Christina Ama Ata Aidoo explored the social conscience of her African peers through her writing, speaking, and teaching endeavors.
Ghanaian writer and educator, Ama Ata Aidoo delved the soul of African traditions through her literary works. As a novelist, poet, dramatist, critic, and lecturer, she voiced concerns over a variety of social and political issues at the forefront of Ghanaian society in the wake of a mid-20th century independence movement in her country.
She uttered repeated concerns for the plight of womanhood in Ghanaian culture. She endowed the female characters in her literary works with strong wills and distinct personalities. Through her depictions of the traditional norms of society, she helped to expose the exploitation and disenfranchisement of women, not only from their careers but from the essence of their own identities.
Ama Ata Aidoo was born Christina Ama Aidoo on March 23, 1942. She was the daughter of royalty, a princess among the Fanti people of the town of Abeadzi Kyiakor in the south central region of Ghana. Aidoo’s homeland, at the time of her birth, was under the oppression of a resurgent neocolonialism as a result of British aggression during the late 19th century.
In the home of her parents, Chief Nana Yaw Fama and Maame Abba, anti-colonial sentiment was an unavoidable emotion in the wake of the murder of Aidoo’s grandfather by neocolonialists. Yet in spite of the murderous tragedy, Fama acknowledged the superiority of Western education and sent his daughter to attend the Wesley Girls High School in the southern seaport town of Cape Coast, Ghana. She went on to study at the University of Ghana, beginning in 1961. In 1964, she graduated cum laude (with honors), earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
At the University of Ghana, Aidoo became involved with the Ghana Drama Studio, founded by Efua Sutherland. Aidoo participated in writers workshops and contributed her work to the school of drama. During her years in undergraduate studies, she in fact completed two plays and a collection of short stories.
Aidoo continued at the University of Ghana for an additional two years after graduation, through a fellowship to that school’s Institute of African Studies. On fellowship in 1965 she published one of her most famous writings, and her first major dramatic work, The Dilemma of a Ghost.
Ghost was one of only two dramas that she published by the end of the century. The play depicts the conflict of an African student, Ato, who studied abroad and returned home to Ghana with an African American wife. In The Dilemma of a Ghost, Aidoo delved into her concerns over pan-Africanism and the plight of Ghanaians who travel abroad in search of an education. The play exposes the conflicts that confront students in resolving their African traditions in the midst of Western culture.
In 1966, Aidoo traveled to the United States where she attended the Harvard International Seminar and spent time at Stanford University. She returned to Ghana in 1969. Between 1970 and 1982, Aidoo taught English at the University College at Cape Coast and completed research on her native Fanti drama. Over the years Aidoo taught and lectured at many universities in the United States and in Africa, including the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
Between 1991 and 1993 Aidoo wrote and published Changes, a tale of a woman from the Ghanaian capitol of Accra and her personal battles. As the plot unwinds, the main character, a government data analyst, endures rape by her husband and is forced to confront her own destiny. Naadu I. Blankson of Quarterly Black Review applauded the effort by Aidoo, wherein she “… weave[s] the passions of two women, three men, and a host of [others] … quite respectably.
” As a literary work the novel artfully enmeshes the passions of upward mobility, the plight of African women in the workplace, and the role of the African female as the designated pawn of a polygamous society. It was Aidoo’s contention, which she furthered through her writing, that sexism was a learned behavior on the part of the African male and clearly a consequence of the neocolonial environment. In Research in African Literatures, Nada Elia quoted Aidoo’s rebuttal to those critics of African feminism, “I really refuse to be told I am learning feminism from abroad.”
Certainly Aidoo’s social-political apprehension transcends a spectrum of issues, among them the circumstances that served to fuel the emigration of African scholars and intellectuals from Ghana and which kept women oblivious to the full extent of their own oppression. In a provocative commentary to George and Scott in 1993 Aidoo said, “I’m published in the West. [And] There is something that makes [me] very uncomfortable about that.
The people among whom [I] lived and grew up have no access to [my] products… . So it haunts the African writer …” By her remark she referred to the censorship of female authors in Ghana and elsewhere on the African continent.
In 1994, Aidoo joined with others in founding the Women’s World Organization for Rights Development and Literature to campaign on behalf of women’s rights by means of publishing and other resources. In August 1999, the issue was at the forefront among representatives of that organization who gathered at the International Book Fair in Harare, Zimbabwe. Aidoo joined with others in reiterating their concerns. She was quoted by the Inter Press Service English News Wire in her vocal confirmation of the severity of the crisis.
She rebuked a system where, “For African women, the struggle begins with the right to be born as a girl child… to have a whole body …to go to school; the right to be heard.”