Mariama Bâ was born in 1929 in Senegal. She was brought up by her grandparents in a traditional Moslem environment. For a few years, her father was Minister for Health. She obtained her teaching diploma in 1947, taught for twelve years then, for health reasons, asked to take up an appointment at the Senegalese Regional Inspectorate of Teaching. A divorced mother of nine children, she was married to the Member of Parliament, Obèye Diop. In 1980 she obtained the Noma Prize for her first novel. She died the following year, just before the publication of her second book.
|More information in : Mame Coumba Ndiaye, "Mariama Bâ ou les allées d'un destin", Dakar, Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Sénégal, 2007, 260p.|
Une si longue lettre [So Long a Letter]. Dakar: Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines, 1979. (131 p.) ISBN: 2-7236-0430-6. Novel.
After the death of her husband, Ramatoulaye profits from the required traditional 40 days of mourning in order to take stock of her life and to reflect on the problems faced by her society: polygamy, castes, a woman's exploitation...
Un Chant écarlate [Scarlet Song]. Dakar: Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines, 1981) (251p.). Novel.
This novel traces the failure of a young Senegalese man and a young French woman whose marriage disintegrates and highlights the difficulties which interracial marriages often face: family opposition, husband's weakness of character, the cultural shock of the spouse who leaves her country...
Jean-Marie Volet. "Mariama Bâ ou les allées d'un destin" by Mame Coumba Ndiaye. August 2009. Review.
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The University of Western Australia/French
Created: 25 December 1995
Modifed: 12 September 2009
Archived: 11 May 2013
Writer and political activist Mariama Ba was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal to a well-to-do family. Her father worked in the French colonial administration and in 1956 became the Minister of Health of Senegal. Her mother died when she was young. Ba was raised by her maternal grandparents who emphasized conservative Muslim values. She attended a religious school, but was also educated in the French tradition. Due to the intervention of her father, she was enrolled in 1943 in the Ecole Normale (Teacher Training School) at Rufisque, a town some 25 miles away from Dakar where she received her diploma in 1947. Ba worked as a teacher from 1947 to 1959, before becoming an academic inspector. During this period, Ba had nine children with her husband, Obeye Diop. The couple separated and Ba was forced to raise her children as a single parent.
By the late 1970s, after most of her children were adult, Ba turned to political activity. She became a vocal activist for women's rights in Africa and a critic of the neocolonial system that had evolved in most of the newly independent African nations. She was also concerned with and wrote about a number of feminist issues such as polygamy, mistreatment of women in Senegalese society, ostracism of the castes, the exploitation of women, violence against women, and lack of educational opportunities for girls.
Her first and most significant novel, Une Si Longue Lettre (So Long a Letter) was published in 1979. It stands as a landmark of African and Francophone literature which received widespread critical acclaim as well as the Noma Prize for African Literature. Her novel has been translated into numerous languages and is a staple of francophone literature courses worldwide. So Long a Letter is an epistolary novel, written in the form of a letter from a widow to a friend who lives in the United States following the death of her husband. The widow grapples with her polygamous situation as well as the rise of modernity and Westernization. She recounts that, despite the fact that her husband has taken another wife after 25 years of marriage, she remained faithful to her values and religion. Her quiet strength, common sense, and courage are a direct contrast to the depiction of males in the story, including the husband.
Her second novel, Scarlet Song, published posthumously in 1986, also received international attention. The book deals with an interracial relationship in Senegal and the struggle of women to overcome the traditional system of polygamy and gender discrimination.
Ba advocated a greater voice for African women, a sense of emancipation and the changing of laws and traditions which served to subjugate women. She was also an advocate for African cultural revival. In her 1981 work, La Fonction politique des littératures africaines écrites, she argued that Africans should embrace and feel pride in their culture and achievements.
Mariama Ba died in Dakar, Senegal in 1981 after a long battle with cancer. A prestigious boarding school on nearby Goree Island is named in her honor.
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