African Women: A Modern History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Beth Gillian Raps | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Powerful Women

Women's reproduction and agricultural work are often linked in fertilitybased religions. Procreation not only gives women prestige but through rituals fosters their identification with vital forces. Because power was defined in Africa by authority not over inert, limited factors of production such as land but over one's own life and that of others, women's power depended greatly on their children. A woman without descendants was by definition powerless. In contrast to men, whose identity came from their ancestors, women's identity came from their children. Among the Nuer and elsewhere, a man was called "son of so-and-so," while a married woman was called "mother of so-and-so" (normally her first-born son). Even today, the value given to procreative capacity and motherhood (female identity linked to fertility) is probably a major difference between concepts of women's emancipation in Africa and the West. In Western society to associate woman with nature in opposition to man, the symbol of culture, is to condemn her to inferiority. 1

Women Chiefs

In subsistence societies, where women's role was key to survival, men certainly asserted their political supremacy, but women always retained opportunities for power. These were particularly clear in matrilineal societies. Offices and wealth were passed down through the female line. Men's power was more diffuse as a result; life was organized around the mother. The maternal line was so important that real power sometimes fell into the hands of women. Even among the Tonga, where women's submission was great, there were women chiefs who had power over very limited units of production in this area of widely scattered homes. One woman chief, Namulizili, divorced her husband and established her own village around 1900 with five of her unmarried children, a married daughter and her husband, a sister and her son, another sister and her husband, her daughter and daughter's husband,


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
African Women: A Modern History


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 308

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?