Mrs Grace Eniola Soyinka, born Grace Eniola Jenkins-Harrison, was a Nigerian shopkeeper, activist and member of the aristocratic Ransome-Kuti family.
She co-founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, her aunt-in-law. They protested against taxes introduced by the Alake of Abeokuta, the ruler backed by the colonial authorities. They withheld the taxes, and eventually the Alake abdicated. The union, which had a membership of 20,000 women, eventually evolved into the national organization the Nigerian Women’s Union.
GRACE ENIOLA SOYINKA: BACKGROUND & LEGACY:
She grew up in the household of her grandfather, the clergyman and composer Josiah Ransome-Kuti. Her mother, Rev. Ransome-Kuti’s first daughter, Anne Lape Iyabode Ransome-Kuti, married Mr. Jenkins-Harrison. In childhood Grace Eniola had been sent to live with her grandparents, uncles and aunts, all of whom she was very close to.
She is often erroneously referred to as Rev. Ransome-Kuti’s daughter. She married Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, an Anglican minister. The second of their seven children was Wole Soyinka, writer and 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. Wole Soyinka gives an account of his parents’ home life and his mother’s activism in his 1981 memoir Ake: the years of childhood. He called Grace “Wild Christian” in reference to her devout Anglicanism.
Not much about the life and times of Mrs. Grace Eniola Soyinka is available information outside of the people who knew her in her lifetime, but her participation in the Abeokuta Women’s Union protests against taxes, forever solidifies her activism as that movement was one of the most pivotal movements in activism and feminism in that era.
The fact that she is a member of the Ransome-Kuti clan simply means that she definitely was imbued with the DNA of activism as the family was and is still known for social activism through various means. Perhaps the major highlight of her legacy besides her own activism, is the fact that she is the mother of Professor Wole Soyinka, an internationally recognized and respected literary luminary.
Wole Soyinka’s works have over the years, explored the same themes of activism, usually through satirical expressions in poetry and in plays. He has in his own way, carried on the tradition of the Ransome-Kuti family of always confronting societal incongruences.
Mrs. Grace Eniola Soyinka died in 1983, at the age of 75, but she was described by those around her as very energetic even into her seventies, entertaining her relatives with singing and dancing.
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi