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de Sousa, Noémia  

Hilary Owen

Noémia de Sousa (1926–2002) is traditionally designated as the founding mother of Mozambican national poetry. She was the only woman poet in Mozambique to play a major role in shaping the cultural imaginary of the Portuguese African nationalisms that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s. Her early life as a woman of mixed African, European, and Goan racial heritage, and the education this racial status afforded her, drew her into writing and journalism in opposition to the colonial regime of the Portuguese New State. Her first and only poetry collection, Sangue Negro (Black blood), was completed and circulated clandestinely in 1951. She was subsequently exiled to Lisbon, and from there to Paris, returning to Portugal in 1973, shortly before the April 1974 Revolution. The contents of Sangue Negro were circulated, in the original and in translation, largely through specific selected poems in African nationalist anthologies. Divided into five sections, the poems of Sangue Negro mix oral and literary tropes and influences. They deal with issues of racial hybridity and colonial assimilation, African American and Pan-Africanist influences in Mozambique, Portuguese Neorealism and Marxist resistance, autobiographical memories and testimonies, and the specificity of women’s political voice. The literary establishment’s reception of de Sousa in 1960s Mozambique was generally dismissive. Her work was also afforded relatively minor status in foundational anglophone accounts of the Lusophone African canon, such as those by Russel Hamilton and Patrick Chabal. The Marxist sociologist critic, Alfredo Margarido was an important exception in this regard and an early champion of her work. In the 1990s, de Sousa was progressively validated and incorporated into the canonization of black, Pan-Africanist, and Negritudinist writers by critics such as Pires Laranjeira in Portugal. Since the 1990s she has received more in-depth, gender-informed attention in Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil, the United States, and the United Kingdom, consolidating her international status as a pioneering woman’s voice in Africa’s literary history of national liberation struggle. Her poetry collection Sangue Negro was reprinted by the Mozambican Writers’ Association (AEMO) in a new edition in 2001, for the first time since the 1951 original.

Article

Disease Control and Public Health in Colonial Africa  

Samuël Coghe

Disease control and public health have been key aspects of social and political life in sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial. With variations across space and time, many societies viewed disease as the result of imbalances in persons and societies and combined the use of materia medica from the natural world, spiritual divination, and community healing to redress these imbalances. While early encounters between African and European healing systems were still marked by mutual exchanges and adaptations, the emergence of European germ theory-based biomedicine and the establishment of racialized colonial states in the 19th century increasingly challenged the value of African therapeutic practices for disease control on the continent. Initially, colonial states focused on preserving the health of European soldiers, administrators, and settlers, who were deemed particularly vulnerable to tropical climate and its diseases. Around 1900, however, they started paying more attention to diseases among Africans, whose health and population growth were now deemed crucial for economic development and the legitimacy of colonial rule. Fueled by new insights and techniques provided by tropical medicine, antisleeping sickness campaigns would be among the first major interventions. After World War I, colonial health services expanded their campaigns against epidemic diseases, but also engaged with broader public health approaches that addressed reproductive problems and the social determinants of both disease and health. Colonial states were not the only providers of biomedical healthcare in colonial Africa. Missionary societies and private companies had their own health services, with particular logics, methods, and focuses. And after 1945, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) increasingly invested in health campaigns in Africa as well. Moreover, Africans actively participated in colonial disease control, most notably as nurses, midwives, and doctors. Nevertheless, Western biomedicine never gained hegemony in colonial Africa. Many Africans tried to avoid or minimize participation in certain campaigns or continued to utilize the services of local healers and diviners, often in combination with particular biomedical approaches. To what extent colonial disease control impacted on disease incidence and demography is still controversially debated.

Article

Ekpo, Margaret  

Chinyere Ukpokolo

Margaret Ekpo was a woman leader, a pioneer parliamentarian and a human rights activist who contributed immensely to the political development of Nigeria during the colonial and pre-Civil War eras. She was actively involved in the struggle for Nigerian independence, and agitations for women’s inclusion in policies and programs of government. A leading member of National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), which became the National Council for Nigerian Citizens in 1960, Margaret rose to become a member of National Executive Council (NEC) of the party as well as the Vice President of the NCNC Women Association. In 1954, she was appointed a Chief with a seat in the Eastern House of Chiefs, breaking gender barrier that had hitherto made the space a male preserve. Margaret was a patriotic Nigerian. As part of her contributions to the constitutional development of Nigeria, Ekpo attended many constitutional conferences in Lagos and London as an adviser to the NCNC. She deployed different strategies to build political consciousness among women in Eastern Region of Nigeria. Her concern on universal suffrage led her to speak unequivocally against women exclusion in political process in the Northern Region of Nigeria. Margaret was an industrialist. She founded a sewing institute named “Windsor Domestic Science Institute” where she trained women in bookkeeping, dressmaking, and home economics among other activities. She believed that women must not be idle but work to earn income to assist their husbands. Margaret founded Aba Market Women Association, which she also used as a platform to educate women on their rights. She was rights activist who utilized her position as a parliamentarian to agitate for the political, economic, educational, and cultural emancipation of her people. For instance, she fought for the welfare of workers and their fundamental human rights. She demanded gender equity in the appointment of people to the Census Board, employment in the police force, and called for more girls to be offered scholarships. Margaret mobilized women against the British colonial administrators following the killing of coal miners at Iva Valley, Enugu, known as “Enugu Colliery Massacre” in 1949, and the murder of Onyia, a wardress in Enugu prison killed in 1954 for her refusal of sexual advances of a warder. She wanted government to coordinate the processes through which Nigerian students abroad access scholarships. Margaret believed in the indivisibility of Nigeria and suffered for her conviction during the Nigeria–Biafra Civil War (1966–1970). For her services to humanity, Ekpo received several awards and honors. An airport, Margaret Ekpo Airport Calabar, was named after her in her life time. She was awarded National Officer of the Order of Niger (NOON) and Commander of the Order of Federal Republic (OFR). Ekpo was a member of the Board of Trustees of Women’s Research and Documentation Centre (WORDOC), Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria. Chief Margaret Ekpo died on September, 21, 2006 at the age of ninety-two.

Article

Al-Durr, Shajarat  

Azza El Kholy

Shajarat Al-Durr’s life and death constitute a story that deserves to be told. Turkic in origin, she was sold into slavery but grew up to become a great Sultana. She was purchased by Al- Saleh Ayyub, and soon became his favorite concubine, and later his wife after bearing his son Khalil who died in infancy. She was intelligent and beautiful, and was the Sultan’s companion and advisor in many state affairs. Her astuteness appears in her role in boosting the morale of the army by concealing her husband’s death during the Crusade in 1249. Upon Al- Saleh’s death, his son Turanshah became Sultan, and persecuted her and his father’s Bahari Mamluks who, abetted by her, murdered him. They then instated her as Sultana of Egypt because of her liaison with the Ayyubid dynasty as wife of the Sultan, and mother to his deceased son. For eighty days she ruled as Sultana. Coins were minted in her name, and she was praised in prayers around the country until the Abbasid Caliph, Al- Musta’sim, sent a derogatory message offering to send a “man” to rule Egypt. Shajarat Al-Durr, a wise woman, abdicated the throne in favor of Aybak, one of her husband’s Mamluks and the man she took as husband to avoid political turmoil, thus finally marking the end of the Ayyubid dynasty and the beginning of the Mamluk era. They ruled together until he betrayed her trust when she learned that he was thinking of taking another wife, and seeking to rule on his own. A proud woman, Shajarat Al-Durr ordered him dead. In retaliation, Aybak’s Mamluks and his first wife killed her, and thus ended the life and reign of one of the most prominent women in Islamic history.

Article

Emecheta, Buchi  

Chika Unigwe

Buchi Emecheta (1944–2017) was a Nigerian writer, born in Lagos to a seamstress mother and a railway worker father. Emecheta’s early ambition was to get an education, like her brother Adolphus. Orphaned early in life, a scholarship to a coveted high school gave her the opportunity she wanted. Married at sixteen to Sylvester Onwordi, she joined him in London in 1962. Their marriage soon ended because of Onwordi’s physical and mental abuse. By the age of twenty two, she was a single mother with five children. Her first novel, In the Ditch, published in 1972, chronicled the struggles of Adah, who represented Emecheta’s own alter ego, in raising children in the slums of London. Overall, Emecheta published over twenty books, which frequently centered on a black woman’s experience. Many of her novels revisit the same themes and draw inspiration from her life. There is perhaps no other African writer in whose works their own biography is centered as much as it is in hers. Her work illuminates her life while her life informs her work. Her life and fiction feed one another to the extent that her novels are often referred to as “fictionalized” accounts of her life. Although Emecheta was a symbol of the modern African woman, she rejected being called a feminist. If she were to be called a feminist, it had to be “feminist with a small letter ‘f’.” A term she would have accepted for herself as well as for her strong female characters would have been Obioma Nnaemeka’s “nego-feminism,” a feminism of Africa, of negotiation, and a no ego feminism.

Article

Food History and Women in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Igor Cusack

Any account of women and food history in sub-Saharan Africa must be complicated by two main factors: first, the multitude and complexity of African societies and their interactions with the different colonial powers over five centuries, and, second, by an underestimation of the importance of women’s activities by researchers imbued with colonial patriarchal ideologies. In prehistoric and precolonial times, only glimpses of women’s roles in food production and gathering can be seen, drawing on evidence from historical linguistics, ethnography, anthropology, and archaeology. What evidence there is suggests that women’s participation in these tasks was important. The written account of Ibn Battutah and the oral epic of Sundiata provide some information about what was eaten and Sundiata does point to women’s major role in growing food and in cooking. During the colonial period, from about 1500 to the 1960s, many accounts from different parts of sub-Saharan Africa stress how women played a dominant part in the farming, processing, preparation, and cooking of food. There was a varied and often complex division of labor between men and women. Instead of the more rigid gendered private/public divide often seen in the West, women in Africa have engaged in wider roles in the public sphere, for example, in the processing of food for sale. There are some indications that women’s work was changed by the introduction of new crops from Asia and the Americas. Colonial governments favored men working on cash crops so that women focused even more on the provision of food for the family. Women also showed great adaptability in assessing and using new technologies such as peanut processing machines. Cooking has remained predominantly a woman’s occupation in sub-Saharan Africa and a divide between a “high” cuisine, mainly in the hands of men outside Africa, and a “low” or humble cuisine, has not developed. Cookery books are very useful sources for evidence of the history of women’s domestic role. Those published for European settler wives in the colonial period were focused on the housewife rooted in the home and this ideology of domesticity can be found in the cookery books of postcolonial Africa. After independence, the ruling elites of African nations set about constructing discourses of national identity, flags and anthems particular to each nation, and women have contributed to this nation-building by assembling national cuisines. Since the 1980s, an epidemic of obesity has occurred in many African urban areas, with associated chronic disease, which women have suffered more than men. An ideal image of a plumper body, along with the introduction of “fast food,” has contributed to this situation. Women have also been disadvantaged by cultural food taboos in which certain foods are prohibited to them.

Article

Gender and the Study of Slavery and the Slave Trades in Africa  

Vanessa S. Oliveira

Indigenous societies in Africa made use of slave labor and traded in captives. Slavery was one of many forms of dependency and an effective means of controlling people alongside serfdom, clientage, wage labor, and pawnship. In African societies, enslaved individuals could be sacrificed at funerals and in public ceremonies, as well as used in the military and in the production of goods and foodstuffs. Because of their kinlessness and dependent status, some enslaved men and women could hold positions of authority. Women were more wanted in the domestic market, as they played a major role in the production of foodstuffs in agricultural societies and contributed to increasing kinship groups. Indigenous forms of slavery coexisted with demand for enslaved laborers in the trans-Saharan, Indian Ocean, and transatlantic markets from ancient times until the 20th century. The Muslim markets absorbed more women, incorporated as concubines and domestic servants, as well as castrated boys. The transatlantic market, in turn, required more men to work on plantations and in urban occupations. The growing need for slave labor in the Americas and in the Muslim world had profound implications for slavery in Africa. By the late 18th and 19th centuries, the productive use of enslaved labor had become a fundamental feature of the African political economy, resulting in the development of slave societies in various regions of the continent. The demand for captives in the internal and foreign markets resulted in the enrichment of few individuals and firms and in the growth of insecurity and slavery in Africa.

Article

Girlhood in Africa  

Sarah Bellows-Blakely

There is no singular or universal experience of girlhood in Africa. Conceptions of childhood, youth, generation, gender, and sexuality have differed across the continent and around the world over time. Since the 19th century, varying understandings of African girlhood have been deeply connected to the growth of racist hierarchies of human societies, the European colonization of Africa, African nationalisms, transnational feminist movements, and crises in capitalism. Case studies of two areas concerning African girlhood—female circumcision and the emergence of the girls’ rights movement—show how politicized girlhood in Africa has been. These two topics provide a distinct vantage point from which to understand far-reaching political processes and how these processes have uniquely played out in and through debates over girls’ bodies.

Article

Lady Irene Namaganda  

Nakanyike B. Musisi

Described as a “woman of character” by her son, Kabaka (King) Sir Edward Mutesa II, Irene Drusilla Namaganda (1896–1957) was the earliest of the three queens who graced 20th-century Buganda. Yet quite independent of her personality, Namaganda was born, educated, and became queen during a momentous period in Buganda’s history. While occupying the office of queen mother following the death of her husband King Daudi Chwa II (1939), Namaganda became sexually involved with and pregnant by Simoni Petero Kigozi, a commoner almost twenty years her junior. For this behavior they were both tried for “An Abominable Crime” in a criminal court and pronounced guilty, and Namaganda was dethroned and sent into an internal exile. In later years, Namaganda converted to the radical Christianity of the Balokole movement. She died of uterus cancer in 1957 leaving behind a legacy of being first on many fronts but, above all, the first rebellious Buganda queen mother to ever be dethroned. Namaganda’s legacy also lies in her unmasking of the colonial misreadings of “native” protest strategies. Neither the colonialists nor the Buganda bureaucracy ever read Namaganda’s choice of becoming pregnant and subsequent strategies as a protest ploy aimed at exposing and ending the colonization of her body and the office she represented. Namaganda’s rebellion was neither a “simple palace matter,” “sad thing,” nor about sex or marriage, as it has been argued. It was about ending one form of patriarchal colonization (her body) and exposing the limitations of another (British).

Article

Lakwena, Alice  

Heike Behrend

Alice Lakwena’s transformation from a healer into a Christian prophetess occurred during a period of civil war and unrest in Uganda. In 1986, she founded the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF) in northern Uganda and waged war against the government of Yoweri Museveni. Above all, her power was based on the practice of possession by gendered spirits, a ritual that fostered a unique form of holy war. Though her forces were defeated, and she later died in a refugee camp in northern Kenya, her fame continued to grow after her death.

Article

Maathai, Wangari Muta  

Kabiru Kinyanjui

The life of Wangari Muta Maathai (1940–2011) was strongly shaped by her rural environment, missionary education, and exposure to university education in the United States and Germany. Her interactions with other women—her mother, teachers, and grassroots women—also had a great impact on her work and commitment. In the midst of enormous challenges and obstacles, she created a formidable Green Belt Movement (GBM) to empower grassroots women. By mobilizing women to plant and care for trees, Maathai changed the thinking and practices of conserving the environment at a time when dominant global thinking on the environment and women’s role in society was grappling for transformation. Hence the dynamics of local and international forces coalesced in the work of the GBM. Local experiences also infused global thinking and appreciation of struggles for democratic governance, peace, and sustainable development. Consequently, Professor Maathai’s ingenuity and persistence were widely recognized and honored, and earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Article

Makeba, Miriam  

Omotayo Jolaosho

Miriam Makeba (March 4, 1932–November 9, 2008) was among the first to popularize African music on a global scale. Nelson Mandela named her South Africa’s first lady of song; she was also nicknamed Mama Africa. Makeba has been credited with inaugurating the “world music” movement, a designation that she did not like as it marginalized music from a so-called Third World. Already renowned in her native South Africa as a sophisticated and highly sought-after performer in her own right, Makeba’s arrival in the United States in 1959 transformed that country’s music scene. She was a contemporary of Nina Simone and Odetta, with the three women credited for a resurgence of folk music in the United States as they drew songs of everyday life onto the concert stage. South Africa’s apartheid government revoked Makeba’s passport in 1960, when she sought to return home to bury her mother. She was a vocal critic of apartheid in exile, appearing before the United Nations (UN) on at least four occasions (including twice as a delegate of Guinea) to urge sanctions against the apartheid regime and mobilize support for Black South Africans caught under apartheid’s yoke. She supported US civil rights movement organizations and activists, and through her activism embedded US struggles for civil rights within a continuum of African liberation struggles, including anti-apartheid and anti-colonial liberation movements on the continent. She was a cultural ambassador who bore witness to the independence of many African countries through song, with countries for which her performances contributed to the ushering in of independent regimes including Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. She was the only performer at the inaugural conference of the Organization for African Unity. As South Africa’s apartheid government began transitioning power, Makeba was able to return home in 1992 for a brief visit and subsequently decided to permanently return. Under South Africa’s democratically elected regime, Makeba was appointed an FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Goodwill ambassador for the UN. She continued performing in her later years, but in November 2008 she collapsed following a performance in Italy and died from cardiac arrest. Her legacy continues through the work of the ZM Makeba Foundation.

Article

Mernissi, Fatima  

Raja Rhouni

Fatima Mernissi (1940–2015) was a sociologist, writer, feminist, and activist, and above all a free thinker and an avowed humanist. She was committed to dialogue, dismantling all sorts of boundaries, whether between East and West, South and North, women and men, rural and urban, illiterate and educated, activism and academia, as well as that between fiction and scholarly writing. Her work is multifaceted, intersectional, fluid, and organic. In her scholarly writings Mernissi was concerned with identifying and critiquing the different structures that intersect to oppress women, ranging through colonialism, nationalism, patriarchal interpretation of Islam, capitalist development, and imperialism. She was also dedicated to shedding light on subaltern women’s agency, amplifying their voices for the hearing of decision-makers and development planners. She significantly contributed to the emergence of “Third World feminism,” fostering pan-African and transnational feminist solidarity. Credited as one of the founders of “Islamic feminism,” she inspired Muslim women all over the world to advocate for women’s rights from a faith-based position. At the end of her life she identified as a Sufi, committed to fostering civic bonding and synergy between civil-society actors, intellectuals, and ordinary women and their communities, always struggling against elitism and egoism. Mernissi wrote over sixteen books, edited a significant number of volumes, and authored numerous articles. Some of her books have been translated into over twenty-five languages. She directed many writing workshops and was the founding member of numerous research groups and organizations. Mernissi was also the recipient of prestigious awards, among them the Prince of Asturias Award in 2003 and the Erasmus Prize in the Netherlands in 2004. The Guardian ranked her among the top 100 most influential women in the world in 2011. Another recognition—that of which she would perhaps have been most proud—is the acknowledgment and love ordinary women and their communities, with whom she mixed and worked for decades, continue to vow for? her after her passing.

Article

Mohamed, Bibi Titi  

Chambi Chachage and Jacqueline Mgumia

African women were at the forefront of nationalistic struggles for independence in Africa that were at their height in the 1950s. In mainland Tanzania, then known as Tanganyika, Bibi Titi Mohamed emerged as a leading voice in building the liberation movement through a political party known as the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). As a leader of the women’s wing of TANU, she traveled throughout the country to mobilize both women and men to join the party that led to the independence of Tanganyika in the early 1960s. During the transition to full independence, she became a member of the Legislative Council, agitating for inclusive improvement in the welfare of all citizens. Her contribution in the parliamentary debates focused on rural development and equal access to employment, education, and provision of healthcare, with special attention to women in general and the girl child, in particular. After independence, she became the Junior Minister for Community Development and a leading advocate of people-centered development and gender equality. During the second half of the 1960s, Bibi Titi’s promising political career took a downward turn, bringing it to an abrupt end in the early 1970s. Her downfall started in 1965 when she lost her parliamentary seat in the general elections. Since one had to be an MP in order to be a Minister, she also lost her ministerial position in the government. Although she continued to serve as a notable member of the ruling party’s executive organs and vocal leader of its women’s wing, her career hit another snag when TANU issued the Arusha Declaration on Socialism and Self-Reliance in 1967. She would appear to have disagreed with provisions of the Arusha Declaration’s Leadership Code that barred leaders from owning rentable properties as well as being of the opinion that the process used in adopting the Declaration had been inadequately consultative. On this account, she resigned from all party positions. One would have assumed that after the resignation she would have had a quiet retirement from her momentous political career, but this was not to be. Three years later, she was charged for treason and then jailed for life prior to getting a presidential pardon in 1972. Bibi Titi’s life after imprisonment went on unrecorded and unnoticed. She largely lived out of the public limelight that characterized the first decade of her political career. One of the most recognized names in the country partly faded from the public for almost an entire generation. Reference to her name and contribution to national his/herstory disappeared from party and government official records, almost extinguishing her significant role in the early years of Tanzanian history. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, her name started to re-emerge, not least because of the rise of the feminist movement, life histories, and gender and women studies. Hers is the story that ought to be told and retold—of the muting and unmuting of a leading voice of freedom. It is a story that will continue to manifest itself in various debates on the nature and character of the leadership of liberation movements, with specific reference to women leaders in Africa.

Article

Motherhood and Maternalism  

Lorelle Semley

The nature of motherhood and maternalism in Africa challenges perceptions and assumptions about women, families, and societies in unexpected ways. Across Africa, motherhood has operated as an institution and ideology that shaped social, economic, and political organization, especially before European colonialism expanded across the continent during the late 19th century. The sociocultural significance of biological motherhood and childrearing remains an important theme in the study of the past and the present as African women form families, sometimes outside of the bonds of marriage. Ideas about biological motherhood have also shifted to address health, disease, and sexuality. African women and men are reimagining motherhood in the face of diverse issues such as infertility, the impact of HIV/AIDS, and an emergent, self-identified LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community. Similarly, maternalism in Africa extends beyond the common focus on issues such as women’s rights, reproductive health, or children’s education. Maternalist politics in Africa in the 20th and 21st centuries have addressed broader political questions such as state policies, housing, and infrastructure, often with an internationalist vision. Taken together, motherhood and maternalism in Africa not only encompass personal and emotional realms often associated with both terms but also bridge historical and political questions, including ones about belonging and citizenship in an interconnected world.

Article

Ngoyi, Lilian  

Iris Berger

Lilian Masediba Matabane Ngoyi was a passionate anti-apartheid and women’s rights advocate and one of the most prominent woman leaders during the 1950s. Born in Pretoria in 1911, she attended primary school through Standard 6 and trained as a nurse for three years before becoming a seamstress. Her marriage to John Ngoyi ended with his death in an automobile accident. In 1945 Ngoyi began working in a garment factory and joined the Garment Workers’ Union of the Transvaal. Her union activism led her to take part in the Defiance Campaign against apartheid laws. Ngoyi’s arrest in 1952 for standing in the whites-only line at the post office in Pretoria changed the course of her life. From this time onward, while still struggling to support her family, she devoted herself to anti-apartheid activism. A passionate speaker, she was elected to the top positions in the Federation of South African Women and the African National Congress Women’s League and became the first woman elected to the ANC Executive Committee. In 1954, as a delegate to the World Congress of Mothers, she traveled widely in Europe, China, and the Soviet Union. Upon returning to South Africa, Ngoyi was a key leader of the historic demonstrations against passes for women in 1955 and 1956. But her political prominence also made her a target of state repression. First arrested in the Treason Trial in 1956, she was among the anti-apartheid leaders detained after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. Between trial appearances and imprisonment, she continued her political activities. In the last two decades of her life, she suffered from a series of banning orders that restricted her to her Soweto home. She died on March 13, 1980.

Article

Njinga a Mbande: Power and War in 17th-Century Angola  

Selma Pantoja

Njinga a Mbande (1582–1663) is the most famous and controversial historical figure in the history of the West-Central Africa region during the 17th century, the region of present-day Angola. Her political trajectory contributes to the understanding of the troubled context of the Portuguese expansion in the region and the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade. The Ndongo state was at the very core of this struggle, a state mainly comprised of the Mbundu peoples. It was also the Queen’s original birthplace and a major area in the dispute for ensuring control of the trade routes between the inland and coastal regions. The Portuguese arrived in the region in 1575, and settled on the coast. Luanda was the first area of the Portuguese occupation. From there the Portuguese waged wars of conquest, moving toward the sertão (hinterland). On the Portuguese side, the action unfolded in the constant attempt to control the sobas, the local authorities, the construction of fortresses in the Mbundu territory, and the wars that were initially meant to obtain captives and form an African Army (Guerra Preta). The army would later serve Portuguese interests in controlling the routes and fairs (i.e., the hubs, or centers, of slave trade). On the Mbundu authorities’ side, even before the queen’s reign, and later on at her command, the struggles took many forms: the deterrence of the fairs’ functioning; the disorganization of the “tax” system, in which the Portuguese charged the sobas; and the welcoming of hundreds of escaped slaves, as well as other central actions such as wars and diplomatic negotiations. Njinga a Mbande took on the title Ngola (1624), the position of greatest authority and prestige in the Ndongo. In 1626, after a major campaign by Portuguese settlers, she was expelled from her territory. But by 1631 she re-emerged as a leader, now in another region, Matamba, an important base for her attacks on the areas controlled by the Portuguese. From this region, she made a peace agreement, governing until her natural death at the age of 82. In the 21st century, historiographical questions abound: how was the leadership of this female figure viewed in terms of legitimacy and gender identity within the power structures of the Ndongo, how was her image publicly projected throughout the region, how did she rise in prominence in European reports, and what was her fundamental impact on the oral tradition of different peoples of West-Central Africa. The presence of Queen Njinga crossed the Atlantic and figures in the imagery of popular and mythical narratives in the Americas.

Article

Ogidi Women’s Market Protest of 1914  

Tara Hollies

In March and April of 1914, the women of the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria staged a massive, multiweek protest of the town’s corrupt warrant chief, an Ogidi indigene named Walter Okafo Amobi, as well as the British colonial administration that he represented. The trouble began when Amobi decided to move the sacred Afo Udo market, which was the possession of the Igbo oracle Udo, away from its hallowed location (about a mile and a half from Trunk A Road, the relatively new colonial highway) to a site much nearer that road and Amobi’s palace. Before moving the market, Amobi did not consult Udo, his priest, or the Ogidi women whose duty it was, as intermediaries of the Igbo earth goddess, to protect marketplaces. The women responded by staging protests at the entrance to Amobi’s palace as well as outside the native court and colonial district officer’s post in the nearby city of Onitsha. The Ogidi women’s market protest of 1914 was one component of a prolonged period of strife between the people of Ogidi and Amobi, which a British colonial official documented in early 1915 as the “Ogidi Palaver.” Afo Udo was a large and popular market held on every Afo day, one of the four days of the Igbo market week, and was regularly attended by traders from within and outside Ogidi. The warrant chief argued that moving the market closer to the recently constructed main road would bring more revenue to the town. Regardless, the people of Ogidi did not trust Amobi due to his consistent maltreatment of them since he was appointed a warrant chief in 1903. By the close of the several-week standoff between Amobi and the women, the market was returned to its original, spirit-sanctioned location, but the colonial authorities failed to acknowledge the coordinated and concerted effort of the town’s women to achieve this end. The colonial record only briefly documents one of the many actions Ogidi’s women carried out, and the rest of the narrative has been reconstructed from local oral histories.

Article

Pereira, Carmen  

Ângela Sofia Benoliel Coutinho

Born in Bissau in 1936, Carmen Pereira was the daughter of a Guinean lawyer (one of only two Guinean lawyers at the time). She studied at the primary school in Bissau, and married in that city in 1957. In 1961, following her husband’s flight to Senegal to avoid being arrested as a political agitator, Carmen joined the independence movement led by the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), with three small children in her charge. Guinea-Bissau was then a Portuguese colony, with a far-right dictatorship based in the metropole. So-called Portuguese Guinea was about the size of Belgium or Haiti, and had a tropical, hot, and humid climate; most of its inhabitants, who belonged to more than twenty different peoples, were dedicated to agriculture. In the 1960s the majority of Guinea-Biassau’s inhabitants were Animists; there was also a significant Muslim population, and a few, like Carmen Pereira herself, were Catholics. The guerilla war began in Guinea-Bissau in 1963, and lasted until independence was declared in 1974. During this period Carmen travelled to the Soviet Union, where she studied to be a nurse. On her return to Africa she was given responsibility for the Health sector in the South region, where she also became the Political Commissioner for the areas controlled by the PAIGC, as a consequence of her proven leadership skills, and in accordance with the PAIGC’s policy of giving women equal opportunities and rights within the movement. Carmen Pereira is an important figure in African history, principally because she was the only woman to be elected a member of the Executive Committee (formerly the Political Bureau) of the PAIGC, which is itself significant as one of the few African movements for political liberation that led a successful war for independence. In the new state of Guinea-Bissau, Carmen Pereira was elected President of the Parliament, and appointed Health Minister, Minister for Social Affairs, and State Council member. She died in Bissau in June 2016.

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Queen Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba  

Mariana Bracks Fonseca

Njinga Mbande was a sovereign of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms in the 17th century. She is remembered as a strong leader who challenged the Portuguese conquest of Angola. As heir to the Ndongo kingdom, she negotiated peace agreements with the Portuguese administration and was baptized. But diplomacy was not enough to guarantee the peace, security, and integrity of the Ndongo state. Military resistance was necessary to resist Portuguese advances and guarantee her political survival. Njinga Mbande defied the Portuguese armies and became the leader of a group of nomadic warriors called Jagas. Leading powerful battalions, she retreated inland and conquered the Matamba kingdom, which was ruled by women. The military superiority of Njinga’s army and her ability to build alliances made her the most feared figure in the Angolan wars in the 17th century. With bravery and wisdom, she effectively defended her state and resisted Portuguese expansion in the region. For more than thirty years, Njinga resisted her enemies, defeating and deceiving them many times. She died when she was more than eighty years old without ever being captured or subjected. In the 20th century, Njinga Mbande’s public memory was transformed to represent nationalist resistance to earlier colonialism in Angola. She became known as the Angolan Queen, a national heroine in independent Angola, and is also remembered in the folk traditions of peoples of African descent in the Americas. It is important to stress, however, that she was the ruler of two states, and she never ruled the entire territory of what is now Angola.