“You don’t become what you want, you become what you believe.”
In an effort for their voices to be heard, the Ibgo women, mainly from six ethnic groups (Ibibio,
Andoni, Ogoni, Bonny, Opobo, and Igbo) took to the street in the provinces of Calabar and Owerri in Nigeria, to protest against the Ibo rulers, or warrant chiefs. This was considered a strategically executed anti-colonial revolt organized by women to redress social, political, and economic grievances, which were taking place within their society. In November of 1929, the Igbo-women took these strong aggressive measures to combat the draconian local regulations placed upon them by these warrant chiefs. Colonial administrators added to the local sense of grievance when they announced plans to impose special taxes on the Igbo market women. These women were responsible for supplying the food to the growing urban populations in Calabar, Owerri, and other Nigerian cities. Colonial administrators refused to budge from their stand, even at times, describing the Igbo women as being crazy. In multiple provinces women set ﬁre to native court buildings. Through their traditional practice the women used customary expressions such as dance, singing chanting threatening songs, and various forms of punishment also called (“sitting on” or “make war on”), to embarrass African warrant chiefs who aided colonial administrations or who were corrupt.
It is believed that nearly ten thousand women took part in this relentless crusade, which saw almost fifty women being shot and killed by colonial forces, and many more wounded. This caused public outcry in Britain which resulting in two official inquiries into the events. The first consisted of mostly male testimonies, dominated by colonial officials and African colonial servants. The second inquiry (1930) made a greater effort to encourage Ibo women to testify about the causes, motives, and structure of women’s organization in the women’s war, and verbatim notes of the Commission were published in the British parliamentary papers.
For many Igbo women, and indeed outsiders looking on, this was seen as a major milestone for women on a whole, in respect of their social and political rights.
Perhaps more importantly, the women had forced the British administration to take them into account for the first time. The women’s war forced the British to reconsider the Warrant Chief system, and in 1933 a new political system was put in place. Under the new system, Warrant Chiefs were replaced by ‘massed benches’, with several judges convening to make decisions. Not only could villages choose how many judges they wanted on their ‘bench’, they were responsible for making the judge selection. The Igbo people had regained some of their power to self-govern. The women’s war had sparked this change, just as it later inspired many other important protests, like the Tax Protests of 1938, Oil Mill Protests of the 1940s, and the Tax revolt 1956. The women’s war had convinced Igbo women and men of the power they held to protect their people’s rights.
The women’s uprising is seen as the first major challenge to British authority in Nigeria and West Africa during the colonial period. So from a stage of basically being bystanders, the Igbo women through their actions have etched their names in the pages of history.
Allen, Judith Van. “Aba Riotd or The Igbo Women’s War: Ideology, Stratification and the
Invisibility of Women”. Ufahamu, Vol. VI, No. 1 (1975)