Feminism: Speak up, Akoko, and seize what is rightfully your own

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Ms Jane Bosibori Obuchi.

Akoko is the lively, vocal girl, woman and matriarch character in Margaret Ogola’s famous novel, The River and the Source. She earns the name from her childhood assertiveness, especially in claiming what belongs to her. This trait stands her in good stead in her many life’s struggles, especially against those who try to deny her what she feels belongs to her.

This indefatigable, articulate, Akokoan assertiveness is my recommendation to my sisters as we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s Month, which we kicked off officially on Friday. All of us in the feminist struggle are generally aware of the nature, the problems and the objectives of female emancipation and empowerment. What I think needs refinement and strengthening to ensure accelerated and sustained achievement of the process are the strategy and tactics of our activities.

Strategy, as you know, is the overall plan or road map of where we want to go and how to get there. Tactics (mikakati) are the specific, practical actions we take to get to our destination. The destination of the feminist transformational process is the full gender equity and emancipation and empowerment of every member of our society. This approach is every intelligent person’s responsibility.

Have you read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists? There is also a beautifully listenable YouTube video of her on the subject. I will not spoil your enjoyment of this uniquely articulate woman’s discourse by giving you the details. I know you will check the material out. But the core of her brand of feminism, and mine, is that, true gender emancipation and empowerment is the right and responsibility of both men and women.


Anyway, today I am concentrating on the feminist tactic of assertiveness, making and keeping the woman visible and audible in every context. Those of us in the creative industry can positively contribute to this visibility and audibility in various ways. In literature and orature, we should encourage the production and publication of works by women, and reading them, reviewing them, discussing them and teaching them.

Both men and women writers should also consciously and deliberately create convincing, strong female characters and positive story lines. Theatre, film and music practitioners should similarly project the woman and her struggle.

Home languages

Speaking of music, my friend and literary colleague, Jane Bosibori Obuchi of Eldoret, has added another feather to her cap of visible and audible assertion with her performances on the 8-string obokana instrument. Jane Obuchi has for several years now been known for her practical implementation of Ngugi’s advocacy of celebrating our home languages and creating literary works in them. Besides her writings in Kiswahili and English, she has published several works in her Ekegusii home language, comprising language teaching texts, selections of Ekegusii orature and, famously, Ekegusii translations of famous works like Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

I believe she got fascinated with the obokano lyre in the course of research for her book of Ekegusii songs, Chingero Chi’Abagusii. She realised that many of the songs were supposed to be accompanied with instruments like the obokano. But the problem was that there were rather few expert or even barely competent players of these instruments. Undeterred, she sought out the few players she could trace and quietly took lessons from them. Now she is a noticeable player of the obokano, to which she sings her chingero with enthusiasm.

But it has not been all melody and harmony along the obokano path. First, there were those who felt that the obokano was “a man’s” instrument, and it was not appropriate for a woman like Jane Obuchi to play it. Her answer to that was that, if the men did not want to play, why should they stop her? Then there were the neo-conservatives who claimed that the obokano songs were “pagan and drunken” chanties. Jane, a devout Christian, replied by composing and singing Christian songs to her obokano melodies.

I am not in a position to judge the quality of Jane Obuchi’s obokano music or its acceptability to either the Abagusii cultural gurus or her community of believers. But her enterprise, which reminded me of the Japanese-born “Anyango nyar Siaya” (Eriko Mukoyama), the nyatiti “maestra”, underlines a few of the things I said earlier about the practical tactic of feminist assertiveness. The first and most important is that female emancipation and empowerment starts with the woman. The best way to think of these processes is that they are self-generated: self-empowerment, self-emancipation.

Feminist revolution

No one is going to give women their rights on a platter. They have to demand them and seize them. A character called Amina, in Marjorie Macgoye’s Coming to Birth, says something like, “We make what comes and take the best of it.” It may sound cryptic, but it is the germ of a feminist revolution. Proactively seize your opportunities, instead of waiting to be given or allowed. When your opponents oppose you with appeals to “culture”, tell them, as Adichie tells us, that “culture does not make people. People make culture.”

Finally, feminist activists should be alert to every opportunity to advance and assert their cause and challenge the patriarchy (the exclusivist domination by men). Not everyone is going to have access to the grand stages or platforms of international prominence. But wherever you are, and whatever you do, you can advance the cause of empowerment. If women did not play obokano or nyatiti in the past, now they do, and maybe more and more of them will do, because Anyango nyar Siaya and Jane Bosibori Obuchi play.

As for my fellow men, will you join the feminist movement today? We say, with my famous daughter, Adichie, “we should all be feminists”. After all, “A feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes there is a problem with gender, as it is today, and we must fix it.” I quote Adichie again.

Have a productive International Women’s Month, and Ramadhan Kareem.

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and [email protected]@yahoo.com