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Tale of an African Woman

2007, author(s)-editor(s) Thomas Jing

The village of Yakiri has been cursed by ancestral wrath because of the treatment of Yaa, the first girl who wrestled her male goatherd peers to earn the right to be initiated into the society of manhood. Her struggle is taken up generations later by Yaya, the granddaughter of Tafan and Wirba. Orphaned like her forebear, Yaya becomes a star student in the village’s primary school and promises to go far. But, ask the villagers, is it right to invest in an education for an African girl who may become the property of another village? An educated woman will abandon the farm where she is needed, wear high heels and try to order men around! In the midst of it all, one Irish missionary, living in Africa and for the most time with Africans, literally wiggles his way into hearts and minds. With his intervention, Yaya leaves the village to school in the city, but her troubles as a woman have not really begun. Yarns of cultural borrowing, indigestion and transcendence reveal the simple and complex ways in which community matters are confronted and decided. This happens in shrines where seers are consulted and cowry shells thrown, in palm wine houses, but also around the school and presbytery. The untold stories and perspectives of girls and women burst through in illuminating and uplifting ways. Quarrels, squabbles, near collisions and mutual conversions give way to innovative traditions.

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ISBN 9789956558094 | 332 pages | 216 x 140 mm | 2007 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

1 Review

  • Tale of an African Woman 7 May 2010 21:17, author(s)-editor(s) J. Roger Kurtz; The College at Brockport, State University of New (...)

    Tale of an African Woman is structured as a first-person autobiographical account. An Irish journalist arrives in Mungo to interview Yaya, a woman has become a leader in her community. Yaya tells her story “in the way my grandmother taught me,” beginning with her great-grandmother Yaa, who shocked her nineteenth-century villagers with her outstanding skills at wrestling and her demand to be initiated into the “society of manhood.” The story moves through the generations, ending with Yaya’s preparation to begin university studies, the first woman from her village to do so.

    Author Thomas Jing holds an undergraduate degree in history, and that interest is evident in the way that his novel traces the Cameroonian experience from pre-colonial times through colonialism, independence, and into the postcolonial era. Irish Catholic missionaries are presented in an entirely positive light through the character of Father Sean, an unusually fun-loving priest whose accomplishments include language skills, cultural sensitivity, and a mastery of erotic traditional dance. Father Sean is vital in inspiring Yaya to further education and in convincing her family and community to acquiesce.

    While Tale of an African Woman aspires to be a feminist text, celebrating women’s strength and potential in a patriarchal society, it is not entirely effective in this regard. Weak and formulaic characterization, along with less than credible events and reliance on the actions of the bizarre Father Sean to further the action, undermine the feminist message. The strength of the novel lies in its sense of humour, which comes through in the tall tales and stories related by the villagers and in the love letters of high school students.

    The novel is published by Langaa Research and Publishing, a non-profit agency located in Cameroon with the mission of promoting African cultural development through research and publishing. It has published numerous titles in literature and literary studies, the arts, and the social sciences.

    Tale of an African Woman is recommended only for those collections determined to have a complete set of Anglophone Cameroonian literature.

    J. Roger Kurtz
    The College at Brockport, State University of New York