Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts

Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts

Manifestations of Àjé in Africana Literature
Teresa N. Washington
Distribution: World
Publication date: 6/1/2005
ISBN: 978-0-253-00319-5
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“Washington writes supple and thoughtful prose and creatively integrates African and African-derived terminology, which never distract the reader. I consider Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts not only a brilliant study, but also a model to be emulated.” —Ousseynou B. Traore, William Patterson University

Àjé is a Yoruba word that signifies a spiritual power of vast potential, as well as the human beings who exercise that power. Although both men and women can have Àjé, its owners and controllers are women, the literal and cosmic Mothers who are revered as the gods of society. Because of its association with female power, its invisibility and profundity, Àjé is often misconstrued as witchcraft. However, as Teresa N. Washington points out in Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts, Àjé is central to the Yoruba ethos and cosmology. Not only does it underpin the concepts of creation and creativity, but as a force of justice and retribution, Àjé is essential to social harmony and balance. As Africans were forced into exile and enslavement, they took Àjé with them and continued its work of creating, destroying, harming, and healing in the New World.

Washington seeks out Àjé’s subversive power of creation and re-creation in a diverse range of Africana texts, from both men and women, from both oral and contemporary literature, and across space and time. She guides readers to an understanding of the symbolic, methodological, and spiritual issues that are central to important works by Africana writers but are rarely elucidated by Western criticism. She begins with an examination of the ancient forms of Àjé in Yoruba culture, which creates a framework for innovative readings of important works by Africana writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka, Jamaica Kincaid, and Ntozake Shange. This rich analysis will appeal to readers of Africana literature, African religion and philosophy, feminist studies, and comparative literature.

Author Bio

Teresa N. Washington is Assistant Professor of English at Kent State University and lives in Stowe, Ohio.


"Certainly readers will find new ideas here—surprising and illuminating readings that reveal the female protagonists' control of and by Àjé. . . . Highly recommended." Choice" —Choice

"Washington (Kent State Univ.) provides a feminist but distinctly non—Western analysis of the Yoruba concept of Àjé (Aje) and its appearance through a wide variety of Africana literature. In part 1, the author identifies Àjé (Aje) both as a creative and life—giving power and as the people, usually women, who wield it. She lays out the place of Àjé (Aje) in Yoruba cosmology: its revelation in the praise song Ìtàn—Orík^d`i (Itan—Orik^d`i) and its passage in new forms, including hoodoo, to new lands through the African diaspora. In part 2, Washington interprets important Africana works as manifestations of Àjé (Aje) , showing particularly how displaced peoples of Africa have called on Àjé (Aje) to combat or make sense of oppression based on race, politics, or gender. Washington argues that traditional readings of, for example, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Gloria Naylor's Mama Day are based on inappropriate Western assumptions and values. Certainly readers will find new ideas here—surprising and illuminating readings that reveal the female protagonists' control of and by Àjé. (Aje.) Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper—division undergraduates through faculty. —Choice, Nov. 2006" —C. A. Bily, Adrian College

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Table of Contents

Note on Orthography

Part I. Àjé in Africana Orature
1. Àjé in Yorubaland
2. Àjé across the Continent and in the Itànkálé
Part II. Àjé in Africana Literature
3. Word Becoming Flesh and Text in Gloria Naylor's Mama Day and T. Obinkaram Echewa's I Saw the Sky Catch Fire
4. Initiations into the Self, the Conjured Space of Creation, and Prophetic Utterance in Ama Ata Aidoo's Anowa and Ntozake Shange's Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo
5. Un/Complementary Complements: Gender, Power, and Àjé
6. The Relativity of Negativity
7. The Womb of Life Is a Wicked Bag: Cycles of Power, Passion, and Pain in the Mother-Daughter Àjé Relationship
8. Twinning across the Ocean: The Neo-Political Àjé of Ben Okri's Madame Koto and Mary Monroe's Mama Ruby
Coda Continua

Works Cited and Select Bibliography