The Gendered Lifecycle in Nineteenth-century Abeokuta, Yorubaland (Present day South-West Nigeria)
Alanamu, Temilola Adunni Seinab
Date: 15 October 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in History
This thesis is a micro-history of gender relations in nineteenth-century Yorùbáland (present-day south-west Nigeria) using the town of Abẹ́òkúta as a case study. It investigates the lived experiences of men and women in a time of radical and sweeping political, economic, social and cultural changes characterised by violent and debilitating ...
This thesis is a micro-history of gender relations in nineteenth-century Yorùbáland (present-day south-west Nigeria) using the town of Abẹ́òkúta as a case study. It investigates the lived experiences of men and women in a time of radical and sweeping political, economic, social and cultural changes characterised by violent and debilitating intra-ethnic wars that lasted almost a century; the advent of Christian missionaries and their corresponding influences; the spread of Islam; and the dawn of British colonialism. It challenges existing frameworks for understanding gender in Africa, which often considers sex categories only, by exploring how the intersections of sex, age and socio-economic status shaped the pre-colonial gendered experience. Since nineteenth-century Yorùbáland was essentially a gerontocratic society, it analyses gender from a lifecycle perspective, illuminating how the lived experiences of males and females transformed from childhood, to youth to adulthood and then old age and eventually death. The study engages with current discourses about the highly contested notion of the presence of gender categories in Yorùbá society. Decades of research have either confirmed or contested the idea that gender categories based on biological sex existed in pre-colonial times. While some feminist authors, such as Oyeronke Oyewumi, have argued that sex-based gendered categories are strictly a western invention in Yorùbáland and most of Africa, others, including Bolanle Awe and Oyeronke Olademo have taken a more middle road. They claim instead that although sexed categories were present in precolonial times, Africans did not view sexual difference in western terms of male superiority and female subordination, neither was sex a significant contributor to a person’s life trajectories. They have argued that Western and African experiences had marked differences and that the relationship between men and women in Yorùbáland were complementary. Using nineteenth- and early twentieth-century written sources and oral traditions and building on the works of certain social historians who contest these constructions of the past, this thesis counters the gender complementarity arguments and contends instead that sex played a more significant role in the nineteenth century than previously realised. It maintains that although age hierarchies played a substantial role in social differentiation, sex was also an important factor in determining a person’s quality of life and future aspirations. Although the study is focused on women, a significant portion of the thesis discusses men in order to contextualise women’s experiences. It argues that since gender relations permeated all aspects of society including non-discursive practices, to study the experience of only one sex would give an incomplete and perhaps distorted view of society.
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