#100AfricanWomenWriters: 18. Angèle Rawiri

by - 12:31

Source: litterature et ecrivains dailleurs
I hadn’t thought about [becoming Gabon’s first novelist]. I was rather taken up by my reflections, my doubts, my worries, my fears. When the novel came out, I found out that I was the first.
These were the words of Gabonese writer Angèle Rawiri in a 1988 interview for the African women’s magazine, Amina, translated by Cheryl Toman in her book Women Writers of Gabon: Literature and Herstory.

Born in 1954 in Port-Gentil (her father was the president of the Gabonese Senate and poet; her mother, who passed away when Angèle was six, was a teacher), Rawiri was said to be Gabon’s first novelist with Cheryl Toman noting that:
Angèle Rawiri has played quite a unique role in the development of national literature in Gabon and historically speaking, she has set herself apart from other pioneering women authors of any time period or tradition.
Rawiri was said to be quiet about her public life - even though her father was a prominent politician in Gabon, but according to the Historical Dictionary of Gabon, Rawiri studied in France at the Lycée of Alès and earned a baccalaureate at the girls' college at Vanves. In Paris at the Institut Lentonnet, she obtained a second baccalaureate in the commercial translation of English. Rawiri then spent two years in London to perfect her English, and supported herself by playing small roles in James Bond movies and fashion shoots for magazines.

Rawiri returned to her hometown of Port-Gentil in Gabon in 1979, and worked as a translator and interpreter of English for the state oil company, Société Nationale Pétrolière Gabonaise. Toman further notes that it was Rawiri's brother who encouraged her to write her first two novels: Elonga and G’amerakano. By the end of 1980s, Rawiri left Gabon definitively and headed for France where she finished and published her third and final novel, Fureurs et cris de femmes.

While Rawiri had lived in Gabon, France and the UK, in the same 1988 interview in Amina Magazine, Rawiri, considered herself a ‘deracinee’ (uprooted woman) explaining: I never felt at home on African soil and at the same time, I didn’t feel at home in Europe either’. Writing might have been a way for Rawiri to deal with these sentiments of 'perpetual exile' she felt - using it as 'an outlet for exploring aspects fo culture and society that bewildered or enraged her'.

However, unlike other African women writers I have featured so far in this series, Rawiri encountered relatively few obstacles if any in becoming Gabon’s first novelist. In the same Amina interview, Rawiri explained:

I must admit that it was rather easy. Friends who were journalists helped me out by putting me in contact with an editor.

Rawiri's writing led to three published novels - often described as a trilogy (although they do not have much in common) - Elonga, G’amarakano: Au Carrefour, and Fureurs et cris de femmes (Fury and Cries of Women), which are the 'hallmarks of an important decade for Gabonese literature written in French' according to Cheryl Toman.

Toman described Rawiri's first novel, Elonga, as following a young man of Spanish and Gabonese descent, whose Spanish father's dying wish is for his son to leave Spain to reconnect with the country of his already deceased mother’s birth (the fictitious African country of Ntsempolo). Rawiri's second novel, G’amerakano au carrefour, tells the story of Toula, a dismally paid secretary who succumbs to her mothers badgering and is further convinced by her best friend and colleague, Ekata, that she should dramatically modify her appearance if she ever hopes to find her way out of the poor neighbourhood of Igewa.

For Toman, Elonga is 'the least feminist but also the least woman-centred', and could be the reason why it has received the least amount of critical attention:
... critics simply were at a loss as to how to categorise it since women novelists from Gabon, like other African women writers, do tend to give the spotlight to female protagonists.
Rawiri's third novel, Fureurs et cris de femmes (translated to English by Sara Hanaburg as The Fury and Cries of Women) is considered the richest of her fictional prose portraying one woman's life in Central Africa in the late 1980s. It follows Emilienne,
... whose active search for feminism on her own terms is tangled up with cultural expectations and taboos of motherhood, marriage, polygamy, divorce, and passion. She completes her university studies in Paris; marries a man from another ethnic group; becomes a leader in women's liberation; enjoys professional success, even earning more than her husband; and eventually takes a female lover. Yet still she remains unsatisfied. Those closest to her, and even she herself, constantly question her role as woman, wife, mother, and lover. The tragic death of her only child - her daughter Rekia - accentuates Emilienne's anguish, all the more so because of her subsequent barrenness and the pressure that she concede to her husband's taking a second wife.

While working on her fourth novel, Rawiri died on November 15, 2010, in Paris. For French speakers, here's a video of an interview with Angèle Rawiri.

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