Iconic Women

Senegalese Writer and political activist, Mariama Bâ

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | May 3, 2023

Bâ was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal, into a well-educated and prosperous Senegalese family of Lebu ethnicity. Her father was a career civil servant who rose through the ranks to become one of the country's first Ministers of state. 

In 1956, he was the Minister of Health, and her grandfather worked as an interpreter for the French occupation regime. Following her mother's death, Bâ was raised primarily by her maternal grandparents in the traditional manner. She received her primary education in French while also attending Koranic school.

Bâ was a well-known law student in his school. Girls faced numerous obstacles when seeking higher education during the colonial revolution and later. Bâ's grandparents had no intention of educating her beyond primary school. She won first place in the entrance examination at a teacher training college in Rufisque (a Dakar suburb) and was admitted to the École Normale. 

She was trained for a career as a school teacher at this institution. After noticing Bâ's intelligence and capacity, the school's principal began preparing her for the 1943 entrance examination for a teaching career. She taught from 1947 to 1959 before becoming an educational inspector with the Regional Inspectorate of Teaching. 

She was married three times and had nine children; her third and longest marriage was to Obèye Diop, a Senegalese member of Parliament, but they divorced.

She published two books, So Long a Letter (1979) and Scarlet Song (1981), as well as an article titled "La fonction politique des littératures Africaines écrites" (The Political Function of African Written Literature) in 1981.

She did not accept the label "feminist," which she considered too loaded with Western values, nor did she agree with traditional Senegalese Muslim values for women. 

According to Rizwana Habib Latha, Ramatoulaye in So Long a Letter portrays a type of womanism, and Bâ herself saw an important role for African women writers:

Bâ died in 1981, before the publication of her second novel, Un Chant écarlate (Scarlet Song), a love story about two star-crossed lovers from opposing ethical backgrounds fighting the tyranny of tradition.

Mariama Bâ's ideal society also necessitates a balance based on the principle of complementarity, on cooperation rather than power co-opting. The protagonist, Ramatoulaye, gradually realizes her innate power and questions the repression of the feminine principle, as well as desires and envisions the restoration of reciprocity and balance in relationships. 

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