Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Efua Sutherland did not just begin writing after inspiring ideas and thoughts nudged her mind or after scribbling about. It was deliberate. She, as a conscientious teacher, stepped in, in time, to bridge a widening gap in her country, Ghana's education system, which was then under British rule.
At the age of 26, in 1951, Sutherland began writing. The gaps in Ghana's education system was apparent. She was greatly dismayed by the state of affairs, especially of literature.
"It had nothing to do with their environment, their social circumstances or anything. And so I started writing."
Sutherland died aged 71 in 1996 and today, she is celebrated in Africa as one of the most acclaimed literary figures, who has demonstrated her literary prowess as a poet, as a children's book author, and more popularly as a playwright. Her three plays Foriwa, Edufa and The Marriage of Anansewa place her as one of Africa's most influential dramatists.
But, outside Africa, Sutherland remains mostly unknown despite being a twentieth century iconoclast. Soon after Ghana became independent, in 1957, she set up the Ghana Society of writers and went on to found the Ghana Drama Studio, the Ghana Experimental Theatre, a project called the Kodzidan to mean the Story House and a literary magazine Okyeame.
Here, is where a problem possibly lies: In categorising and titling a prominent literary figure such as Efua Theodora Sutherland, like in the case of many other such scholars from non-native English speaking countries, learning and scholarship are restrained and prevented from proliferating.
Why is Sutherland not described plainly as a writer? Sutherland is straightjacketed as an African writer, a woman writer etc., like many others from non-native English speaking regions, too, who get bracketed as Indian, Latin American and so on and so forth, writers. Consequently, Sutherland's work is not easily available or accessible in countries outside Africa, much like the fate of other writers discussed here, such as SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ, ABU KHALIL QABBANI and CHIKAMATSU MONZAEMON.
The reluctance to stack obscure literature in bookstores is only a secondary problem. The interaction between supply and demand of such literature needs to be addressed at an academic discipline level. This, though an alarming concern, is comfortably overlooked and is one that will easily remain unchecked for a long while.
The implications, of containing literary figures and subject scholars, on knowledge dissemination are enormous, especially, when globalisation of education and job market is on a steep rise, and more and more people are effortlessly becoming seemingly transnationals. The dangers of this we have been aware of for some time, the most recent being the Black Lives Matter movement.
The increasing rigidity and intolerance among us when cultures meet and merge, could to a large extent be attributed to the distinct academic imperialism. Although climate change is touted as the main threat to humanity and international security, academic imperialism, too, is an imminent threat to humanity as well as to national and international security.
Today's polarising world is primarily the result of academic imperialism, set off, initially, by Western education and presently, by the anglophone countries as well as countries steered by fundamentalist opinions.