Cultural Dispensation in Ama Ata Aidoo Anowa and Ola Rotimi The gods Are Not To Blame
This chapter consists of a series of subtopics which includes a background of the study, the statement of the problem, the significance of the study, the research questions, and the organization of the study.
1.2 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The artistic, creative, imagination and creative experiences of the earlier generations which are passed down to the current generation and the future generation from time to time were done through the elements of literature. This passage was done either by the words of the mouth or written down in well-preserved documents. In the renaissance period in the history of English literature, where knowledge was reborn, people began to write about their societies, their personal feelings, ideas, and imagination in poetry, which later expanded to drama and prose. The likes of Williams Shakespeare, john Dan, Martin Luta, and the rest, all did their efforts to showcase their creative experiences and literature of the people to the future generations today. Other writers also came during the romantic era and continued the writings of literature.
In a broader spectrum, these writings extended to other parts of the world and today literature is studied in schools across the globe. In Ghana, and other African countries, English literature is taught in schools from junior High-level to the tertiary level, but for this work, we will limit ourselves to Drama which is an aspect (genre)of English literature that has to do with the performances of the act on stage for audiences to watch. Through these performances, actors and actress exhibit their talents, creativities, and experiences of culture and traditions of their people. Drama as it is being performed on stages is also written in books for readers. All these today help to broaden the thinking abilities and also build on the competence level of students, especially in the field of communication which is a strong tool for socialization.
The term “culture” has been defined differently by various scholars. In general, culture describes the way of life of a group of people. Stephen Greenblat in his essay “culture”, quotes the influential anthropologist, Edward B Tyler’s definition of culture as : “Culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense is that complex whole which includes knowledge, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and the habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (p. 225). Greenblat’s definition of culture seems to embody almost everything that is part of society. Raymond Willams (1983) also states in his Keywords:
A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, that the word “culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.” This he says is so partly because of the historical development of the word in several European languages. But basically, it is because the word “has now come to be used for the important concepts in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought.” He further points out that the word’s immediate forerunner is the Latin word culture which is derived from the Latin word colere which means “cultivate, protect, honour with worship.”(p.87) Williams recognizes three broad categories of the usage of the word culture as a result of the various stages through which the word has developed. These are:
Cultural practices are mostly ancient customs that started from the old days and developed over time and have been kept up to today. Cultural practices are very much sacred in some regions of the world because they were probably taught to its participants since they were little. These people have grown up with it and have been practicing them ever since. Knowing the story or meaning behind it and its importance, they probably decided to keep it with them. There are some bad aspects of cultural practices and there are good ones.
This depends on your culture, religion, and ethnicity. For example, Spirit Child, by investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, exposes the bad and barbaric nature of certain cultural practices. Children whose futures have been predicted and deemed as bad or children that have been named, ‘evil spirits’, because of the way they look or “misfortune they bring to the family” are killed. Another bad aspect of some cultural practices is that some of them, although unreasonable, are compulsory. For example, during the puberty rites of some ethnic groups, young females are forced to walk around their neighbourhood naked. Another barbaric cultural practice is child marriage.
The Gods Are Not to Blame is a play written by Ola Rotimi. The play discusses several issues, including the cultural practice of ritual killing. Odewale, the newly-born child of King Adetusa and Queen Ojuola had to be killed because a priest of Ifa, Baba Fakunle, predicted that Odewale would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother. Though this killing did not happen, the practice of killing a newborn child because of some divination is similar to ritual killing in Anas Aremeyaw Anas,’ Spirit Child, investigative documentary.
The Spirit Child is a documentary produced by Anas Aremeyaw Anas. It talks about the cultural practice of a particular people in the Northern part of Ghana. “This practice is an ancient custom shaped by absolute ignorance and poverty which involves the killing of spirit children” (Al Jazeera, 2018). When born deformed or with a disability, the child is seen as an evil spirit not only because of how they look but because they are seen as burdens onto the family.
In this part of the world, poverty prevalence is relatively high so several families require their children to work with them on their farms, but, if the child is disabled, he/she can’t work and their mothers must spend time caring for them. So, these disabled children are seen as an extra burden and a curse to the family. As a result, they believe they must rid the world and their village of that child to “save the child’s family’s life” (Al Jazeera, 2018). They kill the children by consulting medicine men to prepare poisonous concoctions to give to the children. Anas Aremeyaw Anas was able to collect enough evidence to bring some of these men to justice.
In Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not to Blame, aspects of spirituality are portrayed as impacting marital ties. When King Adetusa and Queen Ojuola beget their first child, they take it to the shrine of Ogun accompanied by the Ogun Priest. The narrator remarks: “It is their first baby. So they bring him for the blessing to the shrine of Ogun the God of War, of Iron and the doctor of male children” (1).
The Yoruba community reveres its gods. Unlike in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King in which the royal family just receives prophecy about their son from a prophet without going to a shrine, King Adetusa and Queen Ojuola take their son to the Ogun shrine before the seer gives a divination on their child’s future. Taking the first royal child to the Ogun shrine is a significant event. Among the Yoruba pantheon (Orisanla; sometimes called Obatala, Orunmila, Esu, Sango, Saponna, Ela etc.), Ogun occupies an important place and wields great power since he is held to be in control of everything that is made of iron (Olusegun, 2017, p. 3)
Arnold believes that no society can achieve total perfection without adhering to the values of its culture. He separates religion from culture and describes the perfection that society achieves through cultural adherence as “sweetness and light”. He admits that religion plays a major role in perfecting society but that what religion achieves is inadequate. Arnold further points out that, society can only achieve true perfection through strict adherence to culture. The various definitions of culture show that culture is indispensable.
There is therefore the need to enforce cultural values to sustain society. In much the same way, Stephen Greenblat points out that “western literature over a long period has been one of the great institutions for the enforcement of cultural boundaries through praise and blame.” Various definitions of culture have been given but for this study, emphasis will be laid on the definition by Raymond William which is, “a particular way of life of a people.” The next word which has also been variously defined is literature.
This study is interested in the definition by Mathew Arnold in culture and anarchy. According to him, “literature is a criticism of life”. From this definition, it can be deduced that literature criticizes every aspect of man’s life. It should be noted that this kind of criticism deals not only with the bad aspects of human life but also with the good aspects. Judging from these two chosen definitions of culture and literature, it is obvious that the two terms are closely related. Thus, while culture is a way of life of a particular people, literature also examines this same particular way of life. Hence both look at the issue of man’s life.
The story of Anowa is set in Ghana—previously the Gold Coast. It narrativizes the experiences of Anowa and Kofi Ako, two young lovers who decide to leave their hometown in search of a better life in a foreign city. Anowa, born beautiful and cherished by her parents, is a strong-willed young lady. She is apparently of the line of special priestesses of the clan, a spiritual vocation that the mother shelters her from, hoping to get her to marry a good man, be a good wife, and become a mother to healthy children. Anowa, however, refuses the offers of her many suitors until she chooses for herself Kofi Ako, much to her mother’s disapproval.
Her father wishes that she could take to her spiritual calling and become a priestess. Anowa decides to run off with her chosen lover to make a living from the colonial trading companies that had cropped up on the Gold Coast, not long after the experience of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. In their new home, the couple builds wealth through the sale of raw materials, animal skins, and the exportation of palm oil. They seem to be doing well until Kofi joins the slave trade. Anowa disapproves of slavery and refuses to enjoy the wealth they both create.
There is no companionship between husband and wife. Kofi, on realizing he is impotent and fact that not even his wife enjoys their wealth, commits suicide. By this time, the struggle to stay in a fruitless marriage and the stubbornness that made her vow not to return home leave Anowa feeling very lonely and in a state of regression and insanity. The play ends tragically with Anowa’s suicide as she drowns herself in the sea.
Back in their town, the relatives congregate in mourning. Old Man reports that Anowa’s father and mother and a few relatives have gone to retrieve the corpses to return them home to Yebi. The concluding sonic cue of the Atentenben (flute for funeral processions) that is heard “wailing in loneliness” (Aidoo, 1965, p. 124) reverberates a funeral dirge that seals Anowa and Kofi’s tragic trajectories. The narrative gives insights into the relationship between traditional gender norms and trajectories of feminist resistance, underscoring efforts to subvert repressive norms as useless and deserving of punishment such as madness and death.
Arguably, the play inadvertently scripts the notion that the roots/ routes of progress for women are tied to cultural practices and indigenous religious observances. Such a perspective betrays the feminist project on the Continent. It is on the afore background that this research work seeks to examine the cultural dispensation in Ama Ata Aidoo’s ‘Anowa’ and Ola Rotimi’s‘ The gods Are Not To Blame’.
1.3 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The various cultural practices across the African continent from time immemorial to date have implications on the lives of people both young and old, and therefore several African researchers have talked about it in one way or the other through other genres of literature. In the case of “Anowa” and “The gods are not to blame”, This study is designed to look at cultural dispensation and its implications on the societies of these two different African countries.
1.4 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The objectives of this study are to:
- Identify some cultural practices in Africa
- Analyze the implications of these African cultural practices on African societies.
III. Identify the effects of these cultural practices on African societies.
- Identify some belief systems of African people.
1.5 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
- what are some cultural practices in African societies?
- What are some implications of African cultural practices on African societies?
- What effects do African cultural practices have on African societies?
- What are some of the belief systems of Africans?
1.6 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
First, the selected topic will help to serve as a means to avoid the barbaric aspect of our cultural practices across the African continent.
This topic will also help us to identify and understand the implications of some cultural practices on the individual and African society at large.
Again, this study will guide us to live peacefully, tolerate each other and co-exist among ourselves and other African countries under one big umbrella.
Last, this study will help other continents to identify us as African people and our unique nature.
1.7 ORGANIZATION OF THE STUDY
This study is organized into five main chapters. Chapter one presents an overview of the background of the study, the statement of the problem, the objectives of the study, the research questions, and the significance of the study. Chapter two talks about what other researchers have studied about the topic and that is the literature review. Chapter three talks about the selected topic for study. Chapter four is all about the details of the topic “cultural dispensation in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa and Ola Rotimi’s “The God’s Are Not to Blame”. The last chapter presents the conclusions of the study which includes a summary and recommendations for further study.
1.8 Research Methodology
The Study will be mainly library-based research. The text chosen as a case study will be used as a primary source of information, while other information from the internet, published and unpublished articles, journals, copies of an earlier project from the library, and other related resources will be used and examined as the secondary.