February 28, 2024
This is a comprehensive biography of a great female writer, Mariama Ba. Take your time to peruse. You can add anything you feel we didn't add at the comment box.

THE BIOGRAPHY OF MARIAMA BÂ

In the 1960s, Senegal was a new, independent nation. It had previously been ruled in succession by the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the French, becoming a part of French West Africa around half a century earlier. With independence, Senegal struggled to create its own cultural identity. In 1963, the young nation wrote its first constitution, and three years later its only political party became the Senegalese Progressive Union. About a decade later, a three-party political system was introduced.

After being citizens of French West Africa for many years, many individuals had assimilated to aspects of French culture with its norms. As a result, the nation created a unique blend of Islamic religious beliefs and practices, African cultural norms and French influence, resulting in the Senegalese values that are still a hybrid of practices today. While different, all three cultures – African, French and Muslim – have traditionally viewed women as a subordinate sex whose primary responsibilities are domestic and who live in the shadows of their husbands. Mariama Bâ used her novels, influenced by her personal experience as a Muslim women living in postcolonial Africa, to reveal the unjust treatment of women justified by a patriarchal society, polygamous practices, and certain Muslim traditions.

Leopold Sedar Senghor, the first president of Senegal, believed in assimilation and supported the continued use of French as Senegal’s national official language with the result that indigenous languages were repressed. He was a renowned poet in French – having mastered the French language while studying in France during the colonial period — and he believed that independence would bring about a partnership between Africa and the West.
A giant literary figure in his own right — strictly speaking, Senghor who started the Negritude literary movement in 1920’s is Bâ’s literary forebear. But his writings did not address the issues African women in Senegal face. Once Senghor took office, resistance to the French language and education system, which had begun years prior when Senegal was still a French colony, increased. [1] Senghor’s adherence to French language and culture resulted in a form of repression that hindered the progression of Senegalese culture, while citizens and nation alike struggled to find their own unique identity.

While embodying aspects of African and French culture, Senegal was a primarily Muslim nation, and Islamic practices and beliefs played a large role in forming the nation’s identity. Senegal primarily embraces Sunni Islam, sharing some common takes on the different interpretations of the Quran, and believes strongly in the practice of purdah. Purdah involves women living behind a curtain or in a different room, and dressing conservatively in order to stay out of the sight of men.

LIFETIME
While Senegal was negotiating its values as a nation, Mariama Bâ was going through a similar personal journey – discovering her role as a Senegalese and Muslim woman. Born in the capital of Senegal in 1929, she lived with her grandparents from a young age. While obtaining her early education, in French, she simultaneously attended a Koranic school. These are religious schools common throughout Muslim countries that teach the Koran. In the French school, Mariama Bâ showed she was an extremely intelligent student, receiving the highest exam score for all of colonial French West Africa at age fourteen. Bâ had to fight to continue her education past primary school when living under the traditional roof of her grandparents. It was common for women to receive an education in Senegal and the Koran’s stance on women in education is widely debated, with different groups within the Muslim religion taking different stances on the issue – even across Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. One interpretation is as follows:

Allah says in the Koran, “And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight, and hearts that you might give thanks (to Allah)” (An-Nahl, 78). The link of the key words (knowing nothing and giving thanks) in the two sentences of the above is a clear indication of exploration and seeking knowledge. It may be noticed that there is no preferred sex indication in the verse (Taj Khan 2016, 340). [2]

Much of what influences the individual interpretation of the Koran relates to the pronouns used, and whether these pronouns should be considered mutually exclusive. It’s clear from this verse that Allah is viewed as passionate about education and knowledge. Many verses play into varying opinions about the Koran’s stance on education, however one thing is commonly agreed upon – Allah encouraged the exploration of knowledge. Senegal is an example of how a society has hindered its progress in a more globalized world by restricting the search for knowledge to a single gender, and Bâ constantly works to combat this in her writings and own education. Since her grandparents didn’t believe that a woman in Senegal needed an education, Bâ had to resist gender norms from a young age. She recognized early that she was discriminated against as a woman, and used this to fuel her resistance later in life.

Bâ’s father, the Minister of Health for Senegal, was an open-minded politician who valued education. He eventually interfered and insisted on her receiving a formal education through the Teacher’s College for girls. Upon seeing her scores on the entrance exam, the school’s principal took particular interest in Bâ and personally trained her for a second entrance exam that would jumpstart her teaching career. She received her teaching certificate in 1947 and worked as a teacher for twelve years. As she taught, her health deteriorated to the point where she had to take a position at the Senegalese Regional Inspectorate of Teaching rather than continue her own teaching. However, her teaching had been so exceptional that in 1977 President Leopold Senghor founded a school in her name.

During her twelve years as a teacher, she married Senegalese politician, Obeye Diop. Together they had nine children. Bâ later divorced Diop and was left to raise all nine children alone in a society where typically women are completely dependent upon their husbands for food, housing and money. This divorce led to her publication of her first epistolary novel, So Long a Letter, and began her activism for women’s rights in Senegalese culture.

Bâ reveals many issues through various characters in her literature, including the relations between men and women and the relations of traditional to modern societies. She portrays a disconnect in education – provided by the French – where women are taught to adopt modern principles and ideals, but at home are subjugated to the social rules of polygamous families, according to Islam which dictated their domestic lives and relations. Thus Bâ conveys this backtracking from independence to traditional practices which perpetuates the subjugation of women.

BIOGRAPHY OF MARIAMA BA BY LAUREN DAUGHERTY

Archive Category: Article
Author: Lauren Daugherty
Date of Publication: 2017
Context

In the 1960s, Senegal was a new, independent nation. It had previously been ruled in succession by the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the French, becoming a part of French West Africa around half a century earlier. With independence, Senegal struggled to create its own cultural identity. In 1963, the young nation wrote its first constitution, and three years later its only political party became the Senegalese Progressive Union. About a decade later, a three-party political system was introduced.

After being citizens of French West Africa for many years, many individuals had assimilated to aspects of French culture with its norms. As a result, the nation created a unique blend of Islamic religious beliefs and practices, African cultural norms and French influence, resulting in the Senegalese values that are still a hybrid of practices today. While different, all three cultures – African, French and Muslim – have traditionally viewed women as a subordinate sex whose primary responsibilities are domestic and who live in the shadows of their husbands. Mariama Bâ used her novels, influenced by her personal experience as a Muslim women living in postcolonial Africa, to reveal the unjust treatment of women justified by a patriarchal society, polygamous practices, and certain Muslim traditions.

Leopold Sedar Senghor, the first president of Senegal, believed in assimilation and supported the continued use of French as Senegal’s national official language with the result that indigenous languages were repressed. He was a renowned poet in French – having mastered the French language while studying in France during the colonial period — and he believed that independence would bring about a partnership between Africa and the West. A giant literary figure in his own right — strictly speaking, Senghor who started the Negritude literary movement in 1920’s is Bâ’s literary forebear. But his writings did not address the issues African women in Senegal face. Once Senghor took office, resistance to the French language and education system, which had begun years prior when Senegal was still a French colony, increased. [1] Senghor’s adherence to French language and culture resulted in a form of repression that hindered the progression of Senegalese culture, while citizens and nation alike struggled to find their own unique identity.

While embodying aspects of African and French culture, Senegal was a primarily Muslim nation, and Islamic practices and beliefs played a large role in forming the nation’s identity. Senegal primarily embraces Sunni Islam, sharing some common takes on the different interpretations of the Quran, and believes strongly in the practice of purdah. Purdah involves women living behind a curtain or in a different room, and dressing conservatively in order to stay out of the sight of men.

While Senegal was negotiating its values as a nation, Mariama Bâ was going through a similar personal journey – discovering her role as a Senegalese and Muslim woman. Born in the capital of Senegal in 1929, she lived with her grandparents from a young age. While obtaining her early education, in French, she simultaneously attended a Koranic school. These are religious schools common throughout Muslim countries that teach the Koran. In the French school, Mariama Bâ showed she was an extremely intelligent student, receiving the highest exam score for all of colonial French West Africa at age fourteen. Bâ had to fight to continue her education past primary school when living under the traditional roof of her grandparents. It was common for women to receive an education in Senegal and the Koran’s stance on women in education is widely debated, with different groups within the Muslim religion taking different stances on the issue – even across Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. One interpretation is as follows:

Allah says in the Koran, “And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight, and hearts that you might give thanks (to Allah)” (An-Nahl, 78). The link of the key words (knowing nothing and giving thanks) in the two sentences of the above is a clear indication of exploration and seeking knowledge. It may be noticed that there is no preferred sex indication in the verse (Taj Khan 2016, 340). [2]

Much of what influences the individual interpretation of the Koran relates to the pronouns used, and whether these pronouns should be considered mutually exclusive. It’s clear from this verse that Allah is viewed as passionate about education and knowledge. Many verses play into varying opinions about the Koran’s stance on education, however one thing is commonly agreed upon – Allah encouraged the exploration of knowledge. Senegal is an example of how a society has hindered its progress in a more globalized world by restricting the search for knowledge to a single gender, and Bâ constantly works to combat this in her writings and own education. Since her grandparents didn’t believe that a woman in Senegal needed an education, Bâ had to resist gender norms from a young age. She recognized early that she was discriminated against as a woman, and used this to fuel her resistance later in life.

Bâ’s father, the Minister of Health for Senegal, was an open-minded politician who valued education. He eventually interfered and insisted on her receiving a formal education through the Teacher’s College for girls. Upon seeing her scores on the entrance exam, the school’s principal took particular interest in Bâ and personally trained her for a second entrance exam that would jumpstart her teaching career. She received her teaching certificate in 1947 and worked as a teacher for twelve years. As she taught, her health deteriorated to the point where she had to take a position at the Senegalese Regional Inspectorate of Teaching rather than continue her own teaching. However, her teaching had been so exceptional that in 1977 President Leopold Senghor founded a school in her name.

During her twelve years as a teacher, she married Senegalese politician, Obeye Diop. Together they had nine children. Bâ later divorced Diop and was left to raise all nine children alone in a society where typically women are completely dependent upon their husbands for food, housing and money. This divorce led to her publication of her first epistolary novel, So Long a Letter, and began her activism for women’s rights in Senegalese culture.

Bâ reveals many issues through various characters in her literature, including the relations between men and women and the relations of traditional to modern societies. She portrays a disconnect in education – provided by the French – where women are taught to adopt modern principles and ideals, but at home are subjugated to the social rules of polygamous families, according to Islam which dictated their domestic lives and relations. Thus Bâ conveys this backtracking from independence to traditional practices which perpetuates the subjugation of women.

Writings:

  1. So Long a Letter

A collection of letters entitled ‘So Long a Letter’, written from the perspective of a woman to her close friend, depicted the daily struggles of women living in Senegalese culture. Polygamy was common, and often women struggled with their roles and identity. Social status depended upon whether or not a woman could conceive a boy. With other wives working to please the same man, no woman would stand out for who she is or what she achieves. Instead, she simply becomes another wife and is often replaced by a newer, younger version of herself – especially if the younger wife is believed to be more likely to conceive (or has conceived) a boy.

So Long a Letter opens with a funeral scene, as Ramatouleye’s husband, Madou Fall, had recently died of a heart attack. An important aspect of the Islamic faith is the belief of life after death, and as a result Muslims strictly follow the rules and regulations surrounding death dictated by the Koran. These rituals emphasize prayer, cleanliness and purity. [3]

Mirasse is another Muslim tradition followed after death where family members reveal all of the secrets held by the deceased, including financial status. [4] In So Long a Letter, Bâ’s main characters, Ramatouleye and her friend Aissatou had been promised monogamy by their husbands. However, both Ramatouleye and Aissatou’s husband’s promises of monogamy were broken and their respective husbands reverted to the Islamic practice of polygamy. What Ramatouleye learned during her observance of mirasse was that Madou Fall’s new wife, Binetou had received immense amounts of money, including funds to send her parents to Mecca, to buy a house, as well as a monthly allowance to make up for the fact that he interrupted her education. Later in her letters, Ramatouleye compares her story to that of Aissatou, and shares how both women felt betrayed and abandoned by their husbands.

Bâ uses irony to portray the character of Ramatouleye. In the opening scenes of the funeral she is illustrated as a submissive wife who was treated unjustly by her husband. Throughout the grieving process, each practice is perfectly traditional, and Ramatouleye appears to have done everything socially right as both a Muslim woman and widow. What is not clear until the end of the funeral ritual is that her marriage to Madou Fall was intended to be an act of rebellion against both her mother and Senegalese social norms. This rebellion is the first illustration of Bâ’s activism in her writings, stemming from the education her character had received during which her French teachers encouraged their classes to be “the first pioneers of the promotion of African women” (So Long a Letter, 14). [5] By choosing the man her mother didn’t approve of instead of the perfect, socially respected doctor, Ramatouleye was claiming her right to choose as a woman. Unfortunately, the marriage resulted in her being unable to escape the traditional practices of Senegalese marriage, and ended in polygamy. Mariama Bâ depicted in her character Ramatouleye a life of attempted rebellion and activism, while simultaneously practicing these same characteristics herself. A year after its publication, So Long a Letter was awarded the first Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa. Translated into English a year later, it soon became available in fifteen different languages.

REFERENCE:
https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/biography-mariama-ba-lauren-daugherty

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