Aidoo's Anowa: Oral Narratives

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

The language Aidoo uses in the play is also greatly influenced by the linguistic style of oral literature. Throughout the play she uses the oral art form of the proverb. For example in the prologue, the old woman says "Badua should tell her daughter that the sapling breaks with the bending that will not grow straight" (p.8); later, in Phase One, Osam says "Besides the yam that will burn, shall burn , boiled or roasted" (p.13). Aidoo also uses language of abuse reminiscent of Songs of Abuse such as Badua's description of Kofi Ako as "this-good-for-nothing cassava-man; this watery male of all watery males" (p.15); or later when Anowa says to Badua "Please, mother, remove your witch's mouth from our marriage." (p.18) Another type of oral literary language Aidoo uses is that of the song of praise. At the beginning of phase three, Kofi Ako's entrance is preceded by a procession singing or reciting a song of praise about him. This is accompanied by music and dancing and is very similar to traditional songs of praise. Aidoo, however, uses this oral tradition to demonstrate the complicity of the procession in Kofi Ako's immorality and shows the way in which oral traditions can be used to portray a glorified image of wealth and power in a way that masks the brutality, greed and materialistic values upon which these are based.

Aidoo's conscious appropriation of the oral narrative is particularly evident in her use of the tale type of the "disobedient daughter," a common type of oral narrative. Much research in oral literature has been done which identifies common types or motifs found in oral narratives. While this kind of classification of oral narratives can at times be somewhat reductive, it does elucidate some of the more common themes and motifs in oral tales. Among these, the tale type of the disobedient daughter is one that resurfaces frequently in African oral narratives. In Anowa, the conscious use of this tale type is indicated throughout the play. The old woman in the prologue says of Anowa that, "like all the beautiful maidens in the tales, she has refused to marry any of the sturdy men who have asked for her hand in marriage." (p.7). In this way, she consciously draws a parallel between the character of Anowa and the disobedient daughter of traditional tales. This is reinforced throughout the play; for instance, Badua says to her "You want to become like the girl in the folktale?" (p.15) and at the end, the old woman says "This is the type of happening out of which we get stories and legends." (p.63)

Aidoo also makes many references to traditional society. For instance, her references to the matrilineal society explain Osam's lesser role in the debate over whether Anowa should have become a priestess as well as in her marriage. Aidoo makes it clear that it is Badua and her brothers who are responsible for decisions regarding Anowa's future. As Osam says to Badua "This is your family drum; beat it, my wife." (p.15) The references to the traditional matrilineal society are especially important, as Aidoo throughout the course of the play shows the way in which through contact with European capitalism, this matrilineal organization starts to break down and women's place in society changes. This is demonstrated through Anowa's and Kofi Ako's marriage, which is not a traditional one, and its gradual breakdown in the play due to the effects of trade . There are also references to traditional religious practices, for instance the fact that many thought Anowa should be trained as a priestess. The role of the priestess is particularly important, since it is because Badua refused to apprentice Anowa to a priestess, that the old woman believes she was cursed. At the end of the prologue the old woman says "And the Gods will surely punish Abena Badua for refusing to let a born priestess dance" (p.8) Likewise, Kofi Ako holds the view that there is something supernatural and witch-like in Anowa which has destroyed him. In a sense this is one side of or a possible solution to the dilemma which offers a traditional explanation for the tragedy : it is the fate of the disobedient daughter, one who was too wild to be a wife but should have been a priestess - she is not "normal" and is, thus, cursed.

[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