by Foghi Batarhe
A conversation earlier on my Twitter TL prompted me to write this. This isn’t a scientific research work of any sort, it’s mostly my memory of the women in my family; clan; village.
I grew up around my grandma (paternal) and through her I could reach to 150 years or more of my people’s history. I digress a little bit. The quarter in my village is called “Ekriviaje” which translates to Iviaje’s descendants. Iviaje was a woman. The only woman to have a quarter of her own ( there are 9 quarters in my home town of Okwagbe). She didn’t happen upon a quarter by being a wife who wasn’t recognised for her strength and influence in her day (250–300 years ago). My own great-grandma happened to be the descendant of that great woman. She was also such a strong woman to have resettled her family in her own father’s compound. She was clearly not one without means herself.
In all of my time watching my grandma and listening to her tell stories of the men and women of generations gone before her, there was the common theme of strong and working women. She, in what must’ve been her 20s and 30s, was already trading from my village on the bank of the Niger all the way to Benin. When the women weren’t in their own enterprises they were oft working very hard as respected partners with their husbands, albeit polygamous, either in crop or fish farming. Sometimes they’d leave to fishing camps spending months on end doing this. Another trade was brewing local gin. The entire chain of this trade was big at the time. She never told me stories of wives who were content to sit back and wait for their men to bring food and clothe them. She’d often point to old houses built by one woman or another.
So when I hear words like it’s un-African for a woman to work, or it’s always our culture for the man to provide, I wonder if my little village (the biggest and with the biggest market in the LGA) wasn’t situated in another Africa.
The women in today’s Okwagbe haven’t deviated from that heritage. There’s hardly a woman in my community today who doesn’t work or contribute, if you may, to the family’s oven.
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Foghi Batarhe tweets @Batarhe