Academic journal article History In Africa

Voices from within and Without: Sources, Methods, and Problematics in the Recovery of the Agrarian History of the Igbo (Southeastern Nigeria)

Academic journal article History In Africa

Voices from within and Without: Sources, Methods, and Problematics in the Recovery of the Agrarian History of the Igbo (Southeastern Nigeria)

Article excerpt

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Over the past few decades, social history has variously and successfully explored the lives of neglected groups in society. Nevertheless, the question of capturing these "silent voices" in history, including those of women, remains at the heart of social history. Although few sources are available that allow historians to hear these voices, new methodological insights offer opportunities. A multidisciplinary framework and a broad range of methodologies can shed new light on the lives of peasants, who have been often neglected in history and provide opportunities to "hear" their voices and concerns as historical subjects. The object of this paper is to present some critical perspective on the use of oral and archival sources for the study of the agricultural history of rural Africa. What I present here is my approach to the collection and use of various sources for the study of Igbo agricultural history in the twentieth century. It suggests that oral sources, in particular, offer an important opportunity in the writing of an inclusive history of agricultural change-a history that for the most part has been created by rural peasants. Another objective is to outline my personal experiences in the field and to suggest important ways of situating the researcher not only in the analysis of the evidence, but most importantly, in the context or the fieldwork environment. Both, as has been clearly shown, can affect the historian's analysis and perspective and the resulting history.

Igboland is situated in Southeastern Nigeria and lies between longitude 7°E and latitude 6°10' N. The region borders the middle belt region of Nigeria to the north, the river Niger to the west, the Ibibio people to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea and Bight of Biafra to the south. Most of the region lies on a plain less than 600 feet (about 183 meters) above sea level. Most of Igboland lies within the Guinean and Sub-Guinean physical environment and is characterized by an annual rainfall of between forty and sixty inches per annum, with a dry season lasting between three and four months in northern Igboland and a mean monthly humidity of about 90% throughout the year.1 The pattern of rainfall produces two distinct patterns of vegetation. The southern part of the region is characterized by heavy rainfall that produces a dense rainforest that thinned out northwards into a savanna. However, many centuries of human habitation and activities have turned the whole region into secondary forest, with only pockets of forest oasis remaining.2

Under the present state structure in Nigeria, the Igbo, with an estimated population of 30 million, inhabit the entire Imo, Abia, Anambra, Enugu, and Eboyi states, while a significant number live in Delta and Rivers states. The Igbo comprise over 60% of the total population of eastern Nigeria, but occupy a little over half of the land area of southeastern Nigeria. Thus Igboland is characterized by high population density compared to most parts of Africa. With an estimated population density of 236 persons or higher per square mile, the Colonial Resident for Onitsha observed in 1929 that land was quite limited in proportion to the population in many parts of the region.3 By the 1940s a population density 800 to 1,000 persons per square kilometer was recorded in most parts of Igboland.4 The population density in the Igbo areas was about four times the Nigerian average according to the 1963 census.5 This high population density continued to be reflected in the 1991 population census.6 An important demographic characteristic is the high female population ration in the region. In all the local areas in which I conducted fieldwork, the female population was on the average 10,000 more than the male population.7 The demographic composition has gender and development implications including access to resources and contribution to agricultural production.

Today the vegetation in many parts of Igboland is composed of palm groves ranging from 100 to 200 trees per acre in some areas. …

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