A Conversation with Allua Vaah on Maame
Tell us about the book and why did you decided to write.
I loved reading and writing growing up. As one of the few who could read the local Nzema language in elementary school, I read at church and at events. I competed in easy competitions and wrote letters to the editor in high school. As I moved to the city, and later outside my home country Ghana, I felt the need to tell the stories of the incredible women of my village, especially as my grandmothers and even my mothers’ generations have started to die off and things are beginning to change.
In fact, I would have done it earlier but as we say, life got in the way. So, about five years ago, my GO Train home was delayed and we were stuck on the train tracks somewhere between Weston and Etobicoke in the GTA. That was when I opened the notes app on my phone and started writing.
It was like I never left. The characters started pouring out.
Was it a challenge to write?
Not really. There was a lot of nostalgia to some extent. It felt like I was going down memory lane both from what my grandmother told me and what I saw growing up with those generations of women. I have a lot of fond memories of my childhood in my village. The carefreeness, community, belonging.
The village where the book is set – why did you choose it?
I grew up in paradise, although it will take me years of living away from home to realize it. Aakonu is beside the sea (Gulf of Guinea, off the Atlantic Ocean) and the river Amanzule. A shimmering beach on one side and rich, beautiful, green mangroves and the fresh river on the other. For the formative years of my life, it was all I knew. Even now most of the time when I fall asleep that is where I find myself.
It was bound to be the right setting for a book about rural women.
The characters, what are they about?
Each of the Characters in Maame I chose to celebrate and reflect the strength and resilience of the women of Aakonu, and by extrapolation the women of rural West Africa.
Represents strength & sacrifice. She steps in to care for her deceased sister’s children and she does it without hesitation, becoming a pillar of strength for them even in their adulthood.
A young, widowed mother. She pulls herself together when she had had enough and drives her children to go for more than she could. Even then, her focus wasn’t just them, but how they can impact her community as well. Ahu represents the many women in rural West African communities who wouldn’t hesitate to sell the cloth on their backs to see their children get educat[ed], something many never had.
Ebela’s character reflects the dilemma of many young women everywhere, especially in close-knit, community-oriented settings: should she follow her heart or should she be a good daughter and marry her family’s choice of man?
Aso is a hardworking, enterprising woman, but how does she navigate a superstitious system that does not favour women with no children, and a husband bent on doing whatever he wants?
Bomo represents those from these communities who become the first in their families to leave the safety of the community in order to seek education and a better life. They don’t only have to navigate the unfamiliar, and they also have to continually fend off the pressure to come home and get married.
In addition, there are powerful women in special roles that make them revered by everyone, even the men.
Women like Priestess Yaba, Queenmother Ekeleba and Traditional Birth Attendants like Mozuma. These women transcend gender barriers and are revered by both men and women.
What excites you about the book?
My publisher will tell you how emotional I was when I first held Maame in my hands. I am excited to share these stories of strength, resilience, heartache, and triumph seeped in Nzema culture with the world. I want people to get to know this place and [be able to] picture it. I want them to learn the songs and some of the proverbs in there as well.
Why did you choose the title Maame?
Maame is an endearing word for mother. It is used by most Akan people in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. This is a book about women and motherhood, which makes it an apt name for it. I had considered the unique Nzema word for mother, ɔmɔ. However, I had to abandon it due to the special characters in it.
What is your vision for the book?
Schools: I see Maame in the hands of every high school student in West Africa, Canada, US, and Europe. I see this book on the shelves of libraries and as supplementary reader for gender and women’s studies programs.
For travellers and those involved in humanitarian activities in rural West Africa.
For people generally interested in learning about other people, and for a mosaic-like place like Canada where the world is virtually here, I’ll say it’s worth a read.
I am glad to say that Brampton Library carried Maame as one of the books for its 2021 Local Author Showcase collection.
I see documentaries made with the stories in Maame. Even a movie. Heck, why not?
For first generation Ghanaian immigrants like myself, whose Canadian children may not understand why certain demands are made of them from home, it is a good conversation starter between us and our kids.
What do you want people to take away from the book?
I want readers to get to know the rural African woman. A picture of resilience, sacrifice, and strength. Her loves, laughs, her culture, and her aspirations. She is versatile, adaptable, nurturing, and she makes it work no matter what.
Where can someone buy the book?
In Brampton – Knowledge Bookstore, and major book retailers. Online: Mawenzi House website, Amazon, Indigo Chapters websites.
Social media: @lizvaah; @alluaVaah
First discussed during the launch of Maame at this link: Maame Book Launch