Elevate Difference

Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts: Manifestations Of Aje In Africana Literature

Teresa N. Washington, an associate professor of Africana Literature at Kent State University, has attempted a vindication of Africana writers who have tried to explicate the importance of aje in women of African heritage. The Yoruba word aje denotes the potency of personal spiritual power derived from Creation that can be possessed by both women and men. The controllers of that power, however, are revered women – matriarchs of society and the cosmos, who are given the respectful title of Mothers. Washington’s scholarly text, Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts, is a well-researched volume that explores this ancient spiritual power and its manifestations first in Africa and later into the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States. Wherever people of African descent settled, either willingly or by force, aje was brought with them. Understanding of its nature and its power was misconstrued by those not of this heritage, but Washington asserts that even within the culture and spiritual realms of Africans aje was falsely linked with witchcraft. Washington traces how this power was denied and then scandalized first by early missionaries in Africa and later by men who saw patriarchy as a means to establish their own power. Washington shows how aje was used as a means of enacting retribution on the oppressors who denied them their humanity. This retribution took the form of hoodoo, a system of practice that could harm, destroy, heal, and create. She traces this through oral histories and literature by significant Africana writers, such as Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston as well as the works of lesser-known writers Ama Ata Aidoo, Gloria Naylor, Mary Monroe, T. Obinkaram Echewa, and Ben Okri. Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts is not light reading, though there are moments when humor and insight combine to make it a brilliant work. Patiently, Washington takes the reader through the complex cosmology and practices of Yoruba religion and philosophy. It is a much needed affirmation of feminine power and resource, and is essential reading for anyone attempting a greater understanding of the work of contemporary Africana writers.

Written by: Janie Franz, November 30th 2006