EFUA THEODORA SUTHERLAND
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, the Ghana Society of Writers,] the Ghana Experimental Theatre, and a community project called the Kodzidan (Story House).
As the earliest Ghanaian playwright-director and a popular broadcaster, 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. She was also a pioneering publisher, establishing the company Afram Publications in the 1970s
She was an influential cultural advocate for children from the early 1950s until her death, and played a major role in developing educational curricula, literature, theatre and film for and about Ghanaian children
Efua Theodora Sutherland was born in Cape Coast region, which was then the British colony of Gold Coast. After graduating from St. Monica’s Training College, she went to England where she studied at Homerton College, Cambridge, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Upon her return to home in 1951, she co-founded the cultural journal Okeyame. Sutherland worked as a teacher in several schools, among others at St. Monica’s Training College, before settling in Accra, the capital. In 1954 she married William Sutherland, an African American; they had three children. Sutherland assisted her husband in the establishment of a school in the Transvolta.
Auntie Efua, as she was affectionately known, made children’s issues central to her life and work. After pioneering an indigenous movement in writing, publishing and development through drama for children, she was appointed in the 1980’s to lead Ghana to become the first country to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Declaration of Rights of the Child.
Through the work of the Ghana National Commission on Children, of which she was a founding member and Chair, several initiatives for children were moved forward including the Children’s Park Library Complex network, Child Literacy and Mobile Science Laboratory projects, as well as the commissioning of extensive research on the Ghanaian child.
Her work received recognition from both the state and major agencies such as the Valco Trust Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, UNICEF and UNESCO. Other significant supporters included Arthur and Ruth Sloan, the Arthur and Dorothy Clift family of Bromley, UK, Dr. Vivian O. Windley, Merle Worth, the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, USA and the Children’s Television Network
Sutherland founded several experimental theatre groups and writers’ workshops. In 1958 she opened the Experimental Theatre Players in Accra. Two years later, with funding from Ghana’s Art Council and the Rockefeller Foundation in the U.S., it became the Ghana Drama Studio, and a courtyard theatre, with a covered stage on one side, was build for it. A few years later Sutherland designed another outdoor performance area for experiments.
Television service began in 1966 and from November 1966 plays were produced regularly. This institution flourished until 1990, when the building was demolished to make way for a new National Theatre. An exact replica of the Drama Studio was built next to the Institute of African Studies at the University. Sutherland was the founder of the Ghana Society of Writers, later the Writers’ Workshop in the Institute of African Studies, and the creator of Kodzidan, a community theater place in Ekumfi-Atwian.
In 1968 she formed the Kusum Agoromba (Kusum Players), a touring theater group, which performed at schools, churches, and training colleges. Its name was Akan and meant “the right thing to do.” Sutherland’s Drama Studio was originally a workshop for children’s writers, but soon it soon became a training ground for playwrights, and the essential vehicle for the creation of new theatre.
In 1962 Sutherland joined the staff of the New School of Music and Drama, headed by the distinguished musicologist J.W.C. Nketia. She worked with the National Commission on Children and also was a consultant to the Du Bois Center for African Culture, the former home of the black American scholar and Pan-Africanist W.E.B. DuBois (c. 1868-1963), who had moved in 1961 to Ghana. Her Ghana Drama Studio also collaborated with the Workers’ Brigade Drama Group, founded by Félix Morrisseau-Leroy. When Ama Ata Aidoo studied drama at the University of Ghana in the early 1960s, her mentor was Sutherland.
With Experimental Theatre Sutherland travelled around the country, performing on the streets of the newly independent Ghana. Under its first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), Ghana became a socialist state in 1964, but following a financial chaos, Nkrumah was deposed in 1966. From the colonial English-language traditions in theatre Sutherland turned to the popular village theatre based on oral storytelling, and emphasized the importance of performing in Ghanaian languages. With the means of drama, Sutherland could reach people who had problems with the written word.
Theatre had not only an important role in educating and entertaining people. Through achievements in culture Ghana also gained attention and prestige on the international scene. In the 1980s Sutherland served as advisor to the president of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings, who led a cop in 1981, and started economic reforms. Sutherland died on January 2, 1996.
Sutherland’s first play Foriwa (1962), sub-titled “a story-telling drama”, was written for performance “in a street in any of many small Ghanaian towns”, in the spirit of national awakening and demonstrated the importance of self-help. A young university-educated stranger, Labaran, camps in Kyerefaso, a neglected town. Labaran is a Hausa from the northern part of the country. He wants to bring new hope to Kyerefaso and says: “I was impatient at the beginning; in haste. Seeing the raggedness of my people’s homes, I was ashamed, even angry. I heard it screamed: Progress! Development! I wanted it far and everywhere.” Foriwa is a beautiful girl, whose mother becomes Labaran’s ally in building a bridge between traditions and progress. The marriage of Labaran and Foriwa also connects north and south and different ethnic groups. Foriwa was a dramatized version of Sutherland’s short story ‘New Life at Kyerefaso’, anthologized in Voices of Ghana. Edufa (1967) was based on Euripides’s Alcestis. Edufa is a Western-educated modern man, who is obsessed with his own longevity. A diviner tells him that he can avert his death if he can find someone to take his place. Ampoma, his wife, promises that she would die for him unaware of Edufa’s intentions. Ampoma accepts her approaching death, and expresses love for Edufa. The play was first produced in 1962 at the Drama studio. At the time its director was Joe Coleman de Graft (1924-1978).
Marriage for Anansewa told about a cunning and dishonest father, Ananse, the spider or trickster figure in Akan oral narratives. As a trickster Ananse can take different forms, and in the story he is an old man. Ananse tests the suitors of his daughter, Anansewa, who is a Western-educated urban woman. He tries to gain money by demanding a bride price and playing with the hopes of the four suitors. Following the oral technique Sutherland used a storyteller who stood outside the action and mediated between the actors and the audience. With the actors, the audience could participate in singing or recounting mboguo, musical performances that comment on the story.
Some of Sutherland’s writing for children was both in English and Akan. “I am anxious that children are started off bilingual in the schools,” she once said. “This can’t happen unless there is literature in support of it.” Vulture! Vulture! (1968) and Tahinta (1968) were rhythm plays, in which one-line statements were commented by an unvarying chorus line. The Roadmakers (1961) and Playtime in Africa (1962), with photographs by Willis E. Bell, were also written for children. The Voice in the Forest, a book of fairy tales and folklore, was published in 1983.
- The Roadmakers, 1961 (photographs by Willis E. Bell)
- Foriwa, 1962
- Playtime in Africa, 1962 (photograps by Willis E. Bell)
- Edufa, 1967 (based on Euripides’s Alcestis)
- Odasani, 1967 (based on Everyman)
- Vulture! Vulture! and Tahinta: Two Rhythm Plays, 1968
- The Original Bob: The Story of Bob Johnson, Ghana’s Ace Comedian, 1970
- Anase and the Dwarf Brigade, 1971 (based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland)
- Anansegoro: Story-telling Drama in Ghana, 1975
- The Marriage of Anansewa, 1975
- Efua Sutherland of Ghana, 1978 (recording)
- The Voice in the Forest, 1983
- The Marriage of Anansewa and Edufa, 1987