Destabilizing the Status Quo: Social Mothering and Coalition Formation in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and Aminata Sow Fall’s The Beggars’ Strike

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Author: Brinda Mehta
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,051 words

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[(essay date 2000) In the following essay, Mehta compares Sow Fall’s work to that of Soyinka, focusing on the different ways the two authors handle issues of feminine power in coalition building.]

Women’s organizational skills, testifying to their self-reliance, autonomy and creative resourcefulness, have known a long tradition in West African societies. These societies have favored the equal participation of women in production and distribution activities, through their control of the market economy. Emphasizing the crucial role played by women in the traditional economy, Filomena Steady aptly remarks: “Women in Africa are the chief providers of food and they play a crucial role from production to processing, distribution and consumption. Their arduous labor output is what ensures the existence of many communities” (31). The market, which constitutes the very backbone of the social framework, is instrumental in facilitating and promoting strong kinship bonds between women, and in creating matrifocal communities of economic self-reliance within its parameters. Commenting on the economic specificity of women from the Yoruba tradition in Southern Nigeria, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie states:

It is nothing new in southern Nigeria for a woman to be economically strong, independent and wealthy, given the history of merchant princesses and well-to-do women in society and the pre-colonial existence of commercially successful women who were also members of the traditional feudal aristocracy.(96)While Ogundipe-Leslie’s remarks are based on observations about upper-class Yoruba women, it is important to note that control of the market in rural-based economies, as well as among other socially “disfavored” segments of society, have provided women with social mobility that transcends confinement to a particular social sub-caste. Economic self-reliance guarantees a certain upward mobility in which women are able to control localized space by asserting their authority, thereby reversing their marginalized social status into a more favorable level of (social) representation. Economic control ensures female empowerment and, as Steady affirms:

Because the African woman’s role is paramount in production, and because true feminism is impossible without intensive involvement in production, it can be stated without much equivocation that the black woman is to a large extent the original feminist.(36)

Women were thus inscribed in history and, in fact, they became active agents in history-making through their economic entrepreneurship that enabled them to negotiate their access to the domestic and public spheres of influence simultaneously. Niara Sudarkasa is careful to distinguish between pre-colonial/pre-capitalist and colonial/capitalist levels of accessibility by emphasizing that, in pre-colonial West African societies, the public domain was not considered to be the exclusive privilege of men, precisely because women, through their economic initiative, were able to control both the production and distribution of vital market resources (33). Public space was a bi-sexual space that promoted a reciprocity of input. Sudarkasa uses the term “neutral complementarity” (35) to describe the reciprocal roles played by men and women in the public sphere, thereby eliminating the possibility of enforcing strict gender-role prescriptions on women that would undermine the full development of their potential. The bi-sexual division or, rather, distribution of labor, enabled...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100123307