Ama Ata Aidoo: Our Sister Killjoy

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

In Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-eyed Squint , published in 1977 (although it was written almost a decade earlier), Aidoo portrays a young Ghanaian female student who travels from Ghana to Germany and England and then returns to Ghana. The narrative, which is a mixture of prose and poetry, depicts the experiences and thoughts of Sissie, the black-eyed squint whose vision of the world is shaped by her constant awareness of the problems of Africa and in particular, neocolonialism and the corruption and hypocrisy of the African elite. Sissie in her travels and interactions with other people "[f]orever carr[ies] Africa's problems on her shoulders" (p.118) , and through her travels Europe she is able to point to many of the problems of her society and its relation to the Western developed world. In this sense she is typical of the character of the 'been-to' as a tool of social analysis albeit it in a reverse manner in that it is not so much her experience in the Western developed world which upon her return shapes her view of African society but rather her conscious identification as an African in Europe that shapes her world view. In fact, much of the novel is a bitter critique of the educated elite, in particular the 'been-to's, and the prestige and admiration that is associated with the Western developed countries and those Africans who are privileged enough to emigrate there.

The novel begins with an indictment of the educated classes of Ghanaian society, critiquing in particular what Aidoo calls the "moderates" who ignore the real problems that the society faces and instead subordinate the interests of the majority of people to those of the "bosses" and foreign domination, upholding '[t]he sanctity of the U.N. charter", enforcing "law and order' and blaming all the problems on "population explosion" (p.6). Likewise Aidoo critiques the intellectuals of Ghana saying,"[t]he academic-pseudo-intellectual is even more dangerous, who in face of reality that is more tangible than the massive walls of the slave forts standing along our beaches, still talks of universal truth, universal art, universal literature and the Gross National Product." (p.6). Aidoo thus, condemns the educated elite of Ghana, who in the face of drastic material conditions for the majority of people offer an empty rhetoric of national development which does not address the needs of the country and only serves to maintain the current system of corruption, inequality, and neocolonial subservience.

Aidoo also critiques the continued glorification of all things Western, no doubt a legacy of colonialism and a symptom of what she argues is the continued neocolonialist ideology that pervades Ghanaian society. In particular, she denounces the ideology which is perhaps at the root of the problem of emigration from Africa which posits Europe and the West as an ideal to which all Africans should aspire. Traveling to Europe becomes the ultimate sign of success. As Sissie notes her trip to Europe is discussed as if "...somehow, going to Europe was altogether more like a dress rehearsal for a journey to paradise." (p.9) and it becomes a sign that "Our Sister had made it." (p.9). Aidoo satirizes this idealization of Europe and immediately contrasts it with the reality of racism and poverty that await the majority of Africans who emigrate to these 'promised lands.' Aidoo sets out essentially to debunk the myths that abound in the idealized construction of the West in Africa as the land of opportunity and prosperity, demonstrating instead that the legacy of colonialism continues for Africans who seek their fortunes abroad where the common experience is one marked by racism and further subjugation and degradation.

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

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Last Modified: 29 April, 2002