Women were quite autonomous in the precolonial times, there was gender inequality and patriarchies dealing the with differences and precolonial period. These works offer evidence of the value of gender relations during the concepts, rather than Jefferson. In my concept they are also, however, strongly concerned with the agency of Africans. This essay seeks to critically discuss the underlying argument in contrast of the above statement that the African women in precolonial societies have held an important status within the community, family and economy.
The position of women in precolonial Africa obviously differed in the vast number of ethnic groups in Africa. A woman’s position varied according to the kinship structure of the group and role of women within the economic structure of the society. Common factors among women of different ethnic groups. However, included the domestically oriented jobs and the range of economic activities that the societies reserved for women. Women in precolonial societies held a complementary position to men although patrilineal and patriarchal kinship structures predominated African societies. The kinship group expected women who married into an African patrilineage to give birth to sons to ensure the future of the group. Furthermore, the position of a young wife improved as she grew older, bare children and earned approval from its older members. She gained assistance from younger wives as she grew older, thus allowing her to spend less time in the home and more time engaging in activities outside the household activities such as farming and craft making which allowed her to provide the material resources needed in order to care for her family. African society offered the greatest opportunities for women to participate in other economic activities such as manufacturing and trade. In African society, the responsibility of a woman to provide for her family included providing the material resources for such care. Women believed that providing such resources met their responsibility as women and citizens. Their society considered the work the women did complementary to the work of men, and some women achieved impressive status in the economic and social realms of African life. However, more commonly, women achieved power by means of their lineage or by means of marriage into ruling families. By achieving such power, they obtained indirect political influence, but they rarely showed their influence in public.
A woman’s mental and physical health is dictated by a society who recognized her as weak and dependable creatures. Science has shown how man like Aristotle from ancient times drew references to the size of a woman’s brain, classifying her as inferior to the man. It is for this reason her characterization was not intelligent enough for tertiary education and as a result not formidable for prominent positions in the professional world. Her wage was less for doing the same job as a man even if she was just as qualified as him. Her physical wellbeing was so fragile that she needed the constant protection of the man. The woman learned to accept herself as a damsel in distress and always protected from subjects of sexuality which would cause too much blushing for her. Thus, whilst in chambers conversations on topics such as of circumcision for men and the laws against buggery. She was the shielded victorian woman. Therefore, one can posit the view that the view of women’s physical and mental health in the 19th and 20th century was that she inferior and fragile; she could not do to the superior level of the men.
Women perceived less intelligent than men, therefore incapable of excelling in certain profession such as the sciences. The perception that women brains were not formidable as men started before the 19th century; it was a view started by misogynist who were on a quest to keep women subjected to men always both in the private and public sphere. According to Londa Schiebinger the accomplishments of many women in science got negated from history, thereby reflecting the false premise that men were usually always the inventors and not women. The belief was that the “women brain was too small for scientific reasoning,” therefore her contribution in the field of science was not her own
Like the family and economic structures, the religions of many African tribal societies conceived the position of women as complementary to that of men. However, the fact remains that the societies of Precolonial Africa believed men to more superior then women, to some extent, in control of women. According to Carolyne Dennis, writer of Women and State in Africa, “The religions of many African societies recognized the social importance of women by emphasizing the place of female gods of fertility and social peace, but women were also associated with witchcraft which appeared to symbolize the potential social danger of women exercising power uncontrolled by men”. In societies that did not confine women to the household as the (Hausa) of which is the member or the chief member of the Chadic subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages. It is widely used as a trading language throughout W Africa and the S Sahara did, women held important roles in agriculture, manufacturing, and trade, and women also possessed an important, if restricted, religious role. However, religion also provided an important means of controlling women by explaining that women acting outside their appropriate social role, unconfined by men led to dangerous results.
Women held a basically complementary, rather than subordinate, position to men in indigenous precolonial African society, which based power on seniority rather than gender. The absence of gender in the pronouns of many African languages and the interchangeability of first names among females and males strikes Naira Sudarshan, author of “The Status of Women’ in Indigenous African Societies” in the anthology Women in Africa and the African Diaspora, as a further relation of the social deemphasis on gender as a designation for behavior. She observers that “many other areas of traditional culture, including personal dress and adornment, religious ceremonials, and intragender patterns of comportment, suggest that Africans often deemphasize gender in relation to seniority and other insignia of status” However, despite the lack of emphasis placed on gender by Africans indigenous societies, the state and its bureaucracy tried to dictate the lifestyles of women, endorsing the domesticity of women and the unwaged services they provided for the family. Much of the legislation concerning women, therefore, attempted to control them, their sexuality and fertility, further defining their subordination. The beginning of colonial rule brought to Africa the European notion that women belonged in the home, nurturing their family. At the same time the societies expected women to work which the society considered complementary to that done by men the state and the beginning of colonial rule began to change the roles of women by means of legislation restricting women and the focusing of colonial economics on men.
One of the issues involved in the debate on the status of women in pre-colonial Africa is women
and governance. It is the general belief that women held very submissive political positions in most of the African countries. There has been a cry from feminists and other women advocates who lament out against the patriarchal system which existed in most countries. Whilst it is true that patriarchy did exist in Africa, women were not entirely removed from political positions. According to MagbailyFyle, although men dominated politics in Africa in the precolonial there were a quite a few women who played an active role in politics and government.
From the outside considering the pre-colonial life of many Africans, it may seem like women were totally insubordinate both in the public and private sphere. However, according to Ogbomo, women sometimes use informal means to influence decisions made in the household. For example, in Owan, Edo State Nigeria before a title system, the household was the smallest unit of administration. The leader of each household would frequency hold meetings to help discussions between family members; it was here that women got the chance to express their views. Furthermore, women created organizations that served them both in the private and public sphere. For example, in Owan, the Idegbewas a group for the unmarried and married daughters of a lineage. Additionally, there were the Ikhuoho and the Ikposafen groups for married or wives of the family. Since the Owan family line was patrilineal, the Idegbe were as ‘males’ of the family, thus allowed certain authority. According to Ogbomo, they had a great influence on their husbands and brothers that they were able to discuss family problems such as marriages. In addition, because they operated as a group it gave them strength; the men consulted them before making the final decision. The Idegbe were active in birth, death and marriage activities, thus demonstrating part of their “social, economic and political consciousness.”
It is interesting to note that for some African women and men power came with titles based on economic gain and prosperity. The title labelled involuntary because of tradition. For example, in Ekwe title in Nnobi came to a woman or girl whose fortune looks prosperous. Whilst the involuntary title opened to all women, reservation came for the men, according to their lineage.
Women also fought in armies in some countries in pre-colonial Africa thus demonstrating the influence that they had in governance. For example, among the Sotho of South Africa, daughters of sub-rulers were women regiments. In addition, the most famous women warriors were the Amazons of Dahomey.
Cotton cultivation and weaving the prerogative of women in the Owan communities – became known as the golden age for women. Ca.1600-1632 In addition, Ogbomo made a very interesting point when he noted that the wealth obtained from the cotton boom in from the mid -17th century stimulated more cowries and iron bars. The cowry and iron bar currency influence payment for more titles in the Owan. Ogbomo argues that one of the reasons for the increasing the number of titles was to curtail the growing influence of women. The belief was that the traditional prestige of the communities was fading. Furthermore, Ogbomo did point out that women held a few of the titles. However, the shrewd nature of oral traditions, do not clearly define the relationship between the titles held by men and women in respect to equality on the occasion when it did exist.
It is important when studying the status of women in Africa, one should know that the continent is huge and there are significant differences between countries. In addition, within one state there are several traditions and values that are different. Therefore, the aim of this essay is to 9.use specific examples within the communities in Africa to show the role of women which contributed to their status. The status of a precolonial African woman is very difficult to define because there are many examples where she dominated and other instances where she faced discrimination. Hence, it one will see that the precolonial woman was both a leader and a woman on the sideline. In both cases, analysis of the status shows the strength and the weaknesses of the individual communities or people and not a broad standpoint of ‘African.’
One of the issues involved in the debate on the status of women in pre-colonial Africa is women and governance. Generally, the belief is that women held very submissive political positions in most of the African countries. There has been a cry from feminists and other women advocates who cry out against the patriarchal system which existed in most countries. Whilst it is true that patriarchy did exist in Africa, women were not entirely removed from political positions. According to Fyle, although men dominated politics in Africa in the precolonial period there were quite a few women who played an active role in politics and government. For example, in the Yoruba political culture, there was the Iyalode who was a member of the Alafin’s council judiciary body in Yoruba. The Iyalode was a female representative whose was responsible for women issues and their spokeswoman at the Alafin’s meetings. Additionally, in Sierra Leone among the Mende and Sherbro people by the 19th century women can be heads of towns and sub-regions – a good example is Madame Yoko. Furthermore, according to Fyle the queen mother gave women influence and leverage in the political sphere of some African countries. In this writer’s opinion, the place held by the queen mother and queen sister was important politically but did not afford them much power; authority but no opportunity to exert any power to that place; some of the Wolof and Serene People had the place of the Langured (King’s mother). Her place was ceremonial, she oversaw sacred objects and the Awa (king’s first wife) possessed fields and slaves. The two positions did not make decisions that influence the economic or political spheres of the empires or countries.
From the outside considering the pre-colonial life of many Africans, it may seem like women were totally insubordinate both in the public and private sphere. However, according to Ogbomo, women sometimes use informal means to influence decisions made in the household. For example, in Owan, Edo State Nigeria before a title system, the household was the smallest unit of administration. The leader of each household would frequency hold meetings to help discussions between family members; it was here that women got the chance to express their views. Furthermore, women created organizations that served them both in the private and public sphere. of the family, got certain authority. According to Ogbomo, they had a great influence on their husbands and brothers that they could family problems such as marriages. In addition, because they operated as a group the man consulted them before a final decision. The Idegbe were active in birth, death and marriage activities, thus demonstrating part of their “social, economic and political consciousness.” In this writer’s opinion, it is important to bring attention to the grouping of women in positions as ‘males.’ In this instance in the Owen communities, it shows that men were not able to negotiate with women unless the men saw the women as one of them.
It is interesting to note that for some African women and men power came with titles based on economic gain and prosperity. The title was as involuntary because of tradition. For example, the Ekwe title in Nnobiq was a woman or girl whose fortune looks prosperous. The involuntary title opened to all women but for some men it is reserved, according to their lineage.
Another area of debate is the woman’s role in the pre-colonial economy in Africa. Although women had limited political rights, she has the responsibility of providing for her family. In most African societies such as women were in charge of fire, water and the earth. Meaning she cooked, transported water and planted the fields. It was her role and her contribution to her family. For example, cotton cultivation and weaving was the privilege of women in the African communities became known as the golden age for women Thus, is it justified to say that women did most of the work in Africa societies, while men formed political decisions? In this writer’s belief, since it was their tradition and women did it for years, then her task essential if not appreciated. Should the women decide to abandon their roles then, the social and economic spheres of the communities would change. Furthermore, one can view the arrangement as a sign that the contribution of women in those propositions was highly valued. However, at the same time it would not be wrong to say that the pre-colonial woman looked double burdened and thus many of their arguments for the advantages of a polygamous family.
The social life in the communities across Africa always raises contentious debates about the status of women marriage, land and religion and many more. Religion influences the ideals of marriage and the other functions of the family. The penetration of Islam into Africa changed several dynamics on the role and status of women in society. For example, in Hausa land, the influx of Islam resulted in the measure and quality of important political roles to diminish. Islam also had an impact on the economic activity of a few such as the Fulani herders who were accustomed to women’s involvement in market day. However, women became forbidden to go to the market and to work in fields “there was an emphasis on reproduction instead of production.” Islam brought in formal education for women but it is important to note that the education involved the women learning the sacred texts to understand their rights and place in society. In addition, the early role of Christianity into Africa especially in Ethiopia created a change in some social customs. The missionaries tried to sway the women from dressing in their traditional outfits because of the image that it was provocative and coarse. In addition, the missionaries were contentious against polygamy and earnestly tried to fight against it. However, for my African family’s polygamous families worked for them because it allowed the communal raising of children and shared labor.
Land ownership is another issue on the status of women in pre-colonial Africa. Since land was community owed no one owned land individually as one did in western societies, although the land tradition differed from people to people. For some the African people land came with clans and marriage played an important role in keeping land within clans. Thus, if a woman married outside her clan, then part of the land that her family possessed went to her husband from the other clan. For this reason, many daughters were control by marriage because more restrictive because their families strongly encouraged a union within the clan. Additionally, Greene comments that in situations like these women placed the clan before their needs. It is also important to note that since land was communal and tended mostly by women in some African countries, women were viewed as essential to land development. According to Anthonia C. Kalu, for the Bambara people of West Africa women were in control of certain forest products like fuel wood and fruits of certain trees such as the Shea nut-tree. Kalu further explains, that women had customary rights to the land and as a result were part of the land rights that governed the Bambara land. It is noteworthy to point out that since most of the African states, countries or empires were agrarian and since one of the woman’s roles was in food product, she became more important.
In conclusionx, from the literature one can see that there were several issues which fueled the debate on the status of women in precolonial Africa. The issues of land, marriage, work and power are essential to the private and public sphere activities. It is important to bear in mind that when reading about women in Africa, most of the time western beliefs and tradition influence our judgements. Therefore, this essay agrees with many African essays who warn that the traditions of the west when juxtaposed with those of Africa, is very dangerous in understanding the significant roles that either men or women performed. Having said this it is also necessary to point out that there were instances when women in their roles may seem overburdened, such as her role as provider using fire, water and earth.