Defining the Role of the Nigerian Woman with Two Videos and a Party Part 2
by Nike Taylor
Begun last Thursday, today, we present the second of a two-part series titled Defining the Role of the Nigerian Woman with Two Videos and a Party.
Enter the British
The Victorian sensibilities of British colonists dictated that women be wholly dependent on men; the British believed that economic independence and political equality would make African women uncontrollable. Women throughout the newly formed Nigeria were excluded from the local government. Missionaries tried to confine them to domestic duties, but that didn’t quite take. So to further bring these women under control, the colonial government in the east and west instituted forced labour, kept raising school fees, and imposed taxes on Nigerian women.
When colonisation stripped Nigerian women of their pre-colonial socio-economic status and added outright oppression to the complications of an already patriarchal society, these women hit back.
When, like Kazaure, the British tried “not to give them too much opportunity”, women weren’t having any of it.
Because all Nigerian women were badasses.
In 1924, 5,000 Calabar market women protest a market toll in what is later dubbed the Calabar Market Women’s Revolt. Colonial officials announce the toll, but the community doesn’t understand. Women go as usual to their market stalls the next day and are driven away by colonial police. Women are pissed off. They protest and attack stalls of white merchants but are ordered to disperse. They don’t and are killed in scores, wounded by the hundreds. In the end, women must still pay the toll.
In 1925, several hundred Nwaobiala dancers fiercely protest unfair taxation and are assaulted by local warrant chiefs installed by the British in Bende and Okigwe districts (in present-day Imo State). Women sing and dance, strip off their clothes and chant. They stage the symbolic ritual sweeping of public spaces and the compounds of corrupt warrant chiefs while seizing property. They are assaulted by colonial officers and in the end, their protests are dismissed as being about sanitation and the evils of prostitution, but the Dancing Women’s Movement, as it comes to be known, serves as a precursor to the Women’s War.
In 1929, over 10,000 Ibibio, Ogoni, Bonny, Opobo, Andoni, and Igbo women (led by the Oloko Trio—Ikonnia, Mwannedia, Nwugo—and Madame Nwanyeruwa), wage the Aba Women’s War, Ogu Umunwaanyi, from Umuahia to Calabar. They have heard news of a planned tax against women and aim to prevent it. They also plan to end the sexual and financial abuse of warrant chiefs. They destroy buildings belonging to the predators (aka the warrant chiefs and colonial government) and “sit on the men”. They also free their fellow demonstrators who have been jailed. These women are then gunned down, 50 of them, by colonial police, over 50 more are severely wounded. Women are jailed, but their fellow women break them out again. In the end, tax plans are abandoned, warrant chiefs are replaced, and women are appointed to local courts.
In 1947, more than 10,000 Yoruba women in Abeokuta, led by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, protest an oppressive women’s tax that the Alake, i.e. senior king, increased. They are tear-gassed and viciously beaten by colonial forces then jailed. In the end, the Alake abdicates and women enter local administration.
Fearless, but Peerless
As feminist writer and blogger Minna Salami, aka Ms Afropolitan, explains, women of the old days are part of the roots of African feminism “because they fought against colonialism, as well as patriarchy”. They didn’t resign themselves to the roles men had written for them. They played the system and around these roles. They fought when they had to. They may have been born to carry the patriarchy on their backs, but they didn’t simply let it break their backs. Their eyes were wide open, they refused to see themselves only as their men saw them. They saw their true selves and realised those true selves.
The women of that much older age seem more progressive than our women today. When the current online debate is whether or not a Ghanaian socialite should have let the patron cat out of the bag, when our lawmakers declare a greater need to control women, when we preload women with the responsibility and blame for sexual assault, can Nigerian women today also claim that their eyes are open? Do they know their true selves? Or do they see themselves only through the eyes of their men?
March 01, 2018