top of page
  • Muhammed Abdalla Khazin

The Woman Writer in African Literature: The Case of Mariama Ba

African literature has an important place in world literature. When it comes to African literature, there are monumental figures you should know. For example, it is possible to see writers such as Necip Mahfuz from Egypt, Tayyip Salih and Abdul Aziz Baraka Sakin from Sudan, Chinua Achebe from Nigeria, Mohamed Choukri from Morocco, Aboul Qacem Echebbi from Tonus, Nadine Gordimer from South Africa and Mariama Ba from Senegal. These valuable writers have contributed important works to African literature. African literature is a vast field and is written in many languages.

Women Writers in African Literature

In African literature, most of the works have been written by male authors, but others have been colored by female authors. There are many literary figures who can be considered as women writers in African literature. For example, Zambian Zukiswa Wanner, Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, South African Olive Schreiner, Somali Waris Dirie, and Senegalese Mariama Ba, among others. African women writers have produced various literary genres such as novels, essays, short stories, articles, journals, screenplays and plays from past to present. For this reason, women writers have become a "sine qua non" of African literature. Senegalese literature plays a major role in this diverse and colorful African literature. From past to present, Senegalese literature has presented different writers and poets to African literature. In this article, we will talk about one of Senegal's most important writers, Marima Ba.

Women Writers in the African Novel, The Case of Mariama Ba

Marima Ba is one of Senegal's most important artists and has made a major contribution to Senegalese Literature and African Literature in particular. This precious writer "Marima Ba made a dramatic entrance on the African literary scene with A Long Letter. She was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal. Unlike women of her generation, she studied at the Ecole Normal for girls in Rufisgue. She was raised by her grandparents. During vacations, she attended the Qur'anic Course. Ba started writing at school. Her first articles have a critical view of society, which later became her style. As a women's rights organizer, she joined many associations founded by Senegalese women. Her efforts to eliminate the inequality between men and women led her to write A Long Letter."

Ba begins her novel A Long Letter with the sentence, "Dear Aissatou, I received your letter and I begin this diary as a reply." At the end of the novel, he said: "The word 'happiness' really has a meaning, doesn't it? I will look for it. I think I have written a very long letter again..."

As you can see, the novel starts with very impressive sentences. This work contains a different flavor on every page and every line. This novel gives the reader the feeling of living in Senegal in the middle of the 20th century and impresses the reader with the simplicity of the narration and the beauty of the descriptions. While reading the novel, it is possible to think deep thoughts and feel sad and even cry at times. You can watch the frustration of the character Ramatoulaye in the novel. On the other hand, you can draw strength from the courage of the beloved character Aissatou and feel the same way. You can take away from this novel the message that it is possible to do and achieve anything in the world. A Long Letter is considered one of Ba's most beautiful works. A Long Letter is as simple and elegant as its author. After reading this novel, it is possible to understand the life and thought of Senegalese women, to observe the way of life of its people and the fusion of different communities, as well as to know the wonderful traditions of the people of Senegal. This novel is a good work to be a lens to get to know Senegal closely.

In this novel written by Mariama Ba, women's freedom is emphasized. She stated that women are one of the entrepreneurs of the community rather than being housewives. She stated that women should take part in both the state and political parties. He did not consider it healthy for a man to marry more than one woman. On the one hand, the author did not approve of some traditions of the Senegalese nation. For example, he stated that some communities spend a lot of money for the funeral ceremony after a person dies. He said the following about this situation: "I think of how many lives could have been saved if the relative or friend of the deceased had bought the necessary medicine or hospitalized the person before spending that money on the funeral." Ba criticized many customs, not just the one mentioned above. She explained that women in particular are harmed by these customs. For example, after the death of a woman's husband, his siblings and close relatives receive a large share of the inheritance, while his wife receives a smaller share. Marima Ba considered this situation as unconstructive.

Feminist Discourses and Characters in Ba's novel A Long Letter

After her husband Modou died, the character Ramatoulaye realized that the division of inheritance was not done correctly. Before Ramatoulaye's husband Modou died, the house they were living in was bought jointly with her husband. For this, "even though the papers of the house are in Modou's name, it is our joint property: it was bought with what we both earned together. It's unfair, and it's dirty on top of that." Mariama Ba considers that some customs and traditions deny women their rights, which she characterizes as a great oppression.

The character Ramatoulaye is a very beautiful widow. Even when this beautiful woman was young, many people asked her to marry them. For example, a character named Daouda Dieng wanted to settle down with her. But for a number of reasons this did not happen. Ramatoulaye married Modou and stayed with him for 25 years. Despite being married for a quarter of a century, she remained beautiful even after her husband's death. The reason why this woman remained as beautiful as she was can be found in a quote: "I like the cleanliness of me. I think cleanliness must be one of the most important qualities of a woman, since she is so attractive to so many eyes. Even the humblest cottage looks nice when it is clean, and even the most luxurious environment has no charm when it is covered with dust." Because the character of Ramatoulaye was both elegant, gracious and clean, after her husband Modou passed away, several people wanted to marry her. But Ramatoulaye refused this time too. Because she thought "a woman should marry the man who loves her". He believed that a person would find more peace if she married the person she loved. He thinks that loving and being loved is the secret of happiness.

After Ramatoulaye's husband passed away, many people came to ask for her. This did not make her happy, on the contrary, she felt pressured. Her constant rejection of offers led to her being called a lioness and a madwoman in the city. Affected by this, Ramatoulaye sent a letter to his friend Aissatou in which he said: "Aissatou, I cannot find peace even in wet clothes."

The character Aissatou does not think like Ramatoulaye. He thinks that Ramatoulaye should marry another man, that she should accept one of the proposals that come to her. In a letter to Ramatoulaye, Aissatou says the following: "Who do you think you are, you have dared to break the Woleré. You are pushing your luck; Daouda Dieng is a rich man, a deputy, a doctor, in your age group and he has only one wife. He promises you security, love and you refuse. Most women of Daba's age would want to be in your shoes. You say you have your reasons. You say you need love, not bread. If he wants your heart to beat fast. You need flowers too, don't you, just like in the movies." Although this answer made perfect sense to Ramatoulaye, he did not accept it. As a widow, Ramatoulaye no longer intends to get married. This may be because of the pressure she feels from the society or the problems she had with inheritance after her husband's death.

What attracted my attention in the novel is that Mariama Ba, while showing the heroines of the novel, shows women as happy and contented to be women. She also portrays women as strong and brave. One of the letters between Aissatou and Ramatoulaye is exemplary in this regard: "Oh to be a woman, to live a woman's life. Ah Aissstou."

In Mariama Ba's novel, Ramatoulaye is evaluated in terms of being an enlightened woman and fighting for women. The author has made a strong defense for women to have a voice through the characters. Based on Ba's work, she uses the characters of Ramatoulaye and Aisstou to give place to feminism.

Through these characters, she explained the broad notion of the feminist movement and announced the need for women representatives in the National Assembly. For example, Ramatoulaye's speech in the National Assembly, where she was called a feminist, is clear evidence of her advocacy of feminism when she said: "We have the same right to education as men, and we should be able to pursue it to the limits of our intelligence. We have the right to well-paid jobs and the same opportunities."

According to Mariama Ba, she did not prefer a woman to be present only in the national assembly. More precisely, the author asked questions such as "when will we have the first female prime minister who will contribute to the development of the country... when will education be based on children's abilities and not on their gender?" and asked for answers. In addition to addressing the above-mentioned issues of marriage and the feminist movement, Mariama also mentioned the issue of divorce. "The institution we call 'the institution of marriage' is not a chain. It is only a joint decision for the course of life. In this case, if one of the partners is no longer satisfied with this union, why should he or she continue it? It could be Abou (his wife) or me. Why not? The woman can also be the one who decides to leave."

Mariama Ba treated the protagonists of the novel as characters who advocate feminism. In addition to all these, she has given the character of Ramatoulaye the role of a cultured; strong, understanding, educated and politician woman. In this novel, Ba focuses more on the feminist movement and politics. "If only men are active in parties, why should they think about women? It's only natural that the person who divides the cake should keep the biggest piece for himself".


Mariama Ba, Uzun Bir Mektup, Kaknüs Yayınları, 2. basım: İstanbul 2016.

96 görüntüleme


bottom of page