Efua T. Sutherland: Africa’s Female Pioneer Dramalist, Cultural Visionary and Activist and “Black Africa’s Most Famous Woman Writer”

Dr Efua Theodora Sutherland (27 June 1924—2 January 1996) was a celebrated Ghanaian playwright, director, children’s author, poet and pioneer dramatist of international renown. She was also an teacher, scholar, an unapologetic Pan-African cultural visionary and activist of ethnic Fante extraction. Before 1965 when the First President of the Republic of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the famous Pan-African leader called for the documentation of “our folktales” as a way of creating “African Classics” for posterity (Nketia’s Preface to Owusu-Sarpong (1998), Efua T. Sutherland emerged as one of the literary figures who identified the worth of “our folktales” and indeed modified one into a play about seven years earlier. She is the mother of  well-known prolific writer, cultural activist and academician, Esi Sutherland-Addy who is a professor at the Institute of African Studies (University of Ghana) working in the Language Literature and Drama Section.

Efua Theodora Sutherland,  celebrated Ghanaian playwright, director, children’s author, poet , Pan African cultural activist and pioneer dramatist of international renown.

As one of the Africa`s early female writers, Efua Sutherland is internationally known literary works include Foriwa (1962), Edufa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975). She has also published juvenile literature in the form of children’s rhythm plays such as Vulture, Vulture and Tahinta, which she has tried to use in her private grade school. Efua T Sutherland student was the legendary African writer, Professor Ama Ata Aidoo. In fact, when Ama Ata Aidoo studied drama at the University of Ghana in the early 1960s, her mentor was Sutherland.
Apart from Mabel Dove Danquah, born in 1910, who had started publishing essays , short stories, and plays in the West African Times as early as the 1950s to express her concern over the place and role of women in contemporary Ghana, Sutherland can be regarded as the mother of West African Literature in English. Donald Herdeck has called her “Black Africa’s most famous woman writer”. Even though her name has been dropped out by feminist critics like Florence Straton in her Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender and Adola James’s In their Own Voices, for reasons that are not easy to explain, she is far from being an occasional writer. Her works are published in both Longman and Heineman Editions and her short stories are anthologised both at home and abroad. Her place in West African feminist literature is neither a matter of seniority over other authors such as Flora Nwappa, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Buchi Emecheta, nor that of amount of publications. She deserves a place in the West African literary tradition because she has earned it through that literary process of revision which T.S. Eliot considers as being necessary for the affirmation of individual talents and the existence of literary traditions. Charlotte H. Burner has rightly placed her in the third position, after Mabel Dove Danquah and Adelaide Casely-Hayford in her anthology of African woman writers entitled Unwinding Threads.
Sutherland’s plays were often based on African myths and legends, but she also used Western sources, such as Euripides and Lewis Carroll.

“I’m on a journey of discovery. I’m discovering my own people. I didn’t grow up in rural Ghana – I grew up in Cape Coast with a Christian family. It’s a fine family, but there are certain hidden
areas of Ghanaian life – important areas of Ghanaian life, that I just wasn’t in touch with; in the past four or five years I’ve made a very concentrated effort to make that untrue. And I feel I know
my people now.” (Efua Sutherland in Cultural Events in Africa, no. 42, 1968)

In her many years of being at the forefront of literary and theatrical movements in Ghana she founded the Ghana Drama Studio, the Ghana Society of Writers, the literary magazine Okyeame, the Ghana Experimental Theatre, and a community project called the Kodzidan (Story House) for the preservation of oral literature and the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Center for Pan African Culture. 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.
Apart from her undying devotion to building indigenous models of excellence in culture and education, she served as mentor and inspiration to many notable African personalities in the arts and professions, including writer Ama Ata Aidoo, film maker Kwaw Ansah and writer-illustrator Meshak Asare.
Auntie Efua, as she was affectionately known, made children’s issues central to her life and work. After pioneering an indigenous movement in writing, publishing and development through drama for children, she was appointed in the 1980’s to lead Ghana to become the first country to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Declaration of Rights of the Child.  Through the work of the Ghana National Commission on Children, of which she was a founding member and Chair, several initiatives for children were moved forward including the Children’s Park Library Complex network,  Child Literacy and Mobile Science Laboratory projects, as well as the commissioning of extensive research on the Ghanaian child.
Her work received recognition from both the state and major agencies such as the Valco Trust Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, UNICEF and UNESCO. Other significant supporters included Arthur and Ruth Sloan, the Arthur and Dorothy Clift family of Bromley, UK, Dr. Vivian O. Windley, Merle Worth, the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, USA and the Children’s Television Network.
A twelve-acre space reserved for a children’s park in central Accra through the advocacy of Efua Sutherland was renamed posthumously in her honor. Efua Sutherlandstraat is one of a number of streets in an area of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, named for remarkable women writers and activists.
She was born Efua Theodora Morgue in Cape Coast on 27 June 1 924. She was named after her maternal great-grandmother Nana Ama Nyankomo. Her father, Harry Peter Morgue from the family of Chief Moore of Nsona Paado, Cape Coast, was a well-known teacher of English who once taught at Accra Academy. Her mother, Harriet Efua Maria Parker, was from the royal families of Gomua Brofo and Anomabu, particularly the branch founded by Barima Ansaful at Gyegyano, Cape Coast.
Despite her royal birth, Efua had a very humble and difficult early life; her eventual greatness may be more of a personal achievement than an inherited family fortune. Her young mother died in a
lorry accident at age 18, leaving 5-month old Efua in the care of her grandmother Araba Mansa,
whose personal sacrifice and example of hard work as a baker ensured Efua’s survival and provided the single most important impact on her later development into a most resourceful personality.
Theodora Olivia Morgue, as Efua became known, began her primary education at the Government Girls School and later moved to St. Monica’s, both in Cape Coast. She took the Standard Seven
examination while she was still in Standard Six, and did so well she won a scholarship to the St. Monica’s Training College at Ansate Manpong. St Monica’s was founded and run by Anglican Sisters of the Order of the Holy Paraclete, based in Yorkshire, England. The nuns in both Cape Coast and Mampong had such significant influence on the young Efua that she seriously considered becoming a nun and would have gone to England for convent training had her grandmother not intervened.
At 18, she began teaching at senior primary level but soon joined the staff of St. Monica’s Training College. In 1947, after five-and-half years of teaching, she went to England where she studied for a B.A. degree at Homerton College, Cambridge University. She spent another year at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, specialising in English linguistics, African languages, and drama. Back in Ghana in 1950, she returned to St. Monica’s but later transferred to Fijar Secondary School and then to Achimota School.
In 1954, Efua married William Sutherland, an African American who had been living in Ghana and worked from 1951 -57 to help found what is now Tsito Secondary School in the Volta Region. Efua spent part of the period in Tsito to help with the foundation work. Efua and Bill had three children, Esi Reiter, Ralph Gynan, and Muriel Amowi, who have since become a university research fellow, an architect, and a lawyer respectively.

Through achievements in culture Ghana also gained attention and prestige on the international scene. In the 1980s Sutherland served as advisor to the president of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings, who led a cop in 1981, and started economic reforms. Sutherland died on January 2, 1996.

It is against this family and educational background that we. must assess the unusual impact of Efua

Sutherland’s public life as educator, creative artist, and activist social visionary. She is best known as a dramatist, but her work in this area was always informed by a compelling vision of a better society, and she chose appropriate cultural education as the best foundation on which such society could be established. Like many others, she could have used her considerable talents and skills in the promotion of a spectacular individual career. Instead, she chose to share her gifts with society at large by investing her energies in the building of model programmes and institutions, and in the
training of a future generation.

Sutherland, Bill (II) Biography
Bill Sutherland husband of the famous Ghanaian writer, dramatist and cultural activist Efua T Sutherland.
Bill Sutherland, was unofficial ambassador between the peoples of Africa and the Americas for over fifty years, died peacefully on the evening of January 2, 2010. He was 91. A life-long pacifist and liberation advocate, Sutherland became involved in civil rights and anti-war activities as a youthful member of the Student Christian Movement in the 1930s.

Efua Sutherland’s reputation as the founder and mother figure behind the national theatre movement may best be measured by the many key institutions and programmes she was instrumental in bringing into being. She was the prime mover in the founding of the Ghana Society of Writers (1957). A year later, the Ghana Experimental Theatre Company was launched under her
direction. She helped to found the Okyeame literary magazine in 1961.
Through her pioneering research into Ghanaian oral traditions, she introduced onto the stage the unique dramatic form of Anansegoro, deriving its creative model from traditional story-telling drama. To provide an ideal rehearsal and performance space for the emerging national theatre movement, she mobilised funds and supervised the building of the Ghana Drama Studio, ensuring that its design was in harmony with performance demands of African theatre practice. She founded Kusum Agoromba, ‘a full-time drama company based at the Drama Studio and dedicated to performing quality plays in Akan…. in towns and villages all over the country.’ She provided creative leadership to the Workers’ Brigade Drama Group and to the Drama Studio Players.

In May 1963, Efua Sutherland became a Research Associate of the Institute of African Studies. As part of the move, she handed over the Drama Studio to the University of Ghana to be issued as ‘an extension division of the School of Music, Dance and Drama.’ Through the Drama Studio Programme and the Drama Research Unit of the Institute, Efua Sutherland worked with the late Joe de Graft and others to build the foundations of what was soon to become a model programme in drama and theatre studies and practice in Africa One of her most frequently cited projects, the Atwia Experimental Community Theatre Project, is recognised world-wide as a pioneering model for the now popular Theatre for Development. Araba: The Village Story is a major documentary film done in 1967 by the American television network ABC to record the success of this unique
experimental project.

Edufa by Efua T Sutherland

A particularly significant aspect of Efua Sutherland’s work was the Children’s Drama Development Project. This multi-year project focused on research into the cultural life of children in society, used the information gathered as a basis for writing, producing and publishing appropriate plays for children. Conferences, workshops and test productions organised as part of this project have left us with an important collection of plays for children, among them R.A. Cantey’s Ghana Motion, Togbe Kwamuar’s The Perpetual Stone Mill, Kwamena Ampah’s Hwe No Yie, Koku Amuzu’s The New Born Child and the Maid Servant, JoeManu-Amponsah’s Gates to Mother, Kofi Hiheta’s A Bench of Chances, and Kofi Anyidoho;s Akpokplo{Ewe and English). Regrettably, the preparation of these plays for formal publication in a major anthology is one of the many vital projects which Auntie Efua’s death has left unfinished.

The 25th Anniversary Programme of the Drama Studio, the final phase of Efua Sutherland’s distinguished career in the national theatre movement, coincided with her retirement from the University of Ghana in 1984. The programme opened with an impressive and symbolic Ceremony of Remembrance and moved into a major documentation project covering various forms of drama that have evolved as part of the national theatre movement The 25th Anniversary Programme, ironically, suffered a serious set-back when the Drama Studio was demolished to make way for the
construction of the National Theatre.

Although Auntie Efua was deeply hurt by the demolition of the studio, she continued to work over the next two years to bring the documentation programme to a reasonable completion. It was also in the final phase of her work that she gave to Ghana and the African world probably her grandest artistic vision for uplifting and reuniting African peoples through the arts- an original proposal for the Pan African Historical Theatre Festival, the Panafest Movement. This final gift underscores the significance she attached to connections between Africa and the Diaspora. She played a very critical role in the establishment of the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture.
She belonged to an extensive global network of friends, many of them eminent creative minds.
Efua Sutherland’s long and distinguished career had also left an impressive corpus of creative works, making her one of Africa’s best known writers. In addition to a number of essays, articles, short stories and poems, her published works include a short biography of Bob Johnson, ‘the father of the concert party tradition’, as well as several other books—Playtime in Africa, The Roadmakers, Edufa, Foriwa, Odasani, Anansegoro: Story-Telling Drama in Ghana, The Marriage of Anansewa, You Swore an Oath, Vulture! Vulture! [and Tahinta]: Two Rhythm Plays, and The
Voice in the Forest. Her unpublished plays for children include The Pineapple Child, Nyamekye, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Ananse and the Dwarf Brigade, Wohye me Bo, and Children of
the Man-Made Lake.
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.
As a major literary voice, she was concerned about the need for making works by African writers available through local publishing. To this end, she played a key role as founder of Afram Publications Ghana Ltd in the early Seventies and until her death maintained an active role in the
editorial work of Afram. It is to her credit and to that of all who have worked with her that three of the winners of the 1995 Valco Fund Literary Awards are works published by Afram.
A concern for children is central to all of Efua Sutherland’s life and work. Even after her retirement from the University of Ghana, she was to devote the final phase of her public life to foundation work in the establishment of the Ghana National Commission on Children. She was a foundation member (1979-1983) and later chairperson of the commission (1983- 1990). The work of this commission, especially through the impact of child education programmes designed around a national network of children’s parklibrary complexes, the documentation of the situation of the Ghanaian child, and the influencing of state policy on child life, shall remain one of Efua Sutherland’s most significant lasting gifts to her nation.
Efua Sutherland served on several other national and international boards and committees, including the Education Commission, the Valco Fund Board of Trustees, and the Ghana National Commission for UNESCO. Her work received recognition and sponsorship from both the state and such major agencies as the Valco Trust Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, UNICEF, and UNESCO.
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the achievement of a full university status, the University of Ghana selected Efua Sutherland as one of a small group of eminent individuals whose
contribution has had a profound impact on the development of the university and of the society at large:
“Efua Theodora Sutherland, for the inspiration provided to the development
of the Dramatic Art, and in recognition of your efforts on behalf of children
for whose benefit you have canvassed children’s libraries and amusement
parks, the University of Ghana is privileged to honour you with the degree of
Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.”

Playtime in Africa

Selected works:
*The Roadmakers, 1961 (photographs by Willis E. Bell)
*Foriwa, 1962
*Playtime in Africa, 1962 (photograps by Willis E. Bell)
*Edufa, 1967 (based on Euripides’s Alcestis)
*Odasani, 1967 (based on Everyman)
*Vulture! Vulture! and Tahinta: Two Rhythm Plays, 1968
*The Original Bob: The Story of Bob Johnson, Ghana’s Ace Comedian, 1970
*Anase and the Dwarf Brigade, 1971 (based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland)
*Anansegoro: Story-telling Drama in Ghana, 1975
*The Marriage of Anansewa, 1975
*Efua Sutherland of Ghana, 1978 (recording)
*The Voice in the Forest, 1983
*The Marriage of Anansewa and Edufa, 1987




Get Your News on Wundef.com

Send us your business and entrepreneurship stories/news and articles to admin@wundef.com or through whatsapp, +233247516850.

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel, Like our Facebook Page

And also follow us on Twitter


Leave a Comment

Entrepreneurship and More...