Ok, The Aba Women’s Riot. Well, let’s change the language here; the Aba Women’s Uprising – ok, that’s better. In 1929, Igbo women of what is now known as Nigeria 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”. Although I don’t agree that it is feminist, as we don’t view African concepts in european lenses, as you will see below, it was a moral duty to a spirituality and divine calling.
That was a summary, but let’s give a little background. The Aba women’s Uprising, 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. Igbo women were challenging the inferior behavior, and they decided to organize around Owerri and Calabar, the palm oil belt, in the eastern part of Nigeria also known as Igbo Land. In that part of Igbo land, the population was around two million people. 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. As mentioned above, it had nothing to do with feminism, but balance; Igbo women had nothing to prove to Igbo men, who honored and valued them, as it was British men who imposed their women oppressing worldview onto Igbo women.
Igbo 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 her productive forces (biologically). This helps understand the outrage that Igbo women had against the destruction of society by British colonizers, because it took away the impact of their spiritual and physical voice.
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 where they danced around a man, or men, and chanted spiritual sayings repeatedly until he became miserable and fed 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 Igbo women. The Igbo women raided their factories and banks, and were eventually killed by British policeman. With all the protests, the 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 Igbo people but only benefitted the stolen wealth of British colonizers.
I have updated this post because I recently learned of Igbo women’s victories again, in the elections being held in Igbo land right now, November 2021, specifically in Anambra state, the state of my patriarchal ancestors and lineage. They refused money from bribers during the elections, stating that they won’t accept the money from a party that has been bad to them – resistance! I’d like to further this by saying, every democratic election in the united states has been won because of Black women. Our tenacity to carry movements throughout the diaspora has been well documented, even if a lot of parts have been left out. I write these stories to encourage Black women, not to divide from Black men, but to say, there is a divine calling about us, that when we tap into – both spiritually and physically, we’d have the power to take down forces. We have so much divine power that the world has tried to take from us, but we continue to multiply. This is not some fantasy story or some power that ancestors had in the past, we have it now!
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!