Celebrating the African Women in Poetry


Guardians and vehicles of African identity, they had to have their “feet in tradition and their mind in modernity” (in the words of Félix Houphouët Boigny, first president of the Ivory Coast). They make life. They give direction and they see into the future- they are human but are called women. The essence of life is found in them. They are art themselves by definition and by design but what they create is the focus of life. The age old traditions of the land are lost without them and they prepare the young for tomorrow.

In Africa and in particular Ghana, it is no secret that the young learn traditions and some form of culture from mothers who spend a lot of time with their kids. It appears as though, men have taken away the shine from these artists of life, who by their work instils that discipline into children. Children appreciate culture not because of fathers, though they play some role, it is insignificant if I am to compare.

At birth, it is the voice of the woman a baby hears. She sings the baby lullabies and tells tales. She sings folklores and recites appellations. The woman is the first poet every child in Africa knows but we grow and the situation changes. What killed that genuine appetite for creativity in our mothers? Was it that they were not given enough space or the more laborious works denied them of much fruitful exploration of the art they already created and knew? Those wonderful lullabies and folksong and tales are their creation. These same custodians of traditions also are victims of the same. They are crippled and left on the periphery with little or no mention. Women are without a voice in many societies and it is the doings of the society. They are shaped to be empty on the outside but heavy-filled with emotions and thoughts which the world needs.

Through my own survey, I realised not much could be said of women artist in Africa not to mention of women poets. It is as though they never existed-all you hear are the Soyinkas, Anyidohos and others who have as if by some rights taken the spotlight on Africa Poetry. So I asked “where are the women?” We do not talk of our wonderful women of the art. Ask people how many poetess they know and they can hardly mention any. It is that difficult. In my quest, I only realised women in the post-colonial era who by virtue of education experienced some transformation could harness the already discovered creative ability of the African woman. They had the voice. Western influences triggered that innate desire to be heard. But thanks to technology and the proliferation of the social media, our women are now active than before. They are seen in every corridor of social media. They are just not ordinary poets but sharp minds with great intellect. The Poetesses before them had created a way and the new generation are walking on a path cut by the feet of Colonial African Mothers.

As a teenager at secondary school, I only knew Kwesi Brew, Atukwei Okai, A. A. Amoako, Kofi Anyidoho and other male poets. I never heard of any female poet. Even at that stage poems taught in school were all male dominated. Young female students do not have the opportunity of reading from other poetess. It does not help either. Recently, I asked myself, are the female poets not good enough? They are better but they were just overlooked. In this age and era, our women of the art need to be appreciated and they must be seen in the light they are due. Special award schemes should be made for women poets. These are incentives to put more female poets in the light. The BN Poetry prize for Women in Uganada is a perfect example of pushing our women to the fore of the art. Such could be replicated across the continent to make the African Women the best of poets.

Through Molara Ogundipe, Catherine Acholonu Efua Sutherland, Flora Nwapa, Gladys Casely Hayford and the likes, the modern African Woman has moved to another stage of actualization. Poetesses are now more visible than before. The Poetry of the African Woman is gaining audience and it is proper we canvass support for our women. Art in Africa is hard to propagate due to financial constraints but those who can should and must focus on the African Woman. The Poetry of the African Woman need to be seen and heard but it is the commitment of individuals that will ensure this course.

Poetry Foundation Ghana [1] sees the need for this focus and therefore has declared every month of May a celebration of the African Women in Poetry. It is essential that such a date coincides with worldwide celebration of our Mothers. Many Poets shall be unveiled in this month long celebrations. If you have not read of any African Poetess search for them today and find the wisdom of the African Woman.

Source: Nana Agyemang Ofosu


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