African Encounters with Domesticity

By Karen Tranberg Hansen | Go to book overview

4 Domestic Science Training in Colonial Yorubaland, Nigeria

LaRay Denzer

Wife and mother; home and family: these concepts are as fundamental to African ideologies of domesticity as they are to the European ideology of domesticity imported by the missionaries (both African and European) and colonial administrators in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Under colonial domination, the state and the Christian missions encouraged the adoption of European concepts of domesticity through the agency of the schools and the churches. Yet neither institution succeeded in imposing its ideology as a whole on African peoples, who had their own concepts of women's roles in society and the home. As Africans converted to Christianity and assimilated new skills and beliefs, they transformed them, developing a syncretic ideology of domesticity rooted in indigenous customs but also responsive to socioeconomic changes.

In southwest Nigeria, the Yoruba provide an excellent example of how an African society transformed the European ideology of domesticity to fit its indigenous cultural assumptions and changing needs. This chapter will examine the interaction between the two ideologies by analyzing the role of domestic science in the schools, the main agency used by the missions and the colonial administration to inculcate European ideas during the colonial era. There were three main phases in the development of domestic subjects in the school curriculum during the colonial era: the introduction of domestic subjects in the mission schools; the evolution of government policy; and the transition from a home orientation to a employment orientation in the course structure. The objective of this study is to show how Yoruba women used the new techniques and knowledge gained in these subjects to create and exploit new economic opportunities.

Little conflict existed between the Yoruba and their British rulers concerning the basic tenets of domesticity: that a wife's domain was the home and her basic duty to care for her family and husband. Thus, Victorian-Edwardian beliefs coincided with important ele-

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