Q & A: Examine the diplomacy of folk wisdom in Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa

Old custom surmounts modern education through its diplomatic way of obtaining a result the latter is short of clues on.

"The Marriage of Anansewa" and "Edufa."
The front cover of Efua T. Sutherland's "The Marriage of Anansewa" and "Edufa." The two plays are antithetical in that the former is a comedy while the latter is a tragedy.

Examine the diplomacy of folk wisdom in Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa.

Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa is an incredible exposition of a viable aspect of African tradition: marriage custom. It follows that the text critiques the wit by which the way of custom supersedes the formal idealism of modern marriage culture. In that respect, the description of life as a puzzle in the text suggests how complex tradition can be and should not be trivialised by the uninitiated. The play therefore details how Ananse the diplomat deploys a trick to salvage his daughter’s conscience from the regret over marriage choice. The focus of the subsequent discourse will be to emphasise how his Anase’s trick is a significant element of resolving the conflict established by in this master craft.

The play opens on the note of finding solution to the problem inherent in man’s existence. It largely presents to the reader a critical moment now for Anansewa who is “thinking about” Anase, his daughter’s “future”. This establishes a paradox about Ananse’s formal education: it does not guarantee a propitious future for her per se. Now her father must take her through the detour of marriage to consummate the privilege. Though Ananse’s mind is befuddled, he is certain that Anansewa is “a child yet, in spite of” her “body’s development.” (p. 11). To this end Ananse’s tact becomes instrumental in helping the child avoid the ditch of marriage choice by her beauty and education.


The preconcerted pact between Ananse and the four chiefs passes for the web the former spins around himself. Themed on poverty now, this dramatic action informs the reader about the profit inclination of a girl child’s marriage. It may become the parent(s)’ escape from poverty. The chiefs all give Ananse a monetary token in appreciation of his agreeing to their proposals on his daughter.  He disburses the sum for the completion of her daughter’s secretarial studies at E.P.’s Secretarial School; and for the renovation of his dilapidated house. The difaceted good about this means is that it solves his insolvency and serves as a parameter to determine the most eligible suitor for his daughter’s marriage prospect. All this comes about in the play as a diplomatic tact of Anase the master planner.

Efua Theodora Sutherland
Efua Theodora Sutherland

The dignity of marriage in African tradition is portrayed in the play. The interjection of Akwasi and Akosua’s scuffle over the former’s right over the latter further explicates Sutherland’s message in the play. Although Akwasi has funded Akosua’s financial needs, the charity does not will the woman to him unless the head drink is brought. Against the backdrop of civilisation in the text, the head drink token assumes a significance far removed from the wild fancies of modern education. The legality of folk tradition therefore supercedes the wild fancies of modern custom on the issue. This justifies how that Anase’s extraction of money from the suitors is not to a foolish end of selling out his daughter a cheap commodity: there still unfolds critical examinations of eligibility which eludes Anansewa. An example is the acceptance of head drink as the ultimate symbols of right. Added to that, the profit of a daughter’s marriage is not equivalent to the commodification of the “object of interest.” This is a highly diplomatic undertone of Ananse’s wilful web spun around himself in his daughter’s aid.

Again, Anansewa’s devised death is a metaphor with enormity. It simply marks the end of her father’s puzzlement and ultimately depicts the renaissance of African marriage tradition as a viable, extant practice. True, resolving on giving Anansewa’s hand in marriage to Chief-Who-Is-Chief creates complication in the plot, Ananse is “counting on human nature to help disentangle it.” (p. 23). He realises that his scheme is a “gamble with such a priceless possession.” (p. 76). The only infallible way out is for his human nature to aid his cause who “is willing and eager to oil the wheels of custom”. Now this is highly technical. It is also ironic that western ideals – as presented in symbols and the presence of the church – may be myopic whereas customary ways are clairvoyant. In the end, Anansewa is happy with her father’s choice because it eventually coincides with her ideal picture of a husband:

Anansewa: …But bluntly speaking, as for some old chief with fifty wives, that won’t do it at all. Never.
Ananse: Supposing it isn’t some old chief as you ignorantly describe, but the finely built, glowing black, large-eyed, handsome as anything, courageous and famous Chief-Who-Is-Chief?”

(p. 21, The Marriage of Anansewa)

Ignorant of her father’s diplomatic steps, Anansewa blindly believes that old custom is barbaric as to invariably make a repellant choice for the young woman. But she encounters an irony by which her childish imagination is refined. Her education could not have done just as good! Here lies the shortcoming of Anansewa’s education. She embodies the attitude of many a ready-made, young lady who disdain the ability of folk custom to help their marriage decision.

Finally, Ananse’s scheme is a criticism of modernity on marriage prospect. A child like Anansewa is bound by the luxury of her beauty and the privilege of her education to look outside the wisdom of her culture to make a marriage choice. Another situational irony. In fact, irony is at the heart of the conflict resolution. In this case, old custom surmounts modern education through its diplomatic way of obtaining a result the latter is short of clues on.

Consequently, the text hints on the traditional outlook of marriage for a woman. Would Ananse have been left wandering on the boulevard of her education? Does it behove a young lady to waste her prime while chasing a career? Anansewa is twenty and ready. This evinces how folk custom does not disregard formal education but frowns at its myopia for young women to go by in such critical phase of life. Against the odds of civilisation, the phenomenon stands as a dignified cause that a young lady must fulfill ideally early and unblemished by the repugnant fancies of modernity.

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