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This unit introduces you to another text in comedy. We have decided to use an African text written by a woman. You may have noticed that we have been using the male instances throughout the book wherever we refer to scholars, critics, or a playwright just for convenience and not because we do not have female scholars and playwrights.

In Marriage of Anansewa, Efua Sutherland develops the Akan art of story-telling called Anansesem (Ananse stories). The play is a folklore based on the exploits of Ananse (spider). In different countries, people have their own legendary animal around which so many tales (exploits) are woven. These animals like tortoise, ram, and fox and so on get involved in very difficult and intricate situations but escape unhurt or triumph in the end through a cunning way. Many of these stories/fables are didactic while some of them are just for mere entertainment

3.1 The Plot

The play tells a story of how Ananse, a wretched poor man gets rich through cunning and fraudulent means. Ananse has an only daughter called Anansewa who is a student of E. P. Secretarial School. He is so poor that he could not pay her school fees. She was driven from school and has stayed at home for about two weeks.

He devices means of paying his daughter’s school fees and feeding himself .He gets completely out of poverty. In his plan, he visits four Chiefs and promises to give each of them his only daughter Anansewa in marriage. He returns from the trip and dictates letters to the Chiefs, assuring them that their discussion on the ‘object of their interest’ is still as planned. Anansewa types the letters, oblivious of the fact that she is the object being referred to in the letter.

However, when she realizes that the letters are for choosing a husband for her, she protests. She feels that her father wants to “sell her like some parcel to a customer”(11). However, her father convinces her of the necessity of such plan. He arouses her interest in one of the Chiefs, Chief Who-is-Chief, whom he describes as “ finely built, glowing black, large eyed, handsome as anything, courageous and famous”(12). In addition, the Chief has already given Ananse some money with which to pay Anansewa’s school fees. Consequently, Anansewa becomes interested and actually falls in love with this Chief. Ananse receives gifts from all the Chiefs, he improves his lifestyle considerably, renovates his house and buys new clothes. They are all interested in marrying Anansewa. Ananse is in a fix. He decides that Anansewa should “die”. He invites his mother (Aya) his aunt (Ekuwa) and Christie to outdooring ceremony for Anansewa.

This ceremony is cut short to enable him carry out his next plan successfully. He bundles his mother and aunt home on the pretext that “ … enemies have set fire to our hope, our cocoa farm at their home town Nanka. He then connives with Christie and Anansewa to announce that Anansewa is “dead”. The news gets to the Chiefs and they send their condolences with gifts and inadvertently reveal the intention/motive for deciding to marry Anansewa. The last messengers to come are from Chief-Who-is-Chief. It is revealed that he wanted to marry Anansewa for true love and devotion. Ananse then goes into a trance and invokes Anansewa to resurrect.

Ancestors, I am pleading with you

If it is your desire

As it is ours

That Chief-Who-Is-Chief

Should marry Anansewa

See to it that she returns to life!

Wake her.

See to it that Anansewa awakes

And returns to become a bride!

At that invocation, Anansewa awakes and claims that she could hear Chief-Who-Is-Chief calling her. The play ends on a happy note as the power of love ostensibly triumphs.

3.2 Style

I have taken time to treat the dramatic techniques in detail. I have tried to explore all the devices used by the playwright to create this beautiful comedy.

3.3 Language

The language is simple, direct and humorous. The playwright uses ludicrous exaggeration and flattery, especially while Ananse addresses or talks about the chiefs. He uses praise-songs and appellations to address the chiefs. This also brings into focus the love of flattery by our chiefs and leaders.

3.3.1. Suspense

Suspense is a very good technique in playwriting and Efua Sutherland uses it very well in this play. The audience is kept in suspense from the beginning to the end. The question in everyone’s mind is, how would Ananse wriggle himself out of this mess? The answer is not got until the end of the play. Ananse’s plans are not disclosed even to Christie. The Storyteller who comments on the progress of the play does not disclose it.

3.3.2 The Story Teller

The Storyteller relates to the actors on stage, the players and the audience. So, he is both a commentator and an actor. His story could be interrupted and he complies as in the traditional way of story-telling in many African countries.

Songleader: “ Hold your story for a while” .

Storyteller: “It is held for you brother”

3.3.3 The Players

All the actors, except the key actors, appear on stage from one side and do not wear costume as specific actors. They enter at the appropriate time to play their roles. They are used as actors when the time comes and go back to join the players. For instance, they play the role of the messengers from the chiefs.

3.3.4 Property man

The playwright defies convention here and brings her Property man (popularly known as prop master in modern theatre) on stage, Usually, he is hidden backstage with the prop hands and he appears during scene changes when the lights are out. Contrary to this usual practice, Sutherland brings him on stage to give the props to the actors in the full glare of the audience. There is no illusion of reality. In fact, he plays the role of a stage manager for he sees to it that all is well.

3.3.5 Musical Interlude (Mboguo)

The musical interlude is used to make comments on Ananse’s plans. It emphasizes the action of the play at a particular point or illustrates the importance of custom. In each case, it is used to advance the story of the play. In some cases, the key actors start the song to emphasize their point and the players join in the song.

3.3.6 Mime

Mime is used extensively in the play by the players. They mime the songs. For instance, Storyteller and two women among the players mime the song on Odum’s Child. (21-22). The mime helps to highlight stories which the songs tell. They also mime certain actions of the play like the Post Office Staff, when Ananse goes to open his letters in the opening scene. The postman also mimes checking the address on the letter against the address on the streets (p. 19).

3.3.7 Humour

This is expected as the play is a comedy. Humour is created mainly through language, (Postman: “Are you house No. AW/6615”) We also see humour in the recurrent visual jokes of the property man as he hands the props to the actors; and in the exaggerated crafty energy with which Ananse presents his actions.

3.3.8 Play-within-the-play

The play-within- the- play device is used in the play to emphasize the importance of custom. The Akwani and Akosua episode is used to emphasize the fact that until the head-drink is placedby a suitor for his bride-to-be, he has no claim over her.

3.3.9 Symbolism/Allegory

(a) Some schools of thought believe that the play symbolises Ghana after her independence. It is an allegorical representation of Ghana’s policy of non-alignment in her relations to other nations following her independence. Anansewa is Ghana, Ananse is the leader (more specifically, Kwame Nkurumah while the chiefs represent the international community. The fact that he deceives the chiefs, extorts money and gifts from them while at the same time, does not antagonize them, shows that it is legal to get aid from other nations by holding out promises of trade alliances but not making the commitments until the donor nation’s motives have been tested and known.

(b). The web used in the play is used to link Ananse’s cleverness in its spinning out of his tricks with the spider’s clever spinning of its web.

3.3.10 Audience Participation

Though the audience is not involved in the dialogue or any obvious action, the actors do not pretend that it is not there. In the beginning of the play, Ananse throws some rhetorical questions to the audience. Also, the Storyteller’s comments are directed mainly to the audience. Like Sutherland said, he is “capable of inducing the audience to believe that they are there with him and similarly involved”. This helps to draw them closer to the actors on stage.

3.4 Setting

There is no definite mention of any locale in the play. However, since the playwright is a Ghanaian and as she explains in her foreword, the play is an adaptation of one of the Ananse (spider) stories. The Ananse story is popular among the Akan people of Ghana. Her claim that Ananse is a kind of Everyman, shows that the society presented in the story could be any contemporary society which is expected to criticize itself through the play.

Notwithstanding the above claim, one can rightly say that the setting of the play is the contemporary Ghanaian society. It is a society that is both materialistic and ostentatious.

3.5 Themes

1. The main theme of the play is love – the triumph of love. In the playwright’s own words, it is love for a rosy future for his daughter that makes him , Ananse set out to negotiate the possibility of each of them marrying his daughter in the first place, though he also wants to acquire wealth. This is made clear at the end, when he considers the intention of each chief who had wanted to marry his daughter. He ensures that she is given to the chief who loves her most.

On the part of Anansewa, she agrees to be part of her father’s plan because she wants to marry Chief-Who-Is-Chief. Her love for him, which though began as mere attraction (his virility and handsomeness), is sufficient justification for her to agree to ‘die’ in order to win this chief.

Love triumphs at the end of the play, as Ananse’s deception allows the young ones to marry each other for true love. This is apparent when Ananse pretends to be in a trance and ritualistically pours libation of head drink sent by Chief-Who-Is- Chief and calls on his ancestors to ‘resurrect’ his daughter. Hear him:

If it is your desire

And it is ours

That Chief-Who-Is-Chief

Should marry Anansewa

See to it that she returns to life. (79)

He then invokes his daughter to wake:

Anansewa, … love, is calling you, return …

Chief-Who-Is-Chief loves you true. (80)

On that note, Anansewa stirs, springs out of the bed and claims that she “could hear Chief-Who-Is-Chief” calling her.

Efua Sutherland however does not only emphasize individual love but love on a wider social scale. She also believes that a true lover is both a giver and a helper. This is seen in the closing song of the play which emphasizes the need for them to relate in love.

2. The play shows man’s capacity in using his intellect and cunning to overcome life’s difficulties. Ananse uses his intellectual power to attain a higher social status without antagonizing anybody. He outwits the chiefs.

3.5.1 The Sub Themes

The sub themes of the play are seen when the play is analyzed as a satire and not just as a Ghanaian folklore adapted for the stage.

1. It is a satirical reflection of the hopes, and aspirations of the ordinary people to become rich. They are the common people who hope to survive in their contemporary world by owning the luxurious things of life like cars, refrigerators, electric fans, soft bouncy Dunlop pillow and other things. Ananse wants his daughter to marry into wealth that is why his trips are to wealthy chiefs.

2. It is a satire of the contemporary ostentatious and materialistic society where you are not respected unless you are rich. Note the postmen’s attitude to Ananse before and after his acquisition of his wealth. Also only the rich are invited to state social functions, so everybody aspires to be rich.

3. It satirizes contemporary Christianity where people go to church only to show off their clothes and wealth. At the beginning of the play, when he is still indigent and poverty- stricken Ananse asks his daughter… “Tell me, how many times have I missed going to church because there is nothing in my pocket to deposit in full view of the public?” (p 4). And after acquiring wealth, he declares (sings), “Yes tomorrow, go to church. To deposit with the best of the spenders” (p. 24).

4. Casual tradesmen and labourers are not spared in the satire. Ananse gives them contract to renovate his house and they would be paid on a daily basis (wages). They decide to spend five weeks on the job so that they would be paid more. However, this is because work is scarce, as the Mason asked the Carpenter who suggested three weeks. “… If you have found another place where they want to give you job after you’ve finished here … finish your share quick and go”(25).

This is later doubled to ten weeks when they discover that they have got Ananse in their ‘pocket’ (p. 26).

3.6 Characterization


Ananse is the comic hero in the play. He is intelligent, shrewd and crafty. One can even describe him as a rogue. He has the talents for not only surviving by using his wits, but also to be prosperous. He is able to eradicate his poverty and improve himself. He is pretentious and condemns wealth. Anansewa, asks “so you desire all those things? Haven’t you condemned them often. “He is clever, and resourceful but cunning. He suffers mental torture, while trying to get wealth, but due to his cleverness and intelligence, he turns an established custom to his advantage (i.e), he is not obliged to give his daughter’s hand in marriage until the head drink is placed for Anansewa. He knew this very well and continues to not only accept presents from the chiefs but encourage them to bring more.

The secret of his success lies in his knowledge of the society and of human nature. He is very optimistic and secretive. He has no doubt in his mind that his plan will succeed and he does not disclose his intentions to anyone until he needs the person. He gets her daughter to type letters for him but does not reveal the purpose of the letter to her and towards the end of the play, when he tells her that she should ‘die’ and why. He informed Christie of the “death” plan only at the point of Anansewa’s death because he wants her to help him attend to the visitors.


Anansewa is a beautiful young lady who is a student of E.P. Secretarial School. She is intelligent. This is apparent from the speed with which she typed the letters for her father at the opening scene, despite the fact that she had not graduated.

She is very inquisitive, and not as materialistic as her father, so is somewhat contented with what they have. This does not mean that she does not like wealth. She is obedient. This is manifested when she accepts to stay and type her father’s letters despite the fact that she is about to go out when her father comes in. Initially, she is impatient with her father and does not accept his idea on how she should get married. Again, once her father convinces her of his plans, she gets along with him.

Anansewa is proud and noble and tries to maintain her self dignity and integrity. Inasmuch as she wants to get married, she refuses to be sold to the highest bidder. She protested to her father in the following words. “I will not let you sell me like a parcel to a customer. Not ever! (p. 11)


Aya is Ananse’s mother from her first appearance in the play, she cuts the figure of a Patrician. She is not materialistic and as such, she is not moved by his son’s newly acquired wealth and its consequent display. Thus, she prays for Anansewa to marry a good man and does not like Christy who she feels is working tirelessly to get to Ananse through Anansewa. She describes Christie as being “senselessly extravagant.” She is also a loving mother who loves her son and grand daughter dearly. She is gullible, for Ananse deceives her easily that his cocoa farm had been set on fire. She does not pause to ask questions but believes immediately and starts wailing. However, she is brave and courageous, as she leaves for home promising to: “sweep up these off- springs of vipers and punish them”(54). It may be said that she does not like his son’s and Christie’s cunning ways of getting what they want. She is contented with the much she has as can be seen from her gift to her grandchild at outdooring ceremony. She has no money but prayers.


Miss Christina Yamoahis described in the play as a fashionable woman. From all indications, she is friendly with Ananse hence, he sent for her from the Institute for Prospective Brides in his moment of need. She is described by Ananse as an experienced worldly-wise woman. She is very humane and is always eager to find out what Ananse’s personal problems are and tries to solve them. She tells Ananse, “once I know what kind of trouble it is I can help.” Christie is very charitable. This is evident in the way she presents her precious “sovereign” to Anansewa on her outdooring ceremony. She is with Ananse throughout his travails and ordeal. No wonder Ananse describes her as a helper and a supporter.

It could also be said that Christie is an overzealous person or at best is being over enthusiastic in her a bid to win Ananse’s hand in marriage. From all indications, she may have succeeded, for Ananse notes in the end: “Rare helper! Supporter, your thanks await you.”

The Other Characters

The other characters in the play are mainly animators and agents used to enhance the theme and action of the play. Ekuwa is sensible and understanding. Though she belongs to the older generation, she tolerates and accommodates the younger generation. She is therefore moderate in her assessment of characters and situations.

The Story teller who is a commentator is convivial. In the words of the playwright, the “Storyteller has the right to know everything and to be personally involved in the action.” All the messengers who are part of the players are just there to deliver their messages. There is no effort by the playwright to develop their characters. The Labourers and the Postman are used to show the priorities of the society in which emphasis is placed on wealth.

Also, the Chiefs are not seen in the play but heard through their messengers. They are all rich, generous and love flattery. The Property man is simply the state manager and not necessarily a character in the play. In a more conventional play, he should not have been seen on stage.


i. Discuss the themes in The Marriage of Anansewa.


Marriage of Anansewa is an interesting play. As we laugh at Ananse and his antics, we identify such people in our societies. Some of us also laugh at ourselves and try not to fall into such pitfalls.


In this unit, you have read another play, a comedy. You should try to read all the plays we have treated in this course. In the play, you are in a familiar terrain, Africa, so you must have appreciated it more than others. In the next unit, we will come home to a Nigeria play.


1 List and explain four dramatic techniques used in the play


Sutherland, Efua. (1975). The Marriage of Anansewa. London: Longman.

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  1. Please sir can you help me with the conversational analysis of the play the marriage of Anansewa

  2. Conversational analysis of the play the marriage of Anansewa

  3. Conversational analysis of the play the marriage of Anansewa by Efua Sutherland

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