The Defense of Culture in Ama Ata Aidoo's No Sweetness Here: The Use of Orality as a Textual Strategy Ode Ogede, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria In her book African Novels and the Question of Orality, Eileen Julien bitterly attacks the notion that there is anything particularly African about orality or anything essentially oral about African culture. The "oral form," she contends, "is not the concrete literary simulacrum of African essence but is, rather, a manifestation of social consciousness, vision, and possibility allowed by particular moments and niches in African socioculturel life."1 Despite her doubts about the wisdom of associating orality with Africa, Julien does acknowledge that the manifestation of oral forms in the work of African writers is common, but rarely discussed. Indeed, her book is, to date, the most detailed discussion of the major oral forms employed by such important African writers as Camara Laye, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, and Sembene Ousmane. It is likely to remain the definitive study in the field for a long time. Oral forms hold a special appeal for African writers, and Julien identifies a number of reasons why: "The art of speaking is highly developed and esteemed in Africa for the very material reasons the voice has been and continues to be the more available medium of expression, that people spend a good deal of time with one another, talking, debating, entertaining. For these very reasons, there is also respect for speech and for writing as communicative social acts" (24). But because Julien would both sniff at the idea of associating the oral with Africa, while simultaneously acknowledging the fact that "there is a continuity in African verbal arts The artists are creatures of culture, their traditions are in them and inform their works" (25), she engages in too much special pleading, betraying a defensiveness or protectionism toward Africa and the oral which is as objectionable as the Eurocentric prejudices that she attacks. If we are genuinely convinced that the oral is not an insignia of inferiority, we will hardly feel the need to conceal the fact that the African way of life is dominated by its oral culture. One undeniable truth is that orality still serves as a badge of authenticity in the work of a number of African writers. But this tradition, which was first cogently elaborated in Chinua Achebe's famous words about his primary literary goal being to help his society "regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement,"2 has been radicalized by younger writers, including Ayi Kwei Armah and Ngugi, among others. What these younger writers all have in common is an agenda that goes beyond Achebe's intention to lead his people to a recognition that African societies "frequently had a philosoEileen Julien, African Novels and the Question of Orality (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992) 155. Subsequent references are to this edition and will appear in the text Chinua Achebe, "The Novelist as Teacher," in his Morning Yet On Creation Day Essay (London: Heinemann, 1975) 42-45.
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phy of great depth and value and beauty, that they had poetry and, above all, they had dignity"3 toward using oral forms as instruments for self-interrogation and as catalysts for revolutionary change in society. Ama Ata Aidoo, the only woman fiction writer of substance to come out of Ghana so far, reveals especially in her 1970 book of short stories, No Sweetness Here, that she was contemporaneous with Armah and Ousmane (and many years ahead of Ngugi) in using oral strategies in fiction both to subject her people to self-scrutiny and to suggest the means that could lead them to freedom. Ironically, this all-important aspect of Aidoo's work has received scant attention. She is, for instance, omitted entirely in Julien's study. And despite the early attention Dapo Adulugba drew to the didactic element in No Sweetness...