Vol. V, no. 2 (Spring 1998): Comparative Gender Relations

Table of Contents

Editorial: Comparative Gender Relations

By Dr. Gloria Emeagwali

Chief Editor of Africa Update

In this issue of Africa Update, Adesina Yusuf Raji provides useful insights into aspects of pre-colonial Nigerian history, with some emphasis on specialization and gendered division of labor. There is also a commentary by the well-known Nigerian critic, Dr. Obioma Nnaemeka of Indiana University, on some preoccupations of the Western world in the last few months, including "l'affaire Clinton/Lewinsky." She focuses on the interplay between power and indiscretion and concludes philosophically that the current episode involving President Clinton and his accusers has as much to do with ethics and behavior as with the relationship between power and knowledge in Western society. Included also are excerpts from Paul Ejima's review of Nigerian responses to recent White House events.

In previous issues of Africa Update we focused on methodology and the Eurocentric biases in African studies in a few countries, including UK and Russia. In this issue is another aspect of African studies, a brief evaluation by Pounthioun Diallo of Montreal university of Cheikh Anta Diop's study of Africa. Professor Natalie Sandomirsky of the Department of Foreign Languages, Southern Connecticut State University, translated his contribution from French.

In the previous issue of Africa Update (vol. V, no.1) Oleyemi Akinwumi focused on Akodi Afrika, a Center of African Studies in Central Nigeria. We regret to report that the founder of this institution, Professor Ade Obayemi, passed away recently. Professor Ade Obayemi had a distinguished career and taught archeology before his appointment as Director General of Museums and Monuments at the federal level. Professor Ade Obayemi taught at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria for several years before joining the University of Ilorin, where he served as Department Chair and also Dean of Arts. Incidentally, Obayemi was a keen admirer and friend of Cheikh Anta Diop and discussed the possibilities of having a conference in his honor at Akodi Afrika. The late Professor Ade Obayemi gave the Keynote Address at the 2nd Annual Conference of African Studies, here at Central Connecticut State University in November 1995. May his soul rest in peace.

Note that the previous issue of Africa Update should have been classified as Vol. V, no. 1. We apologize for the error that affected the first batch of printed copies. Finally, we extend our thanks to all those who kindly contributed to the present issue.

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Women in Pre-colonial Yorubaland, West Africa

By Adesina Yusuf Raji, History Department, University of Ilorin, Nigeria

Yoruba women since ancient times have been central to Nigerian society, and their role during that period actually cut across politics, culture and economy. For instance, in several Yoruba towns there were women officials headed by the Iyalode1.They participated in the decision making process and settled disputes in their wards and compounds. Thus, women assisted in the maintenance of law and order, peace and harmony, in traditional Yoruba society. A few women officials even constituted part of the membership of secret societies mainly responsible for executive and judicial functions in several Yoruba settlements, especially among the Ijebu.2 In Ondo, the Lobun assisted in the appointment of a new Osemawe, settled quarrels among the male chiefs and officiated in the opening of new markets.3 The Oba’s wives (Aya, Oba, or Olori) were also influential in state affairs and there were occasions when women were employed to monitor and influence foreign policy decisions in some Yoruba States.4

We should note that the participation of Yoruba women in the politics of the society through the women’s council called the Obirin Ilu headed by the Iyalode necessitated the acquisition of wealth which in the traditional Yoruba setting could only be obtained through agriculture and trading.5 Wealth was perhaps a necessary pre-condition for one to win recognition in the traditional Yoruba society and with which a woman could gain status and prestige and thus be made a member of the women’s council.

Yoruba women in pre-colonial economy: occupational guilds and women’s role in agriculture

For various occupations in which most Yoruba women were involved, there were guilds. Such guilds known as Egbe had always engaged in proper coordination of women’s economic activities. The two notable women’s guilds in pre-colonial Yorubaland were Egbe Alajapa, which traded in inanimate objects, especially food items, fruits and medicinal herbs, and Egbe Alarobo, which traded in animate objects like fowls, sheep, goats, etc. Apart from these, there were other specialized guilds of women traders usually named after their profession. Such include Egbe Alata (guild of pepper traders), Egbe Alaso(guild of cloth traders), Egbe Elepe (guild of oil traders), and several others. Occupational guilds like Egbe Alagbede (guild of blacksmiths), Egbe Onisona (guild of carvers),etc., were dominated by men while both men and women belonged to the Egbe Agbe (guild of farmers). Another arm of the farmers’ guild was the Onidaruke, an organization comprised of only women, which was responsible for collecting food crops from other farmers and distributing such to both local and long-distance traders.6 Each guild was headed by a chairperson (Ologi), the deputies (Otun and Osi), and other officials; every guild had affiliation with similar guilds in other estates or kingdoms.7 Members of each guild also organized the Esusu a periodic or fixed contribution by which they could increase their capital and facilitate their trade.8

From all indications, agriculture was central to all women’s occupational guilds in pre-colonial Yorubaland. In fact, all the guilds depended on the farmers’ products for their survival, and thus the guilds were all directly or indirectly connected to agriculture. As we should note, Yoruba women in the pre-colonial period took active part in agriculture as many of them owned farms, grew varieties of crops, and even belonged to the farmers guild in their respective settlements.

The farmers’ guild, of which several Yoruba women were members, held its meetings every nine or twenty-one days in connection with traditional market cycles. The guild offered advice on methods of cultivation, how to improve the yields of agricultural produce, maintenance and harvesting, processing, and the storage and sale of products. Through the Esusu system, members of the farmers’ guild, like other guilds in Yorubaland, helped themselves with loans which greatly enhanced their economic status in the traditional society.9 The members also assisted one another especially during periods of drought or bad harvest.

It should be stressed from the onset that the Yoruba women unlike the women among the Akan of Ghana or the Ijaw and Igbo of eastern Nigeria, were less involved in the rigorous aspects of farming especially curing, hoeing and weeding. While farming was by far the most important occupation of women among the Ijaw, the Yoruba women only took part at times in planting, and in most cases in the last stages of farm work especially harvesting, processing for final consumption and storage. Women and children were also involved in carrying farm produce on their heads when market centers were close to the farms or when the produce involved was perishable, e.g., banana, oranges, pepper, tomatoes, and vegetables. But in most cases, the Yoruba women usually carried their farm produce to towns and villages after harvest. The important equipment used for harvesting included sticks, hoes, cutlasses, knives, and axes. Both men and women with children participated in harvesting. There were occasions when some products from the farms could not be sold immediately; there were farm products that had to be preserved. The Yoruba women always kept such products inside calabashes, nets and baskets, while products like pepper of different types could be wrapped in clothes or leaves, and yams tied together with ropes and kept in bans. There were items that were fried, smoked or tied in the kitchens where they could be heated.10

Several agricultural products, usually reaped from the farms of both men and women in pre- colonial Yoruba society, were always sold at the various daily town and city markets or at the periodic markets. The periodic markets were held at fixed intervals of four days, eight days, or sixteen days, usually called, probably due to Yoruba system of counting, Oja Orun (5-day market), Oja Isan (9-day market), and Oja Itadogun (17-day market).11 Some of these important markets were in Ijana, Osogbo, Abomey-Calavi, Oyo Ile, Ajase (Porto Novo), Ba (east of Dahomey), Ilaro, Saki, Kisi, Wawa, Badagry, Apomu, Ikoyi, etc.12

These important trade centers/routes in the Yoruba country had become prominent by the beginning of the 18th century, and they were linked to the international routes of the Sahara and the Coast to facilitate commerce in the pre-colonial Nigeria region.

Apart from the fact that Yoruba women were directly involved in the production of food crops, they were wholly involved in the processing of such crops into finished goods and their sale. Thus, Yoruba women processed raw farm produce to their final form, whether it be chips, flour, liquid or paste.13 Most Yoruba women labored as weavers, traders or dyers, had their farmlands, and either cultivated on their own land or their husbands’ family lands, to grow a variety of crops, especially grains, yams, and vegetables. Clapperton in 1826 noticed the existence of "fine and large plantations of corn, yams, and vegetables" from Badagry to Oyo Ile.14 It is most probable that some of these well-cultivated plantations were owned by Yoruba women.

As we have noted, the women directly sold their agricultural products of yams, beans, vegetables, cotton and fruits, or they turned them into manufactured articles before being sold. For instance, epo (palm oil), ikete (palm oil butter), and adin eyan (palm kernel oil) were manufactured from oil palm fruits.15 Ori (shea nut butter) was manufactured from shea nuts; iru from locust beans, ororo (vegetable oil) from melons, elubo (flour) from both yams and plantains, while eko and oti sekete (maize beer) were both manufactured from maize.16

We should also note that apart from the food crops and vegetables, the women, like their male counterparts, grew cotton, silk cotton trees, shea-nut trees, locust bean trees, oil palm and kola nut trees. The process of harvesting and selling of the produce from such trees was also largely undertaken by women with children in pre-colonial Yorubaland.

There were also products that women and men harvested together. Such products included coconut, kolanuts and palm produce all of which required climbing to harvest their fruits. Women also stored farm products so as to preserve them till they were needed to be sold, consumed or planted.17 In the same vein, there were Yoruba women who kept gardens, located very close to their homesteads where vegetables, pepper and fruits and other products were grown.

With regard to large-scale farming in pre- colonial Yorubaland, women were also of relevance. Some of A. Hinderer’s letters clearly show that both men and women were much involved in farming in 19th century Ibadan. According to the letters, ‘the principal occupation of the Ibadan people was farming in which everyone is engaged. . .’18 In fact, during the mid-19th century when some missionaries wanted to build a new church in Ibadan they could not procure labor "either for love or money-all because everybody is wanted in the farms."19 Most of the area outside the Ibadan city walls was described as heavily cultivated always, even at the height of the nineteenth-century wars.20 Practically everybody in Ibadan had a farm, male and female. This situation also obtained in other Yoruba states in the pre- colonial period - a development that made women rival their male counterparts in agriculture. In most cases, crops like yams, maize, cotton, beans and cassava were grown for home consumption and also exports. These women were also prominent at farmers’ guild meetings held at regular intervals. Such efforts in farming no doubt contributed enormously towards making Ibadan an exporter of food to the Ijebu and Lagos during the 19th century. The level of food production was so high that even during Ibadan’s greatest wars, the town did not suffer from lack of food. In fact, officials of the Lagos government in 1886 were surprised to see large plantations growing outside Ibadan in spite of nine years of war in which most of the people had been engaged.21

In north central Yorubaland, several Igbomina women, especially in the districts of Illa, Ajase and Omu-Isanlu were also fully involved in agriculture as they took active part in the operations of farmers’ guilds in the pre-colonial period.

Animal husbandry was another sector of agriculture that was mainly dominated by women. No doubt, the Yoruba women were the main keepers of livestock. Unlike Fulani society where men were herders, women among the Yoruba reared domestic animals such as ducks, pigs, cattle, sheep, cats, and goats, all kept to provide meat for consumption or used as sacrifices; dogs used mainly by men for hunting and horses as means of transport or in war fare.22 The women had a shed attached to each compound to house at night these domestic animals which always thronged the courtyards by day. According to Johnson:

  • Every woman, whatever her trade may be, is expected to keep a few chickens and a goat or two from which she desires small income for house keeping and general ‘pin money’. The rearing of poultry then must be reckoned
  • among female occupations.23

    Thus, all Yoruba women were involved in keeping domestic animals and poultry, which could have been a source of income for them in the pre- colonial period. It is also probable that through such role they could have contributed enormously to the improvement of the dietary pattern in the region.

    The unique role of women in agriculture in pre-colonial Yorubaland perhaps informed Clarke during his visit to remark that:

  • The males are the only class on whom the duty of soil cultivation devolves though the females very frequently aid in planting. . ."24
  • Clarke also remarked that among the Yoruba in the pre-colonial period the farmers - men, women, and children were always delighted with the idea of going to farm. These are clear indications that women through the farmers’ guilds were important in agriculture, and together with men, provided the basic agricultural (food) needs of the society.25


    Women in Yorubaland constituted a productive unit of the society. This role in society seemed to cut across all aspects of life- social, political, cultural, economic, etc. They took active part in the social uplifting of the society and training of children; they functioned in religious and cultural roles; and they also played significant role in politics, complementing the efforts of their male counterparts in the art of governance. The council of women chiefs headed by the Iyalode constituted the axis around which women’s role in politics in pre-colonial Yorubaland revolved. Perhaps, it was in the economy through the farmers’ guild and other related guilds that women’s impact was most felt in pre-colonial Yorubaland.

    Notes and References

    1 See Johnson, S., History of the Yorubas (Lagos, C.M.S. Bookshops, 1921, Repr. 1956), p.125.

    2 For details of the place of Yoruba women in secret societies, especially in Ijebu, see Ayantuga, 0. 0., "Jebu and its Neighbors: 1851-1914," (Ph.D. Thesis, London, 1965)

    3 See Falola, T., The Political Economy of a Pre- Colonial State (UIP, 1984).

    4The case of Moremi who revealed the secret of Igbo power to Ife is a good example. For details, see Johnson, S. History of the Yorubas.

    5 For details of this, see B. Awe, "The lyalode in the Traditional Yoruba Political System" in A. Schlegel (ed) Sexual Stratification, (New York, 1977), pp. 144-160.

    6 The Onidanike was a particularly prominent guild in the Old Oyo Empire.

    7 Such affiliation probably led to the establishment of general trade organization known as the Parakoyi in places like Egba and Ife.

    8 W. Bascom, "The Esusu: The Credit System of the Yoruba," in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 92, No. 1 (1952), pp. 63-69.

    9 Only regular members of the guild were offered such assistance. It was also on rotational basis and no one took beyond his/her contribution.

    10 T. Falola, op.cit.

    11 See Akinjogbin, I. A., "The Economic Foundations of the Oyo Empire," in Akinjogbin, I. A. and Osoba, S. 0., eds, Topics on Nigerian Economic and Social History (Unife Press Ltd., 1981), pp. 40-41.

    12 See ibid., p. 42.

    13 T. Falola, op.cit.

    14 See Clapperton, H., Journal of a Second Expedition into the Interior of Africa (London, 1829), p.7.

    15 I. A. Akinjogbin, "The Economic Foundations of the Oyo Empires," p. 51.

    16 See M. Jean Hay and Sharon Stichter, African Women South of the Sahara (Longman, 1995).

    17 See Falola, T., op.cit.

    18 A. Hinderer, Seventeen Years in the Yoruba Country (London, 1872), pp. 59-62.

    19 C.M.S. CA2/049, "Hinderer’s Annual Letter for 1858," quoted in Akintoye, S. A., "The Economic Foundations of Ibadan’s Power in the 19th Century," In Akinjogbin and Osaba (eds.) , Topics on Nigerian Economic and Social History.

    20 CD 4957, London, 1887, "Report of the Special Commissioners of he Lagos Government to the Interior States in 1886" quoted in Ibid.

    21See ibid.

    22 For details see Beier, U., "The Yoruba attitude to dogs," Odu, No. 7, (1959). Horses were important in warfare in Yorubaland, especially in Old Oyo. For details, see Law, R. C. C., "A West African Cavalry State: The Kingdom of Oyo," Journal of African History, Vol. XVI, No. 1, (1975) S. Johnson, History of the Yorubas, p.125.

    23 W. H. Clarke, Travels and Explorations in Yorubaland 1854-1858, edited and with an introduction by J. A. Atanda (Ibandan University Press, 1972), p. 260.

    24 See ibid, pg.261.

    25 See C. Coquery-Vidrovitch, African Women (Westview Press, 1997).

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    Clinton’s Sex Scandal Engineers Hot Debate In Nigeria

    by Paul Ejime, PANA Correspondent

    Extracted with permission from Nando Times, 1 Feb 1998

    LAGOS, NIGERIA (PANA) The competition for readership has become as fierce and diverse as the menu the tabloids offer.

    The irresistible story of what a commentator dubbed "Loose Presidential Zippers," has elicited in the Nigerian newspapers such headlines as "Presidential Freedom and Extra-Marital Sex," "The Trial of President Clinton," "A Whiff of Sex," "and Clinton and the Monicagate Scandal ," a cynical reference to the Watergate scandal that brought down late President Richard Nixon.

    To underscore the interest generated by the scandal, the private Lagos Thisday newspaper. . . raised the question of whether the Clinton sex scandal can happen in Nigeria, in a front page banner, superimposed on the photograph of the embattled president.

    Of course not. It cannot happen in Nigeria. A president cannot be held to ransom because of sex escapades. The judiciary and legislature are all corrupt, was politician Mark Odu’s reply to Thisday pollsters, who also delved into history of similar experiences involving Nigerian celebrities.

    But the extent Americans have gone to disgrace their president is shameful, said Akinyele, who noted that there is no celebrity without a mistress. Kings, emperors, prime ministers, heads of state, great businessmen, great journalists, he said, are entitled to this social diversion.

    Neither does Professor Jadesola Akande, the female vice-chancellor of the Lagos State University, see anything alarming in the Clinton scandal.

    I am sure that 90 percent of men, whether American, African or Nigerian have extra-marital affairs, she said.

    However, she said the lesson for us here in Nigeria is that our public officers should have a moral standard to which we should ask questions.

    The semi-official Daily Times newspaper also had a two-page Saturday special on the "Celebrity Problem In America," with a kicker, "Gold Diggers in God’s Own Country," and a rider, "Will President Clinton Lose the Presidency?"

    The paper’s four reporters, including three women, argue in the joint report, that president Clinton is being tried by the media over unsubstantiated reports about his alleged relationship with Monica Lewinsky (a former White House intern), adding that gossip, innuendo and hearsay are being passed off as facts.

    While Amanze Obi, a Thisday writer is worried at the implications for Africa and the Middle East, of a possible Clinton dethronement by the sex scandal, Nigerian women respondents have generally spoken in defence of the beleaguered American president.

    Elizabeth Ogunmuyiwa, a civil servant, does not see any truth in the sex allegation against Clinton, "but even if it is true, I don’t think I will like to stir up dust," she said, adding that "such an act is common in men’s world."

    "It is like a natural phenomenon, so why should I shout...?" she asked.

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    Beyond the Controversies: Igbo Perspectives on Knowledge, Speech and Power

    by Dr. Obioma Nnaemeka, Associate Professor of French and Women’s Studies,

    Indiana University, Indianapolis

    For many of us watching from the sidelines through different cultural lenses, the controversies surrounding the Clintons raise crucial cultural and epistemological questions that go beyond the first family. Our "uninvited" participation often brings us face to face with the reality and appreciation of our origins.

    Sometimes, in the self-generating "clintonian" contoversies, other cultures and places (Africa, for example) are simultaneously evoked and silenced. The controversy over Hilary Rodham Clinton’s It Takes a Village, took root at the 1996 Republican convention, when the Republican presidential candidate, Robert Dole, made his disparaging remark about the book’s title: "It does not take a village to raise a child; it takes a family."Such a critique can only emanate from a limited knowledge or no knowledge of the environment that gave birth to the proverb and the book which takes the African proverb for its title. The idea of "it takes a village" permeates African cultures although it speaks different languages across the continent. In Igboland (Nigeria) where the proverb assumes great significance in locating the child at the center of communal life (ofu onye adiro azu nwa - one person does not raise a child) the idea of a "single parent" is oxymoronic.

    The notion of "single parenthood" is incongruous in an environment where parents are not generally in short supply and children enjoy the benefits of multiple and collective parenting. In Igboland, Eastern Nigeria, a popular name for males is nwora (child of the community) and a popular name for girls is adaora (daughter of the community). Such names stress not only the importance of the child as central to a particular nuclear family but also as central to and valued by the entire community.

    Such an expansive notion of family and family responsibility does not advocate the abandonment of parental responsibility by biological parents. Rather, it stresses that a combination of parental (biological) and communal responsibility ensures the survival of the child.

    Clinton’s book interrogates certain notions - stranger, family, etc. - and argues for their more profound and expansive reading. Shortly after the 1996 Republican Convention, the Democrats held their convention in Chicago where Christopher Reeve gave a new and more humane reading of the much touted "family values." According to Reeve, "we are all family and each one has value." Reeve’s more imaginative and appealing reading of family values, recasts and reaffirms the title of Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village. Like Clinton, Reeve sees the family as including but not limited to the nuclear family. Both Clinton’s book and Christopher Reeve’s speech argue for the care of the child in the context of a wider notion of family. As Clinton aptly notes, "the horizon of the contemporary village extend well beyond the townline."

    According to Clinton "some lessons come from countries which I have had the opportunity to visit.The sight of baby carriages left unattended outside stores on the streets of Copenhagen said more to me about the safety of Danish babies than any research study could, and it made me long to know what the Danes and other cultures might teach us. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "There is not one civilization, from the oldest to the newest, from which we cannot learn. The babies are not really "unattended" in an environment where the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child" prevails. Passers-by are not "strangers" who can do "strange" things to the babies; they are part of the village that cares for and sustains the babies. Coincidentally, a few months after the publication of Clinton’s book, a Danish couple who were vacationing in New York City had their baby taken away and briefly placed in foster care because they "abandoned" the baby in his stroller in front of the restaurant where they were having lunch!

    Notions of "stranger"differ from place to place. The African proverb "it takes a village" makes family members of "strangers" (nwanne di na nba - brothers/sisters abound in foreign lands).1

    As the uproar over It Takes a Village peaked, the Whitewater investigation gathered momentum as it careened and exploded into "l’affaire Clinton /Lewinsky." Again, some of us on the sideline, looking through a different cultural prism saw beyond the "sex scandal" and the "zipper problem" as we came face to face with the reality and appreciation of our origins.

    From a cultural (Igbo) perspective, the Clinton/Lewinsky controversy raises two crucial issues for me: (1) the relationship between power and speech, and (2) the need to revisit Western feminist illusions.

    In Igboland (Nigeria), the word is sacred and its preservation guarantees power. An Igbo proverb is pertinent and instructive in this instance - "onu adiro ekwusi ife anya fulu"/the mouth does not say everything the eye sees. In the circus that "l’affaire Clinton/Lewinsky" has turned into, not only has the mouth spoken all that the eye saw, it has also spoken what the eye did not see! In Igboland, when someone confides in me, my power over that person derives from my ability to keep the secrets and not divulge them. In Igbo thinking, there is a piece of the owner of secrets in the secret themselves (the "physicality" of the word is apparent in another Igbo proverb that censures those who are imprudent with their verbal expressions -"odiro ata okwu eze"/(s)he does not chew his/her words. To keep someone’s secrets is to have control over him/her (the "owner"), to divulge the secrets is to liberate the owner.

    Power drives from one’s ability to keep and respect the word, and not from divulging and desecrating it. From an Igbo perspective, Linda Tripp’s power over Monica Lewinsky would lie in her ability to keep the secrets Monica confided in her. In America (the West) the reverse is the case - power lies in the revelation. It is not sufficient to know and divulge; it is more powerful to be the "first" to do so. The race amongst the media houses to be the "first" to break the news is instructive. What is at issue here? Few moments of fame (notoriety) and money, money, money (TV ratings, book deals, talk show circuit, newspaper and television interviews, etc.).

    I would add that the difference between Charles’ infidelity and Clinton’s is the total lack of decency in dishing out the details of Clinton’s indiscretion in the print and electronic media. Diana admitted on national television that she had an affair but managed to stay away from the details (a far cry from appearances and statements by Jennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, etc.). Camilla is not talking. As far as this matter goes, there is not much attempt on this side of the Atlantic to "chew one’s words."

    Events such as the Clinton/Lewinsky saga shed new light (for me, at least) on studies of the relationship between knowledge and power in post-struc-

    turalist Western scholarship (Michel Foucault’s work, for example). Knowledge is power, they assert, but the major idea that subtends the assertion is that to be truly powerful, knowledge must "show and tell" itself. This reminds me of an experience in a dentist’s office three months ago. The dentist was explaining to me the way root canal work is done and I listened quietly to his explanation which I understood very well. A few minutes into his explanation, he pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil from his drawer and said to me "let me make a sketch of it so you would understand." I did not take to his assumptions too well, and that was my first and last visit to his office.

    This classic case of a clash of cultural perspectives on knowledge is revealing. Because I did not show and tell that I knew, he assumed that I did not know (he did not even ask if I understood or not) and proceeded to draw whatever he thought he was explaining to me. From my cultural perspective, I assume that a silent listener understands what I am saying and would speak up (ask questions) if he/she did not understand and needed explanations and further elaboration. In Igboland, knowledge does not necessarily have to show and tell itself in order to assert its presence and power (silence is not only golden, it is powerful). The Igbo are very much aware of the relationship among knowledge (secrets), silence, and power.

    2. Feminist Illusions

    An African institution that has been clobbered in Western feminist discourses is polygamy. Often, in one imperial gesture, Western feminists rebuke African men (polygamists) for their male chauvinism and pity "helpless" African women for "sharing" their men. The truth of the matter is that from the pulpit (Swaggart, etc.) to the presidency (Kennedy, Clinton, etc.) and the critical mass in between, there is enough "man sharing" to go around. Donna Rice (of Monkey Business "fame"), Camilla Parker-Bowles, Jennifer Flowers, and Monica Lewinsky are no momentary flukes ("bimbo eruptions"); they are marks of a more permanent and pervasive phenomenon that transcends ethnic, geographic, and cultural boundaries. Beautiful, intelligent, loving wives are not antidote to roving eyes! Clarence Thomas was let off the hook because none of the senators at the Thomas/Hill hearing dared to cast the first stone.

    It is interesting to note that the same Western feminists who live the illusion of monogamy spring forth in defense of errant spouses (standing by their men a la Tammy Wynette) when they are caught. The rapidity with which the errant episodes punctuate the illusion should lead one to ask questions that have more to do with human nature (flaws and limitations) and less to do with Africa and its "weird" customs. Ultimately, this raises questions about ethics and human behavior. Shouldn’t considerations of ethics in its pure and abstract form relate to other considerations such as the relationship between human inclinations and human expectations? Should human inclinations be built into human expectations? The issue of celibacy for catholic priests also comes to mind here. I have discussed the issue of polygyny in feminist discourse more extensively in a paper titled "Bringing African Women into the Classroom: Rethinking Pedagogy and Epistemology," in Margaret Higgonet, ed. Border Work: Feminist Engagements with Comparative Literature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 301-318.

    From an Igbo perspective, the central issue in all this is EXCESS (from Paula Jones, Jennifer Flowers, and Linda Tripp to Bill Clinton).


    1Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye begins with an interesting story (repeated three times in two pages) that is both instructive and pertinent. it is the story of Jane and her family. Jane lives in a beautiful green-and-white house with her father, her mother, her brother, Dick and the family dog. The problem is that well-dressed Jane wants to play but finds no one in the nuclear family (the dog included) who wants to play with her. Jane got to play only when an outsider chanced by and accepted to play with her.

    Morrison’s novel disrupts held notions about family members and strangers by exposing the stranger within and the family without.

    2For many of us, Clinton’s problem is not "down there" but "up here." We are more concerned about how his thinking has shifted radically in the last few years. We are more worried about the negative impact of his metamorphosis on millions of women and children who are the real victims of recent economic and social policies.

    3For an extensive discussion of polygyny in feminist discourse, see Obioma Nnaemeka, "Bringing African Women into the Classroom: Rethinking Pedagogy and Epistemology," in Margaret Higonnet, ed. Borderwork: Feminist Engagements with Comparative Literature, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994, pp. 301-318.

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    Africa and the Net

    By Haines Brown, professor emeritus, C.C.S.U.

    Africa’s progress toward universal Internet access ("connectivity") has been watched closely by those who hope that it will bring economic and cultural development.

    In May of 1996, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) held a conference of economic planning ministers and adopted the Africa Information Society Initiative (AISI). The purpose of AISI was to incorporate an African information technology and communications infrastructure within the national developmental priorities of member states, rather than a Pan-African endeavor.

    A year later in Addis Ababa the ministers re- affirmed their commitment to the AISI. It was hoped that by 2010 there would be universal integration extending to every office, village and person. By the end of 1997 it was anticipated that all but four countries would be connected, but, the growth of African networks proved slower than other developing countries and has so far resulted from private capital.

    In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in June of last year there took place an African Networking Symposium at INET ‘97. At the symposium Africa Online’s Vice-President, Karanja Gakio, made several points:

    • "Africa is. . .poised to start taking advantage of enhanced Internet services, including increasing geographic and demographic coverage, and increasing the complexity of services already available."

    • He defined "basic connectivity" as access to a TCP/IP Network, PPP Dialup/Leased Line capabilities, use of a personal computers connected by basic applications such as E-mail, Usenet News and Fax.

    • The continental population of Africa is 700 million. Only 0.1% (700K) are currently users of basic Internet services. 550k of these live in southern Africa, 50K in north Africa and 40K in the remainder of the continent. While e-mail is the most common service, in many capitals full services are available.

    • "The benefits of enhancing Internet services include a more efficient and wider distribution of, and access to, information, which in turn leads to: more efficient corporate performance thus enhancing the competitiveness of African industries; . more efficient public services; a better informed population. . ."

    • "Efforts must be made to increase geographical reach nationwide including greater access to rural areas." This can be done by. . .national TCP/IP backbones, . wireless services (such as BushNet in Uganda), and. direct satellite downlinks.

    • "The demographic range of users can be dramatically increased bysuch Internet devices as WebTV and public access kiosks and by human-to- Internet enhanced services such as ‘e.Shop’ in Nairobi." . New demographic targets should include schools and universities, small businesses and government and public sector organizations.

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    Studying Africa: The works of Cheikh Anta Diop

    By Pounthioun Diallo, Montreal University, Quebec

    The works of the Senegalese anthropologist Cheikh Anta Diop constitute an amazing whole. They are becoming today, more than a decade after his death, a rallying point for new generations of African intellectuals. Many Africans in the Americas find in Diop incipient answers to certain existential questions.

    His Works

    His writings reveal a remarkable unity. One may schematically group them into three major categories and perspectives:

    A. An anthropological perspective seen mainly in Nations Nègres et Culture (1954); Civilisations et Barbarie (1981) et Anteriorité des Civilisations Nègres (1967).

    B. A historical perspective to be found most significantly in L’Afrique Noire Précoloniale (1960) and L’Unité Culturelle de l’Afrique Noire (1959). Note also Nations Nègres et Culture (1954) and Anteriorité des civilisations nègres (1967).

    C. A political perspective which constitutes the backbone of Les Fondements Culturels: Techiques et Industriels d’un État Federal d’Afrique Noire (1960).

    These three perspectives in Diop’s works correspond to the two major positions he tookpositions that still prompt readers to either revere him or hate him. His first position is based on a single tenet. It is both anthropological and historical in nature and can be summarized in several statements:

    1. That mankind is divided into three races

    which have a common origin

    2. That the first human was black, including

    Australopithecus, Homo erectus and Homo


    3. That mutations occurred over time

    4. That Egyptian civilization was black

    Diop’s second position is an outgrowth of his anthropological and historical research. He postulates that if Africa wants to occupy a respected place among nations, it must become politically unified. For this it must master science and technology, which are not alien to it and are part of its heritage. Finally, Africa must rely on its cultural unity, a tangible reality which can be proven historically.

    In 1954 the Sorbonne University rejected his thesis on the origins of Egyptian civilization. He then publicized his thesis in Nations Nègres et Culture. Senghor, the President of Senegal after independence, was also hostile to him and kept him out of the University of Dakar. Even today Diop is a victim of ostracism by Africanist peers in the West. Numerous Africans, however, particularly university students, view as suspect the attitude of Western Africanists who fail to see the essentials of Diop’s contributions and limit themselves to voicing methodological criticism. Some African scholars have reexamined Diop’s theses and confirmed his conclusions with respect to the links between Black-African languages and ancient Egyptian as well as other theses of Diop. This has sufficed to make Diop an ideal model for several African intellectuals.


    Bonté, M. "Sur l’Action des Milieux." Bulletin de la Societé d’Anthropologie de Paris. V (1863) 437

    Coquery-Vidovitch, C. "A propos de ‘La pensée de Cheikh Anta Diop’ d’Alain Froment." Cahiers d’Études Africaines. XXX,1 (1992).

    See also the writings of Théophile Obenga, including: Origine Commune de l’Egyptien Ancien, du Copte et des Langues Nègro- Africaines Modernes. Paris: L’Harmattan,1993.

    See the publications of the Revue Ankh, rigorously overseen by Diop’s disciples.

    Ela, Jean-Marc. Chiekh Anta Diop, ou l’Honneur de Penser. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1989.

    This article was translated from the French by Professor Natalie Sandomirsky, Southern Connecticut State University.

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