In Ghanaian theater, there’s no such thing as a rhetorical question

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Adam, Kate, Scott, and I are sitting in the second row of plastic chairs, swatting mosquitoes and downing handfuls of sugary popcorn. We aren’t as vociferous as the other members of the audience, but we are laughing a lot and taking notes. At the University of Ghana, plays seem as much about audience participation as they are about memorized lines. Throughout the entire production of a play, the audience responds vocally and shouts advice to characters. Rhetorical questions are answered.

The play is called “Through a film, darkly,” and my friend, Caitlin, is playing a British woman who married a Ghanaian and moved to Ghana. Her name is Janet. The first act is funny and informative. It addresses issues like how foreigners have difficulty integrating into the host culture (Ghanaians in London and Londoners in Ghana) and how some Ghanaians react to globalization that is increasingly changing their world.

In one scene a family of Ghanaians is listening to jazz music when their neighbor, who is a white man, knocks on their door to tell them to turn it down. The mother is worried that they were disturbing their neighbor, but the father laughs and said, “I don’t know why I should worry my head about some white man with no sense of humor.”

This frank discussion about who is Ghanaian and who is white is not politically correct in American culture, but Ghanaians are very conscious of people’s origins. It is very important what region you are from in Ghana and what local language you learned first.

Then the Ghanaian character who is married to Janet laments, “Most people think I’m lost to Africa because I’ve married a white girl and I like the white man’s poetry.” I think dialogue like this is very interesting because it shows an African’s response to American/European culture and how people here live with a sense of pride for their own culture.

Janet depicts white people in Ghana in humorous ways. She has a cat whose health she worries about and she mispronounces Ghanaian names, much to the delight of the audience. Most people in the audience just laugh at Janet, but one person shouts “Go back to your country!.” This really surprised me because I haven’t heard anti-Obruni sentiment like that before. Most of the time, people here are exceptionally friendly and welcoming.

One Ghanaian character is especially confrontational towards Janet. He asks, “Why can’t you leave us alone? I suppose you are also writing a book about Africa.” His wife scolds him, but Janet happily and apologetically replies, “No, he’s right, I am writing a book about Africa.” The idea I’m getting here is that Africans resent the fact that outsiders are so interested in studying their culture. So I wonder how to strike a balance between curiosity about someone’s culture and the desire to study someone’s culture so much that it becomes intellectual othering.

This idea pops up again later in the play when a Ghanaian tells the story about what happened to him when he went to college in London. He befriended and fell in love with a white girl there, but then he was betrayed by her. He exclaims passionately, “Do you think it’s fair that she used me as a specimen for her thesis in anthropology?”

By this point, we were all laughing helplessly. The Ghanaian’s friends reassure him that he would have “tired of her cold love” anyways. I don’t think my love is cold!

Anyways, by the second act the play switches from meaningful commentary on culture clash to Ghanaian-style soap opera. The more emotional moments were accompanied by flute music. Here’s some dialogue:

“I was a virgin when I met you!”

“I have known the woman you have spent and I have loved her!”

At the end of the second act, the soap-opera-instigating characters died in a car crash, leaving the stage open for more discussion about culture. One of the final lines was “It takes faith and courage for an African to keep his soul outside of Africa” because of the “little looks” and “thoughtless little remarks” made by natives of England and America.

I loved the play. The acting was really good and the writing was so interesting. Hopefully there will be time to go to more theater productions before leaving Ghana!

Quote of the day, from the Ghanaian married to Janet: You will piss your pants if you think we are still living in Livingstone’s Africa!


2 responses to “In Ghanaian theater, there’s no such thing as a rhetorical question

  1. You can’t have two quotes of the day on the same day!

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