Aidoo, Ama Ata (Christina Ama Ata Aidoo)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Aidoo, Ama Ata (Christina Ama Ata Aidoo)

Aidoo, Ama Ata (Christina Ama Ata Aidoo) (1942- ) Ghanian fiction writer, poet, and dramatist

A native of Abeadzi Kyiakor, Gold Coast (present- day Ghana), and expert in Fanti drama, Christina Ama Ata Aidoo grew up during a time of strained relations between black Africans and Great Britain. Colonizers tortured her grandfather to death and threatened the position of her father, Yaw Fama, a tribal chief and village educator. Her mother, Maame Abba, influenced Aidoo's incipient political views with womanly talk-stories. Aidoo was 15 years old when the militaristic Ashanti Empire, Gold Coast, and part of Togoland merged into Ghana, the first sub-Saharan nation to free itself from British imperialism. Under the influence of Ghanian concepts of liberty, she became a pacesetter during her years at the University of Ghana, where she majored in English and drama and studied African fiction, notably the affirmation of native identity in Nigerian novelist CHINUA ACHEBE'S Things Fall Apart (1958). She began submitting verse and vignettes to Black Orpheus and the Okyeame literary magazine. After her appointment to the ministry of education, in support of pan-Africanism, she directed her literary projects toward the relief of ignorance and the empowerment of rural women, particularly widows and working mothers who were raising fatherless children.

After settling in Harare Zimbabwe in 1983, Ama Ata Aidoo battled the diminution of women, a pervasive element of Victorian ideologies and a residue of slavery. She stimulated audiences with her witty social drama The Dilemma of a Ghost (1965), a rescue plot that features a traditional mother's salvation of her son, Ato Yawson, after he returns to West Africa with a college degree and citified wife from the United States. A matrifocal anthology, No Sweetness Here (1970), surveys the domestic upheavals in women's lives following Ghana's emergence as a model of black African independence, a scenario that dominates the novels of Nigerian author BUCHI EMECHETA. In the story “Everything Counts,” Aidoo mocks Westernized natives “scrambling to pay exorbitant prices for second-hand clothes from America” (Aidoo 1995, 1). In “For Whom Things Did Not Change,” she turns a rotted yam into a symbol of the oversized promise of nationhood and the morning-after disillusion when it arrives. The song-play Anowa (1970), enriched with Ashanti proverbs and Africanisms, challenges mid-19th century feudal wedlock on the Guinea coast by turning the title character into a liberated woman and symbol of the motherland. Cultural dissonance and discontent remained at the core of Aidoo's verse and epistolary novel Our Sister Killjoy; or, Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint (1977), a feminist revelation of postcolonial bigotry. The novel won the author a fellowship to Stanford University.

Aidoo's contributions to global feminism earned her the support of the nonprofit publisher the Feminist Press. The prize-winning social SATIRE Changes: A Love Story (1991) moved more boldly into women's issues with the recoil of a career woman, Esi Sekyi, from spousal abuse, polygamy, and patriarchal despotism, the themes of contemporary Senegalese author MARIAMA BA. Aidoo bases the examination of male-female relationships on such outdated wisdom as the belief that “It's not safe to show a woman you love her … not too much anyway” (Aidoo 1993, 7). She parallels male insecurities with the admonitions of Esi's pragmatic grandmother Nana, the epitome of the female enforcer of tradition and good sense. Out of outrage at Esi's demand for affection, Nana warns, “Love? … Love? … Love is not safe, my lady Silk, love is dangerous” (42). Esi's breach of Ghanian morality by carrying on an affair with Ali, a married Muslim, proves counterproductive. With a poet's grace, Aidoo speaks the unease of adultery: “Guilt is born in the same hour with pleasure, / like anything in this universe and its enemy” (69). By renegotiating the conjugal alternatives of the past, Esi relives the female struggles that endure from prehistory. Aidoo's teaching career has taken her to England, Germany, and the United States, where she teaches at Brown University.


Aidoo, Ama Ata. Changes: A Love Story. New York:

Feminist Press, 1993.

------- . The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa: Two Plays.

Harlow, U.K.: Longman, 1987.

------- . No Sweetness Here and Other Stories. New York:

Feminist Press, 1995.

Killam, G. D. Literature of Africa. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2004.