AN ASSESSMENT OF EFUA T. SUTHERLAND:THE MARRIAGE OF ANANSEWAA

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AN EXPOSITION OF EFUA T. SUTHERLAND: THE MARRIAGE OF ANANSEWAA

Efua T. Sutherland is a Ghanaian, she is an innovator and she founded an Experimental Theater in 1958 and her plays, in Akan were acted. She has experimented with the integration of traditional Africa forms and European theatrical practice.

The Marriage of Anansewaa is an experimental drama, for the playwright deviates from western/European conventional forms. Among the works of Efua Sutherland are: Anansewaa and the Dwarf Brigade, a play developed from a folktale, and Edufa. The dramatist uses the traditional folktales of her people – Akan people – to teach morals.

TEXTUAL BACKGROUND AND SETTING

The Marriage of Anansewaa is from ‘Anansesem’ – a form of storytelling by the Akan-speaking people developed from ‘Anansegoro.’ The name of ‘Anansesem’ literally means Ananse story. Ananse means spider. Ananse appears to represent a kind of every man, artistically exaggerated and distorted to serve society as a medium of self-examination.

The development of Anansesem is a result of the history of the evolution of West Africa Drama. Efua T. Sutherland writes in Akan and draws on folktales. She makes use of local language in the play. She seeks to combine traditional African drama with certain aspects of European theatrical convention, thus establishing an original meaningful dramatic act form in Africa.

The Marriage of Anansewaa is a celebration of energy, where Ananse uses his energy to become wealthy on the gullibility of the four chiefs.

PLOT

The storyline of the Marriage of Anansewaa is a linear progression from exposition, middle, to the end. There is no complexity in the structure. There is a single location of setting in one place and the action is around Ananse’s house.

The play is in four acts and it reveals Ananse’s attempt, on the one hand, to make so much money out at his daughter’s suitors – the Chief of Sapa, Togbe Klu Iv, Chief of the mines, and Chief-who-is-chief – and on the other hand, to extricate himself from a tangled web of deceit and lies he has woven to cover up his actions.

Ananse secretly favors Chief-who-is-chief, when asked by his daughter, Anansewaa , why the choice of four Chiefs, Ananse replies, ‘Let ‘s say that  covers North, South, East, West.

Ananse receives gifts from each of the Chiefs, none of whom knows his rivals, the four Chiefs decided to come and offer the ‘head drink’, thus establishing their marriage to Anansewaa, Ananse persuades his daughter to pretend to be dead (mock death), then a message is sent to the four Chiefs about the death of Anansewaa. They all send their messengers with gifts for the funeral ceremony. The speeches from the messengers indicate to Ananse how much their love would have cared for Anansewaa.

Through the mock-death, Ananse is able to make money out of the Chiefs and profit from his tricks. It is the message of Chief-who-is-chief that appeals most to Ananse. Chief-Who-is-Chief considers himself already married to Anansewaa and as such accepts full responsibility for the funeral and for Anansewaa. Ananse later invokes the spirits of the ancestors to restore Anansewaa’s life, because of Chief-who-is-chief’s love for Anansewaa.

Anansewaa comes back to life and we are led to believe that she will marry

Chief-who-is-chief and live happily thereafter.

THEME

The theme which is central to the plot is that of poverty and ambition. The whole play is about Ananse’s ambition to improve his lot in life. There is, in the play, Ananse’s demonstration of his energy to be the object of his own life by turning from his poverty to affluence.

Ananse celebrates the energy and to celebrate energy is to celebrate life. He uses his energy to become wealthy; Ananse is seen as poor from the beginning of the play, unable to pay his daughter’s secretarial fees. He is whipped by rain, poverty, the plight of Anansewaa, and life generally. He is able to achieve what he wants and this is to assert that man is the subject of his history.

Man, here, is in control of the universe, for Ananse is able to become rich and comfortable in the society as he plays upon his victims’ gullibility.

The playwright shows the gullibility of the society: that people can be deceived easily, e.g. the deception of the four Chiefs is a vivid example.

Another thematic pre-occupation is about love and materialism. True love and material love are opposite ideals, but somehow Ananse manages to strike a balance between them in this play. Although motivated by personal economic benefits, Ananse succeeds at the same time in making true love the basis of his daughter’s marriage.

ACT-BY-ACT SUMMARY 

Act I

Ananse is seen here entering his house from where he has gone to buy some typing materials for the letters he intends to write to his daughter’s suitors. It is raining outside. Anansewaa soon enters, already dressed to go to work. But her father talks her into staying to type the letters. Ananse begins to complain that he is poor.  From his is a complaint, his daughter is able to realize the event of her father’s poverty and she then promises to co-operate if that will alleviate the suffering.

The letters are then written in the order that suits Ananse –  first to Chief Sapaase, then to Chief of Akata (Togbe Klu IV), the third to Chief of the Mines, and finally to Chief-who-is-chief. While the first three letters have the same tone and content, the one to Chief–who-is-chief is quite different, it is more emotional than the rest because he is the most favored of all the suitors.

After the typing, Ananse gives his daughter the sum of 120 cedes, being the fees for staying away from her studies at the E.P’s Secretarial School. This money is part of the cash gift from Chief–who-is-chief. Anansewaa soon gets to know her father’s plan and objects to being sold into marriage. However, she is convinced to accept Chief-who-is-chief almost reluctantly.

There is a short interlude that features some musical performances (the Mboguo), celebrating the love affair between Akwesi and Akosua. This scene is meant to illustrate the fact that it is only the presentation of the compulsory head-drink that gives the man confidence to lay claim to a woman as his wife. After the initial cash gift from Chief-who-is-chief, more gifts continue to pour in the Ananse. Next to arrive is Togbe Klu’s gift through postal order.

ACT II

Two women arrive on the scene bearing gifts from chief Sapaase. Ananse is obviously happy and with all appreciation, he asks the women messenger to sit:

Chairs! Bring chairs for the messengers of royalty and water! Water, instantly! Let the royal travelers have water at once.

Next is the cheque gift from the Chief of the mines,. Ananse is full of praises for this chief but wishes that Chief-who-is-chief should increase his own gift to win the competition. In the end, Chief-who-is-chief’s messenger arrives to say that the head-drink for Anansewaa will be sent in two weeks’ time. As he goes out, he stumbles on Chief Sapaase’s messenger comes yet again with a telegram. Ananse is now rich; he calls in artisans, the carpenter, the mason, and the painter- to refurbish his old house. With donations pouring in from all corners, Ananse has transformed into a big and comfortable man. Ananse’s trick has paid off he is now one of the richest men in the town. Wealth has changed his status from low to high.

ACT III

It is time for Anansewaa’s outdooring ceremony. This ceremony is to mark the passing from girlhood to womanhood. It is a kind rite of passage usually performed for marriage. But Anansewaa’s outdooring ceremony is coming rather too late. Anansesem’s mother is angry at this lateness. She says:

But to wait until five years after the girl has become a woman and then say ‘outdoor her!’ That’s not good custom-keeping in anybody’s world.

 

At any rate, the ceremony is performed with Miss Christiana Yamoah in attendance to dress for Anansewaa. Six girls of Anansewaa’s age come to bring her out and start off the ceremony with a song. In the midst of the celebration of this passage, a disturbing telegram arrives from Togbe Klu, bringing all the excitement to a premature end. Other telegrams are being sent in quick succession from Anansewaa’s suitors all promising to place her head-drink on the table before long, Ananse is confused because he hardly expects this to happen. But this incident brings out his best in the trade of deceit and cunning. He quickly thinks of a way out and then presents a scheme whereby. Anansewaa feigns death as a way of stopping the various plans for the presentation of the head drink. Anansewaa soon gets to know that this scheme is to allow Chief-who-is-chief to win the competition and she eventually gives her full co-operation.

         To get his mother, Aya, and anut, Ekuwa, out of the way so as not to face their opposition, he quickly invents a lie. With Christie Yamoah’s collusion, he lies that some enemies have set fire to the family’s cocoa farm in their hometown and then asks his mother and his aunt to go home immediately. Christie is seen at the end bring the scene to a close with a song.

ACT IV

Here, there is fake mourning for Anansewaa. On her father’s instruction, she feigns death on the very day Togbe Klu is expected to perform the head-drink ceremony. Christie tells the audience that the news of Anansewaa’s death has been sent to all the four suitors. Then the messengers of the various suitors arrive in turns to bring their funeral messages.  From the messages of the suitors, we get to know their various reasons for desiring to marry Anansewaa. Chief of the Mines wants to marry Anansewaa against the advice of his councilors who would then have hated her. Chief Sapaase would have brought her into a domestic rivalry in his place. Togbe Klu:

Was looking forward to having a real helper at the last to assist him in building up a substantial business. Who would ruin him as some of his own?

Togbe Klu would have entrusted all the business documents to his wife, Anansewaa. This revelation surprises Ananse so much, but still wishes Chief-who—is-chief could do better.

Not long after, Chief-who-is-chief messengers arrive with the message that the Chief accepts full responsibility for Anansewaa’s burial rite. The Chief will do everything a husband does for his wife by providing a wedding ring, expensive clothes, a large number of drinks, and a glass coffin for her funeral. This definitely makes him the winner of the contrived competition for the hand of Anansewaa in marriage.

Ananse invokes his daughter back to life and the play end on a happy note with songs and music.

CHARACTERIZATION

 Ananse

He is the most important character in the play, he is the hero. His full name is George Kweka Ananse, a poor, struggling widower with an only child (a daughter, Anansewaa), an aging mother, Aya and an elderly aunt, Ekuwa. He is fairly advanced in age. Everything revolves around his actions. Ananse is a schemer, cunning, ambitious, witty, and flatterer.

Ananse is a loving father, for he cares and loves his daughter, Anansewaa, thus when he discovers his abject poverty condition, he schemes and manipulates his way out to become wealthy.

Ananse is a liar and it is through falsehood that he manages his life. He tells lies that his daughter is dead so as to make money from the Chiefs. He lies also about the fire on his cocoa farm.   Ananse likes to complicate matters, for His ways are certainly complicated.

Ananse certainly needs a rest after spinning such a web. (Act 1, p.15)

Ananse is Machiavellian, for he believes that so long an event has a successful outcome, the method you use to achieve this success does not matter morally. Finally, Ananse is clever, resourceful, and full of energy for he says:

I covered a mile. I traveled the country by bus, by trains, by ferryboat. I lobbed for introductions into the palace after palace….. I assessed everything before I selected the four chiefs to whom I could show your photographs in advance. (Act 1, p. 11)

  • Anansewaa

She is a young, educated, inexperienced but intelligent daughter of Anansesem she is twenty years old. She is an obedient daughter thereby tied to the apron strings of her father.

She learns secretarial studies at the E.P’s Secretarial School and later proceeded to that Institute for Prospective Brides. Despite her education and modern outlook, she enjoys traditional ceremonies.

Anansewaa is a romantic girl, for when she heard of Chief-who-is-chief. She becomes amazed and happy. She is a thrusting innocent child though she does not accept things from her father hook, line, and sinker.

Though the play’s title is The Marriage of Anansewaa, it is not Anansewa that dominates the play but Ananse. In order words, Anansewaa’s role in the play is more or less a passive one.

  • Miss Christiana Yamaoh

She is also known as Christie. She is a fashionable woman. She falls in love with Ananse and can be dishonest. In her efforts to get Ananse to marry her, she acts as Ananse’s wife, helper, and adviser. She is disliked by Aya, the mother of Ananse.

Christie is a good actress, for acts very well in the mock death of Anansewaa. She is urbane and modern in her ways. She is a flamboyant lady, and Aya thinks she is senselessly extravagant’. She contrasts with Aya and Ananse’s aunt who are followers of tradition.

Apart from Ananse and his daughter, Christie is the next most important character in the play. She plays a vital role in the deadly game Ananse resorts to as a desperate measure to escape discovery and humiliation.

  • Aya

Aya literally in the Ghanaian language means ‘grandmother’. Aya is Ananse mother who believes in traditional ceremonies.

Aya is more rustic; crude and spiritual. She is fully involved in the rituals and chants and invokes prayers on Anansewaa before unveiling her. During the outdooring ceremony.

She is brave and very loving; she loves her son, Ananse, and her granddaughter, Anansewaa. When she heard of the family threat, she described to go and tackle, single-handedly, and punish the ‘offspring of vipers’.

  • The Storyteller

The storyteller performs three functions, as he is seen as omniscient. He introduces the story; interprets the story and exposes the characters to the audience as to what will happen later and gives us suspense to what to suspect.

            He is a respectable family man. According to him:

And let me admit that I can feel a little for Ananse. I am a father myself. To tell you the truth. I wish I had a little bit of his kind of cunning. (p. 16)

 

Occasionally, he is a partaker of the action and holds dialogue with some of the characters, as with the postman. (pp.19-56) and with Christie (p.56) The story becomes the property of the storyteller. The storyteller performs the function of the Greek convention of the chorus.

DRAMATIC TECHNIQUES AND LANGUAGE

 

         The play employs the storytelling format, that is, the story is being portrayed in action. The storytelling format involves the use of a storyteller and a pool of actors who voluntarily take part in the action.

In Sutherland’s efforts to give the play a rich African background, she uses multiple dramatic devices. In fact, music begins and ends the play, in addition to constant dancing and singing which characterize the action all the way.

One of the major dramatic techniques being employed in this play is the metaphorical use of the Spider’s web, Sutherland depicts Ananse as a ‘spider who is always spinning a web and trapping his victims in it. The web, no doubt, is a predominant symbol in the play.

The first noteworthy thing about the language being used in this play is transliterations. This means translating literally from the vernacular into English. Though this is not noticeable, as the characters speak in normal English most of the time but not in the speech of the storyteller on (p. 66, Act IV):

Do you notice that since we started thinking, we also have arrived right where the eye of the story is?

The eye of the story means the climax.

There is also the use of imagery in the play. The most outstanding use of metaphor in the play is at the height of crisis where Ananse is about to implement his last risky enterprise in which Anansewaa is expected to feign death.

Also appreciable is the witty use of language in the play. This can be admitted more with Ananse who employs language as part of his cunning and ‘trickish’ devices. Ananse also manages to subdue, Anansewaa in the opening scene by the sheer speed and power of his language. (pp. 2-3)

REVISION QUESTIONS

  1. Give an account of the reasons why Ananse has to write to his daughter’s four suitors?
  2. Examine The Marriage of Anansewaa as a story drama?
  3. Is Anansewaa the passive heroine of the play? Discuss.
  4. Discuss the theme of love and marriage as portrayed in the play?
  5. Who is poverty man and what role did he play in the chorus?
  6. Discuss fully the circumstances leading to Anansewaa’s fake funeral?
  7. Of what significance is the use of song and dance in The Marriage of Anansewaa?
  8. Who is Christie, and how important is she in the play?
  9. Of what significance is the Postman in The Marriage of Anansewaa?
  10.  Give a central account of the use of language and narrative technique in the play?
  11. Describe with close reference in the play, the general atmosphere at the fake murmuring for Anansewaa and comment on its outcome.
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