Aidoo's Anowa: Dramatizing Socio-historical Allegory

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

Symbolically the story of the play mirrors its historical context, in that it shows Kofi Ako as the Fanti Trader, symbolizing the rise of a slave-owning and dealing Fanti bourgeoisie whose class interests are aligned with British imperialism, and who sacrifices his fellow men through slavery and eventually his own manhood to accumulate wealth. Anowa who resists and opposes this onset of bourgois capitalism is in the end destroyed and in a sense conquered through Kofi Ako's betrayal of the values which Anowa upholds. Aidoo thus, uses oral literature as a way of telling a story located at a specific moment in history yet which tells a symbolic rather than a factual version of that history. One can see the way in which she relies stylistically and thematically on oral literature by looking closely at the structures, themes and language styles she uses and by examining the way in which she adapts, and to some extent subverts, them to express contemporary moral issues of Ghanaian society.

Performance is intrinsic to traditional African oral literature which is perhaps why Aidoo chooses the medium of the play or theatre to imitate as closely as possible the form of oral literature. One can see many ways in which traditional storytelling influences the play's narrative structure: for instance, she uses a mixture of monologues in verse which introduce and comment on the events and dialogues, which are mostly in prose and acted out by the characters. Within the play, the narrative is broken by songs, dance and music, particularly traditional drum music. She also pays careful attention to costume which symbolically demonstrates, for example, Kofi Ako's accumulation of wealth.

In traditional oral literature, the performance of legend and folktales serves several purposes : it is meant to entertain but also to educate or offer an explanation of some sort, and it is usually characterized by some sort of moralistic ending. Similarly, in Anowa , Aidoo's purpose is to entertain, but more importantly to incite the audience to think about the issues raised in the play, namely the issue of slavery and the effects of bourgeois capitalist ideology on Ghanaian society.

Aidoo uses the form of the "dilemma tale" which Okpewho explains does not give a solid moral lesson but rather leaves the moral to be interpreted by the audience. The purpose is not simply to tell the audience what the tale means but rather to make them think for themselves, debate the issues raised and solve the dilemma on their own. To this end, many different view points are given throughout the tale. In Anowa, Aidoo does this through the use of various binarized characters who are in opposition and argue among themselves, thus voicing various opinions. The most prominent of these couples is "the-mouth-that-eats-salt-and-pepper" , an old man and woman who serve as a sort of chorus throughout the play, introducing and commenting on events. In this couple, the "old woman" represents traditional society in many ways and sees the tragedy of the tale as a result of Anowa's disobedience, her wildness and her deviance from the role of the woman, daughter and wife in traditional society. She also blames Badua, Anowa's mother, for not apprenticing her as a priestess. She sees the tragic element of the story as a result of the curse placed on these two for the reasons just mentioned. The old man, on the other hand, is a more progressive voice and seems to be the voice of wisdom and understanding. He is less prone to search for one person to blame, and places the guilt on the whole society. In this construction, there is a certain gendering of the traditional and progressive voices in which the woman is associated with traditional society whereas the man symbolizes a more progressive voice.

[These materials have been adapted from an honors thesis written by Megan Behrent, Brown University, 1997]

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Ghana OV Aidoo OV discourseov

Last Modified: 29 April, 2002