chapter  2
14 Pages

Articulating “Silence”

The Language of Death as Memory in Ama Ata Aidoo’s The Dilemma of a Ghost
WithPortia Owusu

My reading of The Dilemma of a Ghost (1965) radically moves away from Aidoo’s obvious critique of Africans as reluctant to acknowledge slavery, even in the shadows of physical and immovable evidence. I point to a small, and previously unexamined, part of the play that references Odwira, a Ghanaian festival that honours dead ancestors, to refute this claim. Referring to Akan philosophies on death, the afterlife and memory, I read the play in light of this festival and its performance to demonstrate that memories of slavery and slaves are embedded in rituals and practices of Akan culture.

Underpinned by the idea that “there is no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that makes sound” (Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings, 1961), I argue that we need to consider Cage’s assessment in light of African articulations of traumatic histories, such as slavery. Therefore, I explore rituals and practices of indigenous festivals that enable a community to “talk” about slavery as historical trauma. I read the festival, its history and practices to link it to the experience of slavery in Ghana.