Women, Power and Society in Pre-colonial Africa

  • Onaiwu W Ogbomo Professor of History and Director of African American Studies, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL, USA


The article, surveying social, political and economic conditions in pre-colonial Africa argues that contemporary gender relations in Africa is not a true reflection of women\'s exercise of power and influence on the continent in the past. Today the marginalized status of women gives the impression that African women have always been oppressed by their male counterparts. The article also argues that where women have exercised a degree of independence in the past, males have responded to such independence in different ways and manners, ranging from acceptance to accusing women of practicing witchcraft. The article furthermore points to evidence from pre-colonial African societies that does not support the assumption that the myth of matriarchy indicated failure of women in the past. Rather it emphasizes the significant roles they played. Frequently, the pantheons are mixed and the task of research involves analyzing the power structure among the deities. By this technique the researcher may penetrate an era before either Islam or Christianity as organised religions appeared on the continent to foster patriarchal domination in many societies.

Lagos Historical Review, vol. 5 (2005), 49-74

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eISSN: 1596-5031