Creating an oral history of West Africa over the past 60 years from the perspective of its women
This project is supported by the
National Geographic Society
Using the sea, which has historical and cultural resonance throughout the region, as a site to anchor this project, I am travelling along the coast of West Africa, stretching from Nigeria in the east to Senegal in the west, meeting everyday women in their coastal communities and collecting their stories with the aim of creating A Women’s Oral History of West Africa.
Like Howard Zinn’s seminal text, from which this project derives its name, I will chronicle an alternative history of West Africa in which women, largely overlooked and erased from official narratives, are the storytellers and main protagonists, and their lives take centre stage.
These are women who will never grace the cover of Time or lead the World Trade Organisation. They are not politicians or academics, popular musicians or actors. They are market women and fisherwomen, teachers and seamstresses, widows and wives, mothers and queen mothers (traditional leaders). They are matriarchs and custodians of our cultures, our archives and institutions in human form. They are Africa.
The project will focus on women aged 60+. These are women who have already outlived themselves statistically, and who were born in, and lived through, a defining period in African history – through independence and military coups, social upheaval and economic hardship, civil war and mass migration, technological advancement and ecological crisis.
In collecting these 220 stories – 20 from each of the 11 mainland countries that line the Atlantic coast – I will weave an oral tapestry of African women’s stories, in their own voices and in their own tongues, that individually tell a unique human story but collectively narrate the herstory of West Africa over the last 60+ years.