Hadija's Story: Diaspora, Gender, and Belonging in the Cameroon Grassfields

Hadija's Story: Diaspora, Gender, and Belonging in the Cameroon Grassfields

Hadija's Story: Diaspora, Gender, and Belonging in the Cameroon Grassfields

Hadija's Story: Diaspora, Gender, and Belonging in the Cameroon Grassfields

Synopsis

In 1952, a woman named Hadija was brought to trial in an Islamic courtroom in the Cameroon Grassfields on a charge of bigamy. Quickly, however, the court proceedings turned to the question of whether she had been the wife or the slave-concubine of her deceased husband. In tandem with other court cases of the day, Harmony O'Rourke illuminates a set of contestations in which marriage, slavery, morality, memory, inheritance, status, and identity were at stake for Muslim Hausa migrants, especially women. As she tells Hadija's story, O'Rourke disrupts dominant patriarchal and colonial narratives that have emphasized male activities and projects to assert cultural distinctiveness, and she brings forward a new set of women's issues involving concerns for personal prosperity, the continuation of generations, and Islamic religious expectations in communities separated by long distances.

Excerpt

In the town of lere near the jos plateau in nigeria, a local ruler promised two young women to a wealthy, Muslim Hausa long-distance trader. This trader maintained social and economic ties to Kano, the historic city-state of Northern Nigeria where he was born and raised. But he was not headed in that direction when he left the ruler near Jos. Now accompanied by the two young women, he instead made his way toward the village of Mme-Bafumen in the Cameroon Grassfields where he had planned to settle among other Hausas in the diaspora. British colonial records refer to him as Alhaji Goshin—alhaji being a title of prestige indicating that one has completed a successful pilgrimage to Mecca. However, the name by which his family and friends knew him was quite different: here the Goshin of colonial documentation gave way to Gashin Baki in Hausa circles. His name and place of origin have been written into the historical record, but the same cannot be said for the two young women who encountered him in Lere. One of these women disappeared from the record entirely, or was silenced within it; we know nothing of her other than her transfer to Gashin Baki. But the other woman met a different, more public fate. We will never know her birth name or where she was born, but we know Gashin Baki renamed her as she entered the Hausa diaspora, linked as she now was to this merchant and . . .

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