Thursday, June 28, 2007


The people of Ihiagwa as earlier said are part of the Igbo speaking ethnic group in Nigeria and as such our recipes and cuisine are also those eaten among the Igbo's of Nigeria. Ihiagwa is not complete without some of her special cuisines, some of which are mentioned below.


OFE - OWERRI SOUP serve 4-6
This is classic Ihiagwa and Owerri soup flavoured with aromatic Uzouza leaves, Ugwu (fresh Pumpkin leaves) and Okazie leaves and lightly thickened with Cocoyam, really captures the scent of Ihiagwa town and Igbo land.
lkg / 2Ib assorted meats (Beef Oxtail, Tripe, Bokoto & Bushmeat), Ponmo,
450g / lib stockfish (washed & flaked )
1 medium dry fish (washed & flaked)
225g / 8oz ground chilies
225g / 8oz ground crayfish
225g/8oz Uzouza leaves, shredded
450g/lib cocoyam boiled and pounded
1lt / 2 pint stock or water
salt to taste

Wash the meat thoroughly and place in a large pot. Season with salt and ground chilies add some stock and cook for 45 minutes. Cook the stockfish separately for 1 hour or pre-soaked. Meanwhile, wash and peel the cocoyam, cook until soft and pound. Add the washed smoked fish and stock to the pot of boiling meats and cook for I0 minutes. Add the stock and bring to boil. Mould the pounded cocoyam into small balls and add to soup, stir in the crayfish, shredded Uzouza leaves and oil. Adjust seasoning and simmer for 15 minutes until slightly thick. Serve hot with Pounded yam, Garri (roast cassava grains) or akpu.

EGUSI SOUP serves 4-6
This humble melon seed soup is quite popular in Ihiagwa and all over Nigeria. Although cooking techniques and the kind of vegetables used might differ from region to region it is still absolutely delicious when properly cooked.
250g 8oz fresh beef chucks
500g / llb bushmeat
500g / lib stockfish (pre-soaked)
500g / lib smoked dry fish
250g / 8oz oxtail
250g / 8oz cleaned tripe
2pt stock or water
300g /100z ground egusi
500g lib fresh tomatoes
250g / 8oz fresh peppers
2 large onion
teaspoons iru
4 tablespoon ground crayfish
500g.llb fresh bitter leaf (washed to remove excessive bitterness)
salt to taste

Wash thoroughly the beef oxtail bushmeat and tripe. Place a large pot with sliced onions season with salt add a drop of water or stock and cook for 30 minutes or until tender.

Add the washed dry fish and stockfish and cook for another 10 minutes. When cooked mm into a large clean bowl. Wipe out the pot and place back on heat. Pour the oil into the pot when hot add the ground tomatoes onions and peppers and fry for 10 minutes. Add the ground egusi and iru stirring thoroughly and cook for 5 minutes. Finally add cooked meats washed bitter leaf Crayfish and the stock. Allow to boil then simmer for 15 minutes. Serve hot with any of the stiff puddings; Pounded yam, Garri (roast cassava grains)/eba or Akpu.

Others green leaf vegetables such as fresh waterleaf Soko Tete. Igbo ugwu and Uzouza leaves can also be used on their own or as a combination m the above recipe using the same methods.

Just like the egusi, ogbono soup is thoroughly enjoyed by all Nigerians. It is a particular favourite amongst the lbos in the east to whom this superb soup is deemed incomplete without the addition stockfish.

lkg/ 21b assorted meats (oxtail, tripe, ponmo & bushmeat)
450g/llb stock fish(pre-soaked)
450g / llb dried fish (washed)
225g / 8oz whole dry prawns (cleaned)
225g / 8oz ground ogbono seeds
225g/8oz ground crayfish
25g / 8oz ground pepper
25g / loz iru
I medium onion
290ml / lOfl ozpalmoil
3pt stock or water
salt to taste

Washed the assorted meats thoroughly and place in a pot. Add the sliced onions, ground chillies and some stock or water. Cooked for 30 minutes. Add the washed smoked fish and stockfish, cook for a further 10-15 minutes adding a drop of water or stock as needed to stop it from burning. In another pot, heat the oil and fry the ground seeds for 3 minutes to bring out the nutty flavour.

Gradually add the stock and whisk until it draws and bubbles. Add the cooked meats peppers and crayfish.
Dissolve the locust bean in a little stock and add to the soup. Allow to simmer for another 10 minutes, check seasoning and serve hot with Pounded yam, Garri (roast cassava grains)/Eba or Akpu.

225g / 8oz washed bitter leaf added to main recipe
500g / llb shredded ugwu leaves added to main recipe.
225g/8oz washed igbo leaves added to main recipe
500g/llb washed watterleaf added to main recipe.

PREPARATION OF GARI (roast cassava grains)
Although gari can be purchased readily it can also be pre pared at home particularly is a special quality if desired. The cassava roots are dug up and peeled. They are then washed and soaked in water for 2 hours. The roots are then grated and placed in tightly woven but porous bags; weights are placed on the bags for three days to eliminate much of the water. The contents of the bag is spread out to dry in the sun for several hours. When dry the grated cassava is then sifted and dry roasted a little at a time in a large pot over a fierce fire. A few drops of palm-oil may be added for colour and flavour.

PREPARATION OF OGI (fermented corn starch) aka Akamu, pap
Wash and soak the corn kernels in water overnight or for 24 hours to ferment. Drain the corn and grind into a smooth paste. Mix the grotmd corn with cold water and sieve using a fine sieve to separate the husks from the starch. Allow the starch to settle in the water overnight. Drain and store the fermented corn starch in the refrigerator. Use as required; ogi is usually prepared for breakfast and served with Akara.

ISI-EWU ( spiced goat head)
Isi-Ewu ( spiced goat head)serve 6

Cooked and served in a thick spicy sauce, this is an authentic Eastern Nigeria dish (Igbo). A real favourite amongst Nigerians and certainty not for the faint-hearted as the heat from the large amount of chilies used is enough to take your palate off. I have reduced the amount of chilli used in this recipe, but it can be increased to suit one's taste. A superb dish to be enjoyed on its own.

1goat (head and legs only)
3 fresh chilli pepper
8 fresh tomatoes
2 onions
1 clove garlic
I teaspoon pepper soup seasoning
3tbs. lemon juice
4tbs. tomato puree
200ml/7floz palm-oil
1lt/2pints stock or water
I onion (sliced)
chopped wild mini
salt to taste

Singe the hairs off the head and legs of goat, scrape and singe alternatively until all the hairs are off. Burn the hoofs and horns, peel them off with the point of a heavy knife. Wash the head and legs thoroughly with soap and a rough sponge or brush. Chop into small pieces with a sharp cleaver and rinse thoroughly, discarding the brains. Pour over the lemon juice and mix in. Leave to rest for 15 minutes. Grind together the onions, garlic, chilies and tomatoes. Place meat in a large pot, add the sliced onions, chilies, stock and seasonings. Cover and cook for 45 minutes. Check and stir frequently. Finally add the grind chilies, tomatoes, onions, palm-oil and wild mint. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes until meat is tender. Adjust seasoning and serve in traditional earthenware dishes garnish with chopped mint.

Okro and Bitterleaf Soup
500g/llb assorted parts of meat (washed)
I medium smoked fish (washed)
225g / 8oz stockfish (pre- soaked)
22 5g / 8oz bushmeat (washed)
500g/ llb fresh okro
225g / 8oz bitter leaf (washed)
150ml / 5/7 oz palm-oil
3pt stock or water
I 00g / 4oz ground crayfish
25g / loz iru (locust bean)
I 00g / 4oz ground pepper

Place the washed meats in a large pot, add a drop of water or stock, season with salt and ground pepper and boil for 30 minutes or until tender. Add the smoked fish and stock fish, cook for another 10 minutes. Add the rest of the stock. Prepare the okro by washing thoroughly in cold water. Divide into two, finely chop one half and cut the rest into small rounds. Add the prepared okro together with the washed bitter-leaf to the boiling soup and stir. Add the palm-oil and iru, allow to bubble and simmer for 5 minutes, sprinkle in ground crayfish and stir. Simmer for another 10minutes. Check seasoning and serve hot with pounded yam or akpu

Fresh Pumpkin leaves (Ugwu), waterleaf or uzoza leaves can be substituted for bitterleaf in this recipe. It can also be cooked plain without using any of the vegetables. This is better known as lla Alasepo.

AKARA (Bean balls)

Akara (Bean balls) makes 8
500g/llb beans
1 onion
3 fresh pepper
warm water for mixing
oil for frying
salt to taste

Soak beans for 5 minutes and wash thoroughly to remove skin. Grind or liquidize until smooth. Place in a large bowl season with salt and beat in the warm water a little at a time to make it light. Fold in the slices onions and mix with a metal spoon to avoid letting out the air which has been beaten in to the mixture. Heat the oil until a blue faint smoke appears, spoon the mixture into the oil to forn balls and fry until golden brown. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Serve hot with chilli sauce and ogi.

This tasty and aromatic stew is everyone's favourite in Ihiagwa and in Nigeria From the road side hawkers to the tables of the elite it is a welcome accompaniment to compliment any meal or festive spread. It is the aromatic spices added that makes this wonderful dish so mouthwatering and delicious.

1 large chicken
225g / 8oz fresh chilies
1 kg / 2Ib fresh tomatoes
2 large onions
2 clove garlic
1 small tin tomatoes puree
I teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoon chopped partminger leaves
2 onions (sliced)
1 teaspoon curry
5 7Oral / l pint groundnut-oil
salt to taste

Wash and disjoint the chicken cut into 10-12 pieces. Season with salt add the sliced onions thyme curry and cook for 30-40 minutes until tender. Heat up half of the oil in a pan and fry the cooked chicken until brown but not too dry. In another~ pot heat up the rest of the oil and fry the ground onions chilies and tomatoes for 20minutes until fairly dry. Add the tomato puree and some stock if required. Stir thoroughly and add the fried chicken pieces. Cook and simmer gently for another 10 minutes stirring frequently until well blended. Drain off excessive oil that rises to the top and finally stir in the chopped part minger leaves. Removes from fire and serve with Boiled rice and fried plantain


Replace chicken with lkg / 2Ib fried goatmeat

Replace chicken with fried pieces of guinea fowl

Replace chicken with pieces of fried turkey

Replace chicken with lkg / 2 Ibs fried assorted parts of beef.
( Tripe Bokoto Kidney Liver etc. )


Guinea Fowl or Turkey can also be used.
1.5kg/3Ib chicken (cut into pieces)

2 litres / 4pints water or stock

50g / 2oz chopped chillies

100g / 4oz pepper soup seasoning

50g / 2oz ground crayfish

50g / 2oz chopped mint

1 onion

1 clove garlic (crushed)

Wash the chicken pieces and place in a pot with some water chopped onions chillies and crushed garlic. Season with salt and boil for 30 minutes. Add the peppersoup seasoning and the rest of the stock and continue cooking for another 30 minutes until chicken is tender. Stir in the crayfish and mint leaves stir and simmer for 10minutes. Season to taste and serve hot in soup bowls.


This is made up of a mixture of local herbs and spices which are not readily available in most supermarkets except in stores specialising in African Foods but similar herbs which can be easily obtained could be used to achieve almost the same effect.


50g / 2oz aniseed

50g / 2oz aniseed pepper

25g / loz cloves

50g / 2oz coriander seeds

50g / 2oz cumin seeds

50g / 2oz allspice

50g / 2oz dried ginger

50g / 2oz tamarind pods

50g / 2oz fennel seeds


50g / 2oz atariko

50g / 2oz uda

50g / 2oz gbafilo

50g / 2oz ginger (dried)

50g / 2oz rigije

50g / 2oz uyayak

Combine all the ingredients and grind in a clean coffee grinder to a smooth powder. Store in an airtight jar and use as required. Would store indefinitely


2 medium size fish (tilapia catfish or bream)

I lemon or lime

50g / 2oz peppersoup seasoning

50g / 2oz chopped chillies

100g / 4oz fresh prawns

I litre / 2pints water or stock

25g / l oz chopped mint leaves

Have the fishmonger clean the fish and slice into 8 pieces. Wash the fish thoroughly with lime or lemon to remove any slime season with salt cover and leave in a cool place until required. Pour the stock into
a clean Pot and add chopped onions chillies and peppersoup seasoning. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 15 minutes to blend together the flavours. Add the seasoned fish and peeled fresh prawns and simmer gently for 20minutes. Check seasoning and serve garnished with chopped mint leaves

This soup called Nwo-nwo isa particular favourite of beer and palm wine
drinkers and it is the

most popular of all the peppersoups.

l kg / 2Ib goatmeat or mutton (with bone)

l litre /2 pints water or stock

1 onion

75g / 3oz pepper soup seasoning

50g / 2oz ground chilies

50g / 2oz ground crayfish

25g / loz chopped wild mint

25g / 1 oz chopped utazi leaves

salt to taste

Wash and cut the meat into small pieces put into a deep pan add some water chopped onions and ground chilies. Season with salt and cook for 30-45minutes until meat is almost tender. Add the pepper soup seasoning and the rest of the stock and cook for another 10-15minutes until meat
is soft and tender. Sprinkle in the crayfish chopped mint and utazi leaves stir and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Serve hot in traditional earthenware soup pots or bowls.


500g / lib beef or mutton

225g / 8oz cleaned tripe

500g / lib cow foot (cut into small pieces)

225g / 8oz kidneys

100g / 4oz pepper soup seasoning

50g / 2oz ground chilies

50g / 2oz ground crayfish

2 litres / 3pints stock or water

50g / 2oz chopped mint

50g / 2oz chopped utazi leaves

1 medium onion

salt to taste

Wash and cut the kidneys into small cubes leave to soak in salted water for 1 hour. Wash and place the diced beef tripe and cow's foot into a deep pot. Add the chopped onions and chilies. Season with salt add some water or stock and cook for 45 minutes to an hour until almost tender. Drain the water from kidneys and cook separately for 5 minutes rinse and add to the pot of cooked meats. Add pepper soup seasoning and stock bring to the boil and cook for 15 more minutes. Stir in the crayfish
and utazi leaves and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and serve in earthenware soup bowls garnished with chopped mint.

Ikg / 2Ib oxtail (cut into small chunks)

I litre / 2 pint stock or water

1 onion (chopped)

50g / 2oz peppersoup seasoning

50g / 2oz ground chillies

50g / 2oz ground crayfish

25g / l oz chopped utazi leaves

25g / l oz chopped mint

salt to taste

Have the butcher trim off the excess fat from the oxtail and cut into small chunks. Wash and place in a deep pot add the chopped onions and chilies. Season with salt and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour adding more water as required until quite tender. Add the pepper soup seasoning and the rest of the stock bring to boil and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the crayfish and utazi leaves simmer for 10 minutes. Check seasoning and serve in soup bowls garnished with chopped mint.
Chapter I Introduction

1.1 Background and Objectives
1.2 Theories and Methodology of African Women's history.
1.3 The Setting.
1.3.1 The Igbo- General background:
1.4 Central Problems and Framework.
1.5 Sources and method of data collection
1.5.1 Oral sources.
1.5.2 Demographic Features.
1.5.3 Archival sources and court records.
1.5.4 Previous Research


1.1 Background and Objectives
The study of women as a vital and autonomous social force, as well as the treatment of their weal and woes as an intrinsic part of overall social dynamics, is a child of very recent birth indeed (Afigbo 1989:7). M. I. Finley (1968:129) drew in the, 'The Silent Women of Rome', attention to the fact that 'The Roman World was not the only one in history in which women remained in the background in politics and business'. The women of mid-Victorian England were equally without rights, equally victims of double standards of sexual morality. Equally, they were exposed to risk and ruin when they stepped outside the home and the church. C. Obbo (1980:1) referred to the invisibility of African women in any serious study of history and society; in spite of the fact that anthropology has not been an exclusive male preserve.

If the state of African women's studies is as bad as these and other authorities suggest, it is not surprising that even now when the world appears to be waking to its responsibility in this regard, there are still segments of the field which continue to be in a state of some neglect. While topics such as marriage and family, the economic role and political rights of women have received a fair measure of attention, a subject like widowhood practices remains largely neglected. Many of such books have no entry whatever under the term 'widowhood' in their indexes. For the most part what passing references made to the institution are made under such subjects as 'burial' or 'funeral rites' and 'death'.

Although widows constitute a large proportion of the adult female population in many African communities, Betty Potash confirms that systematic investigation is missing (1986:1). The result is that much of the scanty information we have on widowhood practices is what may be described as raw or unprocessed information. Attempt has not been made to explain the practice in their sociological and cosmological context (Afigbo 1986:8). For the same reason of lack of analytical approach, comparative studies of widowhood practices appear to be conspicuous by their total absence. The great fact of the bewildering plurality of cultures in Africa suggests that we are entitled to expect a wide variety of widowhood practices not only as whether a local group is patrilineal, matrilineal, verilocal or exorilocal and so on. In Igboland[1] for example, which will be the focus of this study, we are bound to find significant differences between the different sub-cultures that are found within the ethnic group. These are likely to be the result of various influences ranging from historical contacts with their neighbours as well as western influence.

There are also absence of dynamic diachronic studies aimed at showing how widowhood practices have evolved or changed over time. This may be explained by the impact on indigenous African cultures of the two great world religions-Islam[2] and Christianity in addition to colonialism. We do not have yet any clear idea about the changes which these religions have brought to this institution. It is obvious however that in many cultures of Africa today what widowhood practices exist are amalgams of traditional usage, and usage traceable to Islam or Christianity or at times both (Afigbo op cit.: 8).

This brief reference to the state of research on widowhood practices has been made for the purpose of warning the reader of the danger of easy assumptions and generalisations on the basis of little or no evidence, or even on the basis of evidence drawn from a small locality. Variation would appear to be the hallmark of African cultures even when the culture in question has very limited geographical coverage. Taking the case of the Igbo, for instance, scholars have distinguished between at least six cultural sub-groups with marked differences in their ways of life.[3 ] And indeed, closer study will still reveal further differences within each sub-group.

To draw attention to the great fact of differences is not, however, to deny that there are perhaps similarities. Among such similarities are the asymmetry in the duties and privations expected of widows. It is a fact that widowhood throughout Africa is a period of hardship and deprivation. It includes varying degrees of physical seclusion, and a state of ritual contamination or impurity calling for purification. Another similarity that should be taken into account is the fact that African peoples carried substantial elements of their cultural practice, including widowhood practices, into the two new world religions which they embraced. The result is that widowhood practices in Africa today are a bewildering and confusing mix of traditional African practices and practices borrowed from Islam and Christianity.

Present day Igbo society is what may be regarded as a 'transitional society'; a society characterised by a discontinuity of cultural perceptions arising out of the juxtaposition of mentalities formed by external influences and variables. Some of the most pervasive influences on the Igbo people and their society have come from outside Igboland. These include the slave trade, colonisation, amalgamation of present northern and southern Nigeria in 1914 by the British administration. Others include external economic and social relations (trade, missionaries, education), the First and Second World Wars, independence and the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War from 1967-70. Contemporary Igbo society is undoubtedly a transitional society in the above sense. Although the Igbo have been regarded as very receptive to change, certain customary practices have survived this transition. Widowhood as shall be shown here is among them. It should therefore be noted that many cultural beliefs and practices surrounding widowhood ceremonies have seemingly survived largely unchanged in modern Igbo society. As we go into this thesis, I must mention that although this topic is concerned with Igbo tradition, it is necessary to bear in mind the macro-context within which these traditions have had to operate.

To do this work therefore, it will be necessary to examine some of the theoretical and methodological constraints associated with the study of women's history and women's studies in Africa.

1.2 Theories and Methodology of African Women's history.
When it comes to studying the history of women in most parts of Africa, many road blocks prevent the historian from producing a coherent narrative. The lack both of evidence and the appropriate questions posed by scholars hamper such effort (White 1988:58). Many of the travellers' accounts that described trade, state formation, and warfare in detail give biased account of women. A survey of Arabic texts reveals reports on West African women that tell little or nothing about their lives. Where they are available, the reports are held up against standards that make them appear to be uncivilised. These accounts in particular seem most concerned with whether or not women were appropriately dressed. Such accounts share much with the biased and sexist account of Europeans in later centuries. Deeply rooted western attitudes complicate the approach to third world women's history. The nineteenth century equation of the west with progress and modernity, the rest with stagnation and tradition still colours much of the discussion of women in third World Studies.

The history of women in Igboland in particular and Nigeria as a whole has not been adequately studied. In the past, such neglect reflected the general state of African historiography. Focus on visible political institutions, diplomatic events, and intellectual current of the high, as opposed to the popular, culture long confined the field of inquiry to upper class males at the expense of studying the roles those of another class or gender played in the historical process (Tucker 1985:1). But even now as a new generation of historians in Africa and the West direct their attention to the social and economic history of the region and begin studying the history and culture of social classes such as peasants, urban craftsmen, causal labourers whose history and culture remained obscure and irrelevant to the African historian, women have not received adequate attention.

Part of the problem surely springs from basic misconceptions about women's history and its relation to social and economic history as a whole. Women have always been numerically important in human population, a sufficiently compelling reason perhaps to explore their past. But full significance of the study of women lies elsewhere. The history of women demands an immediate awareness of a multitude of forces, institutions and activities which elude analysis at the level of official political overview; rather the world of informal networks, popular culture and the basic forces of production and reproduction define the arena of women's activities and therefore women's studies (Tucker 1985:1)

B. Awe (1991:211) has noted that while building up their own picture of African society, as distinct from Western nations' picture of that society, African historians seemed to have inherited a certain degree of western bias, in that they have perpetuated in their writings the masculine-centred view of history. Explaining human experience in Africa, they have accepted the male experience as the norm while African women in consequence become anomalies. Thus Awe argues that the eight volume General History of Africa published by UNESCO in 1981, which summarised current significant knowledge in African history says nothing about female contribution to that history. Following the same pattern Awe maintains, The Groundwork of Nigerian History, the standard text on the history of Nigeria made no particular mention of the role of Nigerian Women in the development of their different societies.

The presentation of African Women in historical writing according to I. Imam (1988:30), has been characterised by four approaches. In the first (and most obvious) case women have simply not been presented at all: In the second, they have been seen as inferior and subordinate to men. The third trend has been a conception of women's roles as equal and complementary to those of men. Finally there has been a movement towards seeing women as active agents in the historical processes.

That the presentation of African women through history can take so many forms demonstrates what by now should be a truism: that facts are not neutral and immutable natural objects but part of theoretical and conceptual constructs (Imam 1985:30). G. T. Emeagwali (1980:95-110) points out that, historical reconstruction is influenced not only by primary sources but also by the researcher's speculative philosophy of history which is itself affected by his or her own value system and the intellectual and socio-economic environment. A world view that relegates women to the background has obvious implications for the treatment of the role of women in historical reconstruction. Women will be accorded scant and superficial attention and thereby rendered absent from history.

The non appearance of women can be most clearly highlighted by considering studies on issues in which women might be expected to play a role. Adam Kuper's study of bride wealth in Southern Africa in his book Wives for Cattle, (1982), for instance, implicitly discusses the role played by women in maintaining the corporate structure of various societies, but women as a group received only superficial attention. As Margaret Strobel (1983:38) points out in her review of Kuper's book; Kuper only occasionally reflects upon the extent to which women exercised power or not in the context of bride wealth. How women fared as recipients, negotiators or objects of bride wealth is of little concern[4].

Similarly although Esther Boserup (1980) has pointed out in her book Women's Roles in Economic Development that Africa is the region of women's farming per excellence, Agboola's study of Agricultural Changes in Western Nigeria 1850-1910, totally ignores the changes in the gender-based division of labour that resulted from establishment of cocoa as a cash crop. E. Njaka's study of the transition of Igbo political institutions during the colonial experience in discussing Igbo political institutions, mentions women's organisation on fewer than 20 pages of a 669-page thesis. While Kaneme Okonjo (1976:45) in "The Dual Sex Political System in Operation : Igbo Women and community Politics" in Women in Africa refers to a dual-sex system in Igboland and Judith van Allen (1972:165-81) refers to a more or less stable balance of male and female power, Njaka (1975) sees women's organisation merely as one of four minor counter balancing agents. His attitude towards women can be seen from the following words: "Despite this power, however, the Umuada (patrilineal daughters) are said to be like mothers-always lenient and not as fierce as it sounds (Njaka 1975:260).

The second theme in the presentation of African women through history typifies them as oppressed and totally subordinate to men. The main works of this type are not historical texts as such but ethnographic and anthropological monographs such as the work of the Ottenbergs and that of Evans Pritchard. These studies assert that the African woman has a position and status that is in many ways definitely inferior to that of man in spite of the fact that she does most of the hard work of supporting the family. They maintain also that the greater number of indigenous societies (in Africa) reserve for women a place which is clearly inferior, approaching that of a domestic animal. They focused on such issues as childhood betrothal, polygamy, or the lack of divorce rights (Imam 1988:33).

These views are influenced, as several commentators have pointed out, by the two prejudices: male bias and western ethnocentricity. The influence of male bias may come both at the point of the primary sources and at the point of the researchers themselves (usually himself). Evan Pritchard's Man and Woman Among the Azanda for example, might more accurately have been entitled How Azanda Men View Women, for, Imam contends, it consists of Azanda men's comments on women collected by other African men and compiled by a European man. No where in the book do women present their own view point. The point according to this author is that very often data on women and their roles are merely male informants' views, and this -male version of reality is accepted as the group's reality.

The issue of ethnocentricity in anthropology has been the subject of criticism also among anthropologists themselves. However, it is sufficient here to point out that many researchers came to their subject matter with pre-conceived assumptions about the superiority of European culture and were only too ready to dismiss customs that were different from their own as barbarous and degrading. Iris Anddreski's introduction to Old Wives Tales: The life Stories of African Women (1970) for example shows a totally negative attitude to and lack of understanding of Ibibio society and culture.

In direct opposition to the above presentation of African women's inferiority is the theme of women's complimentary role to men, equal but different so to speak. According to this framework, while African men were dominant in some spheres of social life, African women were equally responsible for other areas of influence. That is male and female roles were complimentary and issues of super or subordination did not arise. Practices such as levirate, polygamy, female seclusion or clitoridectomy are therefore simply cultural practices which have been misunderstood by ethnocentric westerners (Imam 1988:34). This is also evident in studies of the political roles of women in Africa. Annie Lebeuf (1971:63) states:

In general, the profound philosophical ideas which underline the assignment of separate tasks to men and women stress the complimentary rather than the separate nature of the task. Neither the division of labour nor the nature of the task accomplished implies any superiority of one over the other, and there is almost always compensation in some other direction for the actual inequalities which arise from such a division.

Evidence from societies such as the Igbo shows that not all women were without defence against any harsh treatment of women. Igbo women developed effective women's self-help and mutual protective associations during the pre-colonial era which could carry out public ridicule and even group punishment of men who seriously mistreated women. (cf. membership in lineage, age set, society wide puberty rites, secret societies, women's interest groups, dance groups etc.). In fact, Nina Mbah in her book Nigerian Women Mobilised: Women's Political Activities in Southern Nigeria 1900-1965, (1982) argues that in pre-colonial Southern Nigeria, the women's world is not subordinate to that of the men but rather complimentary.

This approach to African women's role is part of what Imam has described as the concept of "the Golden Age of Merry Africa" in which pre-colonial Africa is seen as a land of peace and harmony, free from conflict- something like the garden of Eden before the serpent. It owes its genesis to a number of factors. On the part of African researchers, the impetus is very much that of the anti colonial feeling generated in nationalistic struggle and the resurgence of interest and pride in African indigenous institutions that came with the philosophy of negritude, especially felt in the writings of such Francophone authors as Houteto. For American and European researchers, the influence of the Black civil rights movements led to interests in Africa's past glories, while the women's movements heightened interest in women's activities. However, as Hafkin and Bay (1976:4) put it:

In this period some of the literature that emerged was romantic or historically inaccurate. In a search for greater glories to counteract a past that had ignored and distorted the history of women and of Africa, writers described great queens, Amazon and matriarchy. These writers see the present subordination of women as caused by colonial policies, in particular the bourgeois male chauvinist assumptions of European colonial administrators, which were reflected in colonial legal structure, formal western education and Christianity.

The fourth and most recently developed trend in the presentation of African Women's history explicitly sees women as actors in the social process rather than passive recipients of change. Here, however, there is a recognition of the social structure and mechanisms that constrain women and place them in subordinate positions, but the approach focuses on the way in which women have been active in attempting to establish their authority and independence nonetheless.

Within this approach two currents can be identified (Imam 1988:36). The first trend is to concentrate on the activities of women as leaders (of women's organisation in particular). These writers share with some of these writers of the "Merry Africa" tradition, a conception of historical processes in terms of the leading personalities of social groups (and usually of the dominant social grouping). Personalities such as Queen Amina of Zauzzau[5] or Madam Yoko of the Kpa Mende are prominent, but the analysis tends to be silent in terms of the generality of women. Similarly, Nigerian Women in Historical Perspective edited by Bolanle Awe adopted this approach by discussing individual women except for Nina Mba's "Heroines of the Women's War" which attempted to discuss women's role in the war of 1929 from a general perspective.

Agnes Akosua Aido looking at Asante Queen mothers in government and politics in the nineteenth century concludes that these women had great personal strength and ability, that they were most effective where they were free from ritual constraints and there were no effective male leadership. She also states that Asante Queen Mothers derived their power and support not from "female power" but from all effective sections of Asante society. Okonjo (1976:45), on the other hand, considers what she terms "the dual-sex political system" in Igboland, where women had political spheres of authority that were parallel to those of the men, although "as elsewhere men rule and dominate". As with those who present pre-colonial African woman as being complimentary rather than subordinate to men, writers in this current attribute the decline in women's status to the patriarchal Victorian ideology of colonial administrators. Okonjo concludes that the absence of women from significant political representation in independent Nigeria can be viewed as showing the strength of the legacy of single-sex politics that the British colonial masters left behind.

The second current within this approach of seeing women as active agents does not focus on individual women but on women as a group and the socio-economic ideological conditions within which they have acted. For example R. Roberts (1984:229) argues that patterns of household relations (including gender relations) are directly influenced by changes in the larger political economy which the household embedded. He concludes that it was the combination of the increased influence of Islamic ideological practices and of the market forces that heightened the tendency of Maraka households to be patriarchal.

Once again the position of African woman is seen as having deteriorated through the colonial experience, but here it is attributed not simply to the ideological positions resulting from the imposition of capitalist underdevelopment. Judith van Allen's analysis of Igbo Women's political institutions, however considers only political and administrative reforms based on Victorian male ideology (Imam 1988:37).

In my study, I shall adopt the fourth approach. I justify this because we will need to understand if women enjoy a higher status in Igbo society. Are there noticeable changes in customary and ritual positions at any stage of the Igbo woman's life? At what time is the woman independent and what circumstances permit exploitation within and outside the family. These are some of the questions that will inform the approach adopted in this study.

1.3 The Setting.
The field work was carried out at Mbaise. Mbaise is a colonial creation (see figure I & map 3). It means five clans which were brought together by the British Colonial administration for administrative purposes under the Owerri division. Although Owerri had become important in the twentieth century by reason of its being an administrative and judicial nerve centre of the British administration, there is no evidence of its having any dominant position vis-a-vis its other neighbours prior to the establishment of British colonial rule (Ekechi 1989:8). Before 1902 when the Aro expedition was carried out by the British to stop or subdue the Aro slave trading oligarchy, Mbaise as presently constituted and indeed Owerri had not come into British scheme of things. By 1935 some twenty-five to thirty different towns were brought into the vortex of Owerri political and judicial authority.

The history of the establishment of British authority in Mbaise, Owerri division as in other parts of Nigeria is basically the story of conquests and fusion. Indeed beyond the immediate environs and the village boundaries, government authority was virtually non-existent. But by 1905 however, the Ahiara Expedition[6] had brought the full impact of British colonial control on the present Mbaise people. At the conclusion of the operation in April 1906, the present-day Mbaise consisting of three local government areas (Aboh, Ahiazu and Ezinihitte) was effectively brought under Owerri jurisdictional authority.

In order to keep the whole clan under strict surveillance, a native court was established at Obohia in 1907. Because of political problems and pressure from Chief Nwaturuocha of Nguru, the court was transferred from Obohia to Nguru in 1909. In 1929 the Nguru court at Mbaise was destroyed as a result of the Women's revolt of that year[7]. Thereafter, sessional courts were opened at Obohia, Itu, Ife, and Enyiogugu in response to the "home rule" movement of the 1930s[8].

Fig. 1 Owerri Local Government Organisation, 1945


Group councils/group courts Number of villages Federal councils/clans


Ezinihitte 16 Mbaise

Agbaja 7

Oke-Ovoro 4

Ekwerazu 6

Ahiara 11

Oru 7 Oguta

Izombe 6

Owerri 5 Oratta

Uratta 10

Ara-Umunwoha 9

Agbala 11

Nekede-Ihiagwa 6

Obudi 1

Ohoba 6 Ohoba

Awarra 4

Umuapu 11

Isu Mbieri 9 Mbieri Ikeduru (Note:

Ikeduru 15 Approval was sought

to change the federal

name to Ogu Mbano)

Etche 6 Ngor-Opkala

Okwe 6

Umuaro-Imerienwe 7

Obike 5


Total 168


Source;Ekechi 1989:179

Today Mbaise is made up of three local government areas: Ahiazu which was a merger between Ahiara and Ekwerazu, Aboh Mbaise a merger between Oke-Ovuru and Agbaja and Ezinihitte local governments. They have a total estimated population of 800,000 people[9] (see maps 2&3).

1.3.1 The Igbo- General background:
The Igbo speaking people constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. Located in South-eastern Nigeria between latitude 5 and 7 degrees north and latitude 6 and 8 degrees east, they occupy a continuous stretch of territory of about 25,280 square kilometres. They are roughly bounded in the east by the Ibibio people, in the north by the Igalla, Idoma and Ogoja people, in the south by the Ijo and in the west by the Edo. (see map 2). Today, the Igbo inhabit the entire Imo, Abia, Anambra and Enugu states in present day Nigeria while a significant number of them are included in the Rivers and Delta states. Population densities in the Igbo heartland are very high ranging in average from 750 to 1000 to the square kilometre. The Igbo number over 20 million in present day Nigeria.[10]

It is the Igbo who occupy the northern half of the area which stretches into Ibibio and Ijo territory to the south who are the focus of this study. (see map 4). They form the main cultural area of the Igbo of which Mbaise is a part. The growth of vegetation is rapid in this belt, and palm forest has taken the place of the original rain forest. This indicates that this area had long been populated by people whose main livelihood was farming. This area is the most densely populated part of West Africa. A population of more than 1000 per square mile[11] has been recorded in Northern Ngwa, Owerri and Orlu. The Etche and Ikwere and Western Aba areas are less densely populated with 300-400 persons per square kilometre.

In the eighteenth century population movement to the south was accelerated by the slave trade and palm-oil trade with the Europeans and coastal peoples. This is the habitat occupied by peoples whom Forde and Jones called the Southern Igbo. The distinct cultural features that distinguished the Southern Igbo from the others are the marked absence of elaborate title systems and mmuo societies. However, secret societies occur among Ngwa and masked dances occur in the western border of this sub-culture area. The ritual slave system called osu is strongly developed among this Igbo group and the mbari temples associated with the cult of the earth called ala occur in the southern part (Onwuejeogwu 1987:21).

There is evidence of Nri[12] influence in this area, more especially on the northern part. The duru title and Nri type rituals connected with earth, ancestors and yam cults Ahiajoku occur. The duru title is a southern Igbo version of the ozo title, and it is said to have been conferred in the past by Nri men who were referred to as the Umudioka (children of Dioka) in some parts of this area. Christian religion, especially Catholicism, has in recent times greatly re-ordered traditional institutions, especially the ritual and customs. This is the area that has nurtured the Owerri and Ngwa civilisation of which Mbaise is part.

To fully appreciate the Igbo way of life in relation to women in general and widows in particular, it will be necessary to outline briefly some of the features of the socio-political and economic system of the Igbo. The village is the basic political unit. Political authority was diffused among the heads of the lineage and was exercised in a democratic and informal way. There was sex differentiation in political roles but no female could be the head of a household or lineage or a sub-lineage (Mba 1992:75). Women had their own roles which sometimes acted as a check on the activities of men.

In the past people's lives was directly linked with the prevailing production and distribution schemes. No elaborate, codified social welfare policies, schemes and programmes executed according to a carefully systematised community development blue-print existed. Yet as Ifemesia (1981) has elaborated, every single routine activity of individuals and groups generally carried a social welfare overtone both for the individual, his kin-group and his community. Accordingly, social institutions of family, kinship and marriage and those of education per se, polity and religion, all provided social services and amenities as their customary reason for existence.

The economic system of the Igbo can be studied under three major heads: Agriculture, trade, and local manufactures. Agriculture was the most important single occupation of the Igbo in pre-colonial times. Both the Igboman and woman were farmers (Eluwa 1988:65). They produced enough yams and coco yam, cassava and vegetables to meet the basic needs of the family. The surplus was sold to enable the family to buy other items which it could not produce.

Trade and barter were important aspect of Igbo economic life. Ecological differences and varied vegetation was the major reason behind the development of local and regional trade amongst the Igbo. Apart from internal trade which seem to have linked Igboland into a kind of 'economic common wealth', external trade between the Igbo and her neighbours developed. These neighbours included the Benin, Igalla, Idoma, Ibibio and the Ijo of the South.

1.4 Central Problems and Framework.
This study will analyse widowhood practices in a contemporary Igbo society. The importance of cultural traditions will be highlighted in an attempt to understand such practices and rituals. The following are central in this study:

An examination of the rituals and practices which a woman undergoes on the death of the husband.

An examination of Igbo marriage patterns, domestic and affinial relationships, its impact on widowhood practices and the widow's life.

An examination of widows economic survival strategies. The economic system of the Igbo will be examined to highlight the impact it has on widows economic survival.

This work is divided into five chapters. The present chapter, Introduction and background, in which the theoretical and methodological aspects of the work are discussed. This is done in relation to the Igbo and Africa woman in general. Chapter Two deals with present day widow practices and the sociology of such practices in an Igbo community seen in historical perspective. Chapter Three discusses Igbo widows in domestic and affinal relationships with a special view to understanding how marriage systems may impact on widowhood practices. Chapter Four relates widowhood to the economy. Widow's economic survival strategies as well as the economic options available to them today are examined. The thesis is concluded in Chapter Five.

1.5 Sources and method of data collection
Three main types of evidence have been used- oral evidence, court reports and secondary sources:

1.5.1 Oral sources.
Oral sources are central to the study of history in the third world till the present day. Not only are written sources limited in certain areas of inquiry, archaeological and other sources through which the historian can decipher African history has not been fully collated and collected. In a topic such as widowhood there is little information available to the historian. Since the 1950s, when oral sources became an important aspect of the academic historiography of Africa, the study of oral tradition has gone through a considerable process of change, reorientation and maturation. Past problems have been associated with interpretation of information emanating from Africa as presented by Africanists and Africans.

I consider oral history method as central in this particular study concentrating on a limited area within the Southern Igbo sub-cultural group to decipher attitude to widows as well as the options open to them. The research on which this thesis is based was undertaken in Mbaise, an Igbo community within the Southern Igbo cultural sub-group between January and June 1995. I used interview as the main research method. For the formal interview, I created a 20 item questionnaire (see appendix B). Each interview took about 2-3 hours. The questionnaire was partly used as such, partly as an inspiration for free discussion. In addition to using participant observation, I collected life histories of 80 widows and interviewed 5 men to get their view of widow practices. General insight into widowhood practices, marriage, inheritance, maternal/filial ties came from these informants. My wife and mother assisted by obtaining consent from some of the widows before the actual interview took place. Two other assistants were used to conduct household census from four villages in Mbaise. Part of the statistics used here came from this census. Ages when unknown were estimated through discussion with the informant.

Privacy and the need to avoid shame is prevalent among the Igbo and was evident during field work. I experienced that some of the widows were not very willing to talk about certain aspects of their personal lives. These were especially in areas concerning relationships with the extended family and other men since the period of their widowhood. The fact that I am a man made it problematic to discuss sexual relationships. The society frowns at individuals who discuss such things let alone with some of the widows who are old enough to be the researchers grand mother. The researcher's wife and mother were of great assistance in this respect. Some were not willing to discuss the issues of inheritance for fear of repression from their kin. Some were afraid that the above information may be passed on to other people in and outside the village. Married women also do not talk too freely about widowhood for the fear of becoming widows. Widows are anxious not to give an image of themselves that could upset their kin or expose self-pity. The apparent pride of the Igbo person even at the point of desperation makes the widow hide behind a mask and wear a smiling face.

Widowhood experiences are traumatic and are easy to remember, but the widow may be distorted in memory in order to avoid reliving the trauma. Some widows were not willing to talk about their experiences at all. One of the widows put this as follows, "this is something I do not want to relive again. I do not want to talk about it". A lot of the widows see widowhood as a period of subjugation, deprivation and humiliation. Consequently, they tend to present their experiences from this point of view. The oral sources, however, provide information on the real life experiences of widows and have been used in various parts of the text as examples of what widows experienced and still experience.

A general problem associated with research in some developing countries is lack of adequate statistics. Census figures are unreliable[13]. There are no data bases from which one can get specific information about a particular group. For instance, births and deaths are not registered. In this situation, statistics may not only be unreliable but difficult to get at times. I have had to make my own statistics to give the demographic feature of my study area.

1.5.2 Demographic Features.
There is a high rate of widowhood among the Igbo. I collected census data of four villages in Mbaise community. There were 600 adult women living in these villages in 1995. Of these 169 (24%) were widows (see Table 1). There are two main reasons for this high rate of widowhood: It is for one, accounted for by large age differences between husbands and wives especially in traditional society. In polygamous[14] families, the age disparity for second and subsequent wives is even greater. In western societies, widowhood may largely be associated with ageing. This is not the case with Igbo society.

Table 1

Female population of four Mbaise Villages by Age and Marital Status

Marital status


Age Group Single Married Separated Widow Total %

16-30 109 132 2 15 258 43
31-45 18 129 - 29 176 29

46-60 - 51 - 44 95 16

60+ - 16 - 55 71 12


Total 127 328 2 169 600

Percentage 21 55 0.3 23.7 100


The second reason for high incidence of widowhood can be traced to the Nigeria-Biafra civil war between 1967 and 1970[15]. Although adequate statistics are not available, there are suggestions that over 1 million Igbos lost their lives as a result of the war and the ethnic cleansing which precipitated the war itself. The war created a large widow population.

Yet another reason may be the low incidence of widow remarriage. Of all the widows interviewed in this study, only two remarried after the initial mourning period. The statistics show that remarriage was not a popular option for Igbo widows. The economic and social reasons for this are discussed in chapter three.

30% of the widows were under 40 years of age at the time of their husbands death; 65% were under 50 (see table 2). The significance of these figures depends of course on life expectancy within the area. I have no specific data on the Igbo generally and the Mbaise area in particular, but life expectancy at birth for all of Africa was 45.9 for the year 1970 to 1973[16]. Therefore, about 30% might expect to live at least another 10 years. My study does not show a significant difference from the above. Only 14 out of the 80 informants are above 60 years. This includes 4 informants whose ages were estimated.

Table 2

Age at which women become widows


Age Number %

Under 20 1 1.25

20-29 9 11.25

30-39 14 17.50

40-49 28 35.00

50-59 14 17.50

Over 60/estimated 14 17.50


Total 80 100


In polygamous marriages, most second and subsequent wives are much younger than their husbands. 5 of my informants were from polygamous families. 2 were first wives, 2 and 1 were second and third wives respectively. The mean average differences between husband and first, second, and third wife are usually high. Polygamous marriages is on the decline, and this can be attributed to Christianity, changing economic activities caused by scanty resources. Instances exist also of younger women who marry older men who probably have lost their first wives. In such marriages, the determining factors for the husband may be the need for assistance in raising young children left by the former wife.

Barrenness in a marriage is also another factor which determine if a man may marry another wife. This factor as well as the absence of a male child is usually used to rationalise the need for a second wife. Most women usually will support such propositions. The second or third wife in this arrangement is usually younger and therefore stands the chance of becoming a widow at a relatively early age. No matter the reason used to rationalise this, it has its impact on the demographic pattern of the widow population in Igbo society.

In contrast to the above demographic pattern, there are marriages where the age disparity between the husband and the wife is small. In these cases, there are likely going to be a lower percentage of widows and the widows will typically be older. This is closely related to the fact that less men marry more than one wife and this is the emerging trend in the contemporary Igbo society. Men are almost as likely as women to experience the loss of a spouse.

Age disparity between spouses is not the only factor involved in demographic variations. Divorce and remarriage are also important. Enid Schildkrout(1989) uses this to shows how widowhood clusters at two different periods of the life cycle, depending on prior marital history. Hausa, women for example who remain married to their first husbands will be widowed at a relatively young age. Those who divorce and remarry may not be widowed until late in life since second husbands tend to be closer in age to their wives. The time of life at which a woman becomes widowed affects her subsequent marital behaviour. For older women widowhood may be a permanent status[17]. However, the Igbo is not a high divorce society and widowhood reflects these changes although statistical data that would allow comparison of past and present are not available. These transformations are complex and their implications are not the object of this study.

More complex is the impact of various structural changes on the status of widows. Incidents of widow remarriage today are very isolated and so is levaritic relationships. My study showed only two incident of remarriage, two cases of levirate relationships and five had lovers. Widows are therefore likely to retain this status. Today, levirate relationships are also minimal. Oral information confirms that they were very frequent in the past.

A host of structural changes may have resulted in this transformation: shortage of men in suitable age group, largely because of the civil war, new marriage and inheritance laws, the impact of Christian religion, the influence of western education, new modes of economic support, land shortages, the availability of hired labour, and new bases for prestige and status. But the manner in which widows and others respond to new possibilities and/or adapt to new constraints is complex and variable. There are no automatic concomitants of such structural changes and no uniform trends that cut across society. However, the above presentation is a general demographic pattern of widows in contemporary Mbaise society.

1.5.3 Archival sources and court records.
The second source of information was derived from reports of civil cases at the customary and civil courts concerning widows. These type of cases are usually handled by one of the following: (i) Village councils (Aladinma), (ii) the Eze-in-council (the traditional ruler of the autonomous community), (iii) the customary courts. I found that records are not properly kept in the case of the first two (although they handled most of such cases). The native court system which has been replaced today by the customary courts handled both criminal and civil cases during the colonial era.

Ekechi's Tradition and Transformation of Eastern Nigeria 1902 - 1947, (1989) with reference to Owerri and its hinterland, is an analysis of the establishment of British rule. He shows how this gave rise to the creation of native courts and the appointment of warrants chiefs; two novel institutions which radically affected the traditional systems of law and authority. As a matter of fact, their impact is still being felt. Until well after the Second World War, the native courts and warrant chief system dominated the political history of Owerri and its environs. Ekechi argues that their introduction altered the pattern of indigenous administration and created political and social restlessness. In his annual report for 1938 the DO (District Officer) at Owerri lamented the preoccupation of administrative officials with native courts and their problems[18]. In exercising the powers granted to them, the native courts tried both civil and criminal cases and imposed fines ranging from a few shillings to a maximum of Fifty Pounds. These included matrimonial and land cases.

In Mbaise, there were five of such courts before independence in 1960[19]. Today they have been replaced by customary courts charged with judicial functions in matters concerning the customs and traditions of the people. Most land, marriage and other matters in relation to customs and tradition end up in these courts.

A number of court cases relating to widows do exist at these customary courts. There was difficulty in identifying such cases because the courts do not have a data base or index from which you can distinguish which case related to a widow. Only two of such cases which took place between 1988 and 1989 were available to the present researcher. They, however, provide a general insight into the influence of customs and traditions in the determination of the rights of the widow in Igbo society. Some reports were also consulted at the palace of the traditional ruler of Ihitteafoukwu- Mbaise. A case concerning a widow's right to sell land took place in 1987. This was a useful case, as it related itself to the customary rights of a widow to own or sell land, a major economic factor in a predominantly agrarian society.

Little information of cases concerning widows was available from the village council records. There are no records of proceedings and judgements in most of these cases. They are still conducted in the traditional system. That is in open courts and agreement reached by consensus. The researcher was, however, able to follow one of such cases during field work. The researcher kept his own records of the proceedings over several days. In this case, the verdict was appealed to the customary court and not yet decided at the time of concluding field work. Information from this case has been cited in parts of this work.

1.5.4 Previous Research
A number of anthropological studies and other literature has been written about the Igbo in general and the Igbo of South-eastern Nigeria in particular. Widowhood literature however is little. Mention of aspects of the practice however can be found in a few texts[20].

Although marriage is a universal or nearly universal experience for most women in African societies, African women are not necessarily involved in marital relationships throughout their adult lives. In some West African societies, for example when women approach menopause, they leave their husbands and return to their natal kin[21]. This practice has been described by Meryer Fortes (1949b) and Esther Goody (1973) as 'terminal separation', E. E. Evans-Pritchard, in his study of the Nuer of the Sudan (1951) discusses unmarried women and widows in concubine relationships. A number of studies describe divorced women who live alone for example, that of Abner Cohen of the Hausa of Ibadan, Nigeria, (1969). Kirwen in African Widows (1979) examined only 'Leviratic Marriage' or wife inheritance in four Tanzanian communities and the problems which that practice poses for converts and the Roman Catholic Church. Leviratic marriage is only the tip of the iceberg of widowhood practices in Africa. The author therefore falls into the same category of the norm centred bias of older literature on widowhood. A further look at Kirwen's bibliography emphasises the point made here about the lack of targeted research on the institution. In nine pages of bibliography, there is not one title, book or article which focus directly on widowhood.

But since 1979, the situation has improved; Potash's (ed.)(1989) Widows in African Societies: Choices and Constraints: is an attempt at a systematic approach to the study of widows lives in Africa focusing on widows themselves, their interests, the strategies they employ to realise such interest, the force that determine such strategies and the quality of their lives. Although the book is supposed to be a comprehensive data on African widows, its accomplishments are far from achieving this goal. The ten societies sampled in the book display diversity without being formally representative of even sub-Sahara Africa. These close-ups range from the matrilineal Akan and cognatic Baule of West Africa to the patrilineal Luo, in the East; from Urban Hausa and Swahili to Rukuba subsistence cultivators on the Jos Plateau of Nigeria. These were anthropological studies conducted between 1975 to 1982 but still provide useful information on the subject.

S. Omiyi found in her article `Women and Children under Nigerian Law' that the legal status of the widow depends on the type of marriage she contracts. This examines the position of the widow under customary law marriage, Islamic law marriage and statutory marriage. This applies to the Igbo as well. It is a useful piece of work on a widow's property rights under the law in Nigeria both in the traditional and contemporary society. She concludes that the position of the widow under customary law has not changed a lot yet.

In 1989, I attended a workshop on widowhood practices in Imo State. The workshop provided me the first opportunity to appreciate the subject. The monograph Widowhood Practices in Imo State, is a collection of papers which appeared after the workshop. It is probably the only material which is currently available on the subject among the Igbo from this region. Among the papers presented were A. E. Afigbo's 'Overview of Widowhood Practices in Africa'; I. D. Nwoga's examination of 'Widowhood Practices' in Imo State Nigeria. Although Imo State is small in space, it contains several cultural and ecological zones and this fact is reflected in some cultural differences in widowhood practices. It is not, for example, to be expected that matrilineal societies like Ohafia would have the same practices a patrilineal community like Mbaise. Another article was Nzewi's `Widowhood Practices: A Female Perspective'. Her paper compares various Igbo communities in Imo State and included her own experience as a widow. Eze and Nwebo presented a paper- 'Widowhood Practices; Law and Customs' in which they argue that the Nigerian legal system recognises a dual system of marriage both of which are mutually exclusive. These are "statutory marriage" and "marriage under customary law". The Nigerian family law permits certain widowhood practices which are discriminatory and oppressive to the women vis-a-vis their male counterpart. On the other hand the customarily married woman is even more disadvantaged and oppressed when compared to her statutory married counterpart they noted. It is their view that the fate of the widow is a direct consequence of the nature of marriage she contracts and the rights that accrue to her thereof. These papers generally concentrated on the negative aspects of widowhood practices among the Igbos in Imo State. I observed that the workshop was mainly aimed at highlighting what the organisers regard as discrimination against women. The papers presented however informed my initial interest in this area of inquiry. These papers provide a basis for discussing the topic in historical perspective.

My study however is that of a local community of which I am a member. It is also a study in which I know personally many of the informants and in which I have witnessed some of their experiences. As distinct from any previous study, my research is therefore based on a different approach. It is based on an intimate knowledge of widows experiences some of whom I interviewed twice during field work in 1995 and 1996. Concentrating on a small area, I was able to cross-check information from my subjects with information from others who knew my informants well.

Map 1: Map of Nigeria

Map 2: Map of Igboland

Source; Eluwa et al. 1988:

Map 3 : Map of Eastern Nigeria showing Mbaise

Source: Ekechi: 1988.

Map 4: Map showing the Ecology of Igbo Culture Areas

Source; Onwuejeogwu 1987.
Chapter V Disadvantaged or Privileged? A Conclusion.

This study sought to examine the widowhood rituals and practices in a rural Igbo society. Certain of the conclusions in this paper can be presented with some confidence, whereas others represent more tentative forays into problems that for the moment are difficult to conceptualise.

I started this study by looking at the problems associated with the study of women's history in Africa. It is imperative that I also make some concluding remarks in this area. It was noted that the studies of African women have been plagued by more than the methodological and ideological question of male perspective. In the main, it has been observed that this reflected the changing attitudes in European society towards women's issues. In effect, African women have sometimes become a field upon which the Western world has played out some of its concerns about women in general (Hafkin & Bay 1976:2). Colonialism in their view for example would foster the emancipation of non-western women by raising living and educational standards. At the same time, women would be freed from the drudgery of farm labour and oppression of social customs-evils that were said to include early betrothal, lack of choice in marriage partners and few or no divorce rights. Writers dealt with the problems of women's education and supported reforms designed to abolish bride-wealth and polygamy and to improve women's inheritance rights[148]. Such analysis reflects the conception of African women as subjugated and oppressed members of a largely patriarchal society.

This study has highlighted the extent to which these conceptions are not so easily converted to the Igbo. Evidence has shown that women were sometimes active in the economic and social process. Uchendu's assessment of the Igbo woman needs to be restated here:

The African Woman regarded as a chattel of her husband, who has made a bride wealth payment on her account is not an Igbo woman, who enjoys a high socio- economic and legal status. She can leave her husband at will, abandon him if he becomes a thief, and summon him to a tribunal, where she will get fair hearing. She marries in her own right and manages her trading capital and her profit as she sees fit. Though women are not the normal instrument through which land rights are passed, and though their virilocal residence after marriage makes it impossible for them to play some important social and ritual roles in their natal villages, yet they can lease hold, take titles and practice medicine (1965:87).

In spite of the fact that women generally have received little or no attention in historical writings in Africa, Igbo women, were among the first to receive attention in anthropological research and literature as a group distinct from Igbo men[149]. This study of Igbo women as widows revealed far reaching differences between their relationship with men as opposed to the general notion that women are a subjugated group in all societies. Studies of any aspect of women's lives should therefore be approached with a broader frame of mind than the popular conception of the victimisation and subjugation of women found in most literature's about women in most African societies.

To a large extent, the presentation attempted to analyse women not as objects but as actors in the social and economic process. In looking at women and their activities in this study, we have gone beyond description of roles and status. Igbo widows like other women have been found to interact with their society. They are also visible and are an integral part of the social system. At the same time this study has recognised that women cannot be wholly in control of all the social and economic forces which affect their lives. In this regard, women's and men's existence and activities are closely interrelated to the extent that changes in the sphere of one must necessarily affect the other even in societies where labour, social and political realities are strictly divided along sex lines.

In her discussion of Igbo women's roles, Judith Van Allen has noted that women's organisations were very influential in policy making and community affairs via such organisations as mitiri, (meeting) which is the association of wives of a village[150]. While we recognise from this study that it is a wrong concept to generalise all African women as oppressed and subordinate in society, we equally have recognised that there are social structures and mechanisms that prevent women from enjoying full equality with men.

In general terms, the variations in the presentation of African women discussed in this work have all been shown to produce inadequate representations in terms of viewing women as actors in the historical process. The need for a development of a final trend in presenting women in history is therefore clear. In this study we have brought out both the specific social and economic and ideological constraints within which women have lived and ways in which women have interacted in relation to them. This presentation has emphasised also the need to understand some of these constraints so to say from the perspective of the cultural setting in which they obtained. This should be the ideal trend.

Looking at widows in particular, it was found that widows constituted a large proportion of the adult population among the Igbo. This is confirmed in previous studies. In addition, it has indicated how little widow's lives as a group and as individuals have been studied. From this study, we may state that when examined from the perspective of the widow, many social processes look different. These include the extent and nature of corporate kin group responsibility, the significance and durability of marital alliance and the differential importance attached to conjugal and filial bonds. Others are the pattern of affinal relationships, process of household and community development and dissolution, and the nature and continuity or discontinuity of women's different ties to the community.

However, as actors, widows make choices from the possibilities available to them in Igbo society. Although behaviour cannot be explained by such abstract principles as descent, affinity, or sibling solidarity, and conformity to norms is not automatic, it is clear nonetheless, that some norms have strong institutional support and others do not. Rules concerning marriage and child custody, rights of residence, access to productive resources, the sexual division of labour and the labour requirements of productive technologies, are aspects of the structure that influence, but do not determine what widows do. Others are moral values, religious beliefs and supernatural sanctions, the basis by which prestige is accorded, and available channels for meeting sexual and emotional needs. In the main many of these processes while limiting the options open to the widows in some ways, frees her from perpetual control by the husband's kin in other ways. Hence the widow in Igbo society while better off in terms of independence to control her social and economic life is constrained in terms of access to productive resources in the husband's family.

In Chapter two, we examined the rituals undergone by the widow in Igbo society. We also examined the rationale behind these practices. Widowhood practices among the Igbo are closely tied to traditional beliefs about death, inheritance and feminine roles, family structure and family relationships. Of significance is the ritual aspects of the practice. These rituals consists of agreed practices derived from the belief that death brings corruption and the dead still have contact with the living, especially their closest partners in life. These rituals also arose from the strong sense of community between the living and the dead which formed a basic ingredient of the cosmology of the Igbo people. This situation has to be remedied before the widow is free to return to a new life. The people rationalise these practices arguing that they perform important functions: They give the widow protection from her deceased husband whom the people believe would still attempt to make contact with his wife. Practices and rituals were to sever this bond between the man and his wife. They also acted as a means of ensuring that the deceased was accepted into the congregation of his ancestor who had died before him.

For one thing, the strong survival of traditional burial forms account for the continued survival of traditional widowhood practices some of which may imply humiliation of the widow. At this stage of the development of Igbo society, one would have expected that these traditional burial forms and the rituals associated with them would have been discarded. However, some reasons for their continued existence may be advanced.

To a large extent, both Christianity and Western education, two major factors that have influenced the Igbo since the early nineteenth century, has been helpless in the face of the continued existence of these traditional burial forms. Trimmingham (1959:116) has shown that instead of abolishing the irrational and superstitious fears connected with witchcraft, ghost haunting, sorcery and the like, converts feel themselves more exposed than hitherto because they have given up the charms which traditional society consider adequate protection and without acquiring substitutes. It is this apparent impotence of Western religion in the face of superstitions that explains why traditional funeral rites and forms survive in Igbo society. This was apparent while I was doing field work. I witnessed a widow holding a crucifix instead of a broom stick or knife (which were the traditional instruments used to protect the widow from the spirits). Irrespective her Christian faith, this widow still clings to the old rule. In other words, we are faced with a problem which is purely cosmological. I think that many widows would not view the rituals as oppression and subjugation. For many of them, this is the only way to express ones love for a deceased husband, and to protect oneself.

I have also raised the practical issues involved. This has to do with the widow's association with the Umuada and her husband's relatives which is dominated by their assessment of her personality and her performance as a married woman both towards her husband and his kin. We noted that the Umuada performed these widowhood rituals. We also raised the issue of how discriminatory or spiteful these practices could be. Some may view this as discrimination. But these Umuada are married somewhere else and one day will face the same ritual on the death of their husbands. If the regime gone through by a widow is so burdensome as some writers have noted, it would be irrational for the Umuada to encourage it since they will face similar treatment. We can therefore say that these rituals were performed by the Umuada because there was at every stage of the process a sense of community between the dead and the living. This involved a much wider group ranging from the family, the kin group and the community as a whole rather than the widow alone. It is assumed that it made everyone so mutually interdependent that what affected one adversely also affected the other in the same manner, the Umuada included. But this point notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the regime gone through by a widow is burdensome.

In chapter three, I have taken up the question of how domestic and affinal relationships affected the widow in Igbo society. With regard to this, I touched on the rationale for marriage among the Igbo and its importance to women. Marriage was identified as essential for completeness of the individual in Igbo society. In order to understand the mechanism by which this functions or the direction of its change, I discussed the various forms of marriage and its impact on the Igbo social system. I emphasised the importance of kinship relations among the Igbo in order to understand how it can affect the widows as well as how it is related to gender issues in society.

I attempted further to show how marriage in Igbo society was vital in creating social bonds and alliances between different groups of people since marriage was essentially exogamous. Its impact in the woman's relationship as widow were highlighted. This section also showed some of the common experiences of women in marriage, some aspects of gender relations and what defined choice of a marriage mate. Other features of Igbo domestic and affinal relationship such as the levirate and polygamy were examined.

From this study, there are indications that issues of polygamy, sexual conduct, allocation of economic resources, marriage, divorce and widowhood practices often transcend the immediate family and are affected by group social norms and values. From this study, we can state that domestic relations are at the heart of the Igbo society. In this area, in we have noticed that domestic relationships involved far more people than a nuclear family. To a large extent, the concept of family most often functionally (not conceptional) encompass a wide range of relatives including grandparents, parents, children, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles etc. It is evident from this study that the Igbo sense of communal living makes it imperative that responsibility, obligation and authority is wide-ranging and encouraged. The importance of the individual, as a general value is still submerged to that of the collective will. In this situation, domestic relationships and decision making within a nuclear family are often influenced by a wide variety of individuals and situations.

In terms of marriage in particular, the Igbo people do not stress that biological and social paternity must coincide; hence the institution of levirate. In this circumstance, marital fidelity is not emphasised. Therefore, although marriage is an extremely important institution in defining adult status for women in Igbo society, the rights transferred to the husband and his kin at marriage do not bind a wife to continue the marriage after the death of her husband. This is related to the fact that although Igbo kinship relationships have a strong patrilineal bias, the woman is open to other ties such as remarriage. Let me quote Henderson's description of the Onitsha situation which I believe fits partly into our own analysis of the Mbaise people. He writes of the "four possibilities" of a widow under these circumstance: she may be sent to her natal home to be maintained by her people there; she may return to her natal home but continue to be maintained by her husband's successor; she may be allowed to remain for her husband, living in his house and continuing to bear children in his name; or she may be formally taken over in marriage by his successor or the latter's designated equivalent (1977:223).

In all cases, this study shows that these possibilities have consequences for ownership of the children she has produced or will produce, the upbringing of those children and the support she may get. Sending a wife home without support is viewed as an act of divorce by the Igbo people, and it frees the woman and her kin group from any future obligation to the husband's people. It is likely to occur only if the woman has no male children. All in all, levirate relationships are being reduced by economic and ideological changes. This also holds for polygamous marriages.

From our analysis, if we refer to any comparative scheme for classifying widows, the Igbo will be difficult to place in the scale that classifies "solutions" to widowhood according to how much change occurs in the widow's lifestyle upon the husband's death. While most of the liberating factors are present and open to widows, social constraints appear to be an unending factor. We assume that remarriage can jeopardise a woman's right to use her husband's land and support from her children, but widowhood need not, particularly if the woman lives in her husband's family and has male children. We realise also that in a society that defines marriage as existing to produce children, the options open to women also depends on their continued childbearing capacity.

Divorce and remarriage are not common even in contemporary Igbo society. But given the possibility of remarriage, as well as the economic opportunity open to Igbo women, widowhood ought to be for most Igbo women a phase in their lives. It is a point at which many women have the largest number of options-more than during or before marriage. Age for example determine the number of options open to a widow in many societies[151]. But in practice today, this does not seem to be the case for the Igbo widow. Social circumstances, the close knit ties created by the marriage system between mother and child as well as the husband's family puts a constraint on options open to the widow.

In chapter four, I have discussed the widow and the economy in Igbo society. To understand the nature of the widow's position, I have reviewed those activities which women undertook as well as the constraints which they face in terms of inheritance of land in particular. Attempt was made to show how important land as a resource is in Igbo society and why widows could not inherit it. I offered three explanations for this. Women had no customary right over land, they could not inherit it and the spiritual value attached to land made land a male prerogative. Traditional religious value have been a source of power for men. It has also been a source of subordination for women. Inspite of over one hundred years of Christianity, traditional religion has been little affected in terms of its aid to male control of land. In this regard, religious beliefs reflect and reinforce the subordination of women. I argued that men used these reasons to rationalise their continued control of land.

In terms of economic activity, I contended that in the main agriculture was the single most important activity for Igbo women. The division of labour on gender lines were implicated in the politics of resource control. To a large extent men controlled and manipulated the rituals involved in planting the most prestigious crops, such as yam. Men also had control of land for its production. Coco yam, was grown by women and required less specialised knowledge than did yam (Amadiume 1984:29).

It has been identified that women in Igbo society have some access to land within their husbands' household. But they could not inherit it. The importance of land in Igbo economy and its social and cosmological increases its value. It also increased interest in its inheritance as well as strengthening patrilineal descent. It would appear that as land became more individualised under the influence of colonial requirement for agricultural products, women's access to land for subsistence farming, especially for market farming, was circumscribed. Of course, the colonial legal system also barred women from owning land. The system recognised the patriarchal power in land ownership. In this regard, while the modern legal system offer the formal possibility for the inheritance of land by widows, actual legal judgements commonly defer to the traditional customs which routinely deny a woman's right to land. In order words, ignorance, poverty, tradition and outright male opposition are formidable barriers to women's ability actually to obtain the legal rights they have on paper. Not only do women receive land of declining size and quality, their use rights are becoming increasingly insecure. This not withstanding, women who have access to money could buy land.

Trading was one important activity for many widows. Although trading was not as important as agriculture during the pre-colonial times, this pattern changed during the nineteenth century. Women responded to increasing levels of trade during the nineteenth century by turning to marketing, in part because of their discriminatory role in the subsistence economy. In particular, petty trading offered women especially widows, independence that they might not ordinarily have contemplated.

All in all, this study shows that women, especially as widows play important part in local and regional or long distance trade. For the widow, her obligation to her family and to herself in terms of sustenance made the acquisition of marketing profits appealing, allowing them to provide more to their family than they might simply from farming. This was more pronounced for the widow whom we identified is now very active in long distance trade, a predominantly male area of activity in the past.

On the other hand, there is considerable decline in communal and kin group assistance to the widow. The lack of communal support may be attributed to a breakdown of kinship institutions resulting from tendency towards individualism and capital expansion. Certainly these developments have transformed most societies including the Igbo, modifying social structures, but change has not been unidirectional. There has been a varied impact on the organisation of the Igbo society, different types of adoption to a cash economy and labour migrations and different implications of such adaptations for the case of the widows. This is indication of a general transition from communal to more individualistic systems. We have also identified a new and emerging trend with regard to the educated widow. The professional and educated widow will be the emerging trend in the future. In this regard, we assume that the civil and public sector will be a major contributor to widow income in the future.

Generally, we must note that economic issues are of great importance to Igbo women. Their significant emotional and social relations are ties to children, particularly their sons. Women work as hard as men to support themselves in a cash economy and to educate their children. They usually hope that by having sons, they will be in a position where one or more will succeed financially and be able to provide for them in old age. From the analysis of the Igbo family structure, motherhood brings important change in a woman's status, a change from a mistress who simply attracts and allures to a mother who shares the dignity of her husband and who increased the lineage membership. Uchendu (1965) has observed that the husband-wife relation does not last as long as the child-mother bond. This study shows that children are a great social insurance agency, a protection against dependence for women in old age. To have a male child is to strengthen both the social and the economic status, for it is a male child who inherits the father's property. It may be assumed that a woman or man who has no male child contemplates old age with particular horror.

As a woman becomes a widow, her relationship with her husband's kin and access to productive resources depends on this mother-child bond. This bond not only guarantees a woman right of residence, it also acts a social and economic insurance in old age. It also ensures that the widow is guaranteed continued right of residency in her husband's family. In present day Igbo society, labour migration is one factor which has affected child-mother relationship in terms of control and use of land. Migrant sons have less need for land, thus leaving the majority of widows access to productive resources that would otherwise have been out of their reach. Moreover, migrant children also send cash to their mothers. Well to do daughters also assist their mothers in cash and kind.

Gender relations in Igbo society are rooted in the family and kinship system, especially the inheritance system, and in the economic and cultural practices connected with this. Though the Igbo culture has been exposed to external influences, these features remain basically the same over a long historical period. Social features of widowhood rituals and kinship relations have changed little. despite the influence of colonialism and Western civilisation.

Now wealth is based on trade, farming and wage or salaried employment. In this situation widows can be obstacles to their "inheritors" full enjoyment of the property. A widow now more or less struggles to be economically independent. She wants to have more control of and defence of her rights to a portion of the husband's property. The transition from one situation to the other constitutes a battle over many different elements of the resources system, widow's included. This complex transformation of social relationships and the implications for widows can therefore be traced to cultural practices that have survived with the changing society as well as increasing impact of societal transformation.

It seems misleading, however, to see a static situation here. Though an Igbo widow's behaviour is constrained in some ways, it is quite unconstrained in others. An Igbo widow is free to remarry. She is free to leave her husband's family. She is also free to hold and manage her own property. The society gives her freedom to take part in any economic activity of her choice. I would suggest that it is precisely because of the constraints imposed upon a woman's right to inherit from her husband that she is able to enjoy the freedom cited above. The Igbo woman's freedom of choice and action has its basis in her largely independent status as a married woman. Although the inheritance rule do not confer a permanent estate on a wife, the constraints on Igbo widows in exercising certain options, and the usual autonomy they enjoy in other spheres, are best viewed as two sides of the same coin. Igbo women are hard working and self-reliant. Many do not need help, since widows are normally middle-aged rather than elderly. For the Igbo woman, the period of widowhood is not just a ritual phase but one that may be regarded as a permanent status of some independence.
Chapter IV Widows and the Economy

4.1.1 Agriculture
4.1.2 Inheritance
4.1.3. Customary Right to Land
4.1.4 Land Ownership.
4.1.5 The Spiritual Value of Land.
4.1.6 Other Problems for Farming Widows


One of the most consistent findings by various authors with regards to African widows is the degree to which they are economically self-reliant (Potash 1986:27). Like African women generally, they contribute substantially to household economy and often provide most or all of the support for themselves and their children. In some African societies, women are the primary subsistence producers and men in others. The type of and degree of female and male economic interdependence relates to labour organisation, the requirements of the productive technology and the pattern of income distribution. Men and women in some cases control their own income. But in many, resources are pulled together. This type of income control has implications for the widow. For one, the widow may not differentiate her personal income and property from that of the husband. Furthermore, since the influence of the kin group, the inheritance rules, and kinship ties are strong among many African societies and are often more emphasised than marital ties, a widow stands the chance of loosing access to property jointly acquired with her husband. The result is that the widow may have to start a new economic life on the death of the husband.

How does the above picture apply to the rural Igbo widows studied here? The assumption was that they will substantially differ from urban widows in terms of their economic survival strategies. They will invariably be dependent on agriculture and as such ownership and rights to inherit and use land will be very important to them. One would expect that the widow should inherit her husband's property and estate and sustain herself and her family from there. But this is not the case for these widows.

My focus in the interviews were what economic activities widows undertake. I further looked at the following: How significantly were widows' economic activities different from when their spouses were alive? What prompted the choice of economic activity which these widows undertake? What support, if any, do widows get from the extended family, children, levir and lovers (iko)? How is land, a major factor in a predominantly agricultural economy controlled in the family in terms of its allocation, use and inheritance? Since widows are not guaranteed part of their husband's wealth including land, we shall examine what economic activities they undertook.

Of the 80 widows interviewed, 28 were traders. 16 were farmers. 17 combined farming and trading (see Appendix A). Apart from farming and trading, 7 of the widows were engaged in various types of civil or public service. 4 were self employed in the service industry. 6 of the older widows were not engaged in any economic activity and two are apprenticed in a skills acquisition centre. Since my informants are rural widows, this percentage cannot be representative of Igbo widows. It cannot also be representative of the educated and urban elite widow. I assume however that they derive their major income from the civil and public sectors. The study concentrated on those widows who lived off farming, trading or a combination of both.

4.1.1 Agriculture
The importance of agriculture in Igbo economy cannot be overemphasised. Nwachukwu (1989) argues that up till 1900, a typical Igbo was in the main a farmer. Being the head of a household, he was the owner of productive resources and planned what to do, how to do it and the size of land to be cultivated. Labour consisted of the members of the family, neighbours, friends, in-laws and relations. Nwachukwu argues that there appears to have been a positive correlation between the number of wives, children and friends, and in-laws in Igboland and the size of his farm[109]. Agriculture was the main economic activity of the Igbo for a very long time. Aside from assisting men in yam production, women had their own crops. These ranged from cassava, coco yam, maize, pepper, various types of vegetables and legumes which were exclusive to women. Agriculture and local trading went hand in hand for women. They sold the excess produce in the local markets and substantially provided food for the family.

Cassava was the major agricultural product for women. It was introduced by the Europeans into Igboland after 1914. Since it was looked upon as inferior to yam - the prestige staple crop and generally regarded as a man's crop, cassava thus became virtually women's crop[110]. Its production and marketing devolved essentially on women. Ekechi noted that the adaptation of cassava as a food crop tended to enhance the economic position of women in society. Phoebe Ottenberg writing about Igbo women and cassava cultivation noted;

Women's acceptance of cassava meant not only the alleviation of the traditional famine period preceding the yam harvest but also a profound alteration in the economic and social relationship between husbands and wives. In pre-colonial times, if a woman's husband did not give her food, she was in a sorry plight; now she can subsist without her husband[111]

Besides cassava offered a potential for capital accumulation and ultimately the assertion of some degree of independence. An Afikpo woman reportedly told an interviewer in 1952 that if a woman has any money she buys land and plants cassava. The year after she does this, she can have a crop for cassava meal which she can (also) sell and have her own money. Then she can say, "what is man? I have my own money"112. The introduction of cassava provided women an opportunity to have a special agricultural product.

Agriculture was also important for women in other ways. The Igbo lie in the palm belt of southern Nigeria. Agricultural output especially palm produce contributed substantially to the GDP (Gross domestic Product) of Nigeria as a whole. These palms grew wild in farm lands and who owned the land also owned the palm trees. Its processing however was the woman's duty. The palm oil belonged to the man while the palm kernel belonged to the woman. Agricultural export has been important and more pronounced in the fifteen years following the Second World War, when earnings from it were buoyant, and constituted the economic foundation of migration to the towns. From the 1960s an even stronger influence was exerted on the composition of the GDP. The volume of palm kernel in thousand tons were 409 in 1964-6; 213 in 1970-2 and 172 in 1976-8. For palm oil it was 146 for 1964-6; 10 for 1970 and 2 for 1976-8[113] . Palm produce for a long time constituted a major source of income for men as well as women. But it has over the years declined as a major source of income for rural dwellers. After the 1960s, agricultural export seized to be a major export earner. Petroleum emerged as the major export earner for Nigeria. Its volume was greatly increased after the Biafra secession was overcome in 1970. Although earnings for a woman were enhanced by income from palm produce, her inability to control the land and its resources as a widow also means a substantial loss of income from the palm trees.

Women raise various agricultural products for food and cash. Indeed profit from sale of agricultural products especially palm produce was the largest single source of capital for investment in trading. (See p.72)

4.1.2 Inheritance
When an Igbo woman becomes a widow, it would be preferable for her to continue to work the land. But inheriting land is impossible for an Igbo widow. She will be subjected to one of two legal system: statutory law or customary law. According to statutory law, a widow is allowed to inherit part of her husband's property and estate including land. Section 36 of the Nigerian Marriage Act provides for the widow in the following ways:

(a) a widow with children is entitled to one-third of her husband's estate;

(b) where the widow has no child, she is entitled to half of her husband's estate.

The above provision therefore, indicates that on paper, a widow is entitled to inherit from her husband on his death. Similarly, his children are entitled to inherit from his estate. Where the deceased is survived by both widow and children, the nuclear family is the sole beneficiary. But how does this apply in practice? In many cases, the applicable rules are difficult to discern. Even where they are known, the provisions are not really subject to precise interpretation. Evidence suggests that the widow's rights of inheritance under the Marriage Act are completely ignored by the deceased's relatives who regard the deceased's estate as their birth right. It also indicates that courts do not follow statutory law but customary law. One rule which most traditional African societies are unanimous about is that in the customary law of intestate succession, the widow has no place in the sense that she can never inherit from her husband. This is in line with the customary practice among the Igbo. In a case reported by Omiyi[114] for example, portrays the inability of a wife to inherit property from the husband. The court held in this case that;

The native law and customs alleged here is, briefly, that property can not be allotted and descend through a wife. If such native law and custom existed, it would mean that on the death of the childless wife, not of the same family as her husband, property vested in her would pass away from the husband's family, from whom the wife became entitled to it, to the wife's family.

In a 1959 case which Omiyi also reported in her study, the husband was survived by three customary law widows. There were no children. Before his death the deceased instructed his senior wife to administer his property and use the income to maintain herself and the other wives, and to continue staying in the compound with the hope that they might have children for him. The senior wife attempted to carry out the wishes of her husband but was challenged by his nephew, the plaintiff in this case. He claimed not only that he was the rightful administrator of his uncle's estate but also that the widow should be expelled from the late husband's compound. It was held that a widow can neither inherit her husband's estate nor administer it[115].

Another case which illustrates this customary rule that a widow cannot inherit property was demonstrated in a 1988 land dispute. In this case, a widow from the research area, had sold a piece of land. Her son challenged her mother's right to sell any part of his father's land. In his judgement the traditional ruler of the town noted;

The Eze who is the custodian of the customs and traditions of this town in no equivocal manner condemn the practice of purported purchase of landed property from women or housewives. Such purchase is disallowed by the customary laws of the town particularly in a case such as this where the woman, a widow for that matter, has a grown up son who is the automatic heir to the estate of the deceased father[116].

In an appeal in the above case at the Customary Court in Ahiazu Mbaise in 1989, the court held that;

It is unheard of that a woman with a grown up son can sell her husband's land in the absence of the son...It would be uncustomary if this court were to find for a defendant claiming that he bought a piece of land of a man with a son from his wife[117]

I attended the proceedings of a case during field work in 1995. In this case, a widow who had no surviving son had given all the land belonging to her late husband to a family member whom I would call 'A'. 'A' had taken care of the widow before she died. The extended family brought a case against 'A' in the village council. They claimed as follows;

1. That the widow had no right to give her husband's land over to one member of the family.

2. That although 'A' looked after the widow, he had no customary right to inherit the land alone.

3. That the land should be joint property. They based their claim further on the fact that the extended family had the customary right over the land since their brother had no son.

The village council decided that;

'A' could not inherit from the late widow as she had no right under customary law to transfer land to him

That 'A' be compensated with the plot of land given to the woman when she was married into the family.

That the other family members should pay back to 'A' some part of the money spent on maintaining the widow.

'A' refused the judgement and has taken the case to the customary court. This case is not yet finished, but it is reasonable to believe that the customary court will uphold the judgement of the village council. In these cases, the provisions of section 36 of the Nigerian Marriage Act are grossly neglected both by the courts and village council.

A similar case reported by Omiyi from a Ghana Law Report shows how wide-spread this practice was across many African societies. In this case a customary law widow sued her deceased husband's family claiming one-third of her husband's intestate estate basing her claim on two grounds. Firstly, she asserted that she helped the husband to acquire the property in question. Secondly she claimed that she was a lawful customary law widow and therefore was entitled under customary law to a share of her husband's estate. The court dismissed her claims although it was found out that she actually helped in the acquisition of the property. It was held that under customary law a widow does not become a co-owner of property she helped her husband to acquire[118] . All over Igboland and indeed many parts of Africa, the customary law that a widow cannot inherit her deceased husband's property was notorious by frequent proof in the courts that it became judicially noticeable. In this context, the wife was deprived of inheritance rights in her deceased husband's estate because under the prevailing native laws and customs, the devolution of property follows the blood.

The facts given here raise one major problem, namely that of the economic survival for a widow in a rural Igbo society. The widow's position, her right to inherit property, use and alienate land is constrained by customary and cultural practices. Although comprehensive data are difficult to obtain, it is evident that informal mechanisms have evolved to give widows some access to productive resources.

Although a widow cannot inherit land, most widows gain some kind of access to their husband's land. They have this access as long as they have sons and continue to live in their husband's family. The farm land was to enable the widow to provide some support for herself. Generally such allocation was regarded as temporary since the land belonged to the children as a right. The widow looses control of such land when her sons get married and share their father's land. Mother-son relationship can go sour as a result of who should control land.

Except under special circumstances, widows and in fact most women have access to productive resources especially land only through husband-wife relationship. Although husband's were important sources of farms for widows, some were also fairly independent in the means by which they acquire farms. Widows are not prevented by customs from buying land. This they did through a male proxy or their adult sons. These practices have remained largely unchanged in Igbo society.

4.1.3. Customary Right to Land
A widow lacks the flexibility to manage land and its resources since it theoretically belongs to her children or the kin group. This imposed limitations to what the widow can do with the land. But to understand the widow's peculiar position, we must also examine the peoples' spiritual and ritual attachment to land. We must also examine their understanding of land as the only means of maintaining a cosmological balance between themselves, their ancestors and the generation yet unborn. For the people land is an affair for men. Three explanations may be offered here: (i) women lack customary right over land, (ii) women cannot own land and (iii) the spiritual value of land. To understand why women lack customary rights to land, it is important to know under which circumstances access to land may be gained. Meek, (1937:30) has classified land into the following categories; (i) land which are sacred or taboo, (ii) virgin land, (iii) farmland held in common by the members of a village, kin group, or extended family and iv) individual holdings.

The first class of lands include sacred groves surrounding the shrines of public cults (such as ala, the earth-deity and ekwensu, the spirit evil) It also includes the taboo lands or evil forest known as ajo ohia. These lands do not belong to the individual but are regarded as belonging to the deities or spirit and no one could normally attempt or be allowed to use any fraction of such land for farming purposes. Although some of these sacred groves have been tampered with as a result of the advent of Western religion, they are still in existence in many communities today.

The virgin forests are land which have remained unused for farming purposes because nobody has required it or because the village has forbidden farming there, lest it should lose its use as a means of defence or shade or a source of supplies of wood. If a piece of uncleared forest is of no obvious use to the village, any one is at liberty to clear it for farming purposes, and the land so cleared becomes his private farmland. He cannot be deprived of it, and he can pledge it or transmit it to his children. But if there is any uncertainty as to whether the village may require the uncleared land, the would be farmer must first obtain the permission of the local elders. Such opportunities of having access to land must have been the practice a long time ago. Even when this was the case, women and particularly widows would have no right to clear or lay claim to any of such plots. Customs and traditions as well as the rituals attached to land will prevent them from having such access to land.

The next class of land is farmland held in common by an entire village, kin group, or extended family. This is one of our major area of concern here. This land is formally apportioned out afresh each time it is to be farmed. It is held in reserve for the benefit of the whole group (in addition to individual holdings) and cannot therefore be pledged without the consent of the group as a whole. This land is regarded as ala ozuzu (land held in common). Land in some instances are held in common on behalf of the kin group or the extended family. This type of land is usually allocated to married males in a particular family for farming.

Individual holding is a very important practice today. These lands are usually handed on from father to son, or acquired by clearing virgin forest or in return for a loan or sales. Among the Igbo, population pressure has made land very scarce. Land so held belongs to a man and his immediate family and can be pledged without reference to anyone. In this way, those who can afford to, acquire additional land in perpetuity for themselves and their family. In some instances, it may be leased and the land could be redeemed when the cost of lease has been refunded. In all classes of land, a woman does not fit any of the categories through which land may be acquired.

In terms of this customary right to land, let us view this right from the perspective of a married and an unmarried woman. An unmarried daughter has like her brothers, the right to live in her father's house subject to all the normal incidents of local tenure. But since a woman does not actually undertake to cultivate land as of her own right, she is not usually given any farmland[119]. An informant answered when asked why women could not inherit land;

why should a woman be allocated land? She does not belong to this community. She marries away from this village and can only have access to land where she marries. Her access to land will be through her husband and her children.[120]

This implies that rights over the use of land depends primarily on agnate descent, and secondarily on local residence. Women do not fit into this arrangement since marriage is basically exogamous. As a result, the head of the family never revolves on the woman. She never expects to become head of the family, nor to inherit land when the husband dies.

With regard to family property, also, the position of the head of the family is inherited by the most senior adult male child. Failing that, the eldest adult male member of the family would inherit the property but never the woman. Thus a woman of what ever status is not allowed to inherit landed property.

Eze and Nwebo cited court cases which further clarify the above notions. They gave instances of such cases which took place in 1963 and 1967, indicating that women were not allowed to inherit landed property from their father and consequently have no locus standi to bring an action in respect of family property. In the 1963 case in particular, the supreme court of Nigeria held that;

By the customary law predominant in Igboland, a widow has no right to succeed to personal or real estate of her deceased husband. Of course, it would be absolute nonsense in the circumstances for a widow who is herself regarded as property to turn round to claim the property of her late husband. In such a case the only right available to her will be to be accommodated by the person who inherits the husband's estate until she remarries or becomes financially independent or dies [121].

Citing Obi's 'Manual of Customary Law', Eze and Nwebo observed further that in some areas within the Igbo society, a widow without a son has no right to remain a member of her late husband's family. The husband's heir or relative might even expel her from the husband's compound and other lands. Moreover, her limited rights in the family are subject to 'good' behaviour. Furthermore, the testamentary powers of the women are also restricted under the Igbo custom. In some communities in Igboland, a married woman or a widow who is living in her husband's family cannot as of right dispose of her landed property or economic crops by will, except to her own children or to members of her husband's family.

4.1.4 Land Ownership.
The same mode of thinking about customary right over land also created the atmosphere in which it was felt that a woman could not own land. Land ownership among the Igbo confers certain rights which are the same whether under statutory or customary law. But ownership is subject to differing interpretations. According to Lord Cohen, the meaning of the word `owner' is not always clear. In his opinion,

...the term `owner' is loosely used in West Africa. Sometimes, it denotes what is in effect absolute ownership; at other times is only to rights[122].

Chubb (1961:6) in his study of land tenure among the Igbo, pointed out also that:

in the main, the term, ownership, hardly connotes the exact relationship between such an occupier and his land. He has full right to its produce and may build and plant permanent crops as he pleases, but he regards himself as holding it in trust for the next generation.

Collaborating the above, an informant noted:

Land was here before our fathers were born. They did not own the land but merely farmed on it. But as population grew, people became more acquisitive. They had to acquire more farm land for their acquired the land and women only helped to farm on it.[123]

Also, the Pivy Council noted in a case brought before it at the beginning of the century that;

the notion of individual ownership is quite foreign to native ideas. Land belongs to the community, the village, or the family, never to the individual[124]

Communal ownership was the system when population densities were small and no one man could own or lay exclusive claim to any piece of land. However, when a community, kin group or family migrated to a new region and cleared it for settlement, it could lay claims to it. This action according to Chubb conferred the strongest of all titles to the land[125]. In such cases, the land holding passed on to descendants. I could not establish when individual holdings become very important in land ownership. But oral evidence suggests that this must have been long ago[126].

Even though Nwabueze argues otherwise (that is that family or communal land amongst the Igbo may have its origin in an individual founder who first acquired the land), he also recognises the possibility of a new settlement being founded by an entire community or family. They then entrust titular ownership to a strong patriarchal head or leader[127]. This however, developed from customary rights of occupancy, into real ownership after many generations of continuos occupation. Due to abundance of land in the past perhaps, there was little or no friction and dispute over pieces of land until population pressure turned individuals into petty capitalists.

As Wigwe contends, in Igbo customary law, ownership is in the sense outlined above. But whatever meaning is attached to ownership denotes who has right to control and benefit from it. The right, however, has been challenged. Some are of the opinion that the idea of an absolute property in land is incompatible with the limits which society places on the use of land. Such titles, leases, and mortgages merely express man's desire for orderliness. In the above circumstance, women have no customary right to own land as members of a village group since they are expected to marry. Furthermore, they do not have such rights as married women or widows since they are theoretically strangers in the community.

4.1.5 The Spiritual Value of Land.
There is still a third explanation for widows problem in getting access to farm land. This can be sought in the spiritual value attached to land. In approaching the subject of land ownership in Igboland and its impact on the widow's economic existence and survival, it is important to emphasise that land is sacred. In the context of traditional religion, land is the basic matrix of existence[128]. Land is described adoringly as `mother earth' or earth goddess ala and is generally regarded as the arch-divinity of every locality in Igboland. Chubb described land as the fons et erigo[129] (fountain and origin) of human morality, productivity and fertility.

Actions which constitute desecration of the land or abomination include suicide, homicide, stealing of farm products especially yam and coco yam, giving birth to twins (in the past), incest, a widow getting pregnant during the period of mourning and a host of other actions. Ilogu (1974) has itemised about twenty-four `abominations' or ethical and social prohibitions and taboo of Igbo moral code associated with land. Any violation of these prohibitions is considered moral, spiritual and social pollution of the land. They therefore require appropriate ritual purification of the offender(s) and the community in order to appease the earth goddess. Echeruo (1978) has further emphasised the pre-eminence of ala among the other divinities and noted that;

one divinity, however, was beyond the capriciousness of Igbo men: that divinity is neither `Igwe' nor even Chukwu, but Ala, the goddess of the earth. She was the one divinity which no man nor woman and no community could afford to offend, much less discard. If ever there was a supreme god among the Igbo, it was ala[130].

In cases of abomination against the land, it has to be sanctified, placated and purified of the sacrilege (ikwa ala) by special rituals through the office of the appropriate priest (onye isi ala) using appropriate cult objects (egg, fowl, kola nuts) as advised by the oracle. It is true to say that the cult of the ancestors or ancestor worship is closely linked with land. In traditional Igbo society, ala has a special shrine established by the competent priest including the eze-ala (priest of the land) and marked out with special shrubs or trees. It is perhaps because of conceptualisation such as the above that land ownership is a special privilege and a matter of prestige in all cultures, and especially among the Igbo[131].

The myth, rituals, taboos, beliefs, sanctions and emotional commitment that this worship engender on the Igbo becomes an instrument of social, political and economic control. It also imposes some degree of conservatism and constraint on Igbo land utilisation and ownership. The priest of ala for example is subject to many taboos. Thus they are forbidden as a rule to eat in another house, to eat food cooked by a menstrous woman, or to sit or have sexual intercourse on the ground. In some communities, widows and tattooed persons are forbidden to enter the house of the priest of ala[132].

From the reflection on ala, it must be mentioned that any research into the foundations and principles of Igbo land use, inheritance and taboos associated with it must understand the people's moral and religious attachment to it and not only its utilitarian value as a means of production. This of course, has implications for women and widows especially since control of land and its use fall outside the area of women's domain in Igbo society.

The religious traditions help to explain the existing customary law practices as they relate to widows. Even in the case of statutory married women, it is difficult to see how she could inherit her husband's real property, especially if it is part of family property. In the main, land was not easily accessible to widows. Men dominated land through their religious and spiritual control of it. The ownership and inheritance system, the religious meaning attached to land ownership and other customary practices place women in a different position. It was therefore impossible for the widow to survive entirely from farming. As a result of these constraints, we can understand why widows take to trade and other economic activities.

4.1.6 Other Problems for Farming Widows
Many of the widows presented the issue of land as the major problem which they face in farming. This state of affair is wide-spread for many widows. A woman who was widowed in 1960 had this to say about her husband's farmland.

When my husband died, I was in real trouble if I touched his yam, palm trees or land. I have been a very miserable widow especially after his brothers took away my seven children. The girls were given away in marriage without my consent and the younger ones were given away to distant people where I could not see them. I had to go to my father's house to stay. On one occasion, I came to my husband's house to collect my goats which nobody was taking care of. They beat me up, took me to the police and bribed the magistrate to jail me. I was sentenced to three months and I served it because I could not pay the option of fine[133].

In spite of these constrains, these rural widows engaged in one form of subsistent agriculture or the other. Two major additional factors come into consideration. These are the question of the number of plots that can be put under cultivation as well as the labour requirements for the production of certain crops. Land continues to be scarce due to the population pressure on available land. In the early 1970s for example the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimated that the total area cropped in Nigeria (including bush fallow) was less than two-fifths of the area suitable for agriculture. The low ration, along with the widespread practice of shifting cultivation, suggest a favourable relationship of land to population. The impression is somewhat misleading. For Green & Rimmer (1981:70) notes that in some parts of the southern forest which includes Igboland, pressure of population has reduced fallow periods to interval too short to restore soil fertility.[134] If we go by Leith-Ross's estimate of the fallow period in the 1930, she recorded that a farm in the Igbo area could lie fallow for four or five years during which time the land regains possession of its fertility[135]. This was because of the abundance of land. Today however, a land in the Mbaise area cannot be left fallow for more than one year. Population pressure in this area has always been higher than most parts of Igboland.

As a result of this pressure on land, every effort is made by anyone who had the means to keep all available land in his or her possession. No wonder customary rules have persisted among the Igbo since they give men advantage in the control of land. This is critical for the widow considering that agriculture was the main occupation of over 60% of the rural population including the Igbo[136].

In terms of the labour requirements, there are certain crops which the widow cannot cultivate. There is also a significant reduction in the number of plots a widow can put to use after the death of the husband. The widow may not pull together the labour needed to farm large plots of land. 62 of the informants have access to between 4-6 plots of their former husband's total agricultural land. In the past, a family's total cultivated land could be as many as 10-12 plots. Some of the widows still have access to all their former husband's lands because they have not been shared between their unmarried children. With their status as a widow, they will not be able to put the land to effective use alone. The labour requirement and the traditional division of labour along gender lines also dictate what crops the widow can plant. Yam cultivation, for instance, is labour intensive and requires a lot of attention from planting to harvest. Basden (1966:147 ff.) called yam-the Igbo staff of life and noted as follows;

The cultivation of yams absorbs such a great proportion of time and energy that it deserves appropriate attention when writing about the occupation of the Ibos...the planting of yam is a serious and important business to the native, and under the old system of government any infringement of the farming etiquette led to grave consequences.

This of course limited the woman's ability to engage in yam cultivation. An informant widowed in 1995 answered when asked what crops she cultivates;

After my husbands death, I was instructed by his relatives to sell his yam tubers and take a little which I can manage alone. I plant cassava, and coco yam[137] .

Another informant noted;

I had to sell my husband's yam tubers because people believed that since the owner is dead, the yam will continue to diminish yearly through poor harvest. The yam was sold in a far away market where buyers will not know that the owner was dead. My children took the yam to the market. They had to put on cloths that are not their normal mourning dresses. We sold the bulk of the yam because I could mot manage it without help. Today, I plant coco yam, maize, groundnut and vegetables"[138]

Only 3 of the widows cultivated yam on an average scale. They could afford to buy the labour, had assistance from their male sons and in some cases were helped by relatives.

To continue farming the land she worked as a wife, certainly is no easy solution for an Igbo widow. No wonder many combine farming with trade and some even entirely replace farming by trade.

4.2 Trade
By trade, we mean everything that is connected directly with buying and selling, and more especially the functions of marketing. Trading fills up the lives of many Igbos. Trade was of two kinds; local as well as regional (or long distance) trade. Trading activities provided an alternative occupation for many widows who could not make a living through farming alone. Local trade in particular has been important for women in many ways. It provided avenue for the sale of excess farm produce such as coco-yam, palm produce, vegetables, groundnut, maize, pepper etc. Basden (1966:194) describing traditional Igbo society stated that it might be affirmed that the whole of the native trade was on the hands of women and by them largely the markets were controlled. Trading became more important for women especially during the early twentieth century. Women especially have responded to increasing level of trade during the later part of the century by turning to marketing goods and services to help sustain themselves and their family. Basden confirmed that in former times, the women had direct transaction with the trading posts. These were the produce buyers who bought palm oil and kernel from women, but there sprang up a class of middlemen who worked on commission, a source of women's agitation in later years.

Ordinarily, no Igboman took part in the actual buying and selling in the local market. He may occasionally assist in preparing the goods for the market and may, occasionally assist in carrying to and fro, but there his activities usually ceased. Seen against this background Ekechi noted that it was not surprising that women strongly resented any attempt to challenge their dominance in the cassava trade. Thus in 1938 women complained vehemently "against unfair male competition in the sphere of women's crops, especially cassava"[139]. What seems clear according to Ekechi is that not only did men intrude into spheres of women's economic activity, but also they ultimately dominated it, especially its long-distance trade sector. Several factors seem to have made this possible. The infrastructure developments (roads and rail ways) as well as the introduction of bicycles and motor lorries had facilitated the expansion of trade. Thus while women still dominated the cassava trade at the local markets, men had very likely ventured into long-distance trading using bicycles and motor lorries as mode of hauling cassava. And since these new modes of transport afforded increased opportunities for bulk trading as compared to the traditional head loading, they increasingly helped to promote higher profit. It is therefore reasonable to assume that prospects of a lucrative trade must have provided the impulse for men to engage in the cassava trade.

Equally important are cultural factors which also may have given men a decisive communal advantage over women. For example by the 1930s and 1940s few women, if any, ventured into long-distance trading (Ekechi 1989: 185). Besides, long distance trading entailed being away from home. In fact social and cultural (sexual) constraints tended to prohibit women from engaging in long-distance trade in the traditional economy. Women who habitually returned home late from even the local markets invariably incurred the displeasure of the elders as well as reprimands from their husbands. Furthermore, until recently, there were few women indeed who could afford to transport cassava by bicycles or motor lorries. Thus from the 1940s noted Ekechi, the marketing of fermented cassava in far-away markets seems to have devolved largely on men. In fact, by the 1950s and early 1960s, some informants noted that men dominated the long-distance trade in cassava to various parts of the Igbo hinterland. The cassava was sold in bulk to women who then retailed it in the local markets.

The commercialisation from the 1920s of the market which implied greater emphasis on a money economy, colonial exaction (such as taxation) and the drive towards self-improvement may have all combined to induce men to intrude into the sphere of women's business. It can be stated that colonialism and its impact on the larger society altered the economic and political position of women in Igboland. Mba (1982:69) summed it up as follows:

The position of women in Southern Nigerian Society was both diminished and enhanced under colonialism. In government and administration, there was almost total loss of their traditional areas of responsibility and participation because they were excluded from all levels of administration. In the economic realm, while colonialism provided increased opportunities for some women in trade, it also led to a take over by men of many areas formally reserved for women and to a gross under-utilisation of women in their traditional roles in agriculture.

From all indications, it appears that this was the state of affairs till the period of the Nigerian - Biafra Civil War between 1967 and 1970[140]. The civil war had the Eastern region as the theatre of war. The Igbo economic and commercial activities were paralysed. Agriculture during the period was disrupted as people planted in fear or never planted at all. However, agrarian economy especially food production faired well in some rural areas of Igboland such as Udi, Ohaozara, Abakiliki, Afikpo. Beyond some of the Igbo boundaries, areas such as Etche and other parts of the present Rivers State became sources for procuring food. To a large extent the war changed the economic position of women in Igbo society once again.

Research in the Mbaise area indicate that regional trade outside the town and state boundaries increased during the war in addition to local trade. An informant noted that most women during and after the Nigeria-Biafra civil war were active traders[141]. The civil war like colonialism led to a sexual reversal in inter-regional trade once more. Men could not freely engage in this trade during the war and the war created opportunity for most women to once more take control of the cassava trade.

Ahia Attack: Women on the Economic War Front

On the Igbo side teenage boys and men of up to 50 years and more were recruited or conscripted into the army. The war, according to one informant created a large widow population and poverty among the Igbo but liberated women in many ways. Women fought on the economic front. Asked why she took to trading during the war, this widow replied;

Before the war, I was dependent on my husband's income. When he died in the first year of the war, I had to start trading to save my children from hunger. We went to various places which would have been impossible if my husband was alive. In our group of ten, six were widows. The war changed things and it is difficult to reverse it now[142].

Changes during the war modified the position of women in general and widows in particular. Women became more involved in regional trade during the period of the civil war. This remained attractive for many women even after the war. I gathered from oral sources that a large percentage of women who are engaged in long distance trade today remain predominantly widows. Certain factors were responsible for this change. In the main, the social constraints within the society which prevented them from undertaking long-distance trade beyond the local areas as married women, became less important for the widow. Moreover, the widow had to survive. Survival for others during the war was also more important that the social constraints which prevented women from taking part in the trade in the past. Thus over many of women involved in such trade today are widows. The remaining are usually older women who have reached menopause.

At the end of the civil war in 1970, one would have expected that men would take over the long distance trade from the women once more. This did not appear to have been the case since women still dominate the trade. This can be explained by the following reasons: First, easy means of transportation by lorries which reduced time required for the trade made it possible for groups of women to engage in long distance trade. Women therefore do not have to be away from home for long periods of time. The labour requirement in the form of driving, loading and off loading of the goods were still being done by men. In addition, cassava trade has been traditionally looked upon as a female area of activity and men were ready to give it up for migration to the urban centres after the civil war. For the widow in particular, she had to fend for herself and was not obligated to be at home at any particular time.

It must be noted however that Igbo women in most cases combined farming and local trade. It was typical to hear many widow's say that they are both traders and farmers (see Appendix A). Farming for many is a way of life and not just an occupation. A lot of women would therefore farm some piece of land available to them in addition to trading. The fact that the society does not look kindly on a woman who buys all that she needs from the market makes it imperative that every one sees herself as a farmer also.

4.3 Kin Group and Communal Assistance
But farming and trading were not the only means of survival for widows. In purely traditional society and by the custom of widow inheritance, the heir succeeds to the wives of the deceased as regards the duty to maintain his widow. But the degree to which the heir or those who have inherited the widows provide maintenance and support for them depends on what the widow did. If she leaves her deceased husband's family and remarry there is no support. The rules governing inheritance are consistent with the general character of the social organisation. At the same time, they are so elastic and based on such equitable principles that they can be easily modified to meet changing conditions, such as the progressive tendency towards individualisation.

The Igbo custom of widow inheritance, whereby the heir or successor steps into the shoes of the deceased kin as regards the deceased's rights and obligation to his wives, was perhaps one of the most effective ways of providing for her in an intact traditional society. This was well and good for the bygone days. But today traditional obligations are easily evaded. They have become very burdensome and most people are no longer interested in widow inheritance. These arrangements have become unattractive to men for several reasons. In the past, a woman and her children increased a man's pool of labour for farming. As agriculture looses its importance as the means of sustenance, labour requirements also become less important.

Related to the above is the shortage of land for agriculture which implicitly reduces the number of plots that could be put under cultivation. Monogamy which increased with adaptation of western religion and culture has contributed to this decline. For the widow, there is increased tendency towards individualism. The widow, therefore, has to look else where for support and sustenance. A widow commented when asked what assistance she gets from the kin group.

I sustain myself by farming. I sell some of my products for cash. The extended family does not assist me in any way[143]

For one widow, the case was different. She said;

Since my husband died, his property has been in my care though I placed some in the care of my in-laws. I have not had any problems. My in-laws are unique. They take good care of me and my children[144].

According to some informants, widow's children in some cases are shared among relatives and at times co-wives. At times, kinsmen involve widows in life sustenance such as share cropping.

The statistics indicate that the kin group play less role in assisting the widow. 69 of the informants indicated that they had no form of assistance from the kin group. 4 had some assistance from the kin group. 2 widows got assistance in the form of training their children from the extended family (see Appendix A). However, in most African societies where rules of seclusion, as among the Hausa of Northern Nigeria or limited access to resources as among the Swahili prevent widows from being self-reliant, widows depend partly on natal kin or either a new marriage[145].

Older widows among most rural communities also rely on the support provided by their children, especially by their sons. Daughters in-laws, co-wives, sons and occasionally daughters provide substantial assistance to the widow. In-laws in many instances provided assistance for the widow especially if her daughters married wisely and successfully. They provide for the widow in cash and in kind as well and protect her from undue maltreatment within and outside her home. Widows may also be protected by their own parents and their matrilineal kin. Brothers and sisters in most parts of Igboland supported the widow in various ways. Some of the informants noted the assistance from their children;

After my husbands death, my survival depended on what I could do for myself. But today, my children and in laws assist me. I thank God that I have these children to take care of me at old age[146].

There is much difference now and when my sons were not yet married. Initially, they cared for me, but now, their attention is divided between me and their own families I do not expect much any longer. I farm my husband's land since all my children live in the city. They are yet to share their father's land[147]

One informant said she had assistance in cash from her lover and his wife. The lover also paid school fees for her children. In exchange, she rents part of her husband's land to her lover's family. This was the only example of assistance from a lover did not come to my notice. But I assume that other cases exist since many of the widows were not willing to answer such questions.

A final source of assistance could be found in the rural banking system and friendly societies. Widows who had guarantors were given small loans from the rural banking systems known as isusu and otu (triff and loans groups). Some of the informants indicated that they took loans from friendly societies for trading. The virtues of friendly societies were thrift and self-help, inculcation of the spirit of cautious husbanding of funds, a determination to save some amount however meagre, for the rainy day.

4.4 New Possibilities
Wage earners have never formed part of the Igbo social system in the traditional or rural societies. But with the introduction of colonial rule and education for women, salaried work has become an important part of Igbo economic life especially in the urban areas. It is increasingly becoming a possibility for rural women. Among the 80 widows interviewed, 7 used these possibilities to survive economically (see Appendix A). Western institutions and a variety of openings are available in this area. Teaching for women stands first; then comes, nursing in hospitals dotted about the rural areas. Those informants who have acquired western education find themselves in these professions while others are self employed in the service sector. This is an emerging trend and the possibilities open to widows in this sector will continue to increase.

Although I identified a case of prostitution among the informants, I could not establish how many women who get involved in the practice. I think however that there may be more cases than meet the eye. At least, this is an option for young widows in many other societies.

We may conclude that the social system determines what widows can do in the economy. The support system which formed the basis of widow sustenance in the past has given way to a more individualised survival system. But the customary rules which determined the system of inheritance of assets and property have not changed. Customary rules of inheritance as well as right to use property places the widow in a difficult position. Rules and regulations relating to the use of land for agriculture have remained unchanged over time. This is more pronounced if the widow has no male children who can inherit their father's land. The result is that the majority of widows in Igbo society have no secure land rights and are unable to ensure sustenance for themselves and their family through agriculture alone. Consequently, trading became an important supplementary source of income, in some cases even an alternative to farming. These two economic activities are also in many cases combined with assistance from nearest kin.