|March 12, 1999||Volume 6, Number 12|
African student explores his literary heritage
For at least one African student, studying at the University of Saskatchewan has provided an opportunity to explore his own literary heritage.
Yaw Adu-Gyamfi came to Saskatoon in January 1991 to begin a masters degree in English.
Now 35, the native of Ghana says he chose the U of S over other North American schools because of its positive attitude toward international students.
"When I looked at all the other admissions I got and I looked at the University of Saskatchewan, it was the most encouraging. They said that they'd consider me for funding in the future, and that there might be a possibility of getting work with the Library or Food Services. So there was support there. Other universities basically told me I was on my own."
"I came here with the view that if I worked hard, I could get funding. And I worked hard."
Adu-Gyamfi's masters thesis focused on the poetry of Wole Soyinka, the only African writer ever to win the Nobel Prize.
He said he was interested in how Soyinka "returns to African myths, and reconstructs these myths into commentary on modern African society."
In particular, he focused on Soyinka's use of the Abiku myth, about a spirit which is born, dies prematurely, then is reborn in a continuous cycle every seven days.
He notes that whereas the traditional myth represents the cyclical nature of life, Soyinka and other contemporary African writers use the myth to represent the continued instability that has plagued African political systems since independence.
Adu-Gyamfi completed his masters degree in 1993 and was awarded the University's Daykin Scholarship for the most promising graduate student. He began work on his PhD at the U of S later that same year.
In his PhD dissertation, which he defended in September, Adu-Gyamfi looked at how modern African writers, and Canadian and Caribbean writers of African background, have drawn upon African traditions to examine their cultural identity.
"Most writers of the African diaspora began by imitating the European forms, European styles of writing," he notes. "But after independence... many of them began trying to recapture their traditions."
In doing so, Adu-Gyamfi points out, they used English, and as a result, they've developed an interesting blend of the African oral and European written traditions.
"I've often felt there really was nothing positive that could have come out of the colonial experience," Adu-Gyamfi says. "But some of these writers have been able to create something unique and beneficial out of that encounter between the two cultures."
In addition to his academic work, Adu-Gyamfi has been a volunteer with the International Student Office, meeting students at the airport and helping them find accommodations. He's also taught at the University for the past five years.
"I get cards from students thanking me for how much I helped them," he notes. "It means a lot to me. I want to be thought of as somebody who gives."
This fall Yaw and his family moved to Regina, where his wife Adwoa is a research analyst with Tourism Saskatchewan.
The couple have two sons: aged five and two. And while he eventually hopes to return to Ghana, he says that, until then, he'll take life as it comes.
"I'm always content with anything, whether it's little or plenty."
- Keith Solomon
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