An Analysis/Summary of Efua T. Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa

Author’s Information: Efua Theodora Sutherland was a Ghanaian playwright who lived between 1924 and 1996. Her play, The Marriage of Anansewa, was published in 1975. Her other plays include Edufa and Foriwa. Sutherland was interested in the promotion of African culture and the protection of children’s rights, among other activities. The play, The Marriage of Anansewa, aimed to draw attention to the modern vices in postcolonial Ghanaian and African societies through the depiction of how greed and avarice has conditioned love relationships and the marriage institution.

Background to the Play: The Marriage of Anansewa is a comedy which satirises the greed and other modern vices that plague the marriage institution in postcolonial Ghana. The comic mode of the play is seen in how it is riddled with laughter and humorous circumstances, as well as how the conflicts are safely resolved at the end of the play. Sutherland’s play draws from the African theatre principles marked by audience participation, the use of songs and the depiction of African traditional values, characters and incidents. In the play, Sutherland is attempting to assert the Ghanaian traditional values in marriage by holding to scorn all invading modern vices like greed and the use of money to determine love. The play equally ridicules the monetisation of marriage which Ananse, a principal character of the play, is guilty of. The cunning of the modern Ghanaian character is captured in the depiction of Ananse who survives by his wit, just like the picaro of the Spanish picaresque novel.

Subject Matter: Marriage is the subject matter of Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa. Through this subject matter, Sutherlands explores the values of Ghanaian’s postcolonial society, exposing themes like greed, deception, exploitation, monetisation of the marriage institution and the general get-rich-quick syndrome still observed in contemporary society.

Cast: The Marriage of Anansewa has a large and complex cast as follows:

Players: Used to demonstrate audience participation in the play. They include dancers, actors and music-makers.

Property Man: He hands props and other play items to characters in the play.

Ananse: He is a central character of the play, the hero, Anansewa’s father.

Anansewa: Ananse’s daughter.

Post Office Crew: They receive and deliver letters in the play.

Storyteller: He is the narrator of events in the play. He is built to be omniscient.

Akwasi and Akosua: A young couple.

Postman: Delivers letters.

Sapaase Messengers: Two matronly women.

Chief-Who-Is-Chief’s Messenger

Aya: Ananse’s mother

Ekuwa: Ananse’s aunt.

Christie: Miss Christina Yamoah: A fashionable woman.

Girls: About six, of Anansewa’s age group.

Two Women: For the dirge.

Messengers: To the funeral.

  1. From the mines, two men.
  2. From  Sapaase: One man and two women.
  3. From Akate: two men.
  4. From Chief-Who-Is-Chief: the Diplomat and another man and two or three women.

Plot/Synopsis:  Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa has a chronological plot structure as the events flow from the beginning to the end. However, past events are reenacted through flashback or recollection in the play. The story begins with the depiction of the richness of Anansewa’s beauty and the poverty of Ananse’s household. This poverty is depicted in the inability of Ananse to pay the daughter’s school fees, as well as in the dilapidated state of the house. Ananse soon conceives a scheme to exchange her daughter’s beauty for wealth through what could be called marriage racketeering. He makes a photo shoot of the daughter and travels vast distances to select the best men of his time and clime, Chiefs with wealth, to advertise his daughter as bride through letters typed by Anansewa herself. These Chiefs fall for Ananse’s bait and begin sending in gifts of cash with the hope of getting married to Anansewa, with each of them thinking that they are the only suitors for the fair beauty. These monies suddenly help improve Ananse’s financial circumstances. He is able to pay Anansewa’s school fee and to make her return to school, E.P.’s Secretarial School. Ananse is also able to effect transformative repairs to his house and acquire some tasteful items to mark his new class and status. Trouble, however, starts when each of the chiefs sends in messages that they will be coming to present the traditional head-drink to formally ask for Anansewa’s hand in marriage.

It is at this point that Ananse devices a scheme to make the daughter play dead to stall or thwart the proposed marriage visit by the suitors. For this plan to succeed, Ananse enlists the support of Christie, who willingly serves Ananse with the hope that he would look on her as a wife. Ananse devices a plan to get his mother and aunt, Aya and Ekuwa, respectively, to leave the house so that their presence would not interfere with his plan to get people to believe that Anansewa had died. He lies to his mother and aunt that he had received tragic news that his cocoa farm in the village, Nanka, had been set ablaze. He wants them to return to the village to see things for themselves and to get their revenge on the people of Nsona Clan, Nanka, for hating him so much to destroy his only means of livelihood.

With the nosey women out of the way and with the cooperation of Anansewa and Christie, Ananse’s plan is bound to succeed. The trio are able to put up their best act in deceiving the messengers from the four chiefs interested in marrying Anansewa. These suitors are the Chief of Sapaase, Chief of the Mines, Togbe Klu IV of Akate and Chief-Who-Is-Chief. Their messengers arrive one after another with condolence messages which reveal to Ananse the depth of their Chief’s love for Anansewa and the plan that they had for her had she lived to be their wife. They also present gifts which speak to their level of commitment to Anansewa and to the proposed marriage relationship.

In the end, Ananse divines that Chief-Who-Is-Chief is the one most qualified to marry his daughter and it is to him that he opts to give Anansewa’s hand in marriage. Already, Anansewa had developed a liking for the Chief and had extracted her father’s promise to let her marry the Chief as a condition for agreeing to partake in his pretend-death scheme. Ananse pretends to make traditional chants and incantations during which he calls on the ancestors to wake Anansewa through the power of love. Anansewa wakes up to the shock of the entire neighbourhood and the community. All is set for her to marry Chief-Who-Is-Chief, hoping that nothing goes wrong.

Setting: The play is set in postcolonial Ghana at the time when modern culture had penetrated the fabric of society and was seriously making damaging in routes and competing with traditional culture. Specifically, the play’s spatial setting is in Ananse’s house described as ‘a bare-room that only contains a small table and chair’ at the beginning of the play. There is mention to place names like Nsona Clan and Nanka which refer to Ananse’s home town. Mention of words like petty coat, umbrella, state function and Embassies’ party signal modernity in the play.

Themes: The themes explored in Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa include marriage in traditional society, clash of cultures in marriage, greed and discontentment and its consequences, life as drama, wealth through obtaining by tricks and deception, survival and the philosophy of the ends justifies the means, the value of educated woman in marriage, patriarchal domination and manipulation, monetisation of marriage and test of true love.

Against the background of the competing colonialist culture on Marriage, especially the practice of modern courtship and church wedding, Sutherland in The Marriage of Anansewa wants to dramatise how marriage works in traditional society. This is demonstrated in the depiction of Akwasi and Akosua’s relationship in the play, as well as in the marriage proceedings in Ananse’s household. Akwasi believes that because he has been buying gifts to Akosua, that it qualifies her to be his wife or even implies that they are in a relationship; not until he is told pointblank by Akosua that he cannot claim her as wife until he has brought the head-drink to her parents. In the same way, all the gifts presented to Ananse by the Chiefs amount to nothing in marriage terms until they are ready to present the head-drink to the family. What Sutherland aims to portray in this play is that marriage is a highly structured activity and that it is only those who are aware of the rules and abide by them who win in the end.

The theme of culture clash is built into the main theme of marriage in the play. The Ghanaian society depicted in The Marriage of Anansewa is postcolonial in nature; this implies that there is an obvious presence of both the traditional and modern cultures competing for supremacy in the play. Ananse’s hybridity is seen how he belongs to the church and also follows traditional principles in the contracting of marriage. When Ananse finally makes money through defrauding his daughter’s suitors, he asks that the best church be selected for him to attend a thanksgiving service and make donations.

The theme of greed and discontentment is portrayed in the actions of Ananse. He is seen as being dissatisfied with his present financial state and opts to monetise the marriage of his daughter. He introduces her to four of the wealthiest and most powerful men of his society and extorts money from them to better his life and that of his daughter. Such actions usually have consequences. For Ananse, his headaches begin once the suitors begin sending messages and fixing dates for marriage proceedings to commence. Ananse has to outwit the suitors with more schemes. Fortunately, he succeeds at them and all things work in his favour.  

Life as drama is an important theme in the play. The play’s verisimilitude strikes the average reader as Ananse acts out his existential drama which portrays life as full of suffering and pain, whereby the individual has to work out his own meaning and salvation through personal negotiation, intelligence and wit. Ananse’s major problem is poverty and all his strategies are meant to ensure that he lives a comfortable and respectable life.

The theme of obtaining through tricks and deception is seen in how Ananse deceives four suitors into thinking that Anansewa is meant for them. This way, he is able to get gifts and money from them. Again, Ananse tricks the suitors into believing that Anansewa is dead and profits financially from them when they come to pay their last respects to Anansewa.

The theme of survival and the philosophy that the end justifies the means play out in Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa. Ananse’s actions are motivated by survival instincts throughout the play. He wants to survive economically and be socially relevant in his society. In order to better his circumstances, he has to choose his methods and strategies, however crude and crooked they may be. The fact that the end of the play favours Ananse upholds the idea that the play demonstrates the philosophy of the end justifies the means. Life, then, is a risk which the individual must take through personal choices whose consequences he must bear. In the play, Storyteller keeps saying that either Ananse’s plans would fail and he is ruined or they will succeed and he triumphs.

The value of educated woman in marriage is demonstrated in the character of Anansewa. Her value as a bride is not only hinged on her beauty and age, but also on her education. In fact, her education makes her a more attractive bride. One of the suitors, Togbe Klu IV, has the intention of using Anansewa to expand his business empire due to her education.

The theme of patriarchal domination and manipulation is depicted in the person of Ananse who directs the key actions in the play. He dominates the play, directing his daughter on what to do, who to marry and how to go about the marriage. He also manipulates Aya, Ekuwa and Christie. Ananse’s power over these women is made possible through the agency provided by patriarchy, the rule of the father.

The theme of monetisation in marriage is depicted in how Ananse markets his daughter to rich clients/suitors or the highest bidders while the theme of test of true love manifests in how Ananse uses his daughter’s make-believe demise to test the depth of the suitors’ love and commitment.

Language and Style: Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa is written in lucid postcolonial English. The play’s theatre is based on Anansesem, a storytelling art in Ghana by the Akan-speaking people. Thus, the play’s style and language are drawn from the traditional theatre of the people of Ghana. The play deploys the Everyman motif represented by Ananse whose story represents the story of postcolonial humanity. The play has a musical performance known as Mboguo, a form of mime and pantomime, deployed as interlude. The play is organised in four acts, with a flowing dialogue that is interspaced with songs, mimes and dances. A good part of the play’s dialogue is poetic in nature. The language is equally deeply philosophical, especially when spoken by Ananse and Storyteller. Some of the dramatic elements in the play are humour, dramatic irony, verbal irony, suspense, flashback and soliloquy.

Act-by-Act Analysis of The Marriage of Anansewa

Act One

The setting of this act is a bare-room that only contains a small table and chair. There is a popular song that begins the play which goes thus: ‘Oh life is a struggle,/Oh life is a pain;/Oh life is a struggle,/Oh life is a pain/In this world’ (9). This song provides the existential and philosophical context for the play. Ananse enters. He identifies himself with the song on life and its pain. It is raining outside. Ananse shakes an umbrella he receives from Property Man to indicate that he is coming in from the rain. Ananse speaks on the theme of human suffering. His speech indicates both biblical and historical allusion. Ananse asks Anansewa to bring out her typewriter. He is wondering at the solution of human suffering: ‘Won’t somebody who thinks he has discovered the simple solution for living this life kindly step forward and help out the rest of us?’ This speech suggests that things are not going well for Ananse at this point in his life. It also suggests the complex nature of existence which everyone navigates. Ananse then addresses the audience: ‘Brother, could it be you? Mother, how about you? Nobody?’ (10).

Ananse calls on Anansewa again asking for the typewriter that ‘I bought for you at a price that nearly drove me to sell myself’ (10). This is an instance of hyperbole which emphasises the exorbitant cost at which Ananse purchased the typewriter for the daughter. Anansewa enters and receives the typewriter from Property Man.

The dialogue in the play has the texture of poetry. An instance is seen when Anansewa asks her father if it is raining. Ananse replies, ‘Yes, it’s raining. It’s rain combining with life to beat your father down’ (10). Again, this speech indicates the difficult life that Ananse is leading at the moment in the play. Ananse informs his daughter that he went out to buy materials for typing like paper, carbon and envelopes. He gives these items to Anansewa who says she was about going out. Ananse asks her to sit down and type as he has urgent letters to write. He says, ‘My daughter, it isn’t well with the home, therefore sit down, open up the machine I bought for your training, and let the tips of your fingers give some service from the training for which I’m paying’ (10). When Anansewa hesitates, Ananse tells her that he is thinking about her future. He is here trying to appeal to her self-interest to get her involved in his schemes. This speech is an instance of verbal irony because Ananse is actually thinking of his own future and he is using the daughter to achieve it.

Anansewa sits down and is ready to write though disappointed that she is not allowed to go out. It is seen that every word that Ananse speaks suggests that he is concerned about the financial state and wellbeing of the family. It should be understood that in the African traditional setting, it is a man’s responsibility to provide for the family. The family is in serious financial troubles even as Ananse is unable to pay his daughter’s school fee at E.P.’s Secretarial School. Ananse’s words at this point in the play indicate that he is definitely driving at something as he engages the daughter in a conversation aimed to persuade her to do his bidding.

It is reported that the name Kweku which is Ananse’s middle name is so named because he was born on Wednesday. This is revealed in Ananse’s speech to his daughter, Anansewa. He goes on to list all the material things he and his family require to live a rich, comfortable and dignified life, including even after death: ‘Finally, when I die, will my coffin be drawn in a fine, private hearse instead of a municipal hearse? Will the people who come to my funeral eat salad and small chops and drink good whisky, instead of chewing bits of cola and drinking cheap gin and diluted Fanta?’ (13). This raises the theme of materialism which is an aspect of modernist vice in the play. In fact, Anansewa at this point expresses surprise at her father’s sudden love for material things which he often condemned.

The first letter is addressed to Chief Sapaase whom Ananse describes with high-sounding epithets: ‘O Mighty-Tree-of-Ancient-Origin!’ (14). It should be noted that Ananse’s full name is George Kweku Ananse. The context of the letter suggests that Ananse had already gone to Chief Sapa to have a discussion on getting Anansewa married to him, though this is not openly expressed in the letter. Ananse informs his daughter that the same letter will be sent to two other Chiefs but that their appellations (names) would be changed (14).

The next letter is addressed to Togbe Klu IV of Akate. Ananse addresses him as ‘Prickly-Pear!/Cactus keeping guard. . .’ (15). Chief-Who-Is-Chief has the third letter typed by Anansewa. Chief-Who-Is-Chief is praised thus, ‘Oh! Fire-Extinguisher!/Fire-Extinguisher,/You have caused flame flashes to darken’ (16).

The first Mboguo or interlude of the play is the setting up of the Post Office so that Ananse could post his letters. The setting up of the Post Office is done by Property Man. Two Players man the post office. Ananse asks the men to hurry in posting the letter as time is nobody’s friend. It should also be noted that the action of posting the letters is mimed. The players sing a song on the theme of time not being anyone’s friend. Ananse returns home after posting the letters.

Anansewa is surprised at how her father is able to pay her school fees after bringing out a huge amount of money. The school fee is 120 Cedis. This is another strong indication that the play is set in Ghana, as cedis is the Ghanaian currency. Anansewa thanks her father on her knees. It is at this point that Ananse reveals that all the four chiefs they wrote to are suitors for Anansewa’s hand (18). Anansewa is shocked and angry and says to the father, ‘. . . You’re making me feel like crying. What have you done to me, eh, eh? Who said I wanted to marry a chief, eh? Who told those old chief of yours? Have they ever seen me?’

Ananse insists the Chiefs are not old and that she is yet to know them and so should not make unnecessary assumptions. It happened that the Chiefs had seen Anansewa’s pictures. Anansewa recalls her father having her pictures taken in different postures: ‘Oh father, there is cunning in your head. You are to be feared’ (19). It should be noted that Anansewa’s photographs mentioned in the play allude to the magazine photos of Sidi in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel.

We are then told of the great troubles that Ananse went to in showing the pictures of Anansewa to the Chiefs. He had to travel the entire country and select from the best and the richest men, four Chiefs, to marry his daughter. Anansewa exclaims that the father is selling her, and this statement is turned into a song by the Players: ‘My father is selling me. . ./Bu let me tell you bluntly,/I will never comply./I will not let you sell me’ (19). The motif of commercialisation of marriage is depicted in the resistance-filled expression by the 20 year-old Anansewa which is a simile: ‘I will not let you sell me like some parcel to a customer’ (20). Ananse insists that despite her daughter’s age, she is still a child since she still eats out of his pocket (20). This again generates the theme of material or substance possession as a springboard of independence and freedom for the individual, including the woman.

One of Anansewa’s fears is that the Chiefs would be old with 50 wives. Ananse allays his daughter’s fears by stating that Chief-Who-Is-Chief is an attractive groom. This message gets Anansewa’s attention. The phrase ‘Object of my interest’ in the letters sent to the chiefs results in the idea of the commodification of the woman. However, Anansewa is pleased at the possibility of marrying Chief-Who-Is-Chief (22). Anansewa is amazed at her father’s greed, especially his act of contracting four Chiefs to marry her. But Ananse only calls this ‘a most lively competition’ (23). Anansewa calls it ‘a very tangled affair’ (23).

Ananse says that he is relying on the dynamics of human nature to resolve the now complicated situation. He’s by now relented and permits Anansewa to go out if she wants to, adding that he is not so whipped by life like he felt before (24). Ananse now wants to rest. Storyteller says that Ananse requires rest after spinning such a web. There is a chant by song leader entitled ‘Kweku Ananse Said He Would’.

Storyteller sympathises with Ananse. But Ananse is seen to be appropriating tradition and exploiting and profiting from his daughter’s beauty and marriage. Storytellers says: ‘Oh, Ananse. His ways are certainly complicated. It’s very possible that these Chiefs will be drawn right into his net; and for this affair to turn into sheer profit for him’ (25). Storyteller goes on to ask if there is a law that binds Ananse to give his daughter to any of the four Chiefs. The Players reply that there is no such law. This raises the theme of law versus morality in the play. Storyteller raises the song ‘How Shall I Find a Mate?’ and dances to stand aside. Then Mboguo intervenes.

Akwasi and Akosua are introduced. Akwasi asks Storyteller if a girl has passed by. He is referring to Akosua, his lover. Storyteller points to where Akosua is in the group of Players. Akwasi calls at her and stage direction depicts the two in love mode, with Akwasi pulling Akosua and her resisting to leave the group.

When Akosua tells Akwasi to let go of her hand, Akwasi replies: ‘I will not let you go/You cannot spend my dough/And treat me so’ (26). Akosua insists that she is not Akwasi’s wife; Akwasi says that Akosua is his wife by the simple fact that he has been buying her ‘shining jingling things’ among other gifts like clothes (26). Akosua questions Akwasi’s character of pressing gifts on her and then turning around to discuss the gifts in public. She arrogantly retorts: ‘I spend your dough/And treat you so. . . I have filed you in my mind for future reference’ (26).

Akwasi tells Akosua that her parents are aware of their relationship and claims Akosua as his wife. Akosua uses the expression ‘Oil is dripping into fire’ to warn Akwasi of the dangerous words he is speaking which are making things worse. She is angry at this point and dares Akwasi to follow her home and inform her parents of his proposal and see if they don’t give him ‘a slap that will spark fire in your eyes’ (27). These words of Akosua create humour in the play. Then she goes on to tell Akwasi of how she could become his wife: ‘They [Akosua’s parents] know I’m not your wife until after you have come to their home and placed the customary head-drink on their table’ (27). Akwasi is disarmed by these words because he knows that they are true. He lets go of Akosua’s hand. After she has regained her freedom, Akosua tells Akwasi: ‘Any time you’re ready, bring my head-drink home to my parents. After that, I will stop when you call. I’ll take care of your house. I’ll sweep, I’ll scrub, I’ll wash your clothes, and I’ll quarrel sweetly with you to your extreme delight’ (27).

The Players laugh at Akwasi after Storyteller’s words aimed to mock him. Storyteller says that Ananse could get away with collecting money from his daughter’s suitors without owing them any obligation; just as Akwasi cannot take Akosua to court for resisting his love advances, since he has not taken the proper steps to marry her. Storyteller, however, foresees trouble ahead for Ananse because he thinks that Ananse has overdone it a little and might not be able to avoid the snares inherent in his actions (28).

Postman arrives looking for address AW/6615 Lagoon Street. The value of the letter Postman is carrying is seen in the expression, ‘This is a letter of some weight’ (28). Humour is seen in when Postman asks Storyteller if he is house No. AW/6615 and Storyteller replies, ‘Do I look like a house?’ It is also hilarious that Storyteller denies the identity of Ananse by saying ‘May that never be’ when Postman asks if he is Ananse.  Storyteller then points to Ananse and joins the Players. Ananse receives a letter from Postman. The letter is from Chief Togbe Klu from Akate. Ananse expresses his joy for receiving the letter as he hurries home, pleased with the letter’s content.

Act Two

This act begins with Players and Storytellers conversing, with Storyteller envisaging trouble in Ananse’s schemes. Then we have the Mboguo. This Mboguo consists of two women who sing with Players. Money is handed over to the women by Property Man. The women and Players return to their places.

Ananse is depicted as a rich man now, seen through his dress. Sapaase Messengers arrive to see Ananse. Ananse warmly welcomes the royal visitors who have brought more money from Chief Sapa to Ananse to take care of Anansewa’s needs. Ananse sends his regards to the Chief as the messengers leave.

With the money, Ananse decides to go to church on Sunday: ‘Yes, tomorrow, I go to church./To deposit with the best of the spenders’ (33). He wants to attend the memorial service with the largest crowd so that many people would witness his donation.

The next Mboguo (interlude) is set in church and dramatises a collection-giving mime. After this, Carpenter, Mason and Painter enter to work on Mr Ananse’s house. Carpenter thinks the work should last for three weeks; the others disagree and propose five weeks, saying ‘We can’t finish too quickly’, meaning that they want to prolong the work so that they can get more money from Ananse (34, 35). This raises the theme of corruption in the play.

 The Carpenter is to repair the leaked roof of Ananse’s house, the Mason to work on the bedroom floors and the painter to paint all the rooms. Ananse reveals that other workers like plumbers and electricians are on the way. Given Ananse’s words, the workers now realise that Mr Ananse is very rich and so they double their work duration to 10 weeks: ‘Countryman, we’ve got the man in our pocket’, says Painter (35). There is another Mboguo which mimes the work going on in Ananse’s house. Work song is sung while the work is being done. An instance is the song ‘Who Doesn’t Like Work?’

Storyteller says that Ananse’s plans have worked well without a hitch so far. Ananse’s house is depicted as being very attractive now and his life is better (37). Postman returns to Ananse’s house to deliver a letter but finds it hard to recognise the house again. Postman cannot even recognise Ananse anymore because he has undergone sudden tremendous physical transformation (39). Notice how Postman addresses Ananse as ‘sir’ as he hands him the letter. Wealth brings respect. Ananse says: ‘You see? They are beginning to salute me. They are calling me sir. If only time would stand still for me’ (39).

Ananse receives yet another cheque from one of his suitors; in fact, it is the 13th cheque from this particular suitor. Yet Ananse does not want his daughter to marry this man because of his character. He seems to prefer Chief-Who-Is-Chief. A messenger from Chief-Who-Is-Chief arrives and says that the Chief will soon send people ‘to place on the table for you, the head-drink for’ Anansewa (40). There is the use of synaesthesia in the expression ‘Delicious news!’ made by Ananse in reaction to the message from Chief-Who-Is-Chief. The head-drink event will take place in two weeks.

Postman soon arrives with a telegram; Ananse signs for it and tips Postman. But when he reads the message, his spirit faints: ‘Hey, fellow, blow me some breeze’, Ananse says to Property Man. The worrisome message is that Chief Sapaase has sent a message that the head-drink on Anansewa will be in two weeks. Ananse is dismayed: ‘What am I going to do? In such a fix, what am I going to do?’ Then he asks Property Man to stop fanning him: ‘Oh spirits, what shall I do? . . . Hey, haven’t you any sympathy for a man hit by a storm? Cut that breeze’ (4). This is humorous but it also suggests the contrary states of the man, which is why he is in deep thought and cannot even hear Storyteller calling him. For this, Storyteller says, ‘He has retreated far, far away. He is nowhere near us. . .’ (42). Ananse asks that he should not be disturbed: ‘Oh, stop disturbing,/Stop disturbing./Ah, the world is hard,/Is hard,/The world is really hard’ (43). Ananse then demands pills from Property Man to pacify his headache: ‘Don’t you have any sympathy for a man struck by an earthquake of a headache?’ (43). Ananse is seen to be wallowing in self-pity for troubles that he brought upon himself.

Ananse says that Anansewa should return home from school immediately. He also wants to speak with Miss Christina Yamoah of the Institute for Prospective Brides. The act ends with a song.

Act Three

This act focuses on Aya, Ananse’s mother. She has come to attend Anansewa’s outdooring ceremony slated for the day. She wonders why Ananse should opt for the customary outdooring of his daughter Anansewa five years after she had become a woman, stating that it is not what tradition stipulates. Ekuwa, Ananse’s aunt, soon arrives. She comments on Aya’s punctuality to the event. Aya reiterates her disapproval on the lateness of the ceremony for Anansewa but Ekuwa says it is necessary to prepare Anansewa in every way possible since she is going to marry a chief.

Aya’s words reveal that Anansewa’s mum had died: ‘. . . and yet when I remember that the person who should be here as well, bustling around Anansewa, is her own mother, then my sister Ekuwa, a wave of sorrow crests up inside me, mangling my innards. . . And it isn’t as though we could send a messenger by taxi to fetch her’ (45). This is a euphemistic way of rendering the demise of Anansewa’s Mum.

Ekuwa informs Aya that Anansewa herself looks forward to the event with excitement and that Auntie Christina Yamoah has been dressing her up for the outdooring event. Christie (Christina Yamoah) appears and informs the women that Anansewa is dressed and ready for the outdooring ceremony. Note how she calls Anansewa ‘My daughter’. Aya is not happy at how Christie refers to her as ‘Mother’ and Anansewa as ‘my daughter’. She tells this to Ekuwa. Her suspicion is summed up in the words: ‘The way I see it, she is leaning her ladder on my grandchild in order to climb up to my son’ (46).

Anansewa’s friends soon arrive. They sing the song ‘Abae,/We’ve come to perform’ (46). Aya asks for her bead. Anansewa is brought out by the girls veiled. Aya speaks most of the words at the ceremony. At length, Anansewa is unveiled.  Ekuwa honours Anansewa by placing a bowl of water before her. She drops a leaf in the water and says it’s Anansewa’s soul egg (48).

The word ‘nyanya’ refers to a traditional wine with potent spiritual powers. Christie makes a speech and gifts Anansewa her ‘precious sovereign’ which is a coin that she drops into the water. But her speech also reveals love undertones for Ananse (49). Girls, one after another, say that Anansewa is now ready to marry. Each gifts Anansewa what they brought for her. Then they sing and go round Anansewa: ‘Sensemise/We welcome you this day’ (50).

Though Aya says that the ceremony does not necessarily require a man’s presence, she wants Ananse to be present as she makes her speech. Christie goes to fetch Ananse whom he calls George. What Aya has to gift Anansewa are prayers, which is what could be given with empty hands (51). Part of Aya’s prayer states: ‘May the man who comes to take you from our hands to his home be, above all things, a person with respect for his fellow human beings; a man who is incapable of. . .’ (51). From these words, it is seen that humanity is what qualifies a man to marry. It should be noted how Aya gives Christie a look of disapproval by the way she calls Ananse and how she asks Christie to let go of Ananse’s hand. Ekuwa announces the end of the outdooring ceremony and that Anansewa is to be taken away. The significance of the whole outdooring ceremony is to highlight the existence of traditional practices in postcolonial Ghana.

Postman arrives as Ananse is dancing. Ananse is happy about what he reads in the telegram but he is not happy for long. The message he receives is that Togbe Klu IV is coming to present the head-drink for Anansewa. This message gives Ananse headache and he calls Christie in alarm and asks her to bring aspirin. This is so humorous. Humour is also seen in these words of Ananse: ‘All of a sudden, an earthquake has erupted in my head (58). He now wants the outdooring ceremony to end quickly so as to enjoy silence for his sudden headache. Christie asks the cause of the sudden headaches.

Girls leave after saying their goodbyes to Christie and Ananse. Christie gives the telegram she got from Property Man to Ananse, apologising for forgetting to do so earlier in the afternoon when the telegram arrived. It happened that she was busy making preparations for the outdooring ceremony of Anansewa and had forgotten all about it. The telegram comes from the people of the mines. Dramatic irony is seen in how Christie believes that Ananse is now dealing with the mine people while the audience are aware that the letter comes from one of Ananse’s suitors. The King of the mines has sent a message that he is coming to present Anasewa’s head-drink ‘the day after tomorrow’ (53). Ananse goes into hiding to grieve and probably to plot more schemes. Anansewa enters and expresses her happiness for the outdooring ceremony. She mimes part of the ceremony. Then she calls out for her father and discovers him in a corner with altered countenance. Ananse asks if his daughter is happy. Seeing her father’s face and his strange words and behaviour, Anansewa replies: ‘Now, I don’t know if I’m well and happy, or if I’m not well, and unhappy too’ (55).

In a dramatic manner, Ananse wants Anansewa to play dead: ‘Oh but my daughter, it’s necessary for you to die!’ (55). Still ignorant of her father’s wishes, Anansewa innocently replies, ‘Me? . . . But father, I’m alive. I’m open-eyed. How can I switch my life off and on like electricity?’ (55). At length, Ananse informs his daughter that all four chiefs are coming to give head-drink for her. Anansewa is surprised/shocked because she thought it was only one chief courting her.

Readers should note the expression ‘a case of no-sale-no-payment’ which Anansewa uses to ironically mock the idea of being sold by her father to the suitors. It is now obvious that Ananse has been lying to the daughter and abusing her trust: ‘What I know is that you are my father. You asked me to trust you. You asked me to leave the four chiefs situation in your hands for you to disentangle’ (57).

The idea of a school as a place to make ladies romantically invisible is expressed by Ananse thus; ‘I sent you there [school] to place you far, far away from the range of young men’s rampaging eyes, to get prepared for marriage’ (57). It is revealed that Ananse prefers Chief-Who-Is-Chief to the rest of the suitors. She is even afraid if the father had ruined the marriage arrangement with the Chief. She then sings the song, ‘My heart, my heart/Stop beating’ (58).

Is Ananse gas lighting his daughter? The reader should notice how Anansewa keeps saying that the father is confusing her. Finally, Ananse is able to manipulate the daughter into doing his bidding by exploiting the love that Anansewa has for Chief-Who-Is-Chief as well as her fear of losing him (58, 59). This success at last is suggested by how Anansewa rests her head on her father’s shoulders’ (59). Christie is excited by the sight of father-daughter bonding that she observes in Ananse and Anansewa’s posture (Ananse speaking softly to Anansewa whose shoulders rest on the father’s shoulder). This is actually dramatic irony as the audience knows that there is nothing calm and relaxing about the duo’s circumstances at that point in the play.

When Christie draws closer, she notices Ananse’s troubled face and asks what is wrong: ‘. . . What’s sorrying you; anger or what?’ (59). Ananse enlists Christie’s help in explaining to Anansewa about the nature of life’s entanglements’ (59). Aya appears just then to request that Anansewa be given to her for proper feeding. Anansewa goes with her while Christie and Ananse continue discussing (60). Ananse speaks to Christie in metaphors: ‘. . . I must do something first, or else a roaring fire that is racing here will consume me’ (60). This statement constitutes at once an implied metaphor and mixed metaphor.

Ananse wants his mother and aunt to leave immediately to a place called Nanka so as not to witness what he is about to do’ (60). He tells Christie: ‘This very night, I must begin the task. I must do everything in my power to untie the knot I tied myself. I’ve got to succeed in untying it, or else . . . it will be disastrous for me’ (60). Ananse asks Christie to get a taxi to scurry his mother and aunt away. Christie wonders why Ananse has not told her what the problem is. She equally wonders how long it will take for her to serve Ananse before getting him. This implies that she is aiming to get Ananse to fall in love with her through service (61).

It should be noted that throughout the play, there is the leitmotif of Ananse using his brain and cunning to get what he wants, though this usually results in headaches and near disaster situations like the one that makes him make this famous statement in the play: ‘But let me tell you this: if you are merely a human like me, you’d better make your laughter brief, because in this world, there is nobody who is by-passed by trouble’ (61). This is Ananse’s existential statement in the play. Ironically, the troubles that he talks about are all things he brought on himself through his conscious choices.

 Ananse cries and says that the world is hard. Property Man gives him a handkerchief for his tears. Of course, his crying is strategic and is supposed to serve a purpose; for when Aya finds her son crying, she is alarmed and demands what the matter is. Ananse tells her that evil people are after him. This is humorous because the evil that Ananse talks about is his own invention. He reports his imagined misfortunes through exaggerated language and gestures thus: ‘Destroyers! Evil-doers! They won’t rest until they have ruined me. Enemies whose outward appearance makes you think they are not enemies’ (62). Aya then accuses Christie of being such an enemy. This is ironically humorous because Ananse is not referring to Christie; Aya is merely mapping her own biases on her son’s words based on the fact that she does not like Christie.

Ananse lies that he has received a report that his cocoa farm in Nanka had been set ablaze. On hearing this tragic news, Aya calls out to Ekuwa who arrives promptly and blames the people’s jealousy for the misfortunes. Both Aya and Nanka turn on the invisible enemies in Nanka and beret them for their perceived or make-believe misfortunes (63). They decide to travel to Nanka to deal with the people of Nsona Clan for what they have done to Ananse. Their decision to travel works well into Ananse’s plan to get them out of the house.

In a separate scene, Christie is happy at being addressed as Mrs Ananse by the taxi man. She even is encouraged to refer to Ekuwa and Aya as her in-laws. Ananse overhears her and she is startled when she sees Ananse close by.

The next Mboguo (interlude) in the play has the song ‘I’m down in a Pit’ and dramatises Ekuwa and Aya moving their luggage from the house. Aya and Ekuwa are leaving so quickly that they cannot wait for Anansewa to wake up to inform her of their departure (65). Storyteller laughs at the Ananse story and comments on the departing women. It should be reiterated that Storyteller is conceived as all-knowing.

There is an instance of soliloquy in the words of Christie: ‘whatever is George doing? Why doesn’t he explain it?’ (66), because she says these words while alone. Storyteller eavesdrops and responds to Christie’s words. Christie retorts that she was not talking to Storyteller. Continuing her speech, she says of Ananse, ‘However, when I talked with him a little while ago, he did smile on me. Can it be that he sees I’m toiling for him?’ (66).

Ananse acknowledges Christie’s song lyrics and agrees that he sees that she is toiling for him and lets her in on the difficult task ahead. This indicates complementarity as men and women are supposed to work together for a common goal, except that the goal is morally questionable in Anase’s case, since it involves tricking suitors into believing that the daughter is dead. Christie is at Ananse’s service.

As the act comes to a close, Ananse’s identity is linked to the figure of Yaw Barima mentioned in the song by Players. Yaw Barima defines a brave man skilled in managing misfortunes. This description fits Ananse. The word ‘Ayekoo’ signals congratulation.

Act Four         

Stage Direction reports the dirge that is supposed to announce Anansewa’s demise. Dispenser Hammond, a doctor, has been called in to check on Anansewa. Humour is when Storyteller says parents in the neighbourhood are suffering for nothing just because of Ananse and his schemes.

A key case of repetition in this act is the dialogue that creatively informs the audience of the constructed tragedy in Ananse’s house. It goes thus:

First Woman: How could this happen?/They called in Dispenser Hammond.

Second Woman: How could this happen?/They called in Dispenser Hammond.

The people are agitated by the tragedy in Ananse’s house but the Storyteller knows the truth. This raises the theme of appearance versus reality as well as gullibility of the masses as stated in Storyteller’s words: ‘. . . As for some people! They do not pause to enquire how true a thing is before they believe it, and so it’s easy to deceive them’ (69). Storyteller talks of the possibility of Mr Ananse killing himself if he hears a cry. But this is all pretence.

Storyteller reenacts how Ananse screamed the previous midnight to announce her daughter’s fainting and eventual death (70). People gather to witness Anansewa’s lifeless body. Ananse wails and asks that Dispenser Hammond be called in. Communality is seen in how the neighbours respond to Ananse’s distress call. Idiolect is depicted in the use of the expression ‘pum pum pum’ when Storyteller says: ‘And as for Mr Ananse, he was by this time rolling on the ground, and striking his head violently against the wall, pum pum pum’ (70).

In the midst of the induced tragedy, Ananse forbids everyone from entering the room where the daughter lies’ (70). Storyteller wonders how the funeral of Anansewa will be conducted since he knows that the girl has not really died. This is captured by the song ‘Oh, Dead-and-Alive’. The song is interspaced with words spoken by Storyteller, asking the Chiefs not to visit again for the head-drink as Anansewa, their object of interest, is dead (72, 73). He says, for instance, ‘Oh-h-h-h, Chief of the Mines,/The point about the head-drink is/That it’s paid for the living’ (73).

It is seen that Storyteller also directs the plot of the play: ‘What do you think? All of us have seen this knot that has been tied. How do you suppose Mr Ananse will untie it?’ (74). The word Anansegoro refers to the theatre based on the philosophy of Ananse/Anansesem; the philosophy of survival by all means necessary, including its theatrics.

It is seen that Christie and Ananse are working together in the whole drama. Ananse even tells her how to condition her voice so as to sound like a quiver to deceive the people. Christie informs Ananse that she had called all the chiefs interested in Anansewa and had informed them of the tragic incident and that they were on their way (76). Ananse looks at his pocket watch and says ‘The time is up. . .’ (76).

Soon the messengers from the mines arrive and are led by Christie to inspect Anansewa’s corpse. Readers should note the irony in the words of the First Messenger: ‘Look, she seems as though she is merely asleep’ (77).

First Messenger makes a speech, regretting the sudden demise of Anansewa. Gifts, including money, are presented by the Messenger to aid Anansewa’s burial, as demanded by custom (78). After they have departed, Ananse says that, going by the speech made by the mines’ messengers, the Chief’s councillors would not have loved Anansewa very much. He then believes that his act has saved his daughter from one bad marriage.

Next to arrive are Sapaase Palace Messengers. Sapaase messengers want to carry Anansewa’s corpse to the King as a sign of commitment. The suspense in this part of the play has to do with the possibility of the messengers discovering that Anansewa is not dead whenever they go to inspect the corpse. Second Messenger comments on death as sleep. The marriage of Anansewa, according to Second Messenger and Male Messenger, was meant to spite the existing wife of the King and to replace her because of her vile behaviour. They equally give gifts to the family of the deceased in ‘silk, velvet, white kente cloth, white stripped cloth’ (81). There is also a cash gift of 20 guineas for the funeral. The messengers soon take their leave. It is seen so far that Ananse is profiting even from grief.

Ananse says that marrying his daughter, Anansewa, to Chief Sapa would have led to trouble because it ‘would have involved her, blameless as she is, in your contention in Sapaase Palace’, referring to the wild wife of Chief Sapa. Ananse is happy that he has been able to untie that particular knot (82). It is seen that the purpose of getting married is very important in a father’s decision to give consent.

The next messengers are from Akate. They represent Chief Togbe Klu IV. First Messenger from Akate says Ananse’s marriage was to make her useful in building the business empire of the King and to be a ‘helper who would not ruin him as some of his own relatives’ (82, 83). Chief Togbe Klu’s messengers did not bring gifts for the funeral of Anansewa probably because it does not make any business sense to expend on a product that has expired! They only came to ‘show their faces’ (83). Ananse likes the plan that Togbe Klu had for his daughter and even prefers him now to Chief-Who-Is-Chief (84). A little remained and he would have called them back because of his greed for the wealth that his daughter would have commanded.

Then arrive the messengers from Chief-Who-Is-Chief. Ananse apologises for not being able to keep Anansewa safe for the Chief. First Messenger makes a speech and presents gifts for the funeral. In the speech, the messenger regrets not coming to marry Anansewa early enough. He calls Ananse father-in-law and gifts him gifts as if he had already married the girl. He has even sent a coffin. Ananse pours libation over Anansewa and prays for her return to life if it is the wish of the ancestors given the true love he has perceived from Chief-Who-Is-Chief (89).

Anansewa wakes up and everyone scampers in fear. But this is all what had been planned beforehand. Anansewa says she could hear Chief-Who-Is-Chief calling her from the land of the dead. The play ends as a comedy since all conflicts are resolved in a safe manner.

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12 thoughts on “An Analysis/Summary of Efua T. Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa

  1. Hi, i like the rich analysis of this text. Thank you very much. How may one access the text? I teach in a school in Enugu and want to give them an analysis of the text. Can’t it be accessible, please?

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