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Women Writing Africa: Volume 2, West Africa and the Sahel: Edited By Esi Sutherland-Addy And Aminata Diaw.


Women Writing Africa is a rich, comprehensive literary treat that is difficult to put down as it informs, engages, incites, entertains, soothes and lulls. It is simply deliciously stimulating.

This volume is composed of diverse styles of writing. They range from oral traditions that have sought written presentation to dance songs and prayers, performance poetry and private letters, public declamations and legal depositions, as well as prose, poetry, short stories and critical essays. Together, they form a remarkable West African journey.

A modern-day compendium, the book contains insightful historical information. For those interested in leisure reading, it provides historical as well as contemporary poetry and prose of the highest quality. For scholars and researchers, it provides the much-needed textbook of writing from the region (not merely on the region), since it discusses the complexities of the very definition of African writing while tactfully yet vigorously tackling contemporary debates around what constitutes an African woman writer, and the grounds upon which fiction or non-fiction can be regarded as African writing. Editors Esi Sutherland-Addy and Aminate Diaw assert early on in the preface that: "From its inception, the West African and Sahelian volume took on the intense richness and complexity of the West African region it represents. Situated between the Sahelian expanse and the Gulf of Guinea, this region is a mosaic of ethnic groups, languages, cultures, histories and countries. In our volume, we represent 12 nations: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone."

One has to applaud the team of 150 researchers, translators and editors working in 11 countries and 26 languages who put this powerful collection together. The richness of the task is eloquently introduced in 70 pages by the editors. A history of colonization sets the stage for understanding issues pertaining to language and expression, both oral and written, and their emergence in modern-day Africa. It is through orality that colonial history came to be redefined, and African women have been instrumental in this task.

In one subsection, "Ritual and Ceremonial Words: Thirteenth Century to 1916," we learn of ritual and ceremonial words spoken at birth, death and marriage. Whether or not one agrees with the sentiment expressed around marriage and motherhood, one still learns of the richness and diversity of the oral tradition and comes to understand the intricacies of the literary fabric that has been woven in the region.

"Lullabies and Songs of Young Women" is a subsection that contains mainly oral poems and performances recited among young women and between mothers and children. Here, anti-colonial songs reverberate. So, too, do letters and short essays on the topic. The entry by Mariama Ba, from Senegal, titled "My little country," particularly moved me. It is told in a format where memory is recounted and provides many possibilities for teaching the text as well as for understanding the significance of memory in Africa--as contemporary fictional writing seems to suggest, over and over, from all four corners of the continent.

In "1970s and 1980s: Negotiating New Social Identities," readers learn of the methods employed in fiction to write African women into the literary fabric of their lives--rather than simply as girls learning the colonizer's curriculum in French, English, Italian or Portuguese.

Meanwhile, the subsection "1990s and the New Century" reveals the words of contemporary African women, each engaged in writing pertaining to Rwanda, jihad, hunger, child soldiering, ethnic violence, teaching the Qur'an and western depictions of Africa as a poor continent.

To close, I would like to quote the words of Aminata Traore: "It is quite difficult to retrace the path of one's life, not because it is a particularly complicated or rich life story, but simply because remembering is not always an easy task.... I also believe that Africa needs its diaspora.... Africa is not poor, it has been impoverished.... As such, and despite the monumental difficulties people are confronted with, there is an enormous potential for hope, a will to live that is absolutely resistant to all odds."

Published by TSAR, Rosa's District 6 is Rozena Maart's collection of five short stories set in Cape Town.
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Author:Maart, Rozena
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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