Sutherland, Efua 1924–1996

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Efua Sutherland 1924-1996

(Born Efua Theodora Morgue) Ghanian playwright and children's author.


Sutherland was a pioneer of African theater, not only writing well-received plays but also founding the Ghana Experimental Theatre, which sought to expose both urban and rural Africans to drama. In her plays Sutherland foregrounds the role of women in modernizing Africa while they simultaneously nurture a sense of heritage.


Sutherland was born in 1924 in the Gold Coast region of western Africa—what is now the nation of Ghana—in 1924. She attended secondary school at St. Monica's College in Ashanti. Afterward she moved to England to attend Homerton College, Cambridge University, where she received a bachelor's degree in education before going to the University of London to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies. In 1951 she returned to Ghana and taught first at a secondary school in Takoradi, then at her alma mater, St. Monica's. She married William Sutherland, an African American, in 1954 and the two later founded a school in the Trans-Volta region in northern Ghana and established a theater for local productions in the central region. In 1958 Sutherland founded the Ghana Experimental Theatre in Accra. In 1960 Sutherland received funding from the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation and the Arts Council of Ghana to found the Ghana Drama Studio. The studio became part of the University of Ghana in 1963 and Sutherland was granted a long-term research position at the university's Institute of African Studies. At the Institute Sutherland founded the Ghana Society of Writers. Next she formed a community theater in Ekumfi-Atwian called Kodzidan and a traveling performance group called Kusum Agoromba. In 1962 Sutherland began working at the New School for Music and Drama, followed by positions with Ghana's National Commission on Children and the Du Bois Center for African Culture. Sutherland spent much of her career in theater traveling around Ghana with her performance groups. In the 1980s she served as an advisor to Ghana's President Jerry Rawlings. She died in 1996.


Having started out writing short stories, Sutherland turned to drama when she realized it would lend her works broader appeal in a country where so many citizens are illiterate. Sutherland's first major play, Foriwa (1962), originally appeared as a short story, entitled "New Life at Kyerefaso," in Langston Hughes's anthology An African Treasury in 1960. Based on a folktale, Foriwa is an allegory about a village called Kyerefaso, whose inhabitants refuse to accept changes to their way of life. It is not until the title character, who is the daughter of the town's "queen mother," marries a simple student named Labaran that the village is brought to enlightenment and a sense of its place in modernity. Foriwa is considered a metaphor for twentieth-century Ghana, with Sutherland advocating national unity regardless of gender, ethnic, or ideological differences. One of Sutherland's most acclaimed plays, Edufa (1962) is based on Greek dramatist Euripides's play Alcestis. When the play's title character—a vain, Western-educated, newly rich man—is told by an oracle that he will die unless he finds someone to take his place, he slyly convinces his wife to die for him. But while Euripides's version of the story was a "satyr play," or burlesque tragicomedy, Sutherland's is a tragedy, where trading in traditional values in favor of contemporary greed and narcissism brings about the downfall of Edufa and his culture. In The Marriage of Anansewa (1971), Sutherland used many techniques of traditional oral storytelling, including the involvement of the audience and a storyteller or narrator who serves as a mediator between actors and audience. For the story of her play, Sutherland returned to Ghanaian folklore, employing a trickster figure as the father of Anansewa, who is to be married. Seeking a high bride-price on his daughter, the father interrogates and manipulates her suitors mercilessly, unaware of the way he exploits his own daughter.


Sutherland's major plays have been heralded for the innovation they demonstrate in adapting ancient sources and theatrical techniques to modern drama, as well as for their portrayal of women's roles in enacting social and political change in Africa. Sutherland is also admired for her commitment to take theater to people living in remote villages. Addressing Sutherland's legacy in the context of her interest in educating African children, the critic Gay Wilentz wrote: "Her performances and productions, her village education for children, and her plays themselves illustrate a playwright tied not only to the traditions and customs of the African con- tinuum but secure in her place as an African woman passing on the values of her foremothers to the children."


Odasani (drama) 1960

Playtime in Africa [photographs by Willis E. Bell] (children's verse) 1960

Edufa (drama) 1962

Foriwa (drama) 1962

Anansegoro: You Swore an Oath (drama) 1963

Tahinta (children's play) 1968

Vulture! Vulture! (children's play) 1968

The Original Bob: The Story of Bob Johnson, Ghana's Ace Comedian (biography) 1970

Ananse and the Dwarf Brigade (children's play) 1971

The Marriage of Anansewa: A Storytelling Drama (drama) 1971

The Voice in the Forest: A Tale from Ghana (fairy tales) 1983


Lloyd W. Brown (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: Brown, Lloyd W. "Efua Sutherland." In Women Writers in Black Africa, pp. 61-83. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.

[In the following essay, Brown provides an overview of Sutherland's "idea of theatre," focusing on the role of women in her interpretation of the dramatic tradition in Ghana]

In a discussion of the theater in Ghana, Efua Sutherland once declared that a truly vital theater should heed the example of oral literature by dealing directly with contemporary experience. Oral literature, she pointed out, "uses … experience artistically." By a similar token, a national theater should look at and utilize the repositories of a culture's experience, it should avoid the merely imitative art of "performing plays just because they exist in books already," and it therefore should depend on the willingness of the artist to create forms which can communicate both the contemporary experience and the historical process out of which it grew. In this sense, theater becomes a kind of immediate cultural exploration: "There are all sorts of exciting things to venture and I take a deep breath and venture forth, … I'm on a journey of discovery. I'm discovering my own people." Sutherland's views and practice find a ready supporter in Ama Ata Aidoo: "What she conceives," Aidoo observes of Sutherland, "is that you take the narration—the traditional narration of a folktale. In the course of the narration, you get a whole lot of dramatic behaviour which one should use, in writing plays even in English…. I believe with her that in order for African drama to be valid, it has to derive lots of its impetus, its strength, from traditional African dramatic forms."1

The agreement between Sutherland and Aidoo on this point is appropriate. As dramatists they both represent an approach to theater that is based on a marked concern with the relationship between the arts of theater (writing, production and acting, for example) and the very idea of tradition in a culture. At their best, their works exemplify a highly effective combination of Western stage conventions and African (that is, Ghanaian) traditions of oral literature and ritual folk drama. They also envision theater of this kind as an ideal symbol, or microcosm, of Ghanaian culture as a whole, in so far as that culture exemplifies the interaction of Western and African values. Since the dramatist's dramatic forms are themselves the result of this historical interaction, the play does not simply describe cultural traditions as such; the play itself and the theatrical process as a whole are part of the cultural interaction that they describe. In this sense, it is useful to approach this kind of theater as an extension of its culture.

Neither Aidoo nor Sutherland is unique in this perception of African theater as living social experience. The works of Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Clark in Nigeria clearly reflect an interest in the relationship between theater as dramatic art and theater as an example of the kind of cultural synthesis that these dramatists perceive in their society. But on balance, both Sutherland and Aidoo occupy rather special places in West African theater. More than any other dramatists of comparable stature they have been involved in the kind of theater that, as social microcosm, is specifically concerned with the significance of sexual roles and relationships in their culture. Clark's Song of a Goat and Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel are equally specific in this regard. The breakdown of the marriage in Clark's work disrupts the family structure, threatens the stability of the community, symbolizes crucial changes and fluctuations within the culture, and, by implication, represents a disturbing instability in the moral universe. In The Lion and the Jewel, Soyinka presents Baroka's sexual schemes against the background of a changing society. The chief relies on traditional ritual and on folk theater as symbols in weaving his schemes, and in the process the sexual role-playing that he exploits emerges as a dramatic art (in terms of the theater itself) and as extensions of social convention. But Aidoo and Sutherland return to this issue far more frequently and consistently than any other playwrights in Africa, emphasizing the integral relationship between the conventions of sexual role-playing and the conventions of dramatic role-playing on stage. In the process they develop their dramas as the means of questioning and analyzing the meaning of convention or social tradition. At the same time, they also stress that the woman's experience is the central, or at the very least, the major, subject of their dramatic analysis.

The prominence of the woman's role is clear enough in frankly domestic dramas like Sutherland's Edufa and The Marriage of Anansewa. Even in the relatively nondomestic context of her Foriwa, which is primarily a political play, there is a significant link between the woman's sense of her own identity and her awareness of changes taking place in her society.2 In these plays the woman's awareness of self and social tradition is interwoven with the manner in which the dramatist presents her theater as an extension of the woman's culture as a whole. In this regard, we frequently find that Sutherland draws unmistakable parallels between the ingrained habits of sexual role-playing and the artistic conventions of the theater. In other words, sexual roles and dramatic roles are analogous to each other, because both have evolved within and have been shaped by specific historical conventions—sexual roles by social conventions and dramatic role-playing by the conventions of the theater.

The conventions of the theater are themselves treated as a symptom of the manner in which social conventions—in this case, Ghana's—have blended new and old values, non-African and African traditions. Consequently, the pointed analogies between the idea of sexual role-playing and the idea of theatrical role-playing, in dramatists like Sutherland and Aidoo, have a crucial implication. They suggest that the issues of sexual identity and role-playing have been radically affected by the same complex process of cultural conflict and cultural synthesis that the theater itself reflects.

All of this implies a certain interest in theater itself as a direct social experience. There is an implicit philosophical concept here that is comparable with Francis Fergusson's thesis when he expounds on what he describes as the "idea" of theater: "If Hamlet could ask the players to hold the mirror up to nature," he observes of Shakespeare's play, "it was because the Elizabethan theater was itself a mirror which had been formed at the center of the culture of its time, and at the center of the life and awareness of the community. We know now that such a mirror is rarely formed." In a different kind of society from Shakespeare's, the "very idea of a theater, as Hamlet assumed it, gets lost…. We do not have such a theater, nor do we see how to get it."3

Fergusson's "idea of a theater" is rooted in the notion that whenever the conventions of staging and play-acting reflect fundamental social and philosophical attitudes, then the theater itself—all the trappings of dramatic representation—is literally a microcosm of the universe as the dramatists and their society understand it. In the case of the Elizabethans, for example, the very location and structure of the stage itself reflected the Elizabethan assumptions about the ideal social order, about human life, and about the significance, as well as location, of heaven and hell. In the middle, the stage itself represented humanity; above the stage the typical Elizabethan superstructure could represent heaven, while the traditional trap-door in the stage floor opened down into Hell. In other words, the physical structure of the stage itself was an immediate projection of the Elizabethans' moral and physical concept of hell, humanity, and heaven. The same structure simultaneously reflected an accompanying social hierarchy: the superstructure could represent the court and the ruling nobility, the stage itself could be the landed and trading classes below, while the trap-door opened down to the cellar of the menial classes (The Idea of a Theater, p. 14).

One senses that in Sutherland and Aidoo there is such a shaping, controlling idea of theater. In their hands theater in contemporary Ghana emerges as the amalgamation of new and old forms that have been drawn from both Europe (ancient and modern) and Africa (traditional and "Westernized"). In turn, this fundamental perception of the nature of their theater is inextricable from their perception of modern Ghanaian society as a mosaic of new and old, alien and traditional—especially as this mosaic is exemplified by sexual identity and role-playing.

Of the two playwrights the older, Efua Sutherland, has been deeply involved with the mechanics of theater production for years. This involvement has had a clear impact on her interest, as dramatic writer, in the nature of dramatic conventions—and in European as well as African contributions to these conventions. Sutherland received her early education in Ghana before attending college in England. On returning home, she taught school in Ghana for some years and then launched the Ghana Society of Writers. In 1958 she established the Ghana Experimental Theatre, followed by the Ghana Drama Studio (for experimental productions). The Studio was subsequently incorporated into the University of Ghana's Institute of African Studies, and Sutherland herself has been a research fellow since then in the institute's School of Music, Dance, and Drama. In this capacity she has remained active in producing experimental plays and traditional theater, for adults as well as for children, promoting workshops that encourage writers and producers with interests in the relationship between traditional theater and contemporary Ghanaian life, and writing her own plays.

As writer, producer, and teacher, Sutherland has always been personally involved in the mechanics of theater, as well as the art of dramatic writing itself. Her career has enabled her to experiment with approaches to Ghanaian theater that explore the possible relevance of European models and the continuing vitality of indigenous folk drama and folktales. She has adapted Western drama (including her own adaptation of Everyman) to a Ghanaian context. At the same time, she has also been adapting Ghanaian tales to her contemporary theater. In fact, her career has been a "journey of discovery," to borrow her own words—a journey that has taken her from the adaptation of classical Greek drama (Edufa ), to the distinctive milieu of rural life in modern Ghana (Foriwa ), to the reliance on indigenous folk forms (The Marriage of Anansewa ). These are not the only plays by Sutherland. Her other works have included Odasani (the Everyman production), Nyamekye (a production of dance, music and speech), and some children's plays (The Pineapple Child, Ananse and the Dwarf Brigade, and Two Rhythm Plays ). But her three major, published plays exemplify at its best her continuing quest for certain dramatic forms—specifically, those forms which are analogous to the theme of sexual role-playing in the plays themselves.

In Edufa the classical Greek influence is represented by Euripides' Alcestis. As students of Greek drama are aware, Euripides' work is based on the legend of Admetus, king of Pherae, who has been doomed to death by Artemis for having offended the goddess. Admetus has been promised a reprieve if he can persuade someone to die on his behalf. After being rebuffed by other members of his family, including his parents, he accepts Alcestis' pledge to die in his stead. The grateful Admetus swears to remain a celibate after his wife's death. He promises her to give up his usual fondness for revelry—both vows being his assurance to Alcestis that he will mourn her for the rest of his own life.

Shortly after Alcestis dies Heracles, a friend of the family, pays a visit. Admetus is in a quandary at first. His responsibilities as a host do require him, as a matter of established custom, to entertain his guest, but this would mean breaking his solemn vows to his dead wife against revelry. He soon stifles his qualms and sets about entertaining Heracles. In return, Heracles undertakes to rescue Alcestis from death, and the play ends with her return as a silently mysterious figure who will only speak after a consecration period of three days. In Sutherland's play, death is not pronounced by an offended deity: Edufa simply learns that his death is imminent and that he can avert it by having someone die in his place. Edufa, a highly successful member of the nouveau riche, dupes his wife into taking his place by casually asking whether any member of his family loves him well enough to die for him. Ampoma says she does, thinking that she is responding to a purely hypothetical question, and in so doing dooms herself to death. Unlike Alcestis, her act of self-sacrifice is an unwitting one, but, like her Greek predecessor, Ampoma wrests the promise of life-long celibacy from her husband. Unlike Alcestis, Sutherland's play ends on a note of tragic finality: there is no rescue from death here.

The thematic differences between Alcestis and Edufa shed significant light on some of the implications of Sutherland's play. Euripides invests his characters and their motives with a highly effective ambiguity. He underscores the complexity of the human personality, especially in the moment of that ultimate choice between life and death. Admetus' selfishness and his cowardice in the face of death are therefore counterbalanced by the equal selfishness of those who decline to die on his behalf. In turn, the self-serving narrowness on both sides is weighted against the understandable instinct for self-preservation. Admetus demonstrates his fickleness and insensitivity by the ease with which he breaks his vow to the dead Alcestis by ordering revels in honor of the visiting Heracles. But his hospitality is both a reflection of his genuine generosity and an observation of the strict laws of hospitality. As for Alcestis herself, the personality of the loving wife is matched by the inscrutable, even sinister, silence with which she returns from death; and the absolute selflessness which allows her to volunteer her own life for her husband's is equalled only by the ruthless single-mindedness with which she extracts from Admetus vows of life-long fidelity to her memory.

On the other hand, Sutherland's play prefers a less equivocal and more direct, satiric approach. Her Edufa is decidedly unambiguous, a grossly hypocritical man who is incapable even of the directness with which Euripides' Admetus requests his family to die for him. He represents a new breed that receives short shrift in the play, the new elite of educated and wealthy men who have adopted the worst features of Western culture (a cold-blooded materialism and a narrow individualism) and who demonstrate their "emancipation" by spurning African traditions of family, community, and religion, except in cases of emergency. Edufa symbolizes a debased and limiting notion of tradition: in his world the very idea of "tradition" has lost any connotation of the continuity of human values, and means simply the superficial forms that he has borrowed from the West and those few African conventions which he half-heartedly revives from time to time for his selfish needs.

Altogether, Edufa represents the moral anarchy that results from the rejection of a truly humane sense of society and its complex living traditions. It is significant, in this connection, that unlike Admetus, Edufa is offered an opportunity (by his father Kankam) to avert his wife's death by joining the entire family ("all of us whose souls are corporate in this household") in a collective beseeching of the gods (Plays from Black Africa, pp. 226-27). However, the selfish Edufa is too far removed from the traditionally communal values of family and religion, and he cannot respond to his fa- ther's appeal. Despite his shortcomings, Admetus has enough saving graces to merit his wife's reprieve from death, but when Edufa swears, in imitation of Euripides' Heracles, that he will force death to surrender up his wife, his futile threat is mere bombast: "I will bring Ampoma back. Forward, to the grave…. I will do it. I am conqueror…. Conqueror?" (Plays from Black Africa, p. 267).

Interestingly, Sutherland's work comes closest to the temper of her Greek predecessor's in the handling of Ampoma. Like Alcestis, Ampoma combines a capacity for loving self-sacrifice with a gentle but firm insistence on her own claims. She too exacts from her husband the promise that no other woman will share their children and their bed. As in Alcestis, the woman's frank self-interest implies a negative response to the husband's male selfishness. In this regard, Euripides' heroine is very skillful in the technique of using self-effacing devotion, not only as a genuine sentiment, but also as a firm, but covert, means of demanding her husband's respect.

This kind of claim is quite explicit in Edufa, especially when Ampoma reminds her husband that her impending death is really on his behalf, and that her love has been as self-destructive as it has been selfless. Her reminders to her husband and her claims on his fidelity seem to have a much more calculated effect than do Alcestis' demands on her husband in Euripides' play. This difference is largely due to the different circumstances under which the wives become sacrificial victims. In Alcestis' case it is a deliberate and informed act, taken with full knowledge of her husband's actual circumstances and the consequences for herself. In Edufa, however, the sincerity of Ampoma's offer to die on her husband's behalf does not really diminish the fact that she has really been duped into the role of sacrificial victim. In these circumstances, her reproofs to her husband imply a certain bitterness. In emphasizing the unselfish nature of her love, Ampoma is also subscribing to that strong sense of communal sharing which her husband has violated through his narrow selfishness and his greed. This is the same communality that her father-in-law invokes when he describes the family unit as a corporate body of souls.

Ampoma's invocation of the traditional ideals of a communal culture implies a certain sense of superiority to her destructively egocentric husband. In the process, she demonstrates that within this communal ideal sexual relationships enjoy a certain duality. They are a private, even intensely intimate, kind of personal sharing, but they are, simultaneously, a microcosm of that interdependence and sharing which is an intrinsical part of the communal tradition in society at large. It is therefore fitting that the chorus pays tribute, as it does, to these communal ideals when it comments on Ampoma's impending death:

Crying the death day of another
Is crying our own death day.
While we mourn for another,
We mourn for ourselves.
One's death is the death of all mankind.
          (Plays from Black Africa, p. 234).

In Ampoma's personality this sense of tradition is a creative force rather than a merely narrow preoccupation with established forms. Her mind is flexible rather than static, growing to meet changes in her world. Consequently, she is committed to the ideal of sexual relationships as the outgrowth and reflection of communal ideas—and in this sense she reflects a strong sense of tradition. At the same time she is committed to a certain notion of female individualism: she does insist on the woman's need for a less restricted role in the society. She is therefore at pains to describe her public display of affection for her husband as a new female individualism. Women, she declares, spend most of their time concealing, and therefore restricting, their capacity for feeling—"preventing the heart from beating out its greatness." In fact "the things we would rather encourage lie choking among the weeds of our restrictions." There is not much time left for women to act, she adds chidingly, addressing the chorus of women, but instead of acting on the need for this kind of frank self-expression, women "sleep" half of the time (Plays from Black Africa, p. 261).

This kind of forthrightness against female restrictions is quite unmistakable, even in the work of a writer who does not think too highly of being regarded as a woman writer. Indeed, this forthrightness is even underscored by making Ampoma's sentiments representative rather than unusual, for the chorus of women agrees with Ampoma's argument. They clearly accept her analysis of women's roles in their society as the kind of truth that most women, including themselves, agree with without having the courage to voice on their own. Many women, they observe at the end of Ampoma's remark, would like to be able to say what Ampoma just said (p. 261). By extension, their agreement with Ampoma's crucial analysis suggests that they do regard her death as the symptom of a certain problem—that is, male selfishness—in the lives of women in their society, in much the same way that they have come to see her death as a communal and universal event ("One's death is the death of all mankind").

Ampoma's personality represents a complex awareness of certain traditions in her society. She is able to perceive sexual love in conjunction with those communal ideals that have persisted into the present and which she wishes to uphold. At the same time she is committed to traditions, not simply as set conventions for their own sake, but also as a growing and responsive set of values. She prizes privacy, as well as the communal implications of her sexual love. As a woman she insists upon a certain degree of independence, without espousing the kind of individualism that subverts a communal life style. This degree of individualism conforms with the degree of change she accepts as part of a continuing sense of tradition; for her individualism is clearly influenced by the West while remaining in close touch, as Edufa's does not, with their African culture. Finally, her sense of individualism remains sufficiently communal to ensure that she speaks on the subject as a representative voice—who is endorsed by the chorus of women—rather than as an eccentric outsider.

That choral endorsement is also significant in another, related sense. It exemplifies Sutherland's habit of integrating a theatrical convention (in this case the chorus) with social conventions that affect sexual relationships and identity. The convention of the chorus, borrowed from the classical Greek tradition, has been combined with the social milieu (a contemporary Ghanaian town) of Sutherland's play. As such, it appears as a group of women whose songs and chants stamp their classically derived role with a distinctively Ghanaian character. This kind of adaptation is not peculiar to Sutherland and other African dramatists, of course. But it is significant in Sutherland's work because it reflects her interest in the way in which current practices in the theater may symptomize, even reenact, cultural adaptations in the society. As a synthesis of themes and conventions from ancient Greece, old Africa, and modern Ghana, the play Edufa blends dramatic traditions. In turn, this blending reflects the cultural synthesis that is taking place in the changing society of which the theater is a part. In effect, the changes in Sutherland's own society have inspired her "journey of discovery" for new, expressive forms, just as much as they have sparked Ampoma's search for an expressive individualism that is compatible with established but constantly evolving customs.

While Ampoma's experience represents the search for humane social forms, her friend Senchi is the artist who is bent on a certain quest for moral order and for the appropriate means of expressing that moral vision. Her friendship with Senchi, wandering poet and singer, reinforces the impression that both personalities are brought together in the play to function as a composite character. Senchi feels uprooted and alienated, and, as such, he is an extreme form of the muted restiveness which Ampoma reveals in herself from time to time.

Senchi's role in Edufa is roughly analogous to Heracles' in Euripides' Alcestis. Senchi is a friend of both Ampoma and Edufa, just as Heracles is a friend of Admetus and Alcestis. Both Heracles and Senchi are travellers who just happen to visit their friends at a time of crisis. The similarity ends here. Senchi is a perpetual itinerant. Unlike the ebullient and gregarious Heracles, he is alienated and often cynical. His alienation as artist is more than the effect of his own critical and questioning intelligence. It is also the outcome of dislocating changes in his society, changes which have uprooted the old African ways (respect for family, upholding of close-knit community ties, and so forth) in some quarters. Perpetual transient that he is, Senchi literally lives the experience of dislocation. Because he is repelled by the moral dislocations that he sees around him in the person of someone like Edufa, he is strongly committed to the idea of moral stability and to a social order that is stable while remaining flexible enough to accept orderly and humane change.

He shares this commitment with Ampoma. Therefore, her fate intensifies his barely concealed contempt for Edufa and for the new disruptiveness that is represented by Edufa's narrow selfishness and Western affectations. In Senchi's own words, both Edufa and himself make an odd pair, as friends, because Edufa's gross materialism is incompatible with Senchi's spiritual intensity as poet (Plays from Black Africa, pp. 246-47). Senchi's search for what he calls a kind and loving person (p. 238) is a quest for the kind of humaneness that could counteract Edufa's gross materialism. The circumstances of Ampoma's death represent another failure in that search. Her death means that he has ended up blank again (p. 268).

Senchi's role in the play also bears upon the relationship between artistic form and the social themes of the artist. In a personal sense, his itinerant habits and ill-fitting clothes are symbolic forms, reflecting the dislocation and disharmony which his satiric songs and stories describe. His language and the narrative style of his stories and social commentary are usually incomprehensible to everyone around him, but that very incomprehensibility underscores the sense of moral breakdown and emotional confusion he sees around him in Edufa's home and social class. Finally, the inability of others around him to understand much of what he says emphasizes his profound alienation from society in general.

Senchi's role and personality are as integral to the hybrid nature of Sutherland's theater as is his friend Ampoma. As we have already suggested, Ampoma's personality is an eclectic one, and it conforms with the hybrid nature of the play's forms, themes, and social environment. In Senchi's case, we have a rather ambiguous personality. He is repelled by Edufa's shallow imitation of Western individualism and materialism. At the same time, his own eccentricities as an alienated intellectual reflect his Westernization; for the spectacle of a poet who is deeply isolated from his own society is a familiar Western image rather than a traditional role for artists in the old Africa. He cherishes the communal humanism of old Africa, and this preference is clearly indicated by his scorn for Edufa's individualistic materialism. At the same time, his Western-style intellectuality and alienation, as poet, make it all but impossible for him to communicate his ideas to the women of the chorus, the very ones in the play whose lives are relatively close to that old communal lifestyle. In effect, he is a personal example of the ambiguities and patterns of conflict described by the play's themes, and symptomized by its form. To borrow Fergusson's idea of theater, Sutherland's sense of her social milieu, her characters and her dramatic form blends perfectly with a prevailing pattern of ambiguities and adaptations, inside and outside her theater.

There is a marked shift of emphasis in the next two major plays. Sutherland relies less heavily on adapting Western and Ghanaian forms into a hybrid pattern in Foriwa and The Marriage of Anansewa. In these two plays, there is a greater emphasis on reviving a sense of old African traditions, or celebrating the ones that have managed to survive into the modern world. There is a corresponding shift away from hybrid theatrical conventions towards the indigenous forms and conventions of the dramatist's own culture. In fact, the themes and the staging of a work like Foriwa do not simply describe the revitalization of indigenous forms and values. The play itself is a part of this process of revitalization, for its very existence reflects a vital and continuing interest, among the playwright and her audience, in the indigenous forms.

As theater, Foriwa incorporates the folk rituals of the community's traditional African culture and, in so doing, the play imbues these forms and rituals with a fresh, contemporary significance. This is comparable with the manner in which its themes call for a renewed commitment to the substance, rather than mere form, of indigenous conventions. At the same time, the play's themes emphasize only those aspects of Western culture that are compatible with Africa's sense of its own traditions and with its place in the modern world.

The play is based on the same materials Sutherland uses for her short story, "New Life at Kyerefaso." 4 After years of neglect and local apathy, the town of Kyerefaso is visited by Labaran, a young university graduate who is determined to prod the community away from its narrow conservatism and from its obsession with local forms and customs for their own sake. Their conservatism, and general indifference to improving their community in any progressive sense have led, over the years, to economic decline and the deterioration of the school system. Labaran's objectives are similar to those of the town's Queen Mother, for she has been trying unsuccessfully, for years, to lead her subjects out of their apathy. Her daughter Foriwa joins forces with the queen and with Labaran, and their crusade for change is climaxed by the town's annual festival in honor of the river Kyerefa. The Queen Mother successfully transforms the festival from the usual parade of meaningless rituals into a ceremony that actually inspires the community to rebuild itself in the spirit of its original founders.

This transformation of the festival from empty rhetoric into a vital force for change is fundamental to the play as a whole. The Queen Mother does not break with the villagers' traditions as such. Rather she insists that these traditions, particularly the annual ceremonies of birth and renewed life, become an actual experience in the life of the community itself. Thus, she mocks the traditional songs of praise to the ancestral founders of the town and to the river goddess, precisely because the present generation merely mouths the song while shunning the spirit of growth that it actually celebrates. The song has become a highly stylized and empty formality over the years, and the stilted style reflects the community's lack of spirit. The refrain promises that the singers will offer their "manliness to new life" in the river (p. 49), but Labaran, for one, is not convinced by the performance.

In his words, the river goddess should scream back a scathing response to the singers: "I am the lifestream of Kyerefaso. Your ancestors knew it when they chose to settle beside me. Are you going to do anything else besides dyeing my waters red from year to year with the blood of sheep?" (Foriwa, p. 35). When the Queen Mother repeats the traditional salute to the river-goddess, she transforms the language from a mechanical chant to a new and vibrant challenge: "Are your weapons from now on to be your minds' toil and your hands' toil?" she asks the men of Kyerefaso. "The men are tired of parading in the ashes of their grandfathers' glorious deeds…. They are tired of sitting like vultures upon the rubbish heap they have piled on the half-built walls of their grandfathers" (pp. 49-50).

In short, tradition ought not to be defined solely on the basis of a rigid loyalty to the achievements and symbols of the past. It should also incorporate a capacity for initiative and innovation, the kind of capacity that made the achievements of the past possible. The revitalized, direct language which the Queen Mother uses in her statement is part of a general revitalization (of forms, conventions, and language) which she perceives as integral to any living tradition. Since the prefestival ceremony at which she speaks and the rituals of the festival itself are forms of folk drama within the play as a whole, Sutherland has actually incorporated into her own theater the festival itself are forms of folk drama within the play as a whole, Sutherland has actually incorporated into her own theater the living, constantly renewed traditions of folk art. In effect, the structure and themes of the play exemplify the very principle that lies at the heart of the Queen Mother's argument. Traditional forms (folk art, in this case) are not simply antiquarian devices to be dusted off and used once a year; they should remain expressive and highly functional forms of communication.

The play's structure also depends on symbols and images that are integrated with the dominant theme of rebirth. These are drawn from the four-branched God-tree that dominates the town square and the setting of the play itself. The tree, near which Labaran has set up house, is actually described as a shrine. Its presence, throughout the play's action, is a highly visual example of what the Queen Mother and her allies are trying to achieve. It is old and a religious symbol and, on this basis, represents a very important link with the town's past. It is also alive and growing and, in this regard, it emphasizes the need to recognize traditions as living, growing conventions rather than static and antiquarian forms.

The tree's central location on stage, and its physical juxtaposition to the socially activist Labaran all have the effect of underscoring its significance as a symbol of social growth and change. At the same time, its religious significance reflects the degree to which social change should ideally be compatible with the deepest and most cherished of the community's religious and moral traditions. Finally, the "four-branched" design obviously emphasizes a sense of the universe (the four directions), indicating in the process that the tree's symbolism is both of local cultural significance and of universal implications. The kind of balance which Kyerefaso needs to strike between traditionalism and social growth is of immediate relevance to the community, to Africa as a whole, and to all cultures that hope to grow, and preserve their roots, in a changing world. By being located on stage the tree transforms the setting into a symbolic reflection of the community and the world view through which Sutherland presents the community. Given this centrality and dominance, the tree naturally makes its presence felt on the language of the play. Labaran describes himself and his mission as the scattering of seeds, in the manner of a forest tree (p. 34); and the Queen Mother herself exploits the tree image in defining custom as the "fruit" that the ancestors "picked from the living branches of life" (p. 25).

Significantly, this imaginative use of language and the capacity for growth which it represents, are also attributed to some of Kyerefaso's most apathetic residents, and in the process the dramatist hints at a dormant vitality, in the most unlikely society or individual, waiting to be released from static and unproductive notions of tradition. Thus, even the lazy draughts players who always ridicule Labaran's reformism are capable of a discriminating attitude towards expressive language, a sense of discrimination that bodes well for their ability to accept the challenges of expressive conventions in their community. The perpetual subject of Foriwa's beauty provides them with an opportunity to display the discriminating taste in language:

2nd Draughts Player.

She only needs to show her face in at the door, and like palm wine, the flies come swarming after it.

1st Draughts Player.

How crude, Butterflies after a flower is much more like it.

          (p. 16)

The new life at Kyerefaso flows not only from the revitalized conventions of tradition and language, but also from the personalities and symbolic roles of the main protagonists—Labaran, the Queen Mother, and Foriwa. Labaran is committed to the idea of reviving decaying communities, by way of new schools, new libraries, and agricultural reform, and he represents what a new generation of Ghanaians and their education should be. He combines a strong reverence for the community's past with a desire to see it benefit from the more useful and humane elements of Western culture. He embodies the dramatist's familiar ideal, a perception of tradition as continuing customs that are constantly renewed by being exposed to contemporary experience.

Labaran is the creative traditionalist, opposed both to the slavishly Western Scholar's Union and to those who are narrowly faithful to the externals of Ghana's communal institutions. Conversely his alliance with the old bookseller in pressing for a new library and a new school involves the ideal union of the old and the new in creative views of tradition. Labaran is a Hausa "from the north" who is initially suspected as an outsider, but his commitment to Kyerefaso, and his eventual acceptance by the town, suggest that the redefinition and revival of local traditions must take place as part of the forging of a new and broader, but ideally inclusive tradition—the tradition of contemporary Ghanaian nationhood as a whole. At this point Sutherland's dramatic art exemplifies not simply the idea of theater but the idea of national theater.

Labaran's most powerful ally is the Queen Mother herself. Her office links her securely with the past and its heritage, but her commitment to contemporary needs endows her with an evolutionary sense of tradition such as Labaran embodies. Throughout all of this, her identity as a woman is significant. Particularly on the basis of criticisms by older reactionaries like Sintim it is clear that the choice of a woman, and a literate one at that, has represented a radical departure from the customary method of choosing local rulers. Consequently, there is a significant link between the Queen Mother's views as ruler and the unusual fact that she is a woman who rules a reactionary community. She is not creative and progressive simply because she is a woman. However, as a ruler she offers a creative vision and a capacity for innovativeness that correspond with the kind of flexibility that made her accession to power possible in the first place. As a woman in the role of public leadership, the Queen Mother is one of the play's two examples of the manner in which Sutherland has linked the question of social customs with the issue of the woman's role. The restrictive sexual conventions which Sintim recalls with longing, are based on the narrow and static modes of tradition that are choking Kyerefaso, just as the Queen Mother's accession and rule exemplify a sociosexual liberality which is integral to the play's general emphasis on a progressive sense of tradition.

Foriwa is the second example of this sociosexual emphasis in the play. She is loyal to her mother's plans on behalf of Kyerefaso while demonstrating other levels of self-reliance and individualism. She is loudly determined to marry only someone of her own choosing, and, without being opposed to marriage as such, she remains detached from the mystique with which other women usually invest marriage. She has seen that for most of her married friends marriage has only been a dead-end which has dulled their eyes and slowed their "once lively" steps (pp. 6-8). Foriwa's active interest in marriage for herself (she is eventually betrothed to Labaran) and her capacity to criticize the stasis and narrowness that often afflict the tradition of marriage, all conform with that basic quality which she shares with Labaran and the Queen Mother, a deep respect for established conventions tempered by a critical awareness of the need to renew their meaning and form.

It is significant that Foriwa is assigned the leading role in the Queen Mother's formal challenge to the men of Kyerefaso that they give substance to their cherished customs. Foriwa is to dance with those men who are actually able to bring new life to the community. She declines to dance, on the ground that the men have not yet deserved the honor, but her refusal actually underlines the symbolism of the dance itself. It is a symbolic ritual, within the larger ritual of the festival and its preliminary ceremonies (such as the Queen Mother's challenge), and it represents the equal partnership of men and women in the (ideal) continuity of constantly renewed traditions.

The festival follows the confrontation between the Queen Mother and her foes. It is another symbolic ritual, for the eventual reconciliation between both sides is celebrated by the festival which represents the town's acceptance of her leadership and her challenge. They also accept Foriwa's role in all of this, for as a chastened Sintim remarks, Foriwa recalls the courage of those women who once made the ancestors men (p. 61). The symbolic celebrations of the festival are a prelude to yet another ritual, the impending marriage of Foriwa and Labaran. As a traditional ceremony, the marriage will confirm the continuity of established conventions. As the union of the two most innovative members of the community it celebrates the kind of progressiveness that must coexist with traditionalism.

On both counts, the impending marriage dramatizes the degree to which the new social experience envisioned by the play includes the ideal of sexual equality and independence for women as well as men. Finally, all of these conventions—the prefestival ceremony, the festival, and the impending marriage—are all forms of communal folk drama within the play. As a result, they allow Sutherland to integrate her vision of contemporary social changes with the continuity of folk art and folk traditions. Once again, her dramatic themes and conventions are a microcosm of the social order that she describes in her play.

The Marriage of Anansewa follows the direction of Foriwa. In this later play there is a succession of social conventions presented as forms of folk drama, and these combine to make the play itself a social microcosm. These conventions fall into two categories. One set relates directly to the art of dramatic narrative itself (that is, the communal tradition of storytelling), and the other set centers upon marriage.

Sutherland's introduction to the published version of the play dwells at length on the oral traditions of Ashanti storytelling, especially in the case of Ananse stories. As performances, these stories are a species of folk drama, allowing for audience participation. The audience participates through the Mboguo, musical interludes in which the performers add to, or comment upon, the main tale itself. This kind of audience participation enhances the function of the story as a form of communal art. Even more explicitly than in Foriwa, Sutherland is concerned with developing a kind of theater that is rooted in the established traditions of folk drama. The Anansegoro, as she describes this kind of theater, demands the ability of both dramatist and producer to invest the play with "some capacity for invoking this element of community participation" (p. vii).

The main plot of the play consists of the ingenious schemes through which Kweku Ananse secures money and other gifts from his daughter's suitors, encouraging each to send these gifts by leading him to believe that he is the favored suitor. Inevitably, the day arrives when all the suitors announce that they are on their way to meet Anansewa for a formal betrothal. Ananse averts disaster by announcing Anansewa's sudden death. All but one of the suitors send their regrets, in strict accordance with custom, but couched in terms which hint at difficulties that Anansewa might have encountered in their homes had the marriage actually taken place. The remaining suitor, Chief-Who-Is-Chief, goes beyond a literal adherence to the laws of custom. Since he has not been formally betrothed to Anansewa he is not obliged to assume responsibility for her "funeral," but he does precisely this, asserting the claims of husband on the sole basis of genuine feeling and loyalty. Overwhelmed by the Chief's generosity (not to mention his wealth), and released from his dilemma by the withdrawal of the other suitors, Ananse promptly announces the miraculous return of Anansewa from death, and the play ends with Anansewa's betrothal. Her marriage to the chief is in the immediate offing.

Within the structure of Sutherland's Anansegoro, the storyteller is both narrator and spectator, using the Mboguo to comment upon Ananse's schemes for the benefit of Sutherland's audience—while at the same time functioning as on-stage audience. This dual role underscores Sutherland's play-within-a-play structure.

In turn, this structure contributes to the kind of audience involvement that is demanded by the Anansegoro format, for the resulting impression of multiple action and multiple audience has the total effect of blurring the usual distinction between stage and audience, action and detached spectator. Ananse as schemer is really a perpetual actor whose schemes are witnessed, at first hand, by a selected audience—the storyteller himself. Then, in turn, the storyteller's relationship with Ananse's plots, as well as the plots themselves, comprise that overall dramatic plot—the "play"—that Sutherland's audience witnesses. Finally, this all has the effect of strongly implying that the theater as a whole, including the audience, is part of a larger theater—society—with its own patterns of social roles. Sutherland's idea of theater (as the extension or microcosm of social conventions and role-playing) has become clearly interchangeable with a certain idea of society (as a theater of traditionally defined roles).

Given this broadly representational nature of the play's action, it is appropriate that Sutherland conceives of Ananse himself as an "Everyman" (p. v). He is the consummate actor on this Ghanaian version of the world stage, spinning and acting out a succession of plots like the legendary Spider God after whom he is named and upon whom his character is based. He is the perennial trickster, well versed in the art of deception, and an expert without peer in the business of social intrigue and domestic plotting. His art of deception is therefore both an analogy and an integral part of theater itself, for dramatic art is really a convention of hoaxing an audience that is already predisposed to be deceived, and to be instructed in the truth by way of deception.

In the process, Ananse exemplifies the manner in which the theater is an extension or direct expression of the individual's personality and the individual's social experience. If his skills as a plotter and trickster reflect his personal greed and ambition, then the economic necessities that also contribute to this ambition reveal much about his immediate social conditions and the human condition in general—the condition of Everyman-Ananse. Therefore the song ("Oh Life Is a Struggle") which ushers him unto the stage also introduces the theme of adversity that justifies his schemes, at least in his own eyes. In his words, "While life is whipping you, rain also pours down to whip you some more. Whatever it was that man did wrong at the beginning of things must have been really awful for all of us to have to suffer so" (p. 1). Ananse's appeal to our sense of human history and to our awareness of traditional human suffering is important here. He is deliberately linking the moral justification of the trickster's role with the idea of tradition, claiming, in effect, that there is an intrinsic connection between his art as trickster and the history of human adversity.

His talents as actor are varied, ranging from an acutely discriminating use of language to his knowledge of established social conventions. The letters with which he flatters and cajoles money from the suitors are carefully composed in the long established, ego-massaging techniques of the praise-song. They are also shrewdly tailored to conform with the rules of courtship and marriage. His language is therefore generally encouraging, without offering the specific promise or undertaking that, according to the established custom, might commit Anansewa to any one of the suitors. The letter to the chief of Sapa is typical in this regard:

Since forwardness has never been one of my faults, I
not even dare to drop a hint that the way is open for
  you now
to begin oiling the wheels of custom. You who do not
  pay mere
lip service to law and custom but really live by them,
  need no
prompting from anyone.
   Therefore I will only add that I'm very happy to
Yours in the closest of links in the not too distant future.
          (p. 6)

As the storyteller remarks, it is clear that Ananse knows the customs very well (p. 16). Like the storyteller himself, Ananse judges others on the basis of their knowledge, and practice, of established customs. Thus, the final choice of a suitor for Anansewa is really made to depend on each suitor's attitude towards the appropriate customs of courtship, marriage and mourning. The ideal suitor is expected to know the customs, but he is also expected to use them in a flexible and humane way. Chief-Who-Is Chief is clearly the winner because he fits this ideal. He does not allow personal feelings of love and generosity to be thwarted by an overly literal attention to the conventions of courtship, betrothal, and mourning. On this basis, the chief represents the familiar Sutherland ideal of a flexible and creative traditionalism.

All of this brings us to the second group of conventions comprising the heart of the play—conventions that deal with marriage and other social institutions. Here Anansewa is a central character. Unlike her father and future husband, she is relatively inexperienced in the ways of the world and in the conventions through which one organizes, or copes with, those ways. An ingénue of sorts, she is really drafted by her father into his schemes before she is fully aware of his objectives. Her marriage is important in the play, not simply as an event towards which the plot is moving, but also as a process—or rather the culmination of a process. This is the process of education, her education. She has to be initiated into the ways of her world through a succession of conventions and rituals which represent certain experiences or values and which are to be climaxed by her impending marriage at the end of the play.

The first of these conventions is a formal education in certain Western skills that are necessary to modern society. Therefore, she is a trained secretary. Her secretarial role in her father's schemes (she types his letters to the suitors) initiates her into the formalities of traditional courtship—and in this regard she is yet another Sutherland character who combines the modern with the traditional. After her father announces her "miraculous" return from "death," she undergoes the "outdooring" ceremony. The ceremony is a necessary preliminary to her betrothal. It formally marks her growth into womanhood, establishing her as a debutante of sorts. It is part of a step-by-step education of a young woman in the traditions of her culture, including the tradition of marriage.

As a symbolic initiation into adulthood, that outdooring ceremony is also complemented by the ruse of her fake death. Followed as it is by the life-oriented ceremonies of "outdooring," betrothal, and marriage, her mock-death becomes, in retrospect, a ritualistic reminder that death itself, and the conventions that attend it (mourning, funeral, and the responsibilities of family and suitors) are intrinsic to life itself. In other words, Anansewa's growth as woman combines the customary patterns of initiation into adulthood with a growing awareness of harsh realities—like her father's poverty and death itself.

It is therefore appropriate that Ananse's schemes are interwoven with the conventions through which Anansewa is initiated into womanhood. She is thereby assured of an initiation or growth which is not simply based on a set of rituals observed for their own sake, but which imbue traditional patterns of womanhood (father's daughter growing into husband's wife) with an urgent awareness of life as a struggle. This process also endows her with a vital sense of her own personality and choices. Thus, she refuses to countenance her father's schemes if they were to bind her to a husband whom she would not choose.

Her education, like that of the audience itself, has proceeded through the hoaxes and disguises of Ananse's plots. In this respect, she is a highly personalized symbol of the way in which Sutherland's theater functions: she both reflects and experiences the social conventions of the audience's world. At this point Sutherland's social vision and her interest in the woman's role and identity have merged. They have become the central focus of her idea of theater.


1.African Writers Talking: A Collection of Radio Interviews, ed. Cosmo Pieterse and Dennis Duerden (New York: Africana Publishing Corporation, 1972), pp. 188-89, 22. Cited hereafter in the text as African Writers Talking.

2. References to Sutherland's plays are based on Edufa in Plays from Black Africa, ed. Frederic M. Litto, Mermaid Edition (New York: Hill & Wang, 1968), pp. 209-72; Foriwa (Accra: Ghana State Publishing Corporation, 1967) and The Marriage of Anansewa, African Creative Writing Series (London: Longman, 1975).

3. Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theater. Anchor Books Ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1953), pp. 14-15.

4. Efua Sutherland, "New Life at Kyerefaso," in Modern African Prose, ed. Richard Rive, African Writers Series (London: Heinemann, 1964), pp. 179-86.


Pieterse, Cosmo and Dennis Dverden, eds. African Writers Talking: A Collection of Radio Interviews. New York: Africana, 1972. Includes Interviews with Aidoo and Sutherland.

Sutherland, Efua. Edufa. In Plays from Black Africa. Ed. Frederic M. Litto. Mermaid Ed. New York: Hill & Wang, 1968, pp. 209-72.

———Foriwa. Accra, Ghana: State Publishing Corporation, 1967.

———"New Life at Kyerefaso." In An African Treasury, pp. 112-17.

———The Marriage of Anansewa. London: Longman, 1975.

Gay Wilentz (essay date summer 1988)

SOURCE: Wilentz, Gay. "Writing for the Children: Orature, Tradition, and Community in Efua Sutherland's Foriwa." Research in African Literatures 19, no. 2 (summer 1988): 182-96.

[In the following essay, Wilentz examines the ways in which Sutherland's play Foriwa seeks to reconcile Africa's traditional values with its emerging industrial modernity, with emphasis on the role of women in easing the cultural transition.]

I've heard a lot of people discussing at conferences the role of the [African] writer—all this rigmarole, well if there's any role, they should write for the children.

          —Efua Sutherland

Efua Sutherland, Ghanaian playwright, poet, and producer, is well known as one of Ghana's most active voices in utilizing traditional modes of theater to promote social change. Her goal has been to acknowledge traditional oral drama performed in villages, stimulate modern dramatic activities, and set up community theaters in rural areas. Moreover, she has been instrumental in fostering indigenous drama in both her theater groups and her plays.1 Sutherland's plays have been integral to her concept of theater as a means of revitalizing rural life in African communities, and her impact has been felt through her plays for children as well as for adults.2 Sutherland's best-known works, Edufa (1967), Foriwa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975), are all directed toward reconciling the conflict of Western and African cultural values in modern-day African society; the latter two plays also satisfy her objective that written drama serve the community as the oral tradition has done.

This article focuses on Sutherland's play, Foriwa, in terms of its oral roots, the role of women in reviving the traditions, and Sutherland's use of two aspects of the oral tradition—the retelling of an African folktale and the presentation of a traditional ceremony—as a way to resolve cultural conflicts in modern African life. The play becomes an educational tool to unite traditional values and modern technology through the oral tradition and the collective process of the African community. Sutherland's desire to ensure that the traditions are passed on to the children, both rural and urban, and her vision of women as the moving force in revitalizing disintegrating rural communities illustrate how she has accepted and challenged the role designated to the African woman—to reflect and reform the orature of her foremothers. Sutherland has taken her drama back to the village communities from whence it came. Her open-air theaters for dramatic performances and storytelling reflect her commitment to educate future generations through the patterns and traditions of her ancestors.

Sutherland does not see dramatic works as taking the place of the oral tradition, but rather as part of the process in which the values and culture of her people and nation are to be transmitted to the children of the following generations. In an interview with Lee Nichols, Sutherland comments, "The traditional communities … have done a wonderful thing for the country: They have minded the culture. These are the people who ought to be thanked for what's been maintained of the culture" (107, 170). Her concern is for the children who will pass on both the traditional culture and the cultural conflicts of modern Africa; her fear has been that the clash of European and African cultures may break the continuum. Therefore, in her plays and productions, Sutherland has tried to capture the essence of traditional modes of oral performance, while promoting the storytelling that goes on at home. Her aim has been to expand on the tales told in village compounds and the stories told in village squares by bringing to her plays this "formidable frame of reference derived from [the people's] consciousness of that dramatic heritage" (Adedeji 76).3

Sutherland's play Foriwa is a later version of a short, allegorical tale called "New Life in Kyerefaso" (1960). Both pieces are based on the transformation of an African folktale used by mothers to warn their daughters away from unknown, handsome men. The folktale tells of a beautiful and proud girl who refuses to marry any young man chosen by her family but decides instead to marry a handsome stranger. Whether the man turns into a python, a spirit, or a skull, the moral taught is that young women who disobey their families and do not listen to the wisdom of their elders will eventually meet disaster. This folktale has been reworked by numerous West African writers, yet Sutherland is unique in that the moral of the folktale in Foriwa is a positive one.4 The choice of a stranger brings "new life" to the town of Kyerefaso rather than devastation, altering the meaning of the old tale. In this way Sutherland expands the message of the folktale to illustrate a different dilemma: how to build a nation out of the different ethnic groups in Ghana.

In both the story and the play, Foriwa, a beautiful, articulate schoolteacher, has returned home to celebrate the "New Life" festival with her town and her mother, the Queen Mother of Kyerefaso. Like her mother, Foriwa is disappointed by the general apathy of the town. She tells her mother in despair, "Everyone is waiting for someone from somewhere to come and do this or that for Kyerefaso. Who, and from where?" (8). The people of Kyerefaso are not as interested in responding to Foriwa's questions as they are in whom she will marry. Everyone is happy about Foriwa's return but wonders when she will finally accept a suitor. Foriwa has many suitors, some very wealthy, yet—like the girl in the folktale—she is not interested in any of them. In the earlier short story, Foriwa's displeasure with her suitors is circulated around the town, and "that evening there was heard a new song in the village." The villagers use the well-known folktale to warn Foriwa of the possible repercussions of her proud behavior, and although the song does not refer specifically to Foriwa, everyone in the town knows who the "maid" is. I think it is worthwhile to quote this song in its entirety:

There was a woman long ago
Tell that maid, tell that maid,
There was a woman long ago,
She would not marry Kwesi
She would not marry Kwaw
She would not, would not, would not.
One day she came home with hurrying feet,
I've found the man, the man, the man,
Tell that maid, tell that maid,
Her man looked like a chief.
Tell that maid, tell that maid,
Her man looked like a chief,
Most splendid to see,
But he turned into a python,
He turned into a python
And swallowed her up.

The use of the oral tradition is apparent here in two ways. First, the community uses the folktale to try to "educate" Foriwa. Since her own mother and mother's family seem unable to control Foriwa, the community will take on that role to help her conform. Second, emphasizing their importance in eliciting proper behavior, songs are formulated quickly to pass judgment on a present situation.

Unlike the girl in the folktale, Foriwa has refused suitors not because of pride in her own beauty nor disrespect for her family but rather from a desire to work toward the improving of Kyerefaso and to find the man who will work with her. In Sutherland's reworking of an Ananse tale, The Marriage of Anansewa, the grandmother tells her granddaughter Anansewa that there are other important qualities a man should have besides wealth:

My grandchild Anansewa, your old lady knows something about what is of real value in this world. You noticed that this outstretched hand of mine is empty, it contains nothing. And yet, this same empty hand will succeed in placing a gift into your brass bowl. What this hand is offering is this prayer of mine. May the man who comes to take you from our hands to his home be, above all things, a person with respect for the life of his fellow human beings.


In Foriwa, as in The Marriage of Anansewa, what is of real value is not necessarily material. The grandmother gives Anansewa advice in the form of a riddle, an aspect of the oral tradition. Moreover, her values come from the traditional culture that has been distorted, in the present generation, by Western materialistic values, illustrated by the trickery of her son, Ananse. So when the Queen Mother asks Foriwa why she wants to refuse the present suitor, a man who "has salvaged his life from this decrepitude" by making a great success of his life materially, Foriwa answers that she will not join her life with a man who is interested merely in personal gain (6). She shudders at the kind of society he represents by ameliorating his own life at the expense of the community. She responds instead by approaching the subject of the town's deterioration and the Queen Mother's fights with the elders who care more for the words of the traditions than for what those words convey.

Foriwa is determined not to marry until she has helped rebuild the town and until both she and her mother agree on a man who has "respect for the life of his fellow human beings." Unlike the stranger in the folktale who is an evil, supernatural being, the stranger in this case is Labaran, an educated, socially active young man who is a Hausa from northern Ghana. Labaran, a university graduate, is dismayed by the life offered to him in the capital, and he wanders through the countryside hoping to find his place in society. He ends up in Kyerefaso and remains there to try to understand the changes in his country: "Anyone who thinks I have nothing to do deceives himself. Because he sees no office? This is my office, this street; the people who use it are my work and education" (2). Labaran is derisively called the "son of an unknown tribe" by Sintim, one of the elders (19), and both his education and his commitment are held suspect by the Akan people of Kyerefaso. When the postmaster, who is working with Labaran to start a bookstore and reopen the school, asks Sintim to request the land from the Queen Mother, Sintim flatly refuses to be an "emissary for an Itani" (a disparaging term for someone from Northern Ghana). The postmaster responds, "That's unfair. If this young man were a townsman, we could claim to be in possession of a man of real value" (18). The emphasis on what is of "real value" surfaces in all of Sutherland's writings. Finally, it is Foriwa who secures the land for the bookstore.

The friendship and ensuing love relationship between Labaran and Foriwa turn the folktale around, since their relationship does not presage disaster but rather the revitalization of the town of Kyerefaso. Moreover, the acceptance of Labaran by the Queen Mother and the town brings a new meaning to the tale; the stranger may not always be a villain, not when he is from your own country. The Queen Mother, who brings her community together, welcomes Labaran as her future son-in-law and son of the soil as she states: "They say that we see with our eyes. That is true. But we are not often able to say that we see with our hearts also…. I have come to thank you for having made your home on this foundation" (65). Rather than perceive Sutherland's reworking of the tale as a breakdown of the traditions, we can envision the moral of the tale as an even stronger reflection of the community's values and the community's health. The initial tale still represents the importance of the alliance of families in choosing a mate, but the tale is also broadened to express another alliance—that of all the people of Ghana.

Before exploring the roles of the women characters in the play itself, I would like to emphasize an aspect of Sutherland's drama that Lloyd Brown comments on in Women Writers of Black Africa—that the theater of Foriwa is an extension of the culture: "The play itself is a part of this process of revitalization, for its very existence reflects a vital and continuing interest, among the playwright and her audience, in the indigenous forms" (73). Therefore, we see Sutherland in the traditional role of the African woman, "minding the culture" as she calls it, making sure that what is meaningful in traditional life is maintained. In the process she moves beyond the mere recording of past traditions and helps to bring new life into the customs and rituals which have become as stale as the old men in the play. Sutherland alters traditions—instead of disrupting them—so as to communicate the cultural values of precolonial Africa with renewed meaning.

In an article exploring Sutherland's attempt to update traditional African modes of pedagogy for young children in a Ghanaian village, "The Atwia-Ekumfi Kodzidan—An Experimental African Theatre," E. Ofori Okyea praises Sutherland for helping revitalize that village with her model theater and education project:

The KODZIDAN in Atwia has had some effects on the life of the village generally. There is, for instance, a cooperative store started in the village as a result of the performances done in other villages and from filming fees. A new block of buildings is being added to the school to make it more presentable. Atwia has become the "eye" of villages around and a few of the young men in Accra have returned to inject some new life into the village.

          (83; emphasis added)5

Clearly, Atwia is the realized project that led Sutherland to rework her story, "New Life in Kyerefaso," into the play, Foriwa, but the writer of the article seems to have missed an important aspect of the revitalization—the role of women. It is plausible to think that some of the young women from Accra have also joined hands to work in Atwia, but the writer has chosen, as usual, to mention only the young men. This misrepresentation of history (herstory) is typical of the neglect women as a group have suffered from historians, anthropologists, and politicians in terms of the role they have played in the past.6 The point is pertinent here because it is precisely the young woman Foriwa, who, in the play, returns to Kyerefaso to "inject some new life in the village." Sutherland, in her choice of characters, emphasizes the role women have to play in the process of decolonization and the revitalization of communities through traditional customs and values. The function of the Queen Mother, the return of Foriwa, and the relationship between mother and daughter, exemplify Sutherland's intention to document women's unique contribution to the continuation of the traditional culture.

Although she is helped by her daughter Foriwa and the "stranger" Labaran, the Queen Mother is the moving force in the revitalization of the town of Kyerefaso. She brings her community together through a new interpretation of a traditional ritual. It is the Queen Mother's duty as "mother" to nurture her community and ensure that the values are maintained. In "Asante Queen Mothers in Government and Politics in the Nineteenth Century," Agnes Akosua Aidoo comments, "Like all Akan women, the Queen Mother derived her position from the matrilineal social organization. The Akan trace descent through the female line. The woman is the genetically significant link between successive generations" (65). The woman is also the valuational link between generations, so the role of Queen Mother is understood to include her ability to keep the culture's values alive. From precolonial times the Queen Mother has been the authority in the village in which she has resided, working with the elders of the village to govern the community. As the "Ohemma" (the foremost authority on the genealogy of the royal matrilineage), the Queen Mother was considered "the custodian of the ‘custom’" (Arhin 92-94). The authority of the Queen Mother—the most important female leader of the clan—was far greater in precolonial Africa, but she has remained an important figure in modern Ghana.7

In Foriwa the conflict between the Queen Mother and Sintim on her right as a woman to hold a position of authority does not, as some critics have suggested, arise from the unusual circumstances of having a woman in control; rather it stems from the colonial disruption of a traditional practice. When the Queen Mother attempts to revitalize the "path-clearing" ceremony, Sintim expresses his disgust at this woman acting as a leader:

I am going to sprinkle ritual food all over Kyerefaso. I, Sintim. Son of the stalwart Odum tree…. I shall not stand by and see the town disgraced. How, when there are cocks here, should a hen be allowed to strut around in this manner, without getting her head pecked?


Sintim represents the seemingly universal disdain for women that men have, but more important, he also reflects a colonialist view that women have no place in positions of authority.88 The point is not that women were of equal status to men in precolonial Black Africa, but that their role in the political sphere was respected whether they governed over only the female population or the whole society. The determination displayed by women in responding to the conflicts in the play—the Queen Mother's opposition to the elders and the staleness of the traditions; Foriwa's desire to return home to help improve the community rather than to marry a rich man—does not necessarily arise from modern notions of feminism but stems from a traditional view of woman's place in society as wife, mother, and active member/leader of the community.

The Queen Mother, tired of the apathy of her town, decides to try to arouse the community by revitalizing an upcoming festival. Her aim is to demonstrate how far the society has strayed from the original spirit of the ceremony. The inability of the elders to adapt the values of the past to present experience disheartens her and makes her wonder why she does not go where she can breathe; "somewhere perhaps where, like a living tree, I can shed my wasted leaves to grow new ones, and flowers, and fruit." Yet when Foriwa asks her why she does not leave, she answers, "I'm rooted here. I agreed to be mounted like a gorgeous sacrifice to tradition" (8). Although the Queen Mother speaks negatively of being mounted like a sacrifice in her moment of distress, it is her appreciation of her roots that gives her the strength to reformulate the traditions of Kyerefaso. Sutherland utilizes the tree of life imagery (from the roots to the fruit on the branches) that adds to the perception of generational continuity in this play. The "four-branched God-tree" across from the Queen's compound is one of the play's symbols of the dominant theme of rebirth: the God-tree is "alive and growing and, in this regard, it emphasizes the need to recognize traditions as living, growing conventions rather than static and antiquarian forms" (Brown 75). The Queen relates her own place in society to that of the shrine tree; she is rooted in her community, tied to the past, but also hopes to breathe life into the town so that it will bear fruit. Moreover, in her plan to revivify the festival, she describes this ritual as the fruit that has matured from the seeds of the ancients through the nurturing of each generation: "For a long time, I've been trying to find a way to make the people of Kyerefaso see; to see at least that for our ancestors, custom was the fruit they picked from the living branches of life" (25). The Queen's title as mother of the community and the references to the rebirth of the traditions in modern form illustrate how women utilize their role as mothers to include the nurturing of the land and the traditions of its people.

Filomina Steady, in The Black Woman Cross-Culturally, emphasizes that, for the black woman, being a childbearer is not necessarily a restrictive role but is one tied to land fertility and the oral tradition: "Women's role as child-bearers and food producers are often associated with fertility of the land, and this is implicit in much of the ritual. This life-giving quality endows women not only with much prestige but equates them with the life-giving force itself" (29-30). In the case of the Queen Mother, the role of the African woman is expanded to a nurturer of those she governs, and her responsibilities as the educator of her children extends to the entire community. It is the Queen Mother's function to bring her family (community) together to maintain the traditions for the generations to come.

Foriwa has many of the same characteristics as her mother, characteristics that enable her to accept the challenge of staying and helping rebuild the decaying town of Kyerefaso. Like her mother, she is independent and believes in her own opinions, but she also feels deeply for the community from whence she came and wants to be part of its rebirth. Her initial despair arises from the failure of the town to work out some compromise between the traditional values of the ancestors and the technological changes of modern Africa. It brings on a restlessness in her, but like the Atwia youths in Accra she hopes to "inject some new life" in her community:

It's this place and you—pulling at my heart—making me restless…. When I come to the place where my mother is queen, I should proudly lift my head. I've listened to your misgivings about this town. All these years I've taken note of your futile arguments with the elders. You grieve when every meeting turns to litigation and obstruction. You fight, and that makes me proud of you, but you are alone, and you lose. Is this to be forever?


It may appear on the surface that Foriwa disregards tradition by not marrying her rich suitor and by choosing to stay in Kyerefaso instead of making a better life for herself in Accra. However, one can argue that Foriwa is responding to the earlier traditions and values of her culture, values derived before Christian/Western doctrine categorized woman as "helpmate" rather than as a citizen in her own right. Maryse Condé comments, "African women stand at the very heart of the turmoil of the continent. Going back to colonialism, one is tempted to say that they were the principal victims of the encounter with the West. The missionaries did not understand the position they held in their families and societies" (133). Therefore, with a disruption of the culture as violent as that of colonialism, a strike against the atrophied traditions of a town might actually be closer at heart to the original cultural values than adherence to those distorted traditions. For this reason Foriwa rejects an easy solution for her individual life and remains at home as part of a communal effort to bring new life to Kyerefaso. Tired of being a "runaway daughter" (35), she chooses not to marry until she has fulfilled another commitment of the precolonial African woman, her responsibility to her community.

Foriwa's decision to remain in Kyerefaso is tied to her mother's reforming of the path-clearing festival. In terms of how mothers pass down cultural values to their daughters, the conflict between the Queen Mother's desire for what is best for her daughter and Foriwa's answer to her mother's call is an interesting example of how this play focuses on the reinterpretation of traditional culture. In spite of her mother's protests, Foriwa answers her mother's call (as Queen Mother) for all the children of Kyerefaso to return and help rebuild the town. During the ceremony Foriwa declares her intentions to the town: "When the Linguist tells this story, he shall also say, that I, your own daughter answered to your call" (53). And after the festival, she expresses her relief at finally making a commitment: "Mother, I have solved the conflict in myself. Your words down there today threw me up like a bird, and I have found my way home again." Her mother answers her with distress:

I should have expected it. Oh, my child, why couldn't you have waited for some signs of promise in this place before you spoke. People don't change in a day, and our people may refuse to change…. I should praise you for it, were I only Queen Mother, and not your mother also.

          (55; emphasis added)

Foriwa does not accept her mother's advice to seek personal satisfaction, satisfying her individual desires. Instead, she listens to her mother in a much deeper way: she listens to the words spoken by the mother of the community, the mother with wisdom handed down to her through the ancestors. As Foriwa's mother and as Queen Mother, she has passed on the values of her culture to her daughter so that Foriwa could not respond in any other way. Thus, the play portrays women as not only maintaining the customs but as actively altering and reforming these customs to make them applicable for modern Ghanaian life. Sutherland has documented women's important role in keeping the customs ripe and alive for the next generations to pick.

The climax of the play is the revitalization of an important traditional festival. The Queen Mother has chosen to revivify the annual "path-clearing" festival, a ceremony of new life. She decides to conduct a mock ceremony the evening before the festival to point out how far the town has strayed from its original meaning. The ritual glorifies the hard work that went into the founding of Kyerefaso and celebrates the beginning of the town. The mock festival is the turning point in the play because the community, and in a sense the audience, too, must choose whether to work for that new life or leave the ceremony as an empty ritual. This scene illustrates a dialectic between the action in the play and the aims of the playwright. Lloyd Brown refers to the simultaneous regeneration that the character Queen Mother and the playwright Sutherland create in the traditional culture: "Since the prefestival ceremony at which [the Queen Mother] speaks and the rituals of the festival are forms of folk drama within the play as a whole, Sutherland has actually incorporated into her own theatre living, constantly renewed traditions of folk art" (75).

The Queen Mother asks the people of the town to come as if to the festival. This causes much confusion in the town but the participants come. The Linguist, who is the oral historian of the town, explains, "We made her Queen because we love her; beyond the right of inheritance" (43). When everyone is assembled, the Queen Mother lets them go through the ceremony as they do each year, but she stops them in the middle of the ritual. She asks the community when will they live up to the words of the ceremony? She first addresses the male asafo dancers and then calls out to her daughter and the other women: "Where are you, women all. Come join the men in dance for they are offering themselves to new life" (49). Foriwa, who stands besides her mother, refuses to dance in the ceremony because she is unable to find anyone "with whom this new life shall be built." The Queen Mother, empowered by the truth of her daughter's statement, expresses her own feelings to the group:

Sitting here, seeing Kyerefaso die, I am no longer able to bear the mockery of the fine, brave words of this ceremony of our festival. Our fathers earned the right to utter them by their deeds…. But is this the way to praise them? Watching their walls crumbling around us…. Letting weeds choke the paths they made? Unwilling to open new paths ourselves, because it demands of us thought, and goodwill, and action? No, we have turned Kyerefaso into a death bed from which our young people run away to seek elsewhere, the promise of life we've failed to give them here.


The belief in the continuity of a culture from the ancestors to the descendants is a major aspect of African traditional society, and that belief is integrally related to the land. If the next generation leaves the land "to seek elsewhere the promise of a life," then the lineage will be broken and the fiber of the society destroyed. The Queen Mother realizes that the disintegration of her community is inevitable if the children leave and do not make a commitment to their culture. Through the shock of transforming the ritual, she attempts to incite the people of Kyerefaso to work toward creating a viable alternative to the city and its Western materialism.

Each of Sutherland's three plays deals with the conflict of Western and traditional values, specifically personal wealth in opposition to community responsibility. In Edufa the end result is tragic for the protagonists in that Edufa's wife Ampona dies as a result of his desire for material gain; the treatment of this theme is comic in The Marriage of Anansewa, although the message is the same. Foriwa takes a step beyond the critique and tries to create a performance atmosphere that reconciles these conflicting values in contemporary African life. In the play the educated individual is no more or less necessary to the revitalization of the town than the workers or dancers, and the Queen Mother's admonishment of the Scholars' Union for calling the asafo dancers illiterate clearly reflects this position (47).

The Queen Mother's reforming of the mock ceremony to awaken Kyerefaso to the real meaning of the festival reflects Sutherland's aim to arouse the audience so that they also will work to revitalize their own communities. The reconciliation of the Queen Mother and the elders, particularly the abrasive Sintim, her acceptance of Labaran into the community and her own home, and Foriwa's decision to remain in Kyerefaso all illustrate a positive step toward the revival of rural communities and the unity of all the people of Ghana. As I have mentioned earlier, the revitalization process of Kyerefaso is shared between the main protagonists—the Queen Mother, Foriwa, Labaran, and the postmaster; and it is their cooperation with the elders and the townsfolk that brings the town to life. Still, it is the Queen Mother, as nurturer of the town and the custodian of custom, who motivates the community through the transformation of the traditional festival. She tells her intention to the community through the Linguist: "Linguist, those are my thoughts. I knew no way of reaching my people better with such thoughts than to use this ceremony of our festival as my interpreter" (51). In this way the Queen Mother is passing on the customs of the ancestors to future generations not as archaic remnants of a time past but as part of a living tradition that keeps the culture itself alive. And her manner of renewing the rituals is in accordance with the way women have passed on the values of their cultures, by repetition and alteration, throughout generations. For, as feminist critic Jane Marcus states, it is the transformation, rather than the permanence of the creation, that is at the heart of most women's art.9

Although the Queen Mother's challenge to the community is the main motivating force in revitalizing Kyerefaso, Foriwa's participation—as daughter of the Queen Mother and daughter of the soil—is equally important because of her challenge to her own generation and her ability to take the leadership role from her mother. When Foriwa declines to dance in the mock ceremony because she does not find the young man with whom this new life could be built, she is actually taking up her mother's challenge and altering the ritual on her own. She tells the crowd, "He is not here, mother. I don't see him in these empty eyes. I see nothing alive here, mother, nothing alive" (50). Foriwa's declaration is important for two reasons: first, Foriwa emphasizes her mother's statement that until the community words "‘I love my land’ [cease] to be the empty croaking of a vulture on the rubbish heap," the festival and the traditions will mean nothing (50). Second, Foriwa ends up with Labaran, the stranger not included in the festival but instrumental in the revitalization process. Her comments foreshadow the time when all those who share the values of the society and want to work to improve it will be welcomed. Labaran, as one of the town's young men, must join the young women to build this new life, blending traditional values and modern experience. The acceptance of Labaran as Foriwa's husband-to-be presages the unity of Ghana's different ethnic groups, altering the folktale; yet, the original meaning of the tale also stands. Foriwa has chosen her own husband, but the marriage will be consecrated only with the Queen Mother's approval and by the traditions of her culture.

Foriwa's involvement in the process of revitalizing the town and Labaran's acknowledgment that their marriage will have to wait until their actions have proved true to the words spoken in the ceremony illustrate a renewed partnership in which the men and women of the community work together to improve their lives. Even Sintim, the antifeminist, responds to the power of both the Queen Mother and Foriwa; he comments that Foriwa has "the fire of those courageous women who made men of our ancestors" (61). Of course, he is only able to see women's strength in terms of what they do for men, but he plainly states that Foriwa's strength has been passed down to her through her foremothers.

One final comment on the play's use of modern technology to promote the oral tradition is in order here. After the challenge is taken up by the performers in the mock ceremony, the word is passed from compound to compound that the community will be prepared for both the festival the next day and the Queen's demand that they breathe new life into Kyerefaso. As the people disperse, the sound of the Queen's voice is heard once again from the foundation, challenging Kyerefaso to bring meaning and life to the words of the ceremony. But the Queen is not repeating herself; it is Labaran who has taped the Queen's voice with his "recording machine" (56). Again, in the final scene, Labaran plays the tape of Foriwa's speech as the others look on, recording this moment for posterity (64). The tape recorder documents the community's history in a more precise, though less creative, manner than the words of the orators, and it has a place in the society in terms of passing down the exact words of a speech or story. The recorder, as handled by Labaran, exemplifies a modern convenience utilized to enhance the oral traditions. In spite of its precision, neither the tape recorder nor the man who uses it can take the place of the oral tradition and the women who tell the tales to their children in every home, every compound. The art of the oral tradition depends upon the teller of the tale as well as the tale itself—whether it be a "master" teller or undocumented village women storytellers. Sutherland does not see literary drama taking the place of oral drama in the community, nor, one hopes, will the tape recorder replace the orature of the traditional culture.

In her three published plays for adults, Sutherland's aim has been to focus on the kind of values that are being passed on to the children: What will become of traditional culture, weakened by colonial domination, if the present generation does not continue their oral traditions and reform them to fit modern Ghanaian society? Foriwa works toward the resolution of these cultural conflicts by utilizing orature and literature as vehicles for the revitalization of rural communities. Sutherland's emphasis on women's role in "minding the culture" and bringing new life into old traditions, mirrors her own concern for and active participation in strengthening the bonds between the African past and future generations. Her performances and productions, her village education for children, and her plays themselves illustrate a playwright tied not only to the traditions and customs of the African continuum but secure in her place as an African woman passing on the values of her foremothers to the children.


1. Sutherland has been a motivating force in Ghanaian dramatic production. In 1958 she founded the Experimental Theatre Players, which became the Ghana Drama Studio in 1960. She also organized the Kusum group which forms plays and improvisations in English and local languages.

2. Schmidt states that Sutherland has had a profound influence on children's literature through her children's plays and the theater group which she founded ("African Women Writers" 8).

3. Adedeji ("Theatre and Ideology") sees the role of modern African theater as fulfilling a cultural need on a national level that oral literature has done in local communities. For a more in-depth discussion on the dramatic heritage of both African orature and literature, see Awoonor's The Breast of the Earth.

4. Some of the writers who have utilized this folktale in their works are Ama Ata Aidoo, J. P. Clark, Flora Nwapa, and Amos Tutuola.

5. It is interesting to note that kodzi is one form of Akan folktale.

6. An excellent treatment of this topic is a paper by sociologist Mere, "The Unique Role of Women in Nation Building," which unfortunately is unpublished. See also "Women: The Neglected Human Resource for African Development."

7. In "The Black Woman in History," Clarke states that from the time of the traders, the colonialists "began a war on African customs, religion and cultures. In most cases, the first custom they attacked was the matriarchy" (17). See also Diop, The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, and Okonjo, "Sex Roles in Nigerian Politics."

8. For an unclouded treatment of the demise of the women's courts and women's political power under British occupation, see Leith-Ross's African Women.

9. I am liberally paraphrasing from Marcus's "Still Practice, A/Wrested Alphabet: Toward a Feminist Aesthetic."

Works Cited

Adedeji, Joel. "Theatre and Ideology in Africa." Joliso 2.1 (1974): 72-82.

Aidoo, Agnes Akosua. "Asante Queen Mothers in Government and Politics in the Nineteenth Century." The Black Woman Cross-Culturally. Ed. Filomina Steady. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman, 1981. 65-77.

Akyea, E. Ofori. "The Atwia-Ekumfi Kodzidan—An Experimental African Theatre." Okyeame 4.1 (1968): 82-84.

Arhin, Kwame. "The Political and Military Roles of Akan Women." Female and Male in West Africa. Ed. Christine Oppong. London: Allen and Unwin, 1983. 91-98.

Awoonor, Kofi. The Breast of the Earth. New York: Doubleday, 1975.

Brown, Lloyd. Women Writers in Black Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1981.

Clarke, John Henrik. "The Black Woman in History." Black World 24.4 (1975): 12-26.

Condé, Maryse. "Three Female Writers in Modern Africa." Présence Africaine 82 (1972): 132-43.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. The Cultural Unity of Black Africa. Chicago: Third World, 1959.

Leith-Ross, Sylvia. African Women. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1939.

Marcus, Jane. "Still Practice, A/Wrested Alphabet: Toward a Feminine Aesthetic." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 3.1-2 (1984): 79-97.

Mere, Ada. "The Unique Role of Women in Nation Building." Unpublished paper, U of Nigeria, 1984.

Nichols, Lee. African Writers at the Microphone. Washington, DC: Three Continents, 1984.

Okonjo, Kamene. "Sex Roles in Nigerian Politics." Female and Male in West Africa. Ed. Christine Oppong. London: Allen and Unwin, 1983. 211-22.

Schmidt, Nancy. "African Women Writers of Literature for Children." World Literature Written in English 17.1 (1978): 7-21.

Steady, Filomina, ed. The Black Woman Cross-Culturally. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman, 1981.

Sutherland, Efua T. Edufa. Plays from Black Africa. Ed. Frederic M. Litto. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. 209-72.

———. Foriwa. Accra: Ghana Publishing, 1967.

———. The Marriage of Anansewa. Washington, DC: Three Continents, 1975.

———. "New Life at Kyerefaso." An African Treasury. Ed. Langston Hughes. New York: Crown, 1960. 111-17.

"Women: The Neglected Human Resource for African Development." Canadian Journal of African Studies 6.2 (1972): 359-70.



Ankumah, Adaku, T. "Efua Theodora Sutherland (1924-1996)." In Postcolonial African Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne, pp. 455-59. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Critical and biographical overview.

July, Robert W. "The Independent African Theater." In An African Voice: The Role of the Humanities in African Independence, pp. 59-81. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987.

Includes Sutherland's works in a discussion of the history of African theater and the development of theater at Ibadan University in Nigeria.

Sutherland, Efua, and Maxine Lautré. "Efua Sutherland." In African Writers Talking: A Collection of Interviews, edited by Dennis Duerden and Cosmo Pieterse, pp. 183-95. London: Heinemann, 1972.

Interview from 1968 in which Sutherland discusses her experimental village theater and the state of African art in the late twentieth century.

Talbert, Linda Lee. "Alcestis and Edufa: The Transitional Individual." World Literature Written in English 22, no. 2 (autumn 1983): 183-90.

Explores the common thematic concerns of Sutherland's Edufa and Euripides's Alcestis.

Additional coverage of Sutherland's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: African Writers; Black Writers, Ed. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 97-100, 105; Contemporary Women Dramatists; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 117; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; International Dictionary of Theatre: Playwrights; Literature Resource Center; and Something about the Author, Vol. 25.

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Sutherland, Efua 1924–1996

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