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Toward A Certain Liberation by Mary Ashun

August 3, 2011

Dr. Mary Ashun, who also writes under the names Asabea Ashun and Abena Apea, is Assistant Professor of Education at Redeemer University College, Ontario. She is the author of Mistress of the Game (Kente Publishing, Ghana)and The Adventures of Kobby Badu-Smith (Kente Publishing, Ghana, and her new book This African Child is agented by The Bukowski Agency, Toronto. She is the creator of (and the host for)  the literary show Book ‘Em TV on Rogers TV.
Visit her website at

“There’s an African proverb about a lion, a wolf and a fox—three ‘friends’ that go hunting. Everyone is hungry after the chase and they finally settle down to share the sumptuous meal they all deserve to have. The lion asks the wolf to give a portion of the spoils to each of them. The wolf does so, reserving the best portion for himself. The lion raises one of his mighty paws in anger and kills the wolf, after which he asks the fox to ‘share the meat better’. The fox gives everything to the lion, an action that surprises the latter. “When did you learn such wisdom?” the lion asks. “When I heard the wolf’s head crack,” replied the wily fox.

Ah…to be fox-y…

The only female writer I remember having to read in High School Literature class was Ama Ata Aidoo, author of Changes; every other writer was male. In my teen mind, women didn’t get published–otherwise there’d be more of them. Aidoo’s stories chronicling the challenges and achievements of her female characters have always taught me something about the reality of being a woman in postcolonial Africa, 21st century Africa or the Diaspora. I’m trying to be like the fox in learning from the experiences of female writers but lately, I’ve become acutely aware that for me, there’s always going to be another layer; being a woman of colour. No lie—the stories I want to tell don’t often jive with what my western audience wants to hear. I don’t want to write about African women in slavery, African women with AIDS or African daughters sold as brides for five cowrie shells, some kola nuts and a cow. I’m not saying they don’t exist—they do, but they’re not all that African women are about. I’m drawn to give voice to narratives that explore why an African-born woman living in Canada, is afraid of losing her ‘Africanness’ —whatever that is —and why a dark skinned woman has three children with three different men – all white – because she thinks the tanned look of biracial children is superior. I want to tell the story of the widowed woman in a village who is quietly building a business empire based on shea butter, as well as the African woman whose husband buys her flowers every week because…he just loves her. Which makes it disconcerting when an agent or editor says,

“Lovely…but this writing isn’t African is it? – Isn’t someone going to flee something?”

How can I march with my global sisters towards total liberation when I don’t write stories of the liberated? A friend recently read the first draft of a novel I’m writing (it’s tentatively called ‘Serwa Akoto’s Diary’) and made an acute  observation; (try to say this with an African accent).

“Ei, be careful ohhhh….you always have this strong, no nonsense type woman in all your stories ohhhhhh!”

As if that’s a bad thing, I retort. Why not write about the strength of a woman? Why not show how deeply women think about themselves, their men, their children and their lives?

My grandmother Nana, an unschooled farmer, was the first feminist I ever knew, and she looms large in my work. Nana left me her oral proverbs because she couldn’t write in English. In a culture where she knew I’d constantly be reminded that a man was the de facto head of the family, she would remind me that power resided in the neck.

“…have you ever seen a head move by itself? The neck turns the head whichever way the neck thinks best.”

I think she’d be charmed to read what I now write. High Five Nana!”


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  1. Lovely post. “Isn’t someone going to flee something?” is almost funny. I think, that unfortunately this mindset is widespread among white people in the US regarding Africa (and apparently in Canada, too.) Just yesterday I had a conversation with someone in which I found myself saying, Yes, but there is plenty of happiness and stability in Africa. We just don’t hear about it. I wish you great success in telling these stories!!

  2. Thanks so much Helen…I really appreciate it! The media hasn’t been too kind to Africa either has it? Much of the sadness is broadcast over the bulk of the happiness and stability you mentioned. My students take internships in Ghana so I get to go there at least once a year, something I look forward to tremendously since I am so pumped on meeting women who are CEO’s of their own companies, ministers in government, farmers teaching themselves to read, writers pushing the limits of ‘acceptable’ literature…the list is endless! Until the public stops patronizing stories with primarily ‘fleeing’ narratives….
    I will not be despondent! Thanks very very much for the encouragement – it is amazing to be in the company of amazing women such as yourself!

  3. Thank you! I’m honored. Keep telling your powerful stories. the more you and your sisters speak out, the more ground we’ll all gain. (I’d love to see a comic story about that agent/editor!)

  4. Nana-Kwadwo Biritwum permalink

    Hi Mary, could not help visiting your blog. Are your books easily accessible and affordable? I don’t want to ask for a complimentary copy but I’m just about finishing a book by Elizabeth-Irene Baiti….. should ring a bell and could do with more books by familiar faces.
    Congrats and keep going!
    Nana-Kwadwo Biritwum

    • Hi Nana
      So good to hear from you! Elizabeth Irene’s book was really good – I got a copy inGhana when I visited in May and she and I had lunch.
      Yes my books are accessible and affordable (hehehehe) – where are you? In North America, they’re on Amazon and in Ghana, they’re at the Accra Mall..I’ll be at the Lifestyles Store (bookstore) at the end of September.

  5. Abena permalink

    Mary… as usual you inspire me. I love your writing and love reading stories of liberated people and excitement in ‘normal lives’.

  6. Ewurama Sandra Thompson permalink

    Oh yes! I do relate to this excellent piece Mary. I can’t wait to read Serwah Akoto.
    I’m so so proud of you!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Gender Across Borders » Blog Archive » Talking about Women in the Middle East by Jillian Schedneck
  2. One-on-One With Ghanaian Writer, Dr. Mary A. Ashun « Geosi Reads
  3. Toward A Certain Liberation | Cornelia Principal

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