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The Legacy of Efua Sutherland

The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan–African Cultural Activism

Co-edited by Anne V. Adams & Esi Sutherland-Addy



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ISBN: 978-0-9547023-1-1 | 288 pages | Weight: 0.47kg | Paperback | Published 2007 | Rights: World

Categories: African | Critical Essays / Criticism | Literature |


The Legacy of Efua Sutherland - this unique book published 11 years after ETS's death will rekindle an awareness of the cultural dynamism, activism and Diasporic connections that Efua Theodora Sutherland achieved through her lifetime's work.

Efua Sutherland, Ghana-born educator, publisher, artist, activist, director, dramatist and writer, holds a special place in twentieth-century African studies. This timely volume provides a comprehensive appreciation of her creative life and concerns. The many respected and eminent contributors gathered here pay tribute - in essays, poems, reminiscences and research - to the unparalleled influence Dr Sutherland's innovatory work continues to exercise internationally. Situating her achievements within their appropriate ideological and historical contexts, The Legacy of Efua Sutherland reaffirms the importance of the critical connections this extraordinary woman made between Africa and its Diaspora, reflecting her deep passion for Pan-African and specifically Ghanaian cultural values, as well as for theatrical cultures around the world.

Key Selling Points

  • This much-awaited book will make a significant impact and contribution to the cultural history of Ghana, Africa and the Diaspora.
  • A paperback edition will make it more accessible to college and university students studying Ghanaian colonial and post-colonial history and Diasporic African cultures.
  • Efua Sutherland, award-winning playwright, poet, teacher and children's author is celebrated in this book for her contributions to Ghanaian cultural heritage as a pioneering institution-builder and includes tributes and interviews from distinguished African and Diasporic writers and scholars in the field.


Esi Sutherland-Addy is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Language, Literature and Drama, Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon. She is also Associate Director of the Institute's African Humanities Programme. The eldest daughter of Efua Sutherland, she brings fresh insights and academic verve to her mother's legacy as a cultural activist. Sutherland-Addy has published widely and she is co-editor of Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel.



The Legacy of Efua Sutherland Pan-African Cultural Activism, edited by Anne V. Adams and Esi Sutherland-Addy, published by Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd, 2007.
By Ama Biney

The editors have succeeded in ‘achieving a synthesis of [Efua Sutherland’s] work for Ghana, in particular, and for Africa, in general.’ (p.10) A comprehensive overview of the contribution, personality and cultural work and impact of Sutherland’s Pan-African cultural activism is gained from these 241 pages.

Divided into three parts, Part I examines ‘Efua Sutherland’s Artistic Space.’ It explores her artistic work and work in children’s literature. This section of the overall book examines Sutherland’s ideas as a cultural thinker in the field of African drama and literature. In addition to this, her theory and practice which underpins her institutional legacy and led to the formation of a programme of experimental theatre between 1958-1961 in Ghana i.e., soon after Ghana’s trailblazing independence. In addition to this, Sutherland also established the Children’s Drama Development programme and the Ghana Drama Studio that was set up between1961–1963.

Part II ‘Efua Sutherland and Cultural Activism’ is made up of interviews and accounts by colleagues influenced by her work. The final part, entitled ‘Reminiscences and Tributes’ comprises personal memories of Sutherland from admirers and friends.

Born in 1924, Sutherland who died on 21 Jan 1996 after an illness was ‘the first African female playwright/director south of the Sahara’ (p.18). She was grassroots in her approach and considered ‘that theatre has the potential to contribute significantly to social change’ (p. 13). She believed drama and its functions in African societies were not only to create social cohesion, but could be used as a tool to validate African indigenous thought and challenge negative African practices and traditions. One of Sutherland’s many institutional impacts in Ghana is the establishment of the Ekumfi Atwia House of Stories (more commonly known as Kodzidan, based in Cape Coast). It is a national indigenous theatre, with the aim of motivating ordinary people to engage in self-reliance. Hence, community development was recognised by Sutherland, long before Europeans in their Western NGO outfits and guises and Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal began to champion such approaches. Essentially the Kodzidan programme involving theatre performances by the people of Atwia allowed them to explore problems and issues via, for example, storytelling, puppetry, and artefacts. As Sandy Arkhurst writes: ‘The Kodzidan programme should not be seen as having been capable of solving the social and economic problems of Atwia. It should be seen as a forum for the rural population to discuss issues and try to understand their complexities. The critical analysis would lead to awareness and the desire for change. The programme introduced a new method of discussion through the practice of theatre and encouraged the use of this new method by the people themselves.’ (p. 173)

Similarly, the article by Penina Mlama, entitled ‘Empowerment for Gender Equality Through Theatre The Case of Tuseme’ is one of the most inspiring in the book. It illustrates how theatre as a transforming and engaging cultural process can ‘empower girls to understand  the gender constraints to their academic and social development, give the girls a voice to speak out and express their views about the identified problems, find solutions and take initiative to solve the problems’ in Tanzania, (p. 56).

Tuseme which means ‘let us speak out’  not only involves girls in Tanzania but boys and the male and female teachers of the school in order that they are also actively involved in the process of challenging gender oppression. Through the forms of dance, drama, song, storytelling, rap, recitation and other forms – theatre performances are seen to be influential to social and political transformation in Africa. It needs to be widely supported and implemented throughout Africa and not simply in extra curricular school activity in Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, The Gambia, Namibia, Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso where it currently operates. It needs to be integrated into the mainstream curriculum.

In short, the legacy of Efua Sutherland is a profound one. Culture, which enshrines a people’s human values and beliefs – in short, their relationship and treatment of one another and others, is a lens on how a people interpret the world and interact with it. It is through cultural activism that a Pan-Africanist world can be envisioned. Culture is far from being fossilized and static but is a terrain of struggle that is critical to Pan-Africanism.

September 2009.


The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan-African Cultural Activism. eds Anne V. Adams and Esi Sutherland-Addy. Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd, Banbury, 2007. 288pp.

Reviewed in: LUCAS University of Leeds African Studies Bulletin, January 2008.

All nations as they brave the tides of history need good navigators if they are not to founder, and Ghana was fortunate to have such a pilot in the theatre practitioner Efua Sutherland, who helped to steer its course culturally, socially and politically after it achieved independence in 1957. This collection of essays, timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of that event, has been brought together to demonstrate and celebrate the fact that the irresistible force which was Dr. Efua Theodora Sutherland seems never to have encountered an immovable object.

Efua Sutherland was born in Cape Coast, Ghana in 1924 and died in Accra in 1996. Educated in Ghana by Yorkshire nuns, who introduced her to literature and the performing arts, she went on to study at Homerton College Cambridge and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London before returning to the newly independent Ghana in 1957, where she set up the Ghana Writers Society “all of a sudden because I felt that a newly independent country needed a force of creative writers.” [Sutherland p. 160]

It is evidence of her passion and energy that the word ‘sudden’ occurs so frequently in Sutherland’s interviews:

“Suddenly in 1951 I started…creative writing seriously”, [Sutherland p. 161]

“I suddenly saw …[w]e needed a programme to develop playwriting and…that led to… the Ghana Experimental Theatre” [Sutherland p. 161]

“The Drama Studio came as a sudden answer to a problem I had been having, starting the theatre programme.” [Sutherland p. 162]

This was the Ghana Drama Studio, which she established first in an aluminium shed on the beach in Accra in 1958 until it moved to new premises in 1960 and celebrated with a production of Everyman attended by Kwame Nkrumah.

The social health of a nation can be measured by the value it places upon artistic energy and culture, in the widest sense of those words, and Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party, with its drive for reform from the very grass roots of society, was never going to restrict the country’s artists to the role of dissidents. But with Ghana’s freedom came the responsibility to answer the universal and eternal questions which must be addressed by every independent society: how should we educate our children, how can we build the future on the best of the past, and how do we live fulfilled lives in our communities? Efua’s answers were characteristically pragmatic. She set up the Children’s Drama Development Project and she became “the first Ghanaian writer to take a serious interest in writing for children … (and) who attempted to produce a book with an indigenous background for children in Ghana.” [Komasi p. 69]; she encouraged the government to set up the Ghanaian National Commission on Children and chaired it. She built stages, established acting companies and wrote plays to express by modern theatre means her “vision of the socially regenerative power of the traditional rituals” [Adams p. 112] which she shared with other African writers; she insisted that everyone’s talent should be exercised for the good of the whole of society, because “[w]hat we cannot buy is the spirit of originality and endeavour which makes a people dynamic and creative.” [Sutherland p. 77]. She shared Nkrumah’s belief in and vision for the integration of different ethnic groups on the continent, stating in her play Foriwa (1967) through the character Labaran, “Who is a stranger anywhere in these times in whose veins the blood of this land flows?”

The book is divided into three sections under the titles Efua Sutherland’s Artistic Space (13 essays) Efua Sutherland and Cultural Activism (4 essays and 2 personal interviews with Sutherland by Robert July and Ola Rotimi), Reminiscences and Tributes (9 essays), and the student’s essential toolkit of a Chronology, a Bibliography and a Biographical Sketch. With contributions from theatre practitioners, playwrights, actors, musicians, writers, teachers, academics, architects and Sutherland’s family, the essays cover in fascinating, thorough and diverse detail the astonishing range of her artistic and political activities. Her plays, her writing for children and her storytelling initiatives are reviewed and analysed; her role in the creation of many of Ghana’s arts institutions is examined and then brought to life through interviews with Sutherland herself; essays by her contemporaries demonstrate how far-ranging was her influence in modern African theatre – Biodun Jeyifo states that “[t]he programme of experimental theatre which Efua Sutherland began in Accra between 1958 and 1961, and the Ghana Drama Studio which she built to house her experimental work are two of the most important ‘happenings’ in the creation of modern drama, not only in West Africa but in the entirety of the African continent” [p. 36],

whilst Anne V. Adams asserts that “her work forms part of the foundation on which the contemporary production of written literature by Africans rests.” [p.105].

Her leadership and activism, the social application of her drama work and her influence on the Diaspora are all discussed in analytical and descriptive essays, whilst memoirs and reminiscences bear testimony to her extraordinary generosity and skill in mentoring and nurturing talent. As the eponymous heroine says in Foriwa, “I want to be able to look up as I walk and see dignity in the place of my birth. All of us should want that.”

Judith Greenwood.

About the Editors

Anne V. Adams was for nearly 25 years, a professor of African/Diasporic Literatures at Cornell University, New York. She has been a visiting professor at the University of Ghana, Legon, where her respect for and her scholarly interest in the influence of Sutherland on Ghanaian cultural production was stimulated. Adam's publications include co-editorship with Carole Boyce Davies of Ngambika: Studies of African Women in Literature (1986).

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