How does one begin to define a woman? Maybe because of the kind of power a woman has, a woman could be defined as “woe” to man. A woman is also termed to be a “necessary evil.” The only human being possessed with such innermost, unique power to make things happen, even from infancy, is a woman. There is a popular saying that, “women, you can’t live with them and yet, you can’t live without them.”
The Almighty God blessed us women with this unique gift and yet made us submissive to the men. This is to stamp His authority on earth through the men. This is also a way to tame the glory of the female power. The women are also the child-bearers, and the Almighty God has blessed us with the ability to also bear the deeply excruciating pain of childbirth. The female power lies on our bodies, our scent and our choice of words. All these bring out our charm.
As earlier said, since women possess the power to make things happen, there are great women of history. A young Vietnamese peasant woman, Trieu Thi Trinh, in 248 AD, imagined a different way of being a woman. She told her brother:
“My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I want to drive the enemy away to save our people. I will not resign myself to the usual lot of women, who bow their heads and become concubines.”
True to her words, she led an uprising with her brother against the Chinese overlords which drove them from their lands. When they returned with reinforcement, she took her life rather than submit to serfdom. Bowbowthain noted that Aicha, Prophet Mohammed’s third wife, went to battle against the Khalife in 656 AD and made religious laws. Rowbotham noted that Maria Stewart was the first black woman to speak in public on Civil and Women Rights in 1832. In 1848, Lucretia Moth called the Senacia Falls Convention to demand women’s rights. In 1846, she challenged the hypocrisy of a domestic sphere as a means of controlling women. According to her, “man forms our custody, our laws and our opinions for us.”
In Nigeria, we have Queen Amina of Zazzau who reigned in 16th century Hausaland. Apart from her numerous conquests and annexation of several states, she controlled trade passing through Western Sudan. In Mauritania, Queen Daha Al-Mahina in the 7th century fiercely resisted Arab invasion. The heroic Queen Nzinga of Mbudu Kingdom of Matemba spent her lifetime fighting the Portuguese who were making in-roads into her territory (“Empowering Women For National Development” in “Nigerian Socio-Political Development: Issues & Problems”). Did you know that the all-historic Trojan War was caused by a woman, the popular, seductive Helen of Troy? Remember Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her power over Caesar and Mark Anthony.
Women even excelled in the literary arts. In 1773, the first book by a black woman ever published appeared in London. Its author, Philis Wheatly was a 19-year-old slave girl who wrote poetry from Boston. Her work contributed to a movement which was victorious in 1807 to end the British slave trade. Benjamin Njoku recalled the discussion he had with Buchi Emecheta (“An evening with Buchi Emecheta at the British Council…” Sunday Vanguard, December 15, 2002):
“She began her sermon that evening by reliving memories of her childhood days and how destiny through hard work and determination had been able to raise her from grass to grace. According to her, life began on a rough note. At her birth in 1944, she lost her father, a railway worker. As a child then, she recalled how her brilliancy earned her a scholarship to study at the prestigious Methodist Girls’ High School, Lagos and how she was compelled by fate to marry at a very tender age. Her marriage eventually took her to London, where she later divorced her husband six years after, and was left with five children to cater for.” Benjamin also gave an account on her rigorous life as a literary writer, and that her “writings (dwelt) on the portrayal of the African woman.” I personally may not have read her “The Joys of Motherhood”, but I believe the title of the book speaks for itself.
The combination of Mcphilips Nwachukwu and Benjamin Njoku conducted an interview with Mabel Segun, who is termed to be the “mother of children literature” (“The other side of Mabel Segun: A literary conversation…” Sunday Vanguard, January 16, 2005, continued January 23, 2005). In the “conversation”, she said that she started writing in the mid-40s when she was still a schoolgirl. She was writing short stories in the Sunday Times sometime in 1957. She said she was writing about women, but most especially against some of the customs that seemed to be designed to militate against women, their lives and nature as mothers, and as human beings generally. Mabel Segun does not consider herself to be a feminist and she hates to identity herself with the feminist struggle. She is a prolific reader, was a broadcaster and as well was a sportswoman during her schooldays. I personally did a review of her not too well-known poem “Corruption”, (“A review of Mabel Segun’s “Corruption”, The Pointer, Thursday, January 26, 2006) of which I heard that a rejoinder of that poem was made by a certain John Ikwere, a sort of reaction.
Tracie Chima Utoh, a lecturer of Theatre Arts at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, also spoke with Benjamin Njoku (“There’s urgent need to weed out forces detrimental to women emancipation – Chima Utoh”, Sunday Vanguard, July 25, 2004). She is an award-winning playwright, she studied Dramatic Arts and Music in her first degree at the Obafemi Awolowo University, formerly University of Ife, in 1986 and did her Master’s degree at the University of Jos. At the time of the interview, she was doing her doctoral degree in Theatre Arts at the University of Port-Harcourt. Her works have varied themes, but basically, they all treat contemporary issues. Most of her works have gender undertones. She spoke extensively on one of her plays titled “Who Owns This Coffin?” saying that the play talked about the women movement and the problems within the system:
“…I am saying the women movement have their problems. But, I don’t believe that a movement can really continue if you do not cleanse the system. And that is why I am saying that women should clear up the movement, have women who are genuinely committed to the cause of gender equality in the society.”
Tracie said that another of her plays “Our Wives Have Gone Mad Again” is presently in the JSSIII syllables approved by the Anambra State Ministry of Education and is currently being used for the JSS examinations.
There was a time Helon Habila was in London on the invitation of the African Centre for a literary tour. He met Ama Ata Aidoo, another distinguished Ghanaian playwright, on that same tour, and she granted him an interview in her hotel room in Hull (“African writers are marginalized – Ama Ata Aidoo”, Sunday Vanguard, December 2, 2001). There was a time in her life that she contributed a story for a competition for a Christmas story of which the winning story would be published in the Daily Graphic, Ghana’s oldest newspaper. Her story won the competition and got published. She could recall what her story was about:
“I remember the story quite well. I had heard about a black man, an African, who was one of the Magi, you know, the three wise men who went to worship the infant Lord. I think I was always a nationalist, I think I had my nationalist feelings and sensibilities fairly early, because it seemed to have somehow bothered me somehow. Of course, I wasn’t aware of it then, but thinking back, it seemed to have bothered me then that we had been Christianised by Europeans, you know, and when I heard that one of the Magi was an African, I suppose I was wondering, like, how come, if we were really there, back then, at the birth of Christ, how come we waited for all these centuries before the Europeans came. One of the explanations had been given from the story, from my story, it tells of this African who had been a wise man, but somehow, when they were returning from Bethlehem after the birth of Christ, while crossing the desert, had perished, you know, from thirst, because he had ran out of water and so on and on forth… I made him die at the gates of ancient Timbuktu.”
Ama recalled that her first work “The Dilemma Of A Ghost” was first produced and published as a book before it was produced as a play during her final year in the university around 1964. In actual fact, “The Dilemma Of A Ghost” was her first work published in 1965 after the Longmann representative in Accra saw the production. She argued that African literature is still very much marginalized, but she recognised the efforts put in by some certain figures who have shot through, people like the Nobel Prize winners: Wole Soyinka, Mafouz and Gordimer.
To be concluded…