I made a case somewhere last week that popular history was (may have been) inaccurate in its documentation of the giant strides of African women over the years. It’s not only the part of women though. There’s a general misrepresentation of our history across the board, but there seems to be a deliberate obliteration of the strides of women. And I don’t know why yet. It may be too soon to say the relegation of women in the society (mainly, to domestic responsibilities) is largely a western concept, but there’s a huge disconnect with our pre-colonial history. Several pieces of evidence point to the fact that African women have always been an important member and have played crucial roles in society, and this, not as isolated events.
One of the greatest disservice done to our generation is our inability to look beyond that social script that has been handed over to us – to research, question, and make intelligent observations. We fail to see the huge script played and playing out in the demonization of our African society and culture. We seldom ask questions if these were the way it is being painted. I’m still researching and gathering evidence (and I’m not alone in this), but it’s getting clearer that there was more to Africa than our school books taught us. And that knowledge is key. It was (may have been) strategic for the west to paint itself in more glorious lights, and to do this, debase Africa, for its own economic gain.
Let’s talk about language.
African history has always been passed down in oral form, through songs, stories, adages, proverbs, and words, and in some other cultures, in signs and symbols (written). That tells us that embedded in our language is our history. The west was (may have been) strategic in replacing that language in any way possible. Today, we still hide to speak our indigenous languages.
A proverb in most African languages isn’t just a proverb, but a historical parchment archiving a part of history (think of it as a piece in a puzzle). Imagine that is like some 500mb of history saved in a format. Ask any elderly person to explain a proverb to you and off they go “It so happened one day when Sango went from Oyo to Ede…”
Seun Kuti once explained that the popular saying “the place of the woman is in the kitchen” does not exist anywhere in the Yoruba language. No proverb, no adage, no story, none, corroborates that fact. It doesn’t exist. And if you know the Yoruba language, like most other African languages, there’s a proverb for every thought. Yet, it has no expression for this, until the colonial and post-colonial era where it is mostly a translation from western language.
He also said that many of the feminist feats accorded to his lineage, his grandmothers and aunts weren’t exactly peculiar to them, it was the norm. His were just the leader of the other groups of women.
Most African cultures equate a mother to a deity. In Yoruba, it is said that “Òrìṣà bí ìyá ò sí”. In that, the Yorubas places motherhood (by extension, women) over every other deity or gods.
A random hint for your consideration: The Àjẹ́ clan (mostly of women) in any Yoruba society is one of the highest cadres of influence and power. You don’t (can’t) fight them, you only appease them.
The king is often called the “ọkọ oṣò, ọkọ ajé”. And you will miss the weight of that statement if you translate that title to mean “husband of the witches and wizards”. It’s deeper than that.
Let’s talk about commerce: While the tales of Wall Street may be filled with heroic men, in Africa, commerce has always been the forte of the women. Think about it.
So while I haven’t said that our history is perfect, that what we call patriarchy today may not have existed back then, there are new pieces of evidence from history showing that previous African societies may have been more balanced than its post-colonial versions.
And that what we know as history, as documented by the west, may have done more injustice to women. And what most of my generation know as our history is barely over a hundred years old (colonial and post-colonial).
Perhaps, the British faced more resistance from the women, and hence, strategically removed them and their history to prevent other women, younger women from such aspirations. Perhaps.
Perhaps, a proper walk through history can inspire a new African society where gender equality is not alien and is achievable. And realize we have always upheld the rights of every member of the society.
With these few points of mine, I haven’t said African societies believed that both genders were the same, but that both genders were accorded equal respect and worth, and were allowed to exist within the ambient of their similarities and differences.
And from this, we can find some hope in the fact that what we are fighting for, through feminism, was once a norm in our societies.