From Playwright to Pan-Africanist: Efua Sutherland's impact on Global Arts

Stories and facts

Efua Theodora Sutherland, born on June 27, 1924, and departing from this world on January 2, 1996, was a multifaceted Ghanaian personality. Renowned as a playwright, director, dramatist, children's author, poet, educator, researcher, child advocate, and cultural activist, Sutherland left an indelible mark on Ghana's cultural landscape.

Born as Efua Theodora Morgue in Cape Coast, Gold Coast (now Ghana), Sutherland's journey in education took her to St Monica's Training College in Mampong. Her pursuit of knowledge led her to England, where she earned a BA degree at Homerton College, Cambridge University, making her one of the first African women to study there. She furthered her studies in linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

Returning to Ghana in 1951, Sutherland's teaching career commenced at Fijai Secondary School in Sekondi and later at St. Monica's School. It was during this time that she started writing for children, fueled by her discontent with the literature being imposed on Ghanaian children.

In 1957, with Ghana gaining independence, Sutherland founded the Ghana Society of Writers, later becoming the Ghana Association of Writers. This initiative birthed the literary magazine Okyeame in 1960, with Sutherland as its eventual editor.

Sutherland's creative genius extended to drama, where she skillfully blended indigenous Ghanaian traditions with Western literature. Notable plays like "Edufa" (1967), "Foriwa" (1967), and "The Marriage of Anansewa" (1975) showcased her ability to transform African folktale conventions into modern dramatic theater techniques.

Establishing the Ghana Experimental Theatre in 1958, she laid the foundation for a vibrant theatre community, influencing practitioners from across Africa. Sutherland's involvement in the School of Music and Drama, University of Ghana, and her role as a Research Associate at the Institute of African Studies showcased her commitment to academic and artistic development.

Sutherland's passion for pan-Africanism manifested in her collaborations with luminaries like Chinua Achebe, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Maya Angelou. Her 1980 proposal for a pan-African historical theatre festival materialized as PANAFEST in 1992, a testament to her enduring impact on the continent's cultural unity.

A staunch advocate for children's rights, Sutherland chaired the National Commission on Children from 1983 to 1990. Her efforts resulted in innovative programs, including the Child Education Fund and the establishment of child-centered parks and libraries across Ghana. The Mmofra Foundation, active since 1997, continues her legacy by enriching the lives of Ghanaian children.

Sutherland's legacy lives on through various avenues. The National Theatre of Ghana's Efua Sutherland Drama Studio and the Efua Suthrerland Children's Park in Accra stands as proof of her enduring influence. Streets in Amsterdam and a student hall at Ashesi University bear her name, while a Google Doodle honored her on what would have been her 94th birthday in 2018.

In 2020, on International Women's Day, 3Music Awards celebrated Efua Sutherland for her pioneering contributions to the entertainment industry, ensuring that her impact remains recognized and celebrated. The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan African Cultural Activism, a volume edited by Anne V. Adams and Esi Sutherland-Addy, stands as a tribute to her enduring influence.



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