Historical Context

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A country in Western Africa, Ghana is made up of different ethnic groups. While almost forty percent are Akin peoples, other ethnic groups include Ewe, Ga-Adangme, Hausa, and Mole-Dagbani. Each has their own language, customs, and traditions, though some overlap. There are more than fifty native languages in the area, though about a quarter of the population speaks English, the official language of the government.

By 1970, Ghana was politically unstable, in part because of the diverse interests of these groups. The second half of the twentieth century was marked by many political problems. Until 1957, Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) was a colony of Great Britain. The country obtained its independence partially because of the efforts of Kwame Nkrumah.

A native of the Gold Coast, Nkrumah received a university education in the United States. Beginning in 1947, he began fighting for his native country's independence. He promoted self-rule for the Gold Coast through the political party he helped form, the Convention People's Party (CPP). When independence was gained, Nkrumah was named prime minister (later president when Ghana became a republic) and CPP, the ruling party. Ghana became the first African country south of the Sahara desert to become independent in this manner.

As a leader, Nkrumah developed Ghana's health and educational systems to some degree. But he also used money to build expensive things like a stadium, instead of building up the country's economic infrastructure. Nkrumah was essentially a dictator by the time a combination of army and police officers staged a coup d'etat in early 1966. At the time, Nkrumah was in China, and he died in exile in 1972.

Those who staged the coup formed the National Liberation Council, which drew up a new constitution for Ghana. The Council was dissolved in October 1969 when new elections were held and democracy returned. The Progress Party was put into power, led by prime minister Kofi Busai. In 1970, Edward Akufo-Addo was elected president. The tenure of the Progress Party was short-lived because of continued political instability. The Progress Party did not include all of Ghana's ethnic groups. In 1972, another coup d'etat was staged by a military leader, an army officer named Igantius K. Acheampong.

Thus, by 1970, Ghana had suffered from long-term economic instability as it tried to become more modern. The country's biggest export (seventy percent of the total) crop was cacao—the basic ingredient in chocolate. Under the Progress Party regime, the price dropped significantly, greatly affecting Ghana's rural population. While Ghana was becoming increasingly urban, only about a third of the population lived in cities. Those who lived in rural areas were mostly employed as farmers in some capacity. A significant part of the population lived in poverty. Though wealth was no longer tied to lineage, and education and better jobs were available in cities, the lack of a strong economy affected everyone.

The position of women was also undergoing a slow process of change. Women still were seen primarily as childbearers. It was important for women in both urban and rural areas to have children, though those in rural areas generally had more children than their urban counterparts. Women who were better educated and economically independent generally had fewer children. Education had become more common and available. A 1960 law required that everyone attend elementary school until the age of twelve. Still some parents were reluctant to give their daughters any education, believing it might hurt their prospects for marriage. Though many dropped out, there were those who came to teach on the university level, like Aidoo. In 1970, Ghana was most definitely a country in transition.

Literary Style

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Anowa is a drama set in the 1870s in Ghana. The action of the play takes place in three distinct places. In phase one, Anowa's action is confined to the village of Yebi, primarily to the cottage of Badua and Osam. There is a brief return to the cottage in phase two, which mostly takes place on a highway near the coast several years after phase one. The final phase of Anowa is set a few years later in Oguaa at Kofi Ako's big house built with the riches of his trade. All of the settings of Anowa have a domestic edge, underscoring the importance of the marital and familial relationships.

Greek Chorus
The prologue as well as the beginning and the end of nearly every phase consists of commentary given by The-Mouth-That-Eats-Salt-And-Pepper, a sort of Greek Chorus. The Old Man and Old Woman who comprise The-Mouth-That-Eats-Salt-And-Pepper (a regional expression for society's opinion) set the scene for the play, giving a little background about the main characters and conflicts. As the story unfolds, the pair gives their opinions on the action. The Old Man is somewhat sympathetic to Anowa and her ways, while the Old Woman is highly critical. She believes Anowa is a witch, among other things. They are not particularly well-developed as characters, but more of a moral compass for the play. The pair shows contrasting views of society—between men and women, perhaps—towards Anowa and the decisions she and others make.

Many characters give long monologues in Anowa. These monologues reveal motivations and develop characters. The Old Man opens the play with a monologue that describes the local geography, gods, and conflicts. He also introduces the names of Kofi and Anowa and hints at their basic characteristics. At the end of phase two, he comments on the situations that have developed, sympathizing with Anowa's anti-slavery stance. In the same section, the Old Woman has a monologue in which she expresses hope that Kofi Ako will put Anowa in her place. Earlier in phase two, after Anowa falls asleep and Kofi Ako puts her in a leafy bed, he expresses his conflicted feelings for Anowa. He does not understand her, commenting that many mistake Anowa for his sister instead of his wife. A sister would work as hard as Anowa does for her brother, but not a wife. He resolves to change the situation and make her more like a wife and he like a husband. Anowa has several monologues in phase three in which she relates an incident from her childhood and reflects on her childless state. Monologues add depth to the characterizations in Anowa.

Within each of the three phases that comprise Anowa, Aidoo has transitions between smaller scenes that make up the phase. These transitions consist of the lighting going down, then rising again. The transitions denote passage of time. In phase one, the time passage is rather short, though unspecified. After Anowa announces that she will marry Kofi Ako and there is tension within the family, there is a transition and the next scene begins. In it, Anowa is packing to leave with Kofi Ako.

The transitions in phase two denote longer periods of time and different places. The phase begins by the side of the highway, with a discussion about buying slaves. After the transition, the phase shifts back to the cottage of Badua and Osam. They talk about the new wealth of Kofi Ako and the number of slaves he owns. Of more concern to them is the barrenness of their daughter. After another lighting-driven transition, the phase returns to Kofi Ako, Anowa, and their new slaves. Again, some time has passed, though how much is not clear.

There are only two transitions in phase three, placed after the main action has ended. After the confrontation between Kofi Ako and Anowa, the lights go down, and there is a funeral for the couple. After the lights go down again, the Old Man and Woman return to give their final comments. These transitions make the action of the play more continuous and make its staging simpler.

Literary Heritage
Like many African countries and cultures, each ethnic group in Ghana has a tradition of oral storytelling, including myths and legends about their religious figures and the beginning of the universe. Folktales, like one Aidoo based Anowa on, are particularly important ways of both entertaining and imparting values. One type of folkstory is the "dilemma tale," which presents social and moral issues in a way which provokes discussion of the topics raised. In many ways, Anowa is a dramatized dilemma tale that Aidoo modified in a modern way.

While there is an emphasis on performance in the oral transmission of folktales, Ghana has a more modern theatrical tradition. Beginning in the late nineteenth centuries, commercial theater shows and troupes traveled throughout Ghana, coming into their own after World War II. Part of so-called "concert parties," three or more comedic actors in a troupe used stock characters to comment on social and familial problems while entertaining audiences. Primarily a nonurban phenomenon, these concert parties as a whole were rather like vaudeville in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in form, and, to some degree, content.

Compare and Contrast

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1870s: A significant part of what is now Ghana is ruled as a colony by Great Britain, with minimal input from local people. There are attacks to keep trade routes open in the interior of the future country.

1970: Ghana is politically unstable, just three years after a coup replaced President Nkrumah.

Today: Ghana is more politically stable under the long-term leadership of Jerry Rawlings.
While there are accusations of governmental corruption, Rawlings remains above the fray.

1870s: The coastal areas of what would become Ghana are the most developed because they are the focus of trade. Urban areas are just developing.

1970: About twenty-eight percent of the country lives in an urban environment, with most urban areas found along the coast.

Today: More than a third of Ghanaians live in an urban environment.

1870s: Women are primarily childbearers, though they also work as farmers and sell fish and produce.

1970: As educational opportunities increase for women, the number of occupational opportunities also increase, though primarily in urban areas. Many in rural areas still work as farmers and sellers of farm-related products.

Today: More women continue to become educated and hold jobs in urban areas, which continue to attract newcomers looking for better economic opportunities.

1870s: Though missionaries convert some to Christianity, most Ghanaians follow local traditional religious beliefs.

1970: More than half the population follows a Christian faith.

Today: About 64.1 percent of Ghanaians are Christian, while 17.6 percent continue to follow traditional beliefs.

Media Adaptations

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Anowa was produced for radio by BBC Radio 3 in September, 1995.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Aidoo, Ama Ata, Anowa, Longman Group, 1970.

Eke, Maureen N., "Diasporic Ruptures and (Re)Membering History: Africa as Home and Exile in Anowa and The Dilemma of a Ghost," in Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, Africa World Press, 1999, p. 654.

Hill-Lubin, Mildre A., "Ama Ata Aidoo and the African Diaspora: Things 'All Good Men and Women Try to Forget,' but I Will Not Let Them," in Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, Africa World Press, 1999, p. 49.

Horne, Naana Banyiwa, "The Politics of Mothering: Multiple Subjectivity and Gendered Discourse in Aidoo's Plays," in Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, Africa World Press, 1999, p. 319.

Jones, Eldred Durosimi, review of Anowa, in African Literature Today, 1976, p. 143.

Karpf, Anne, "The Arrival of Aidoo," in The Guardian, September 8, 1995, p. T21.

Kingsley, Louise, review of Anowa, in The Independent, April 6, 1991, p. 24.

Odamtten, Vincent O., The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo: Polylectics and Reading against Neocolonialism, University Press of Florida, 1994, pp. 43, 46.

Phillips, Maggi, "Engaging Dreams: Alternative Perspectives on Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, Bessie Head, and Tsitsi Dangarembga's Writing," in Research in African Literatures, Winter, 1994, p. 89.

Rutherford, Malcolm, review of Anowa, in Financial Times, April 9, 1991, p. 23.

Further Reading
Hemming, Sarah, "Word of Mouth," in The Independent, April 3, 1991, p. 14. This article, in part an interview with Aidoo, compares Anowa with Aidoo's 1991 novel Changes.

McGregor, Maxine, "Ama Ata Aidoo," in African Writers Talking: A Collection of Radio Interviews, Cosmo Pieterse and Dennis Duerden, editors, Africana Publishing Corp., 1972, pp. 18-27. In this interview, Aidoo discusses her plays, theater in Ghana, and other writing-related issues.

Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney, "An Interview with Ama Ata Aidoo," in The Massachusetts Review, Spring, 1995.
In this interview, Aidoo discusses feminism, nationalism, and her writing.

Uzoamaka, Ada, and Wilentz Azodo, Gay, eds., Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, African World Press, 1999. This collection of critical essays covers the whole of Aidoo's canon, including several focusing on Anowa.

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Critical Essays


Teaching Guide