Moses E. Ochonu
Interventions: Journal of Postcolonial Studies 13: 2 (2011), 278-298.
Male and Female

Masculine Anxieties, Cultural Politics, and Debates over Independent Womanhood among Idoma Male Migrants in late Colonial Northern Nigeria

As the population of independent Idoma women in northern Nigerian cities like Kaduna, Zaria, Kafanchan and Kano grew in the late colonial period of the 1950s, their Idoma kinsmen in these urban centres agonised about the implications of their presence for their status and for notions of Idoma cultural propriety. Expressed through the associational platform of the Idoma Hope Rising Union (IHRU), an ethnonationalist association of western-educated Idoma men, these masculine anxieties snowballed into a full-fledged debate on what to do about the independent Idoma women's urban presence.

One group petitioned the authorities to repatriate the women to their homelands in Idomaland. They were, the men argued, prostitutes who devalued Idoma womanhood and undermined the institution of marriage among the Idoma. Another group appealed to the authorities not to harass the women, urging rehabilitation instead of repatriation. Although they, too, shared the view that the women were a slight on Idoma cultural and reputational integrity, they contended that national citizenship rights of free mobility and residency should trump gender vigilantism and notions of ethnic morality.

This essay analyses this debate and its many stakes. It contends that the debate highlighted competing visions of Idoma masculine pride; the place of women in Idoma society; modernity and patriarchy; and claims and counterclaims about tradition and cultural authenticity in the cut-throat politics of the late colonial period of the 1950s. The debate and its rhetoric reflected a familiar British colonial script on African independent womanhood. It also highlighted how instrumental the minority identity and insecurities of the Idoma male migrants were to their efforts to police their kinswomen's urban choices. The essay contends that these efforts were stratagems deployed to help recapture lost political and cultural relevance in a period of rapid modernist transformation, dynamic political possibilities, and a counteracting constellation of anxieties.

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