What is the "female principle," especially with regards to African Postcolonial poetry?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One very noteworthy discussion of the “female principle” in African post-colonial poetry is an essay by Elaine Fido titled "Okigbo's Labyrinths and the Context of Igbo Attitudes to the Female Principle." In this essay, Fido discusses the “female principle” in some of the following ways:

  • She discusses this idea when commenting on the abundance of female gods in Igbo culture:

This prevalence of female deities is in accordance with the theory that the Igbo traditional religion was based around the female principle, centrally around the Earth Goddess Ala, described by Michael Echeruo as the most likely deity to be called supreme god of the Igbos.

Here, then, the term “female principle” seems to suggest the heavy influence of female deities in Igbo traditions and society.

  • Later, Fido again mentions the term “female principle” when she writes that

Whilst it is difficult to say for certain what factors predispose Igbo culture to encourage the development of women as creative writers, it is clear that they exist, and it is also apparent that male Igbo writers are particularly concerned with the balance of male and female values in society and write about the results of inequities in male and female principles as being dangerous to social health.

Here the idea of a “female principle” seems to be associated with female influences on the larger culture.

  • Later still, Fido once more uses the phrase “female principle” when she writes,

Okigbo, whilst not a professional soldier, was killed in the Biafran war and his poetry clearly articulates the stress of determining identity amidst cultural crisis and gender crisis. In his work, fear of women can also be clearly perceived. Anxiety about the female principle is in fact a strong element in male Eastern Nigerian writers' work . . . .

In this passage, the term “female principle” seems almost synonymous with a phrase such as “power of women” or “female authority.”

  • Even later, Fido writes that Okigbo’s

presentation of his own spiritual odyssey is framed by the developing images of a female principle which shapes and informs the adult male psyche.

In this case, the term “female principle” seems to suggest an aspect of the individual psyche, so that any person can be said to be influenced both by male and female “principles” to one degree or another.

  • Finally, when Fido comments on one particular work by Okigbo, she sees it as symptomatic of his work as a whole:

So there is here a dualism within one poem which is repeated over and over again in Labyrinths: the female principle becomes the creative-protective-destructive cosmic centre of the universe.

Here the term “female principle” seems to suggest something far larger and more significant than any influence on any individual psyche. Here the term seems to suggest a principle with far broader, deeper, and more universal implications.

The subtle gradations and variations in Fido’s use of the term “female principle” suggest that it is in some ways an all-purpose term that can connote the influence of females in a variety of ways and in a variety of spheres.





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