The Aba Women’s Riot. Let’s change the language here, the Aba Women’s Uprising, ok, that’s better. In 1929, Igbo women fought against colonizer imposed policies and as a result, they won, and were appointed to high courts. It is described as the “launching of the most serious challenge to British rule… it became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest”.
Ok that was a summary, but let’s give a little background. The Aba women’s riot, or Ogu Umunwanyi in Igbo, was one of the most significant historical events during British inferiority in Nigeria. Remember, we are no longer giving life to colonization in a positive light, it’s inferior behavior. So, the Igbo women were challenging the inferior behavior, and they organized around Owerri and Calabar, in the eastern part of Nigeria also known as Igbo Land, and involved a population of two million people. The organizing arose in the palm-oil belt of Southern Nigeria. The Igbo’s largely occupied and lived in mini-states where men and women exercised varying degrees of political power. Village council meetings involved men and were held in the habitat (community centers) of the Igbo earth-goddess known as Ala (the most important deity according to Odinani – Igbo religion). To make it plain, just like someone may go to church or a mosque to enter the presence of God, these centers held the presence of Ala.
Women had their own sociopolitical organization. They held weekly meetings on the market day of their community (there were 4 market days in Igbo Land), where they created and enforced laws that they mutually decided on. However, British colonialism changed the fundamental structure of precolonial Igbo societies which eliminated women’s political roles. Igbo Women saw themselves as the moral guardians and defenders of the taboos of the earth-goddess, Ala, understanding that they naturally embodied its productive forces. This helps understand the outrage that Igbo women had against the destruction of society by British colonizers.
The initial protest started against a British imposed tax that created an increased inability to buy food and goods necessary for survival. They called an emergency meeting and engaged in a traditional practice of dancing around a man and chanting until he becomes miserable and feeds into their demands. The British submitted to their demands for fear that it may get out of hand. Protests spread as the situations got worse, and a British soldier harmed two women. The Igbo women raided their factories and banks, and were eventually killed by British policeman. With all the protests, British eventually conceded and hence, the first paragraph of this blog post. These women’s protests were modeled throughout 1930s and 1940s against the introduction of factories that took away from the interests of the people but only benefitted the wealth of British colonizers.
Let us be like our ancestors and continue to understand our power as women, we are warriors too! So many men inbox me to say that only men are warriors, and tell me I should focus on helping the children, I laugh in various laughs because I know my history as an Igbo woman, and I know my strength as a woman. When we have one common enemy we bring out the people who are willing, based on skills and qualifications. Save the submission stuff for the colonizers. Peace!