In many parts of Africa, there is a large discrepancy in who controlled
the resources, access to the economy, individual autonomy and central voice in
the government between the men and the women. African men, for the most part,
have the largest say in the activities of the country. When issues of concern
arise, "men's issues" usually became the issues of national concern, and those
issues pertinent to women go to the back of everyone's mind. Women are forced
to accept the results of men's actions, and usually nothing gets accomplished
that benefits them. Because women continually were overlooked, they began to
come together and protest. If one examines the following women's protests and
their outcomes: A.E. Afigbo's The Warrant Chiefs, Sylvia Leith-Ross' African
Women, Jean Allman's "Rounding Up Spinsters: Gender Chaos and Unmarried Women in
Colonial Asante", and Irene Staunton's Mothers of the Revolution, several
questions arise. What were women seeking and how did this differ from what men
wanted? Did women attain their goals, and if not, why not? If women were not
successful in getting their concerns at the forefront of national interest, at
what, if anything, were they successful?
In several instances women became so angered by their lack of voice,
that they were moved to act. In some of these cases, women were relatively
successful in organizing and mobilizing. The story of the Aba Riots, which is
discussed in both The Warrant Chiefs and African Women, proves this point well.
In Nigeria, in the late 1920's, the Warrant Chiefs wanted to impose a system of
annual taxation. What was so displeasing to the people about the tax was that
it involved a census, and that the money went towards no specific project. The
concept of counting free people was a foreign one to the Igbo. This notion went
contrary to custom, and it was believed to bring about death (Afigbo, 229). The
people of the Eastern Provinces felt that because they were being counted, the
colonial government was enslaving them or that they were out to destroy them.
Also objectionable to these people was the fact that the collected money went
towards "'development'" (Afigbo, 228), something for which these communities had
The first year of tax collection went surprisingly well; except for a
few isolated incidents. The first year was rather non-violent for two reasons:
"It needed the shock of the first payment for people to realize what taxation
meant in practical terms" and the second reason was the large police presence
and prosecutions of opponents to the tax (Afigbo, 233). These two factors
allowed for a relatively peaceful tax collection.
However, when year two arrived, so did the resistance. In September
1929, Captain John Cook was sent to Bende as the Acting District Officer, where
he was disappointed with the male roll counts. He instructed his Warrant Chiefs
to conduct new counts, and "added that the exercise had nothing to do with a tax
on women" (Afigbo, 236). The mere mention of "women" and "tax" in the same
statement sparked immediate disapproval. Rumors began to fly that the
government had ordered a tax on women. Suddenly, the women reacted and agreed
to resist by the end of October, 1929.
Captain Cook did not want to conduct the count himself, so he sent a
mission school teacher to administer the count. When he arrived he asked a
woman whom he met outside to go and count "'her people'" (Afigbo, 237). Within
hours, women in mass numbers had gathered to discuss the tax, and went from
there to the mission teacher's home to ask them why they were being taxed. The
women equated being counting with taxation. "They also sent messengers 'armed'
with fresh folded palm leaves to women of neighboring villages inviting them to
come to Oloko" (Afigbo, 238). The women traveled on foot to ask other women for
support, and the women they approached in their villages would go and rally
their peers and bring the idea to their attention. From there, the women would
decide if they would join the movement and what action, if any, would be taken.
The mere fact that women were able to organize themselves to act in such
a short time was a definite success. Thousands of women from the Eastern
Provinces participated in different activities; some of which were organized,
and some of which were not. The women disturbed court proceedings repeatedly,
decapped chiefs, looted court officials' homes, burned and vandalized court
houses, even looted European factories and shops. Their actions definitely
attracted the immediate attention of the colonial government.
Sylvia Leith-Ross describes how well the women were organized. In some
of the interviews that she conducted with participants and viewers, people were
amazed at the womens' solidarity. This text relays how the men in these areas
had no large part in the Aba Riots. It was said that the men basically "stood
completely on one side, passive, if consenting parties, to the extraordinary
behavior of their wives" (Leith-Ross, 30). This kind of activity was
unthinkable to men and women in other regions, but Igbo women were determined
not to be taxed. From one portion of the text, it almost sounds as if the men
might have taken care of the children while the women were out protesting. Some
women who were bystanders and were forced to participate in the riots, commented
on how they saw the women marching towards them and "they had no children with
them" (Leith-Ross, 32). This implies that the men were the caretakers of the
children during this period, because all of the women were involved in the
riots.There was nowhere else to leave the children. It is amazing to see the
opposite roles that men and women took in the Aba Riots.
However, the women did have some problems staying focused. There was an
incident when two of the women were hit by a medical vehicle, which sparked the
other women to participate in aimless looting. The women became so enraged at
the doctor who hit the two women, that they followed him into a factory and
began looting the European factories and shops, which was not the original goal
of the riots. Another fault of the women was their inability to gain
widespread support across the region. The method of carrying the palm leaf by
foot to neighboring regions inefficient. These women could not reach remote or
distant compounds. ...
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