This week we travel to Ghana, to look at the Akan tale of Princess Yaa aka the proud princess. I’ve read a few versions of this story, where sometimes the princess is referred to as Princess Afiong or Ewabunmi; sometimes she marries a wolf, other times a skull monster, but in each version, she’s portrayed as spoilt and arrogant princess whom believes no man is good enough for her. In every version her parents want her to marry, but she rejects numerous suitors because they’re not handsome or rich enough until she meets one who deceives her and turns into a monster. The moral of the story is that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.
EXAMINING THE DOUBLE STANDARD
Yet… it has to be said… the gender double standards are strong with this one. Let’s look at what the Princess is punished for. She’s condemned for being vain because she wants to marry someone who’s extremely handsome and rich … yet she is so sought after because she is beautiful and rich herself. In some versions, they know her reputation for being ‘haughty’, but flock to marry her anyway because she’s an exceptional beauty (and her parent’s wealth couldn’t hurt either). But are they ever called out for it? Not at all.
It’s expected that a male lead (even if he himself is ugly) is entitled to marry a girl who is pretty, no matter what the situation. He will sometimes be called out if he falls for a woman who is pretty but nothing else, but even then, it’s usually she who is condemned for being vain, cold etc, while he is never called out for loving her solely on looks. In the end he will always meet another woman who is kind and equally pretty (although usually in a less glamorous, more understated ‘girl next door’ way).
It’s always women who are hit with the ‘looks aren’t that important in a partner’, when with men its a given that his potential partner has to be pretty even if he’s not. Because of this, I can’t help but salute this princess; she wants a prince that does it for her, and she’s not accepting anything less.
WHAT MAKES THIS PRINCESS SO STRONG?
Yet, if this story is so negative, then why is it included on the list of strong princesses? Simple: Farida Salifu’s retelling is amazing.
Salifu is an absolutely astounding writer who retells dozens of Akan myths on her website, most notably the Anansi tales, all of which are brilliantly written. She injects so much character into this princess that you can’t help but love her. She’s vain, spoilt, mischievous and she doesn’t just know it; she revels in it. She rolls around her luxurious bedchamber, wrapping herself with jewels and musing about all the trouble she’s going to cause her poor future husband; even the servant girls can’t resist giggling at her exploits. Princess Yaa’s just too much fun and oozes too much charisma.
And the wolf is excellent as well, and shatters the traditional fairy tale convention a way that is reminiscent of a certain Disney film:
‘Is it funny how you never even asked me my name, but you agreed to marry me?’
He just cuts right to the core. Seriously, that’s a good point that’s never really been brought up in fairytales until Frozen (at least Anna got her intended’s name and knew he liked pudding).Whatever we have to say about the treatment of Princesses in Western fairytales, half the time the Prince is so forgettable we don’t even know his name.
All in all- this is a very, very well told story. I can’t praise Farida Salifa enough as a storyteller, and it’s worth checking out all her tales- especially her retelling of the Anansi stories, Africa’s most prominent funny and infuriating fairytale antihero.
If you know any children, I would strongly recommend reading her work- all of her stories are lively and entertaining, and has the added bonus of teaching them a little about African culture.
But now we’ve had an African Princess who epitomizes bad judgement and selfishness. Next week I’m going to look at another African Princess- this one who exemplifies self-sacrifice and wins the attention of her Prince by her extreme courage and determination. Also, she charms mermaids and slays dragons.