Women Writing Africa: The Eastern Region
Keim, Karen R., The International Journal of African Historical Studies
Women Writing Africa: The Eastern Region. Edited by Amandina Lihamba, Fulata L. Moyo, M.M. Mulokozi, Naomi L. Shitemi, and Saïda Yahya-Othman. The Women Writing Africa Project, vol. 3. New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2007. Pp. xiv, 478. $75.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.
As with the two previously published volumes from The Women Writing Africa Project1 (The Southern Region, and West Africa and the Sahel, 2003), this remarkable work features women's voices in a variety of genres that includes fiction, poetry, letters, speeches, songs, lullabies, tales, and riddles. The selected texts represent 300 years of history (1711-2004) and five countries that experienced British rule, listed here with the number of authors from each: Kenya (35), Malawi (10), Tanzania (24), Uganda (26), and Zambia (12). This well-documented volume, with excellent explanatory and historical materials, is a promising addition to the body of resources for teaching about Africa; it is suitable for courses in literature, history, women's studies, and cultural studies, at the upper-class undergraduate and the graduate levels.
The anthology opens with "A Note on the Women Writing Africa Project" from project co-directors Tuzyline Jita Allan, Abena Busia, and Florence Howe, who guided the making of this volume. A Preface by Austin Bukenya follows, in which he introduces the country committees and coordinators-including men as well as women-who planned, collected, and prepared texts and accompanying information over a period of more than ten years. He explains that the collectors in the field focused especially on oral texts, and that selections for the volume were made according to two criteria: "women's emancipation and sociohistorical significance" (p. xxi).
The anthology editors Lihamba, Moyo, Mulokozi, Shitemi, and Yahya-Othman have authored a substantial Introduction (67 pages), which examines the background of the texts in a well researched, easy to read, and interesting discussion. Focusing on the status of Eastern African women over time, they include references to individual texts, scholarly notes, and a seven-page Works Cited and Select Bibliography. The goal of the anthology, they explain, is "to conect distortions characteristic of Eastern African historiography and anthologizing," as well as to celebrate women's achievements (p. 1). They treat the following topics in chronological order: the cultural functions of oral literature in the precolonial period; Mother Earth as a theme in traditional African religions; variety in forms of slavery; the impact of Islam; colonialism and Christianity; beginning writing and publishing; the influence of settler women; the effects of capitalism; women and independence; women in Parliament; conflicts and women fighters; the late twentieth century; prostitution and HIV/AIDS; the presence of women writers (including East Africans of Indian descent); and the struggle for women's rights in the twenty-first century.
The texts in the anthology are arranged chronologically into five sections: "The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries" (six texts); "The Early Twentieth Century (1900-1935)" (fifteen texts); "The Mid-Twentieth Century (1936-1969)" (forty texts); "Late Twentieth Century (1970-1995)" (nineteen texts); and "Into the Twenty-First Century (1996-2004)" (sixty-four texts, of which almost fifty are collected songs and poems). …