the time the play is set, the British defeated the Ashanti, and established the British crown colony of the Gold Coast, incorporating the Fanti states and the newly conquered Ashanti domains into one colony, despite strong opposition by a coalition of traditional rulers, including the Fanti . It is thus, in this context, the onset of formal colonialism in the Gold Coast (as most of what is now Ghana was known prior to independence) and rising nationalism that this play must be situated.
Anowa is not solely a historical tale; by using oral literary techniques, Aidoo portrays a sort of symbolic history of events which forces her audience to reflect on contemporary social issues. The history of the colonization of what is now Ghana is in a sense told through the personal tragedy of Anowa and Kofi Ako. Anowa, at the beginning is a beautiful, young strong-willed woman who refuses to marry any of her suitors until she meets Kofi Ako. Her parents, her mother in particular, do not approve of Kofi Ako because they think he is lazy and will not make a good husband. Anowa ignores this advice and disobeys her parents. She determines to run away with Kofi Ako and vows never to return home. Kofi Ako and Anowa leave and start their own business, trading with the white foreigners. With Anowa's help, Kofi Ako begins to accumulate much wealth and slaves; their relationship, however, begins to break down. The greatest blight on their marriage is that Anowa has been unable to conceive and bear a child. Anowa also greatly resents being told that she no longer needs to work as they have slaves to do it. She also cannot bear the idea of possessing slaves as she deems it morally wrong. As Kofi Ako becomes richer and richer, Anowa becomes weaker and more and more unhappy. But Kofi Ako, too, seems to have sacrificed a great deal for his wealth; he has sacrificed his manhood and as a result Anowa learns that he is impotent. After this final confrontation, the play ends with Kofi Ako killing himself and Anowa going mad, regressing to a child-like state.
[These materials have been adapted from an honors thesis written by Megan Behrent, Brown University, 1997]