African Women Writing Resistance
An Anthology of Contemporary Voices
Publication Year: 2010
Contributors include internationally recognized authors and activists such as Wangari Maathai and Nawal El Saadawi, as well as a host of vibrant new voices from all over the African continent and from the African diaspora. Interdisciplinary in scope, this collection provides an excellent introduction to contemporary African women’s literature and highlights social issues that are particular to Africa but are also of worldwide concern. It is an essential reference for students of African studies, world literature, anthropology, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, and women’s studies.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Preface: Roots of the Collection
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The four sister editors of this anthology came together in September 2005 with the goal of bringing the voices of emerging African women writers to a wider audience. With its specific focus on writing as a tool of resistance to the multiple challenges faced by African women today, African Women Writing Resistance is the product of...
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Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez would like to thank all the women across the world, far too numerous to list individually, whose courageous and ongoing struggle for better lives for themselves and their families provides such an inspiring model of positive resistance. Closer to home, I would like to thank my parents, Joe and Sue Browdy, whose steady support and guidance continue to...
Foreword: A Song in Seven Stanzas for Our Granddaughters
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African Women Writing Resistance: An Introduction
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African women are too often presented in scholarly and media accounts as passive, pathetic victims of harsh circumstances, rather than as autonomous creative agents making positive changes in their lives. Confronting entrenched social inequality and inadequate access to resources, women across the continent are working with grit, determination, and imagination to improve their...
Part 1. Engaging with Tradition
Many African women writers are engaged in an ongoing process of negotiating with the past in order to empower themselves in the present. While this is a theme that is sounded in several other sections in this anthology, part 1 brings together four pieces that focus directly on women’s struggle to balance the often competing goals of honoring valuable traditional practices while...
The Day When God Changed His Mind
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She stood tall and mighty, high and proud. The clouds had gathered and a cool refreshing wind washed over her. She shivered slightly but did not change her position. She was standing on one of the majestic Nyanga mountains. She looked down from the mountain top. The distance was enough to make anyone Tamara wore the traditional garb well known...
The Old Woman
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Since this morning when she woke up, something has been weighing heavily on her, a premonition. Of course, you might think to yourself, anybody in your circumstances would feel things weighing them down. But really it is not that. It is true her son and his situation have been weighing heavily on her mind. It has not been easy to raise three children singlehandedly. Beyond that, she can...
Interview with Kaya a Mbaya (Congo), a Babongo Woman
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Kaya a Mbaya, a Babongo woman of approximately forty years of age, was born in the forest of Tele in the district of Sibiti. She now lives in the forests around the village of Missama, also in the district of Sibiti, in the Republic of the Congo. Kaya a Mbaya is married and mother of several children and...
Interview with Elisabeth Bouanga (Congo-Brazzaville): Remembrance of Things Past
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I am Elisabeth Bouanga Milondo. My parents gave me the name of Elisabeth Boulah Mpoumou when I was born. After I was married, my husband decided to give me the name of Bouanga Milondo as a testimony of our love. Later my grandsons and their friends nicknamed me Betoula. I was born in 1931 in the village of Bikie, which lies in the district of Sibiti, located in a district of the...
Part 2. Speaking Out: Young Women on Sexuality
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In this section, the complicated terrain of sexuality is mapped by women from a range of African countries. The common denominator among these stories is the struggle of women to define for themselves the terms under which their sexuality enters into play in the realm of social relations. These women writers bear witness to the many challenges African women face today regarding their...
Woman Weep No More
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My roots lie in the village of Sibizane, three hours drive from Durban, South Africa. My grandmother and my mother struggled to raise us with the ability to face a world that they knew was tough. For them, life was to get married if you were a young woman, and to work in the mines or cities or stay home and look after a healthy herd of cattle if you were a young man. Work, livestock, and...
Letters to My Cousin
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My name is Catherine Makoni. I am a thirty-two-year-old woman living in Zimbabwe at a difficult time in my country’s history. I am a lawyer by profession and in addition to my law degree, I also hold a master’s in women’s law from the Southern and East African Centre for Women’s Law, at the University of Zimbabwe. I am at present working with the Catholic Agency for Overseas...
Story of Faith
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Faith was not the sort of girl most people would have expected to become a prostitute. And she never considered herself to be one either. What exactly is a prostitute anyway? Such an ugly word, full of harsh, accusatory t’s. She had never given the word much thought until she heard it directed at herself. After she had recovered from the initial shock and pain, she turned it over in her...
Lovesung for a Father, with Poet’s Note
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In what follows, I will move back and forth between a first and third person voice. I separate these voices as a strategy of healing. This strategy helps me write honestly about a past that has been confronted and excised, as in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, for the purpose of greater healing and better living...
To Be or Not to Be a Lesbian: The Dilemma of Cameroon’s Women Soccer Players
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Cameroon is a leading soccer nation in Africa. It is a national passion and the men’s national team has performed well in the international arena. However, it has not yet succeeded in building a top women’s soccer team at the international level. The following interview helps us to understand why this has not been the...
My Name Is Kasha
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I found out that I was a lesbian in 1987 when I was seven years old, in second grade. My second-grade teacher told me so whenever she was caning me for sleeping with my fellow pupils. She kept telling me that the reason I liked sleeping with girls was because I was possessed by a demon. In primary school I was never suspended...
Part 3. Challenging the Institution of Marriage
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In the poem “Child,” Kenyan Ann Kithaka plunges the reader into the violence visited on a wife by her husband that is witnessed by her terrified children. A similar theme is taken up in the short story “Hailstones on Zamfara,” as Sefi Atta of Nigeria relates the troubling story of a middle-aged married woman whose abusive husband accuses her of adultery,...
Hailstones on Zamfara
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I am not guilty. I have always preferred men as I make them up in my head; invisible men. Not the kind some women want, those silly fantasy men in foreign romance books. My men are plain, ugly even, with facial marks, oily skins, dust in their hair. They look like men from Zamfara. They ride motorcycles, take buses and taxis to their places of...
The Good Woman
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When Zimbabwe achieved its independence in 1980, Paida listened with pride as the leader of the women’s wing of the ruling party, in her first address to the nation, announced that in the new Zimbabwe, women were no longer going to be mere bedroom fixtures aimed at producing children. They were now going to assume new responsibilities in high-ranking...
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Overwhelmed by hysterical relief, I had to stop myself from bursting into laughter when I heard that my Auntie Malita, who had raised me as her own, had died. I caught myself, swallowed my chuckle, and breathed a sigh I hoped would be mistaken for grief. My two distant relations, who had traveled ten hours to deliver the bad tidings to me personally,...
They Came in the Morning
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Chidinma heard Mama Ike remove the padlock, slide the bolt, and open the door, and then she heard footsteps shuffling in. The house was locked up tight like a prison. Let’s face it, nobody lived like this, only those of us in downtrodden Lagos, bustling with armed robbers and touts, known locally as area boys, all struggling to make ends meet...
The Battle of the Words: Oratory as Women’s Tool of Resistance to the Challenges of Polygamy in Contemporary Wolof Society
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These songs were performed during a ceremony called xaxar, which is practiced among the Wolof of Senegal and the Gambia. When a bride joins a co-wife or co-wives in her husband’s home, a xaxar ceremony is organized by the co-wife or wives. Xaxar is a verbal fight between the senior wives and the newcomer, who is seen as disrupting the harmony...
Part 4. Focusing on Survival: Women’s Health Issues
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This section explores some of the most debilitating health issues facing African women today: the health repercussions of female genital cutting, which is prevalent in many cultures throughout Africa; the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other serious diseases such as cancer; and the ongoing effects of the trauma visited on women by protracted violence and civil war....
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I am a lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology Department of Drama, Gauteng, South Africa. The young adults I teach come from diverse traditional African cultures, but they are heavily influenced by Western culture,as evident in their fashion, speech, and entertainment choices. Although young people today are bombarded from various sides regarding self-improvement...
The Struggle to End the Practice of Female Genital Mutilation
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Female and male genital mutilation (FGM and MGM) are not characteristic of any society or any religion, or any country, or race or color, or ethnic group. Like the oppression of women and poor classes, they constitute an integral part of the political, economic, social, cultural, and religious systems preponderant in most of the world—west and east, north and south, Jewish, Christian,...
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Manoji was lying on the bamboo bed his mother had placed in the parlor, positioned in a strategic corner where he could see the sunlight, if and when he was able to turn his head to face the nsaa. Yes, the nsaa, the sun; the two who now watched obsessively over him ever since the people stopped coming, ever since the relatives fled. Manoji painstakingly turned his head, each movement an effort...
Prayers and Meditation Heal Despair
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When talking about healing, it is impossible to separate these four words: suffering, pain, prayers, and strength. We human beings are not meant to suffer; our lives should be enjoyed and fully lived. But there are times in every life when suffering and pain are unavoidable. For me it was when my family and my extended family were swept up in the civil...
Part 5. Taking a Stand: Women as Activists against War, Environmental Degradation, and Social Conflict
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The contributors to this section use writing as a tool of activism, seeking to open a window for readers into the issues of violence, social conflict, and environmental deterioration that plague many African countries. In “A Poem Written in the Ink of the Blood Shed in Rwanda,” Nathalie Etoké of Cameroon offers a fierce eulogy for the million dead in the Rwandan civil war of the 1990s,...
A Poem Written in the Ink of the Blood Shed in Rwanda, with Poet’s Note
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In “A Poem Written in the Ink of the Blood Shed in Rwanda,” I try to say the unspeakable. Through poetry, I want to see how one can confront the dichotomies of life, how one can transcend without undermining or negating the horror of the Rwandan genocide. Poetry gives me a psychological space where hope and reconciliation can be...
Excerpt from Biography of Ash
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There, where my body seemed to lie a great distance from me, I put my hand on my leg, on my fingers, and I couldn’t tell they were mine. My thighs. My legs. My waist. Everything was dry and withered. It was the dryness that scared me. Every time I placed my hand on a part of my body, it was as if I had placed it on a piece of damp wood. By the third day after I had been blindfolded, it seemed...
Women’s Responses to State Violence in the Niger Delta
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For nearly fifty years, Nigeria has been a militarized state, even when so-called civilian governments, including the present one, have been in power.* Militarization in this sense consists of the use of the threat of violence to settle political conflicts; the legitimization of state violence; the curtailment of freedom of opinion; the domination of military values over civilian life; the violation of...
Excerpt from Child Soldier: Fighting for My Life
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Editor’s note: We enter China’s story when she is eight years old, on her own, and is picked up by soldiers from the National Resistance Army (NRA), an opposition militia headed by Yoweri Museveni. China began her testimony with the following dedication: “I would like to dedicate this book to all child soldiers who are alive, and to those who didn’t make it. May your souls rest in peace.”...
Don’t Get Mad, Get Elected! A Conversation with Activist Wangari Maathai (Kenya)
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Jailed, harassed, and vilified by the autocratic regime of former President Daniel arap Moi, Wangari Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM) of Kenya, which has supported the planting by women of over twenty million trees in that country since 1977, while also advocating for better governance and human rights. In December 2002 Maathai was elected to Kenya’s...
Part 6. Writing from a Different Place: Perspectives on Exile and Diaspora
This section opens up the complex terrain of African women in the diaspora, as women from four different African countries reflect on their experiences living abroad, which force them to confront racial discrimination, cultural miscommunication, and the gradual shaping of a new definition of what it means to be an African woman living outside of...
Musings of an African Woman: Excerpts from a Memoir in Progress
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It is 12:16 a.m. on Wednesday morning—the day on which I was born. To us Ghanaians this is very important since most of us are named according to this day. I have just finished reading the preface and some of the introduction to a book written by one of my professors from college. I finally sign my name in a book that I have owned for almost four years. Without thinking I sign “Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe” with oomph;...
A Moroccan Woman in the Glocal Village: Reflections on Islam, Identity, and Cultural Legacies
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I grew up in Morocco, in the city of Fes. Located at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, Morocco is widely known to Americans through the media, which often features exotic scenes of its old medina and its folkloric spectacles. Paul Bowles’s novel about Morocco, The Sheltering Sky, was adapted for the screen; Moroccan filmmaker M. A. Tazi’s films are available on DVD....
Knowing Your Place
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In the spring of 1980, a few months before my birth, Gloria Anzaldúa wrote a letter addressed to “Third World Women Writers.” This letter, published as “Speaking in Tongues,” has only just reached me. Perhaps I was not ready for it until now. Gloria writes: “Throw away abstraction and the academic learning, the rules, the map and compass. Feel your way without blinders. To touch more...
Letter to Clara
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I thought I had already forgotten you. However, as I look at this painting, I realize that it was no more than self-delusion. A year later, your barb is still stuck in my skin, my flesh, and my blood. A sentence. A mere sentence. I thought I had it all, but it took only a single sentence of yours to annihilate my happiness. Maybe they were right, those ancients...
Part 7. Standing at the Edge of Time: African Women’s Visions of the Past, Present, and Future
In this final section, we present the transcription of a roundtable presentation and discussion held at the Center for African Studies at Rutgers University on April 4, 2007. For this roundtable, which was moderated by Dr. Abena P. A. Busia, two of the anthology editors, Pauline Dongala and Omotayo Jolaosho, were joined by contributor Marame Gueye and Rutgers graduate student in...
“We Are Our Grandmothers’ Dreams”: African Women Envision the Future
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Good afternoon, everybody, I’m very glad to see you all here.* We have with us today at our roundtable discussion some of the editors and contributors to this wonderful forthcoming volume, African Women Writing Resistance, who are going to share with us their visions for a future for Africa and especially for Africa’s women. This is very important because, as those of us who work in...
Suggestions for Further Reading
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Page Count: 337
Publication Year: 2010