Academic journal article Africa

The Impact of Rural Political Economy on Gender Relations in Islamizing Hausaland, Nigeria

Academic journal article Africa

The Impact of Rural Political Economy on Gender Relations in Islamizing Hausaland, Nigeria

Article excerpt


This article departs from general anthropological debates about the nature of gender to focus more narrowly on the impact of political economy and religion on gender relations. It explores the dialectic between commodification, Islamic conversion and gender relations in the Hausa hamlet of Marmara, in northern Nigeria. Despite changes in political economy and in religion, there has been great continuity in gender relations. The article ends with a structural comparison between the Hausa of Marmara and the Giriama of Kaloleni (in Kenya). In this comparison, it appears that political economy can be privileged over religion in the understanding of gender. Over the long terra, however, a deeper continuity in local moral concepts structures people's very understanding of political economy, religion and gender.


Cet article sort du cadre general des debats anthropologiques sur la nature du genre pour examiner de pius pres l'impact de l'economie politique et de la religion sur les relations entre les sexes. Il explore la dialectique entre marchandisation, conversion a l'islam et relations entre les sexes dans le hameau haoussa de Marmara, dans le Nord du Nigeria. Malgre les changements intervenus dans l'economie politique et la religion, les relations entre les sexes font preuve d'une grande continuite. L'article se termine par une comparaison structurelle entre les Haoussa de Marmara et les Giriama de Kaloleni (au Kenya). Il semble en ressortir que l'interpretation du genre peut privilegier l'economie politique sur la religion. Sur le long terme, en revanche, une continuite pius profonde dans les concepts moraux locaux structure l'interpretation populaire de l'economie politique, de la religion et du genre.


There is a continuing debate in anthropology about the analytical boundaries between sex, sexuality and gender, and the extent to which gender is biologically or culturally 'constructed' (Moore 1999:151-71). Without entering those debates, dais article approaches gender relations from the very particular perspective of research on rural political economy. Most generally, I use 'political economy' to mean the total relations of production, exchange and power in which a people is embedded, leaving open (as did Marx and Engels 1974 [1846]: 58) the reciprocal influence between political economy and other social spheres. (1) This article focuses on the ways in which changing rural political economy and changing gender relations affect each other.

In 1976 and from 1977 to 1979, and again for two weeks each in 1985, 1996 and 1998, I did fieldwork on rural political economy in the Hausa hamlet of Marmara. It is situated in Malumfashi District, in the economic region of southern Katsina (a part of Katsina Emirate). Marmara, and southern Katsina more generally, are part of that enormous area known popularly as 'northern Nigeria', where the jihad of 1804-8 established the Sokoto Caliphate--severely altered, bur not abolished, by British and post-independence governments.

Society in Marmara is polygynous. Divorce and re-marriage are easy and common. Conversion from the ancient indigenous Maguzawa religion to Islam occurred from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, while the few remaining Maguzawa families converted by the late 1980s. More recently, a purist form of Islam led by reformers known throughout northern Nigeria as Yan Izala has replaced an earlier eclecticism over the relative merits of different brotherhoods, the Tijaniyya and Qadiriyya.

Gender relations are profoundly influenced by the organization of social economy. At the same time, changes in religious belief have affected the social economy and thereby influenced ideas of gender. This mutual causation leads to a balance of continuity and change in notions of 'manhood' and 'womanhood'. Rural people articulate the moral realm in a particular way. The obligation to marry, to have children, and, when income allows, for men to increase the number of their wives, is absolutely imperative. …

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