Fathers & Daughters: An Anthology of Exploration

Njabulo Ndebele once famously called for ‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary’. In African Studies, events within civic and public spheres have so dominated the field that it has almost been impossible to define the ordinary in any other way outside the public sphere.

The African family has thus been assimilated to the discourse of the public and the domain of intimacy and privacy has been rendered non-existent. Given the notorious reputation that African men have of being patriarchal and often not paying serious attention to their female offspring, the subject of African men’s attitudes to their daughters has also not had any attention in the field. It has also been a challenge to discover what women think of their African fathers.

By combining essays from women about their African fathers and vice versa, this Anthology will not only provide a significant set of insights into the relationship between fathers and daughters but will also explore the gap in the perception of African fatherhood.

Contributors include prominent African scholars, writers and critics such as F. Abiola Irele, Simon Gikandi, Tejumola Olaniyan, Anthonia Kalu, Harry Garuba, Leila Aboulela, Paul Zeleza, Helon Habila, Abena Busia, Véronique Tadjo, Obiageli Okigbo, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Ama de-Graft Aikins, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Catt Thomas, Izundu Uchenna et al.

Key Selling Points

  • Ato Quayson is a respected and celebrated academic with a huge body of publications on the theoretical and practical aspects of African literature and culture in postcolonial studies internationally.
  • The complexity of the relationships explored in this collection will help generate an abiding interest in this subject and encourage further forays into what is a fascinating yet completely unexamined area of African life.
  • This book will challenge the way Africa is perceived from ‘within’ and ‘without’ by opening up new avenues for debate and debunk the myth of Africa as a patriarchal haven with the insinuation that African men pay little attention to the upbringing of their female offspring.
  • This first volume will contribute valuable insights to the debate on courses in social anthropology, sociology and cultural studies in schools, colleges and universities internationally.

Reviewed in Transition by Ivor Agyeman-Duah

ALL SOCIETIES, TRADITIONAL and modern, have channels through which daughters conduct their relations with their fathers. The feudal era defined its own, the age of Enlightenment in Europe revealed its own and a code of conduct also existed in Africa about how pre-adolescent daughters should relate to their fathers. But, with time, such relations ceased to be defined by the nuances of small societies and their traditional beliefs. In Africa, Chinua Achebe reminds us in Things Fall Apart (1958) about some expected manners of girls and their growth into adulthood. When Okonkwo brought a total stranger home to live with him and his family, all he needed to tell the senior wife was, “He belongs to the clan . . . so look after him.” When the wife wants to know whether “he is staying with us?” the lord of the House replies, “Do what you are told, woman.” She asks no further questions about the matter.

While this setting was enjoying its time in a small Igbo society, exploration in search of sea routes to Asia and Africa in the late 1700s and early1800s through voyage from Europe—especially Spain and Britain—was ongoing. Slavery and colonialism thus opened up the world. Such encounters led to the first contact of the Asantes and the Dutch in the1800s, when the King of Asante, Kwaku Dua, entrusted to Dutch merchants a son and nephew to be educated in the Netherlands. This created the first educational exchange between Asante and the Netherlands, famously captured in The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boakye (2000), by Arthur Japin.

Three centuries later, it is no longer strange for a girl who was born and raised for fifteen years in Yoruba land (Nigeria) to migrate and live with a father who is a United States citizen. The “fathom father,” to further explain, has a father who is partly Dutch and partly, from the mother’s side, Asian (from Singapore). Familiar with a multiplicity of attitudes, what kind of relation would such a daughter develop with her father to create an equilibrium of love and respect?

This may sound a bit farfetched, until we realize the age in which we live—the early years of the twenty-first century. Here, we are talking of a United States where the product of an innocent love affair fifty years ago between a man from a small Leo ethnic group in Kenya—in search of education and vision—with a lady from Kansas produced its dazzling effect: their forty-seven-year-old son, now the president of the United States and the most powerful man on earth.

There are today more influential African, Caribbean and African American intellectuals and academics living in the United States than ever before. With dual citizenship, marriages and changing attitudes, some retain only a faded relationship to, or memory of, rural Africa or Caribbean, visiting more or less as tourists. Their daughters, of course, form part of the second- or third-generation African Diaspora, with few connections to the roots of their fathers beyond their name.


Fathers and DaughtersAn Anthology of Exploration, edited by Ghanaian scholar Ato Quayson, is not the first of such work of exploration regarding how the world has changed for black intellectuals. Of the nineteen contributions, some are short memoirs, others offer a fictionalized context, and some a mixture of prose and poetry, for example, Abena Busia’s “A Letter to My Father” and “Of Memory and Loss.” The general tone of sometimes desperation, dilemma on the part of the fathers or daughters is well captured in Simon Gikandi’s “A Voyage Round My Daughter”:


“I’m taking my family home for the first time. It has taken
me ten years to plan this “voyage” and although I have
said it openly, this trip has been postponed many times,
postponed not because it was an expensive one, which is
the line I have used with both my children and family in
Kenya, but because of fears and anxieties, even doubts,
about gestures of return and reconnection.”


The beauty of this collection is that each piece is written from the perspective of a particular background. F. Abiola Irele’s “Me and My Daughters” brings to the fore a Catholic father and a literary scholar whose belief and professional delight of feminism (from the times of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970) to those of his kindred Flora Nwapa, Ama Ata Aidoo and Buchi Emecheta’s 1979 Joys of Motherhood) permeates his contribution: “Curious… of the Eve figure, the Catholic Church has always promoted a cult of the Virgin Mary, and the idea of the Immaculate Conception… ”

Irele would go on to have five daughters: two born in Nigeria and three in the United States; witnessed or supervised their growing up in Ohio, indulging them in the high culture of the West Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Opera Columbus while at the same time afraid that they might lose out: “We saw to it that they took classes in African dancing, run by a spirited Igbo woman.” This familiar harmony of a man in the midst of a


‘With dual citizenship, marriages, and changing attitudes, some retain  only a faded relationship to, or memory of, rural Africa or Caribbean, visiting more or less as tourists.’

dominant women household is quite distinct from Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s experience, relayed in “Girlfriend.” Manyika—very cosmopolitan-raised in Nigeria, having lived in Kenya, France and England and now married to a Zimbabwean but residing and teaching in the United States—defines a daughter differently: “I remind myself that my daughter is herself an odd character and shouldn’t be thrown by my quirks.”

Ama de-Graft Aikins’s “The Three Little Girls of Anamaase,” Uchenna Izundu’s “God No Go Vex,” and the editor Ato Quayson’s “Bobo the Snowflake Catcher,” though imaginary in part, are tinged, respectively, by the experience of a social psychologist, an energy journalist, and a Cambridge and Toronto transnationalist. A mixture of the young and the mature, among the contributors are not only literary scholars and critics, but also award-winning writers such as Leila Aboulela, who was born in Sudan but now lives in Abu Dhabi and caught the eyes of the jurors of the Orange Prize, in addition to having won the inaugural Caine Prize for African Writing for one of her short stories, “The Museum.” Aboulela is one of the younger contributors to this anthology, along with Obiageli Okigbo, the daughter of Christopher Okigbo, the legendary author of the collection Labyrinths (1971).

Obiageli Okigbo’s contribution, “The Return of Christopher Okigbo,” is a daughter’s tribute to a father-poet who died gallantly for the cause of the Biafran War when she was only two years old and to whom he dedicated Labyrinths. Now an architect, she lives in Brussels,

‘One might well wonder how a then two-year-old daughter could have any memory of her father, let alone celebrate it.’

where she also runs the Christopher Okigbo Foundation. One might well wonder how a then two-year-old daughter could have any memory of her father, let alone celebrate it in such a collection. But she does, because the tongue never dies and the poetry of her father speaks through her. As she explains:

I have no conscious memory of my father… It must have been a traumatic experience for a young child and I am sure that I do have memories but they have been buried, deep down, in the shadowy caves of the subconscious.

In 2007 in the company of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, a good friend and contemporary of Christopher Okigbo, Obiageli and I walked around the exhibiting papers and photos and listened to audio recordings of Okigbo’s poetry at the Brunei Gallery of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Soyinka was crestfallen yet, at the same time, happy all the same for what a daughter has been able to do to keep alive the memory of a dead father.

In praise of this collection, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has said:

This collection opens a window onto a subject rarely considered when we think about African culture: the rich, complex and sometimes vexing relationship between fathers and daughters in the African family.

The truth is that even though all the nineteen contributors (and the publisher, Nana Ayebia Clarke) hail from Africa, none, apart from Harry Garuba, who teaches African Studies at the University of Cape Town, now lives in Africa. All but the younger among the contributors have been away for at least twenty-five years—roughly half the period of post-colonial Africa. It is more, in this book, a question of the effects of migration, not the cultural matrix of the migrant fathers that define the relations between them and their European- and American-born daughters. The migrant culture is struggling and certainly not a harbinger. To what extent can we truthfully say that the contributors have maintained “the rich, complex, and sometimes vexing” African cultural values? On the other hand, however, they are among the leading lights: scholars of Africa and on Africa who have helped greatly to introduce the continent’s diversity to the globalized world. Some of their students—both European and American—may well be working in policy department of governments and if they learned their lessons well and have come to love Africa, they will craft favourable policies for the continent.

Migration will not cease today or tomorrow and if globalization maintains its current momentum, Africa and some of its elements, including scholars, will keep time with it. The world will be like it is now or continue to change further. It will be interesting to read in the future what the second or third-generation of fathers and daughters will have to say.

Weight 0.580 kg


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Ato Quayson


Ayebia Clarke Publishing


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