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, the Ghana Experimental Theatre, and a community project called the Kodzidan (Story House).[2] 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.[3]


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. 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.[4] They had three children and she helped her husband in the establishment of a school in the Transvolta area.[5] During this time Sutherland experimented with drama, founding in 1958 the Experimental Theatre Players, which was a workshop for children's literature writers, 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.[6] 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.[7] In 1962 she joined the staff of the new School of Music and Drama, headed by J. H. Kwabena Nketia.[5] She was also a research fellow in literature and drama at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana.[2]

In the early 1970s she co-founded the publishing company Afram Publications, which was incorporated in 1973 and began operating from her private studio in "Araba Mansa", her compound at Dzorwulu, Accra, in March 1974;[8] Sutherland remaining involved in Afram's editorial work until her death.[9]

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.[10] Efua was a great help to the author, poet and activist Maya Angelou when she lived and worked in Ghana in the 1960s. Maya Angelou speaks beautifully of Efua in her fifth volume, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes.

See Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan African Cultural Activism by Anne V. Adams (Author, Editor), Esi Sutherland-Addy (Editor).


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.[7] 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.[7]

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.[7] 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.[7]

The Marriage of Anansewa: A Storytelling Drama (1975) is considered Sutherland's most valuable contribution to Ghanaian drama and theater.[7] In the play, she transmutes traditional Akan Ananse Spider tales (Anansesem) into a new dramatic structure, which she calls Anansegoro.[7] 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, 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]


  • with Willis E. Bell, The Roadmakers: a picture book of Ghana (Accra: Ghana Information Services / Newman Neame, 1961)
  • with Willis E. Bell, Playtime in Africa (Atheneum, 1962)
  • Edufa (Longman, 1967)
  • Foriwa (State Publishing Corpotation, 1967)
  • Tahinta (1968)
  • Vulture! Vulture (Ghana Publishing House, 1968)
  • with Willis Bell, The Original Bob: The Story of Bob Johnson, Ghana's Ace Comedian (Anowuo Educational Publications, 1970)
  • The Marriage of Anansewa (Three Continents Press, 1975)

Further reading[edit]

  • Anne V. Adams and Esi Sutherland-Addy (2007). The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan-African Cultural Activism,[11] Banbury: Ayebia Clarke Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9547023-1-1
  • Salm & Falola (2002). Culture and Customs of Ghana. Greenwood Press ISBN 0-313-32050-0


  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. ^ a b Thrash Murphy, Barbara (1998-12-01). Black Authors and Illustrators of Books for Children and Young Adults. Routledge (UK). ISBN 0-8153-2004-3. 
  3. ^ Banham, Martin (2004-05-13). A History of Theatre in Africa. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80813-8. 
  4. ^ William Milter, Interview with Bill Sutherland, September 2004, for "No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000".
  5. ^ a b Liukkonen, Petri. "Efua Sutherland". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. 
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Owonoyela, Oyekan (2002-08-23). A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8604-X. 
  8. ^ "Our History", Afram Publications.
  9. ^ Kofi Anyidoho and James Woods (eds), FonTomFrom: Contemporary Ghanaian Literature, Theatre and Film, p. 80.
  10. ^ Panafest website.
  11. ^ Review by Judith Greenwood, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, December 2008.

External links[edit]