Encyclopedia Womannica

Best of Season 1: Mariama Ba

Episode Summary

Mariama Ba (1929-1981) one of the most important African authors of the 20th century. She carved out her own meaning of women’s rights and empowerment, caught between tradition and modernity.

Episode Notes

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Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

If you’ve been listening for a while, you know that on Encyclopedia Womannica we’re making every month Women’s History Month. But in honor of March- the official Women’s History Month-, we’re talking about Feminists, women who fought for gender equity.

Today’s feminist had to carve out her own meaning of women’s rights and empowerment, caught between tradition and modernity. In the process, she became one of the most important African authors of her century. Let’s talk about Mariama Ba.

Mariama was born in 1929 in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. By the time of Mariama’s birth, Senegal had been under the control of France for hundreds of years. At one time, it was a source for the African slave trade.

Mariama’s mother passed away soon after her birth, so she was raised by her devoutly Muslim, highly traditional grandparents. They believed girls shouldn’t go to school. 

Mariama’s father, however, was a powerful and open minded government official. He insisted that his daughter receive an education, so Mariama received the best possible French education available to African women at the time. Much of Mariama’s early  life was defined by the push-and-pull between her grandparents’ traditional values and the progressive values she was exposed to over the course of her liberal education

In 1947, Mariama graduated from an elite teaching school with high marks. She got married to a Senegalese Parliament member and had nine children with him, but they soon got divorced, leaving her to care for all of the children on her own .

After her divorce, Mariama continued to struggle to reconcile the traditional principles she was raised to value with more modern ideas of the world and women’s rights. She became very active in a variety of  women’s associations, and began delivering speeches and writing articles for local newspapers on women’s rights issues relevant to her community. She self-identified as a “modern Muslim woman.”

When Mariama was 50 years old, she published her debut novel,  So Long a Letter. It was a massive popular and critical success, quickly becoming  a cornerstone of African literature for its honest depiction of women’s disadvantages in society. In the  novel, Mariama directly addresses polygamy, the caste system, and other strict, harmful practices and ideas  that were common in Senegalese communities at the time. Mariama advocates for the value of all women, stating that all women are  important “mothers of Africa”

Mariama won the first Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa in 1980 for So Long A Letter. 

 Mariama  passed away from cancer just a year later

Her second novel, Scarlet Song,was published posthumously. It’s a love story featuring partners from two different castes and ethnic backgrounds. The novel  highlights the tyranny of tradition and the need for women to empower themselves.

Mariama’s incredible literary skills and bold ideas left a significant mark on African literature and on the movement for women’s rights in Africa .

All month we’ll be covering feminists from throughout history.  We’re specifically featuring women who were particularly important to the women’s rights movement, the suffrage movement, and/or modern feminism and feminist theory. This month’s group is not an exhaustive list by any means, and we’re sticking to a smaller time range in our regular weekday episodes so that we can really focus in. On weekends, we’re going to be highlighting favorite feminists from past months chosen by other podcast hosts we love and modern feminists brought to you by our sponsor this month Fiverr. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our new Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter. 

This month of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Fiverr, an online marketplace connecting businesses with freelancers who offer hundreds of digital services including graphic design, copywriting, web programming, film editing, and more. 

Fiverr’s mission is to change how the world works together. The Fiverr platform gives everyone, no matter their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, an equal chance to build their business, brand or dreams -- on their own terms.  That’s something we can certainly get behind this Women’s History Month-- and year round - as we call for more industry leaders to join with Fiverr and make strides in creating opportunities for all. 

Fiverr’s marketplace helps the world’s feminists get more done with less. Take Five and show your support for Fiverr’s new store at FVRR.co/women, where they feature over 100 of the platform’s top female talent. That’s FVRR.co/women

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!