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Full circle

Amadiume wins Flora Nwapa Society Award for new book

Ifi Amadiume, professor of religion and of African and African American studies, was unable to travel to Ghana, Africa, for the official presentation of the 2006 Flora Nwapa Society Award, which she won for her new book of poetry, Circles of Love (Africa World Press). Instead, two society delegates came to Hanover this spring and presented it to her here, a visit that closed a circle. Amadiume has traveled across three continents on her own journey to Dartmouth.

Ifi Amadiume
Ifi Amadiume's new book, Circles of Love, was honored by the African Literature Association. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Born in Nigeria to Igbo parents, Amadiume was a secondary school student when the West African nation split apart in a civil war. In 1970, after bitter fighting and blockades, Nigerian forces crushed Biafra, the secessionist Igbo state.

"The Igbos were very disillusioned when we lost that war," Amadiume says. "Many didn't see much future for the Igbo people in Nigeria. Many left to come to the United States. I was always ambitious, very eager for education. So I left as well."

Entirely on her own, Amadiume left Africa for the United Kingdom, where she received her advanced level education and completed an undergraduate degree and a Ph.D. at the University of London's prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies.

A social anthropologist by training, Amadiume took a new look at the role of women in African cultures and religions, revising the work of earlier male European Africanists, such as the Cambridge anthropologist Meyer Fortes.

"Under the Eurocentric lens, Africa was supposed to be a continent of static, primitive societies. My work started as a critique of that perspective. But that older work is not to be discarded. One can still also go back to those Eurocentric scholars and read behind the lines and find where Africans themselves speak, rather than the contemporary images of Africa. Africans are not just AIDS and war and dictatorial governments. We don't see the dignity of the people looking at Africa that way."

Amadiume's arrival in Hanover in 1993 involved a few more twists of fate. She had been teaching part time, writing, traveling, and lecturing in England, Canada, and the United States. Her two children, who enjoyed America during Amadiume's lecture tours, urged her to apply for positions in the United States.
"Dartmouth sent someone to interview me in England. I came here, in the middle of winter, not quite knowing where I was. It was a huge challenge. But it has been very enriching for my work."

Besides her scholarly books, such as Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society (1987); African Matriarchal Foundations: The Igbo Case (1987); Reinventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion and Culture (1997); and Daughters of the Goddess, Daughters of Imperialism (2000), Amadiume is the author of two previous books of poetry, Passion Waves (1985-nominated for the Commonwealth Prize) and Ecstasy (1995-Association of Nigerian Authors Award). Her poetry blends a number of sources and themes, including Sufi mysticism, political activism, and love in many guises.

"Poetry allows you those personal feelings and experiences not allowed in strictly academic work," Amadiume says. "Especially as anthropologists, our ethnographic writings are not about us. But of course, they are about us, too."

The Flora Nwapa Society Award made a clear connection between Amadiume's poetry and her scholarly work. Named for Nigeria's most famous female author and publisher, the award is presented by the African Literature Association, whose membership is international. Recent recipients have included Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison.

Referring to both her scholarship and her poetry, the award citation says that Amadiume "has interrogated the canon and empowered the daughters of Africa." In the end, Amadiume says, "The two sides of the work are the same."

By PETER WALSH

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Last Updated: 12/17/08