Mariama Bâ: the First African Feminist Writer

Mariama Bâ
Mariama Bâ

I have wanted to write about Mariama Bâ for the longest time. She is a writer from Senegal… she is the author of “Une Si Longue Lettre” [So Long a Letter], and “Chant Ecarlate[Scarlet Song]. Her book “Une si Longue Lettre” [So Long a Letter] is considered by many as being the first truly African feminist book, as it describes the woman’s condition in an African and Muslim society. It talks about the place of the woman in society, the effect on polygamy on women and society, and the clash between modernism and traditions. It is written as a letter from a widow Ramatoulaye to her best friend Aissatou who left her husband when he decided to marry a second wife. This book really describes the feminine condition in Africa, and was truly the first to address so overtly the woman’s hurdle in African society. Six months after the publication of “Une Si Longue Lettre,” Mariama Ba passed away… and her novel “Chant Ecarlate” was published posthumously.

Une Si Longue lettre
Une Si Longue lettre

Chant Ecarlate [Scarlet Song] also deals with feminine conditions, but addresses more the clash between two different cultures the European (of the protagonist Mireille), and the African (of Mireille’s husband), and again polygamy. I always felt deeply connected to Bâ’s first book, and always wondered what a great loss African literature suffered when she left. She will always be an inspiration for many: orphan from her mother, raised by her father and grand-parents, mother of nine children, divorcée, professor, highly educated woman, she embodied the strength and determination that can so clearly be seen in African women. Today, “Une Si Longue Lettre” is an African classic, read in all schools across the continent, and translated in numerous languages. We are forever grateful for her work… she opened the door to many bold young African female writers.

Scarlet Song
Scarlet Song

The following is an interview that Mariama Bâ gave to Alioune Toure Dia for the magazine Amina in November 1979: Interview de Mariama Bâ à Amina. Relax and enjoy!

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