Female Husbands in Igbo Land: Southeast Nigeria

By Nwoko, Kenneth Chukwuemeka | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), March 2012 | Go to article overview

Female Husbands in Igbo Land: Southeast Nigeria


Nwoko, Kenneth Chukwuemeka, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Abstract

This paper examines the concept of female husbands in Igbo land, southeastern Nigeria. It highlights the issues that necessitated and sustained the phenomenon, and the perpetual conflict and dichotomy within the connotations and ideas of patriarchy in Igbo land. While distinguishing it from lesbianism as practiced elsewhere, the paper argues that unlike other societies, women to women marriages in Igbo land were not contracted in response to the sexual emotions or attractions of the couples, but simply an instrument for the preservation and extension of patriarchy and its traditions. The paper also argues that the concept of Female husband in Igbo land served more of the interest of patriarchy than contend against it. It concludes that the two gender nomenclatures; patriarchy and matriarchy should be re-conceptualized to reflect the eclecticism that has been present in gender relations overtime.

Keywords: Patriarchy, Inheritance, Matriarchy, Gender, Marriage, Masculinisation

Introduction

The concept of patriarchy is not new. Indeed, it has been an age long defining concept in gender relations the world over. In Africa for instance though cultures that operate matriarchy as a social system abound, its application is only limited to inheritance. Generally it has been argued by scholars that there could be no absolute practice of either patriarchy or matriarchy.1 Nevertheless, patriarchy largely dominates most of the world's social system today. A popular altercation to the practice of this social system has been that of woman to woman marriage, an improvisation to sustain patriarchy, but a negation of its definition and import. That woman to women marriage or female husbands was more pronounced than might be supposed especially in Africa where it occurred in over 30 societies, including; the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria, the Zulu of Southern Africa, the Nuer of East Africa etc., is incontrovertible. Indeed, it suggests the flexibility and dynamism that have attained gender roles in Africa.

Patriarchy: a Conception or Misconception?

Conceptually, patriarchy has been defined in various ways by scholars. It has been defined as a social system wherein the family headship and along with it power and possession passed from the man on to his sons.2 It also referred to a social system in which men wielded all the powers and used it only to their own advantage. For the purpose of this work, the latter definition seemed more significant. Since it was normal for authority to go with function, patriarchy as practiced in Africa naturally assigned authority to the men for the system had allowed them all the powers and its use. Consequently, since they wielded all the powers and the discretionary right to use it, it was only natural that they were bound to use it selfishly.

One of the functions bestowed on the men by the system of patriarchy was the headship of the family. And since the family remained the smallest building block of the society, though not exclusive, the men became the leaders of the society by extension. According to Chinweizu,3 "the patriarch zone of function and authority includes the physical protection of the homestead and its territory, the male economic sphere..., the spiritual sphere..., the social sphere." The matriarch zone of function on the other hand restricted the women to the kitchen, cradle, the female economic sphere, mostly perceived as demeaning for men to venture or intrude into. These socially ascribed functions inhibited women's participation in public life, since they were to be seen and not heard.

The concept of patriarchy permeated every aspect of societal life, in every age, so much so that even most religions especially the major ones: Christianity, Islam and Judaism, preached patriarchal ideologies. Indeed, the masculinisation of the gods of these religions was an affirmation of the patriarchal dispositions of their parent societies and cultures. …

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