Name: Simone Kaya
From: Ivory Coast
Simone Kaya is a social worker, nurse, and writer who was born and resides in Ivory Coast. Growing up in 1940s Abidjan, Kaya was not supposed to receive an education other than how to take care of whatever guy she’d have to marry.
Remember the part in Beauty and the Beast where Gaston says it’s not right for a woman to read? “Soon she starts getting ideas, and thinking.” Well, that was basically the argument her father’s friends made against the idea of Kaya’s education: “If we educate them, they will refuse to crush the foutou and the millet. They will need a cook, just like the French women. And when a husband contemplates taking a new wife, they will argue against polygamy. A good Muslim should have four wives. How could a good man refuse the women chosen for him by his family? … Believe me, said one, sending young girls to school is fraught with danger.”
This excerpt is taken from Kaya’s memoir Les danseuses d’Impé-Eya. Jeunes filles à Abidjan (The Impé-eya Dansers, Young Girls in Abidjan), so obviously Simone Kaya was like Yeah right I’m not going to receive an education—watch me write this book about my girlhood education.
Actually, it was her father who, as she mentions in the dedication of her memoir, wanted “his daughters to learn to write as well as his sons.” Her mother was with Gaston and her dad’s friends on the importance of Simone’s foutou and millet crushing abilities. “I believe that because of school, I was estranging from my mother a bit more every day,” Kaya wrote. To be fair, her mother’s line of thought was How the hell is learning how to write in French or whatever going to help my daughter prepare herself for the difficult marriage and demanding husband she’s probably going to have to have because that has been my experience and literally the experience of most women throughout the course of history?
Furthering complications, Ivory Coast was knee deep in French Colonialism and for Kaya’s parents, watching their daughter come back home after two years studying in France was jarring. Her father didn’t like her new accent, and though he was the one who had sent her off to study, Kaya struggled to prove to him as well as her mother that her French schooling had not changed her cultural identity. Tensions calmed once a few weeks passed and they realized their daughter hadn’t lost her African customs.
Kaya’s first book was published in 1976, 16 years after Ivory Coast’s liberation in 1960. According to literary scholar Charles Forsdick:
“…most African countries had liberated themselves from colonialism by the late 1950s or early 60s. A decade later, women writers had started to appear all over the continent, bringing for the first time to the public sphere the African woman’s viewpoint, and thus breaking the ancestral custom that barred women from public speaking. Therefore, for African women, writing came as a double liberation, first from the oppression of colonialism, and secondly from the patriarchal imposition of silence.”
Stylistically, Kaya’s writing is said to blur traditional genres, mixing fiction with facts, and featuring a narrator who uses first person plural in order to show that although her experiences are personal accounts, they also tell the story of a generation of girls.
Le Prix d’une vie (The Price of a Life), Kaya’s second book, was published in 1984 and focuses on a woman named Clémence who studies to be a nurse in France, marries an African man of a different ethnicity much to the dismay of her family, moves back to Africa to start a family during a time of great political unrest, and watches her marriage deteriorate.
Neither Les danseuses d’Impé-Eya. Jeunes filles à Abidjan nor Le Prix d’une vie are translated into English, which is a shame because I really, really want to read Les danseuses d’Impé-Eya. Jeunes filles à Abidjan. Coming of age books that forgo a narrative about a young girl’s first forays with romance and instead focus on a young girl’s education and her society’s reaction to said education are fewer and farther between, as more value is usually placed on the former.
There’s not much biographical information in English about Simone Kaya, and this post is mostly informed by a review of Les danseuses d’Impé-Eya. Jeunes filles à Abidjan, which was luckily a memoir so the review doubled as biographical information. Also, I couldn’t find a picture of her other than this very, very tiny one, so that’s why the post’s main image is of Les danseuses d’Impé-Eya. Jeunes filles à Abidjan. (Which is also pretty pixelated—sorry about that!—and doesn’t seem to be very well-circulated in France or Ivory Coast based on the lack of images coming up in my searches in their corner of the internet.)
Yeah, it’s pretty disappointing.