Aidoo: The "been-to" in Our Sister Killjoy

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

In terms of this debate, Ama Ata Aidoo has in Our Sister Killjoy , certainly sided with those who see the process of 'brain drain' as an obstacle to national development and has critiqued the hypocrisy of those Ghanaian intellectuals who have emigrated and justified their decision in nationalist terms, insisting that it is based on a desire to contribute more effectively to the development and prestige of their native countries. At the same time, however, she recognizes that the material, economic and political conditions of post-colonial Ghana drive many of those for whom the option is available to leave in search of greater political freedom and economic opportunity. Indeed, since independence, political instability and repression and economic hardship has led to increased emigration from Ghana, particularly by the educated elite classes. Ironically, at the same time as numerous political leaders and activists from other African countries sought refuge in Nkrumah's Ghana , the latter's repressive regime led many disillusioned intellectuals to abandon their country and emigrate elsewhere. As C.L.R. James notes, under Nkrumah, the

dual degeneration of the Parliament and the party had one terrible result. The ablest, most qualified, and the intellectuals of finest character turned their backs on Nkrumah. Some of them, an astonishing number, went abroad and took jobs elsewhere . . . This abandonment of their own government and their own people by gifted, trained intellectuals of high character is a feature of modern underdeveloped countries . . . nowhere has a country suffered from the disaffection of its ablest intellectuals as Ghana has suffered. Since the fall of Nkrumah's regime, the problem has been perpetuated as political instability and repression, as well as the economic impoverishment of the country has continued to drive many of the educated elite and others to leave in search of greater opportunity abroad.

Despite increased emigration since independence, many of the educated elite who study abroad do return to their countries of origin and thus the figure of the 'been-to' continues to occupy a position of prominence in African literature. The 'been-to' is often depicted as a person of many conflicts, caught in a sense between his or her African origins and Western education and attempting to negotiate these various influences on his or her identity. The 'been-to' becomes in this sense emblematic of the legacy of colonialism which imposed Western culture and education on African societies in much the same way as does African written literature itself, being a literature that often has its roots in African artistic traditions yet often borrows forms and the language of the Western former colonial powers. As Lawson says this creates a certain crisis of identity for,

Just as African literature, itself deriving in part from European languages and traditions, occasioned questions about its basic identity, so too did the effect of Western education on Africans themselves . . . The crisis of reentry or, more precisely, the entire experience of the conflict between the individual's African and Western selves serves as a metaphor for Africa's still dynamic assimilation of Western cultures.

Thus, 'been-to' is often portrayed in African literature as one who is alienated from both worlds, often rejecting Western culture and yet removed from his or her culture of origins because of Western education.

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

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