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Symposium “African Art with Words”

Friday 1 December 2017
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

In honor of Dr. Daniela Merolla, thanking her for her many years at and contribution to Leiden University


Daniela Merolla


  • “A Womb Makes a Woman: Fertility, Pregnancy and Childbirth in Proverbs from Around the World” by Mineke Schipper (Leiden University)

All over the world topics such as wombs, pregnancies and childbirth are strikingly central in proverbs, and not only in Africa. It is posterity that men need women for—and women, men. Most proverbs about wombs are concerned with what the womb is actually meant for: the wonders and worries of the mystery of bearing a child. Many proverbs deal with the miracle of fertility and, in a world without DNA check, birth-giving was surrounded by tricky questions as to who actually fathered the children wives gave birth to: ‘Mother’s baby, father’s maybe’. (Caribbean)

Interestingly, the womb is frequently referred to in all kinds of metaphors, and the container metaphor is the image par excellence women are associated with in all continents. I found more than a hundred different container metaphors referring to women, from utensils such as bags, baskets, bottles, buckets, calabashes, cups, fishnets, gourds, jars, jugs, kettles, mortars, ovens, pitchers, saucepans, vases, to huge vessels: dustbins, rice-bins, vats, washtubs, etc.

Until recently one had to wait and see what would happen after love-making: ‘A woman can hide the penis, but not her swelling belly,’ as the Mamprusi in Burkina Faso used to say. However, thanks to safe birth control, women are more and more able to regulate their own birth-givings. From that point of view love-making has become more relaxed. Or in the words of a newly invented proverb: ‘Where there is a Pill, there is a way.’

  • “Why Form Matters - A Form Challenging Performance” by Jan Jansen (Leiden University)
  • “Black and(/or) Tech? Man versus Machine and Breaking Boundaries in African and African-American Speculative Fiction” by Tineke Dijkstra (Leiden University)

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  • “The girl and her brother’. Concepts of slavery and gender relations in a Gĩkũyũ tale from Central Kenya.’ by Inge Brinkman (Ghent University)

In colonial parlance African women were often compared with slaves: sold to the highest bidder and working like beasts of burden, African women were associated with victimhood and commodification. This discourse entered suffragette activism in Europe, and especially payment of the bridewealth was singled out as an argument in the discussions. Local accounts, evaluations and memories of marriage and bridewealth, had no place in these debates.This paper will present a Gikuyu narrative from Central Kenya that relates marriage and bridewealth to issues of household autonomy, interdependence, gender, force and agency.

  • “From Black Athena to Black Dionysus and beyond? African Adaptations of Greek Tragedy” by Astrid van Weyenberg (Leiden University)
  • “Performing Migration and Motherhood: A reading of two South African plays” by Ksenia Robbe (Leiden University)
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