American black history month 2018!!!
That time of the year where we celebrate everything that is black and glorious and magical!
In February 2017, I took on a pledge to educate my friends on African history by writing an article a day for 20 days on something about Africa, the original home of black folks. It was an exhausting but educative exercise in which I learnt more about myself, my African friends and my continent. This year, I am making a new writing pledge.
I am starting a writing series I am calling African sHeroes. I am writing this series in collaboration with Those African Chicks, a platform that seeks to challenge the often reductive narrative imposed on African women by highlighting all of our #blackgirlmagic. I first fell in love with their podcast, and now I am proud to be a guest contributor to their blog.
So why this topic?
I am a black woman, and living in this identity also means I am enraged most of the time about the state of the world, because racism and sexism are very real experiences for me and my kind every day. One of my favorite cathartic activities is reading about badass African women who I aspire to be. It is my privilege to have had these sHeroes pave the way for me to do what I do now, and unfortunately not all of us know who they are. Africa’s narrative, like everywhere else in the world, is historically dominated by men. However there are some incredible female leads in the story of the African continent, that are little known and my goal with this writing series is to change that.
So here is a piece of this phenomenon that even I, was pleasantly surprised to learn about.
I am strongly of the contention that African culture is sexist and even misogynistic, and the evidence not only from my experiences but literally everything else is uncanny. However turns out, it wasn’t always so.This analysis does in no way apply across the whole continent, but I was impressed to find some amazing examples of African women, slaying and being recognized for it across history.
The distinction can be made by era, pre and post colonial.The status and power of women in certain African societies particularly in the pre-colonial period was significantly healthier than it is today. Women had numerous important socio- political and economic roles that conferred a lot of power and respect to them, and there are plenty of examples of this.
African women were, and still are the anchor of the African family unit. Particularly there is a history of power and titles of leadership being conferred through matrilineal lines in various parts of Africa. For instance,in Kush (sans Egypt), the Queen Mother had the right to choose the next Pharaoh and the system of succession to the throne was matrilineal, making her the center of the political machine of the state. There is an African proverb that states, “ You can never be sure who the father of the child is; but of the mother you can always be sure,” so therein lies the rationale for this action.
African women also had vital roles in the political and economic systems of their communities across Africa.The Kikuyu women in Kenya were in charge of all food production and therefore the means of production, the land. Additionally in the Egba of Nigeria, women dominated the trade and merchant exchange of goods of their communities. Additionally, women were also often in charge of the spiritual systems in their communities and were some of the most powerful forces of religious social organization as oracles, spirit mediums, knowers, seers and advisors.The first liberation struggle against the British in Zimbabwe was famously partially incited by a female spirit medium, Nehanda Nyakasikana, who inspired the people to rise up against the colonialists.
The erosion of the status of women in African culture came later and was exacerbated by colonialism. For instance, colonialism took away the power of controlling economies that women had through the loss of land and markets. Perhaps the biggest impact was the adoption of the Victorian treatment of women brought by Europeans.This was the idea that women were creatures of the private domain, and only supposed to be preoccupied with domestic work, while the “real work” of ruling and running the nation in terms of politics and economics was done by men.This was all adopted into modern day African culture and partially accounts for the current status of women in it.
However in the words of Angela Davis, still we rise and we continue to carry the continent on our backs. This series is about the stories of my African sHeroes, women who despite everything defied all odds and made their mark on the African continent. Women who most people know so little about, and I hope to illuminate over the next few months. Most of all I want my fellow African and black women to know, we are powerful beyond our measure since the beginning of time!