The Women's War in Nigeria 1929-1930

(Aba Riots)

[ 1929 - 1930 ]

The early stages of nationalist revolt against entrenched British rule took the form of localized skirmishes like the Aba Women's riots, provoked by specific grievances.


In 1928-1930, Aba women rose in mass protest against the oppressive rule of the colonial government. These Igbo women of eastern Nigeria feared that the head-count being carried out by the British was a prelude to women being taxed. The women were unhappy about the over-taxation of their husbands and sons which they felt was pauperizing them and causing economic hardship for the entire community [Van Allen 1972]. They also resented the British imposition on the community of warrant chiefs, many of whom carried out what the women considered to be abusive and extortionist actions such as obtaining wives without paying the full bride wealth and seizure of property. Previously, new village leaders or heads had been democratically chosen and removed by the people themselves. Power had been diffuse; decisions were reached informally or through village assemblies of all adults who chose to attend. While they had less influence than men, women did control local trade and specific crops. Women protected their interests through assemblies. This had been changed by the colonial government which appointed its agents as warrant chiefs to rule over the people. The abuses of the British appointed native judges and tax enumerators impelled the women to stage a protest on 24 November 1929. Using a deeply rooted practice of censoring men through all night song and dance ridicule ('sitting on a man'), the women's rampages spread. Late in December 1929 the women forced the Umuahia warrant chiefs to surrender their caps thus launching their successful campaign to destroy the warrant chief system. In Aba, women sang and danced against the chiefs and then "proceeded to attack and loot the European trading stores and Barclays Bank and to break into the prison and release the prisoners [Perham 1937:208]." Some 25,000 Igbo women faced colonial repression and over a two month period of insurrection, December 1929 to January 1930, at least 50 were killed [Hanna 1990:338-340].

Related Conflicts

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