Efua Sutherland

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Efua Theodora Sutherland (27 June 1924 – 2 January 1996) was a Ghanaian playwright, director, children's author, poet and dramatist. Her best-known works include Foriwa (1962), Edufa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975). She founded the Ghana Drama Studio,[1] the Ghana Society of Writers,[2] the Ghana Experimental Theatre, and a community project called the Kodzidan (Story House).[3] As the earliest Ghanaian playwright-director and a popular broadcaster,[4] she was an influential figure in the establishment of modern Ghanaian theatre, and helped to establish the study of African performance traditions at university level.[5] She was also a pioneering publisher, establishing the company Afram Publications in the 1970s.[6]


She was born Efua Theodora Morgue in Cape Coast, Gold Coast (now Ghana), where she studied teaching at St Monica's Training College. She then went to England to continue her studies at Homerton College, Cambridge University, and at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.[1]

When she returned to Ghana, Sutherland helped to establish the literary magazine Okyeame at the end of 1957.[7] She then taught at schools including at St. Monica's Training College, before settling in Accra. In 1954 she married Bill Sutherland, an African American and pan-Africanist who had moved to Ghana.[8] They had three children and she helped her husband in the establishment of a school in the Transvolta area.[9]

During this time Sutherland experimented with drama, founding in 1958 the Experimental Theatre Players, which was a workshop for writers of children's literature, and later became the Ghana Drama Studio, with Joe de Graft as its first director. The Drama Studio soon became a training ground for Ghanaian playwrights and went on to become part of the University of Ghana, with Sutherland taking on the role of Researcher in the new School of Performing Arts.[10] It is now the Writer's Workshop in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.[1] She founded the Kodzidan (Story House) in Ekumfi-Atiwa.[11] In 1962 she joined the staff of the new School of Music and Drama, headed by J. H. Kwabena Nketia.[9] She was also a research fellow in literature and drama at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana.[3] Sutherland was a great help author and activist Maya Angelou when she lived and worked in Ghana in the 1960s, and is affectionately featured in Angelou's fifth volume of memoirs, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes.[12]

In the early 1970s, Sutherland co-founded the publishing company Afram Publications, which was incorporated in 1973, and in March 1974 began operating from her private studio in "Araba Mansa", her compound at Dzorwulu, Accra.[6] Sutherland remained involved in Afram's editorial work until her death.[13]

In the mid-1980s, she mooted the idea of holding a pan-African historical theatre festival in Ghana as a cultural vehicle for bringing together Africans on the continent and in the diaspora; it came to fruition as Panafest, which was first held in 1992.[14]

Efua Sutherland died in Accra aged 71 in 1996.


Sutherland experimented creatively with storytelling and other dramatic forms from indigenous Ghanaian traditions. Her plays were often based on traditional stories, but also borrowed from Western literature, transforming African folktale conventions into modern dramatic theatre techniques.[11] Many of her poems and other writings were broadcast on The Singing Net, a popular radio programme started by Henry Swanzy,[15][16] and were subsequently published in his 1958 anthology Voices of Ghana. Her best known plays are Edufa (1967) (based on Alcestis by Euripides), Foriwa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975).[1]

In Edufa the eponymous character seeks to escape death by manipulating his wife, Ampoma, to the death that has been predicted for him by oracles. In the play, Sutherland uses traditional Ghanaian beliefs in divination and the interaction of traditional and European ceremonies in order to portray Edufa as a rich and successful modern person who is held in high esteem by his people. The play uses traditional ritual and symbolism, but the story is told in the context of Edufa's capitalistic abandonment of his moral commitment to his wife, while his wife and the other women favour the morality of the past.[11]

In Foriwa the eponymous character, who is the daughter of the queen mother of Kyerefaso, and Labaran, a graduate from northern Ghana who lives a simple life, bring enlightenment to Kyerefaso, a town that has become backward and ignorant because the town's elders refuse to learn new ways.[11] Foriwa's main theme is the alliance of old traditions and new ways.[1] The play has a national theme to promote a new national spirit in Ghana that would encourage openness to new ideas and inter-ethnic cooperation.[11]

The Marriage of Anansewa: A Storytelling Drama (1975) is considered Sutherland's most valuable contribution to Ghanaian drama and theater.[11] In the play, she transmutes traditional Akan Ananse Spider tales (Anansesem) into a new dramatic structure, which she calls Anansegoro.[11] Nyamekye (a version of Alice in Wonderland), one of her later plays, shows how she was influenced by the folk opera tradition.[1]

Sutherland was also an author of works for children. These works included two animated rhythm plays, Vulture! Vulture! and Tahinta (1968), and two pictorial essays, with photographs by Willis Bell (1924–2000): Playtime in Africa (1960) and The Roadmakers (1961). Many of her short stories can be described as rhythmic prose poems. The Voice in the Forest, a book of the folklore and fairytales of Ghana, was published in 1983.[1]


The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan African Cultural Activism, a volume in her honour was published in 2007, edited by Anne V. Adams and Esi Sutherland-Addy.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • with Willis E. Bell, The Roadmakers: a picture book of Ghana(for children). Accra: Ghana Information Services / London: Newman Neame, 1961, 1963
  • with Willis E. Bell, Playtime in Africa (for children), New York: Atheneum, 1962
  • Edufa (play), Longman, 1967
  • Foriwa: A Play in Three Acts, Accra-Tema: State Publishing Corporation, 1967
  • Tahinta (1968)
  • Vulture! Vulture! and Tahina: Two Rhythm Plays, Tema: Ghana Publishing House, 1968
  • Odasani (play), Accra: Anowuo Educational Publications, 1969
  • with Willis Bell, The Original Bob: The Story of Bob Johnson, Ghana's Ace Comedian (play), Accra: Anowuo Educational Publications, 1970
  • Anansegoro: Story-Telling Drama in Ghana, Accra: Afram, 1975
  • The Marriage of Anansewa (play), London: Longman, 1977, 1980; Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1980
  • The Voice in the Forest: A Tale from Ghana, Philomel Books, 1983

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Merriam-Webster; Encyclopædia Britannica (1995-04-01). Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Merriam-Webster. p. 1081. ISBN 0-87779-042-6. 
  2. ^ Moses Danquah, "Ghana, One Year Old: a First Independence Anniversary Review", Accra: Publicity Promotions, 1958.
  3. ^ a b Thrash Murphy, Barbara (1 December 1998). Black Authors and Illustrators of Books for Children and Young Adults. Routledge (UK). ISBN 0-8153-2004-3. 
  4. ^ Margaret Busby, "Efua Sutherland", Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent (1992), Vintage, 1993, p. 314.
  5. ^ Banham, Martin (13 May 2004). A History of Theatre in Africa. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80813-8. 
  6. ^ a b "Our History", Afram Publications.
  7. ^ Simon Gikandi, "Sutherland, Efua Theodora", Encyclopedia of African Literature, Routledge, 2003.
  8. ^ William Milter, Interview with Bill Sutherland, September 2004, for "No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000".
  9. ^ a b Liukkonen, Petri. "Efua Sutherland". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. 
  10. ^ Collins, Stephen (2011), "Playwriting and postcolonialism: identifying the key factors in the development and diminution of playwriting in Ghana 1916-2007", MPhil(R) thesis, p. 15, University of Glasgow.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Owonoyela, Oyekan (23 August 2002). A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8604-X. 
  12. ^ Maya Angelou, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, 1986.
  13. ^ Kofi Anyidoho and James Woods (eds), FonTomFrom: Contemporary Ghanaian Literature, Theatre and Film, p. 80.
  14. ^ Panafest website.
  15. ^ "Efua Sutherland", Encyclopædia Britannica.
  16. ^ Arbogast Kemoli Akidiva, "Radio and Literature in Africa: Lee Nichols' Conversations with African Writers", p. 229. University of Alberta dissertation, Spring 1997.
  17. ^ Judith Greenwood, "The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan-African Cultural Activism" (review), Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 70 (December 2008), pp. 84–86.

External links[edit]