*Aidoo, Ama Ata (1942-) – in full Christina Ama Ata Aidoo


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Ama Ata Aidoo (1942-) – in full Christina Ama Ata Aidoo

Ghanaian writer, who has depicted the role of African woman in modern society. Aidoo has noted that the idea of nationalism has been used by new leaders as a tool to keep people oppressed. Aidoo has criticized those educated Africans who profess to love their country but are lured away by the material benefits of the developed word. She believes in a distinct African identity, which she sees from a female perspective.

“‘My dear young man,’ said the visiting professor, ‘to give you the decent answer your anxiety demands, I would have to tell you a detailed history of the African continent. And to do that, I shall have to speak every day, twenty-four hours a day, for at least three thousand years. And I don’t mean to be rude to you or anything, but who has that kind of time?'” (from Our Sister Killjoy, 1977)

Ama Ata Aidoo was born in Abeadzi Kyiakor, Gold Coast, now Ghana. Her father was a chief of Abeadzi Kyakor, a political individual, as Aidoo’s grandfather who was killed by the British. Because of her father’s position, Aidoo grew up in a royal household with a clear sense of African traditions. She graduated from the University of Ghana in 1964. In the early 1960s Aidoo worked with Efua Sutherland, founder of the Ghana Drama Studio. While still studying, she started to publish poetry.

Aidoo’s work falls into various genres: fiction, drama, and poetry. Often her stories deal with the role of women in the process of change. “Isn’t it clear that the African man alone isn’t able to cope with out relationship with the West and the rest of the world,” she has said.

From the beginning, Aidoo has based her plays more or less on earlier tradition. She gained first notice with the play THE DILEMMA OF A GHOST (1965), which concerned the problem of conflict between traditional culture and Western education and values. In the story a young man from Ghana, Ato Yaweson, who was educated in the United States, returns home and brings with him seeds of conflict. The conflict is compounded by his wife’s ignorance and immaturity. In the end Ato’s mother helps to save the family. The play premiered at Commonwealth Hall’s Open-Air Theatre, University of Ghana, in March 1964. It received mixed reviews, but was succesfully produced in Accra, Lagos, Ibadan, and elsewhere. NO SWEETNESS HERE (1970), written from the mid-1960s, was a collection of short stories. Aidoo’s work at home and teaching took all her spare time and it was not until 1977 when she finished her next book.

“Akua my sister,
No one chooses to stand
under a tree in a storm.
So
You
shall not be the one to remind
Me
to keen for the great ancestors and
call to mind the ruined hamlet
that was once
the Home of Kings.”
(from ‘Totems’)

In 1977 appeared Aidoo’s semi-autobiographical novel, OUR SISTER KILLJOY; OR, REFLECTIONS FROM A BLACK-EYED SQUINT. It dealt with the encounter between African and European cultures, and the psychological impact of post-colonialism on women. The young heroine, Sissie, is disillusioned and alienated by her experience in England and in the “heart of darkness” of Bavaria, Germany. She feels uncomfortable about the use of a language that “enslaved” her, and she experiences racism and ignorance about Africa throughout her journeys. When her friendship comes on the brink of lesbian love, Sissie is disgusted, and decides to return to Ghana. Aidoo’s narrative technique alternates between prose and poetry, sometimes one word covers an entire page. In the manner of oral storytelling, Aidoo appeals directly to the reader. Our Sister Killjoy was largely ignored by African (male) critics. Partly as a response to this silence, Aidoo wrote the famous essay, ‘Unwelcome Pals and Decorative Slaves’, first presented in Calabar, Nigeria, in 1981, at the International Conference on African Literature and the English Language.

Her second play ANOWA (1970), based on the legend of a girl who defied her parents in choice of her husband, was produced in Britain in 1991, on the same year when her second novel CHANGES appeared. Changes won the 1993 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Africa region. The protagonist is a modern African woman, Esi, who earns more than her schoolmaster husband Oku. After a “marital rape” – a concept that has not raised so much debate in Africa than in the West – she asks for a divorce. She begins an affair with a Muslim businessman Ali Kondey. Though Ali is married, he can have more than one wife. They marry, and there are fewer demads put on Esi. She realizes that her husband is unable to give her the attention she needs and they drift apart. Esi is left to wonder “what fashion of loving was she ever going to consider adequate.”

In ‘Something to Talk About on the Way to the Funeral’ Aidoo uses the technique of oral storytelling. “Everybody needs a backbone. If we do not refer to the old traditions, it is almost like operating with amnesia,” she has argued. The narrator tells her sister about Aunt Araba, beautiful, enterprising, and economically self-empowered woman. In her puberty she is sent to stay with a lady relative and learns to bake epitsi, tatare, boodoo, and other sweeties which satisfy “the tongue but do not fill the stomach”. However, she returns home after troubles with the lady’s husband – Araba has a child, Ato, and marries a good husband. Aunt Araba starts to bake and sell ordinary bread with success. Ato remains the only child, his real father sends him to college but he is spoilt. Ato has a child with a girl, Mansa, promises to marry her but cannot do it because he has got another girl into trouble – her parents are influential and Ado has to marry her. Aunt Araba sends Mansa to a friend and she starts to bake with machines. Araba dies, her spirit gone. “Certainly it was her son who drove it away.” But Mansa, whom she has trained, is expected to carry on her legacy.

Aidoo has taught for many years in the United States and Kenya. She has been a professor of English at the University of Ghana and a fellow at the Institute for African Studies, where she wrote and researched Fanti drama. In 1974-75 she served as a consulting professor to the Washington bureau of the Phelps-Stokes Fund’s Ethnic Studies Program. She has attended an advanced creative writing course at Stanford University and she has been at the Harvard International Seminar. In 1983-84 Aidoo was Minister of Education under the government of Jerry Rawlings. Between 1970 and 1985 she published little, but in 1986 appeared a collection of poetry, SOMEONE TALKING TO SOMETIME, which was followed next year by THE EAGLE AND THE CHICKENS, a children’s book. Besides Ghana, Aidoo has lived in Harare, Zimbabwe from 1983, where she has worked for the Curriculum Development Unit of the Ministry of Education. She has also been active in the Zimbabwe Women Writers Group.

FOR FURTHER READING: Women Writers in Black Africa by Lloyd Brown (1981); Ngambika: Studies of Women in African Literature, ed. by Carole Boyce Davies and Anne Adams Graves (1986); In their Own Voices, ed. by Adeola James (1990); Diverse Voices, ed. by Harriet Devine Jump (1991); Black Women’s Writing, ed. by Gina Wisker (1993); The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo by Vincent Odamtten (1994); Postcolonial African Writers by Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne (1998); Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, ed. by Ada Uzoamaka Azodo and Gay Wilentz (1999); World Authors 1990-1995, ed. by Clifford Thompson (2000) – Other African women writers: Flora Nwapa (1931-1996), Mariama Bâ (1929-81), Buchi Emecheta (b. 1944), Tsitsi Dangarembga (b. 1959) – NOTE: During President Clinton’s stay in Ghana in 1998 Aidoo criticized the mass media, which have made the visit look like second coming of Messiah.

Selected works:

  • THE DILEMMA OF A GHOST, 1965
  • ANOWA, 1970
  • NO SWEETNES HERE, 1970
  • OUR SISTER KILLJOY; OR, REFLECTIONS FROM A BLACK-EYED SQUINT, 1977
  • SOMEONE TALKING TO SOMETIME, 1985
  • THE EAGLE AND THE CHICKEN, 1986
  • BIRDS AND OTHER POEMS, 1987
  • CHANGES: A LOVE STORY, 1991 – Muutoksia

THE GIRL WHO CAN AND OTHER STORIES, 1999

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