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Efua Sutherland

Efua Sutherland Ghanaian playwriter

Ghanaian playwriter
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Ghanaian playwriter
A.K.A. Efua Theodora Morgue
Was Writer Poet Playwright Educator Children's writer
From Ghana
Type Academia Film, Television, Stage and Radio Literature
Gender female
Birth 27 June 1924, Cape Coast, Central Region, Ghana
Death 2 January 1996, Accra, Greater Accra Region, Ghana (aged 71 years)
Efua Sutherland
The details
Biography

Efua Theodora Sutherland (27 June 1924 – 2 January 1996) was a Ghanaian playwright, director, children's author, poet and dramatist. Her best-known works include Foriwa (1962), Edufa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975). She founded the Ghana Drama Studio, the Ghana Society of Writers, the Ghana Experimental Theatre, and a community project called the Kodzidan (Story House). As the earliest Ghanaian playwright-director and a popular broadcaster, she was an influential figure in the establishment of modern Ghanaian theatre, and helped to establish the study of African performance traditions at university level. She was also a pioneering publisher, establishing the company Afram Publications in the 1970s.

She was an influential cultural advocate for children from the early 1950s until her death, and played a major role in developing educational curricula, literature, theatre and film for and about Ghanaian children.

Life and career

She was born Efua Theodora Morgue in Cape Coast, Gold Coast (now Ghana), where she studied teaching at St Monica's School and Training College in Mampong. She then went to England to continue her education at Homerton College, Cambridge University — one of the first African women to study there — and at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

Returning to Ghana in 1951, she taught first at Fijai Secondary School at Sekondi, then at St. Monica's School (1951–54), and also began writing for children. In 1954 she married Bill Sutherland, an African American and pan-Africanist who in 1953 had moved to Ghana (they would have three children: educationalist Esi Sutherland-Addy, architect Ralph Sutherland, and lawyer Amowi Sutherland Phillips) and she helped her husband in the establishment of a school in the Transvolta area.

When the Gold Coast became the independent nation of Ghana in 1957, Efua Sutherland organized the Ghana Society of Writers (later the Association of Ghana Writers), which in 1960 brought out the first issue of the literary magazine Okyeame, of which she eventually became editor.

During this time Sutherland experimented with drama, founding in 1958 the Experimental Theatre Players, which was a workshop for writers of children's literature, and later became the Ghana Drama Studio, with Joe de Graft as its first director. Sited in Accra, the Drama Studio soon became a training ground for Ghanaian playwrights and went on to become part of the University of Ghana, with Sutherland taking on the role of Researcher in the new School of Performing Arts. It is now the Writer's Workshop in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon. In 1962 she joined the staff of the new School of Music and Drama, headed by J. H. Kwabena Nketia. In 1963 she also became a research fellow in literature and drama at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. Also concerned with traditional storytelling and developing community theatre, she founded the Kodzidan (Story House) in Ekumfi-Atiwa, Central Region.

Sutherland was a great help author and activist Maya Angelou when she lived and worked in Ghana in the 1960s, and is affectionately featured in Angelou's fifth volume of memoirs, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes.

In the early 1970s, Sutherland co-founded the publishing company Afram Publications, which was incorporated in 1973, and in March 1974 began operating from her private studio in "Araba Mansa", her compound at Dzorwulu, Accra. Sutherland remained involved in Afram's editorial work until her death.

In the mid-1980s, she mooted the idea of holding a pan-African historical theatre festival in Ghana as a cultural vehicle for bringing together Africans on the continent and in the diaspora; it came to fruition as Panafest, which was first held in 1992.

She presided over Ghana's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and chaired the National Commission on Children from 1981 to 1991. She established the legal framework and laid the groundwork for the Mmofra Foundation, active since 1997 as a non-profit organization in Accra dedicated to enriching the cultural and intellectual lives of all children in Ghana.

Efua Sutherland died in Accra aged 71 in 1996.

Works

Sutherland experimented creatively with storytelling and other dramatic forms from indigenous Ghanaian traditions. Her plays were often based on traditional stories, but also borrowed from Western literature, transforming African folktale conventions into modern dramatic theatre techniques. Many of her poems and other writings were broadcast on The Singing Net, a popular radio programme started by Henry Swanzy, and were subsequently published in his 1958 anthology Voices of Ghana. The 1960 first issue of Okyeame magazine contains her short story "Samantaase", a retelling of a folktale. Her best known plays are Edufa (1967) (based on Alcestis by Euripides), Foriwa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975).

In Edufa the eponymous character seeks to escape death by manipulating his wife, Ampoma, to the death that has been predicted for him by oracles. In the play, Sutherland uses traditional Ghanaian beliefs in divination and the interaction of traditional and European ceremonies in order to portray Edufa as a rich and successful modern person who is held in high esteem by his people. The play uses traditional ritual and symbolism, but the story is told in the context of Edufa's capitalistic abandonment of his moral commitment to his wife, while his wife and the other women favour the morality of the past.

In Foriwa the eponymous character, who is the daughter of the queen mother of Kyerefaso, and Labaran, a graduate from northern Ghana who lives a simple life, bring enlightenment to Kyerefaso, a town that has become backward and ignorant because the town's elders refuse to learn new ways. Foriwa's main theme is the alliance of old traditions and new ways. The play has a national theme to promote a new national spirit in Ghana that would encourage openness to new ideas and inter-ethnic cooperation.

The Marriage of Anansewa: A Storytelling Drama (1975) is considered Sutherland's most valuable contribution to Ghanaian drama and theater. In the play, she transmutes traditional Akan Ananse Spider tales (Anansesem) into a new dramatic structure, which she calls Anansegoro. Nyamekye (a version of Alice in Wonderland), one of her later plays, shows how she was influenced by the folk opera tradition.

Sutherland was also an author of works for children. These works included two animated rhythm plays, Vulture! Vulture! and Tahinta (1968), and two pictorial essays, with photographs by Willis Bell (1924–2000): Playtime in Africa (1960) and The Roadmakers (1961). Many of her short stories can be described as rhythmic prose poems. The Voice in the Forest, a book of the folklore and fairytales of Ghana, was published in 1983.

Playtime in Africa has been described "a groundbreaking book on Ghana's play culture", which Sutherland considered important for in developing young minds and bodies.

Legacy

Efua Sutherland Children Park. Located near the centre of Accra, this is the Accra equivalent of Central Park, only very much smaller.
  • A 12-acre space in central Accra reserved as a children’s park in central Accra through the advocacy of Efua Sutherland and it is named after her.
  • Efua Sutherlandstraat is one of a number of streets in an area of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, named after significant women writers and activists.
  • The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan African Cultural Activism, a volume in her honour was published in 2007, edited by Anne V. Adams and Esi Sutherland-Addy.

Selected bibliography

  • with Willis E. Bell, The Roadmakers: a picture book of Ghana(for children). Accra: Ghana Information Services / London: Newman Neame, 1961, 1963
  • with Willis E. Bell, Playtime in Africa (for children), New York: Atheneum, 1962
  • Edufa (play), Longman, 1967
  • Foriwa: A Play in Three Acts, Accra-Tema: State Publishing Corporation, 1967
  • Tahinta (1968)
  • Vulture! Vulture! and Tahina: Two Rhythm Plays, Tema: Ghana Publishing House, 1968
  • Odasani (play), Accra: Anowuo Educational Publications, 1969
  • with Willis Bell, The Original Bob: The Story of Bob Johnson, Ghana's Ace Comedian (play), Accra: Anowuo Educational Publications, 1970
  • Anansegoro: Story-Telling Drama in Ghana, Accra: Afram, 1975
  • The Marriage of Anansewa (play), London: Longman, 1977, 1980; Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1980
  • The Voice in the Forest: A Tale from Ghana, Philomel Books, 1983
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