Aba Women’s Uprising: A Moment in History

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Aba Women’s Uprising in Nigeria: A Moment in History


*Facilitator plays some intro music by Lijadu Sisters*

Community Agreements + Purpose of Call

  • Lead with respect
  • Feel free to call people in as things come up 
  • Small ground so we should be able to facilitate conflict or tensions as they arise

Facilitator discusses the 1929 Aba Women’s War was pivotal in their life. Learning that over 25,000 women were able to wage the biggest resistance to colonialism in Africa is affirming and demonstrates that people have always been resisting 


  • Participants state name, pronouns, and ancestors they are bringing into the space if folks want to share
  • Facilitator discusses the importance and tradition with bringing ancestors into the room, we are building off of the past for the present and future generations. As June Jordan says, ancestors are not only blood, they are the people we choose. Who do you look to for guidance and inspiration and hope?
  • “Bringing Fannie Lou Hamer in the room . She gives me solace and strength” 
  • “There is an assumption that everyone from the continent knows their history. My family is from Ghana but I can only go back to the 1960s because of our class position. It is false to believe that because I have direct ties to the continent that I know my history so it is hard to name any ancestors” 
  • “I’ll bring into the room ancestors Robert Bradford Williams, Oriwia Kingi, Loo Tse Tung, Kalyanwalla”

Background in Igbo Political & Economic Structure 

  • Igbo people had political and economic structures that were centered around the village, very decentralized and did not have formal rulers like a “king or chief” 
  • Conflicts were resolved as a community within the village squares where people would come to discuss all types of matters impacted the community
  • Elders would help resolve conflict, elders being people that folks respected and trusted; not solely by age but by relationships and mediation skills
  • Igbo people were relatively egalitarian though there were different forms of oppression
  • Igbo people had women’s associations and men’s associations where they would discuss they social, political, and economic matters
  • Women were central to the economic development and sustainability because of their role in the market and trading 
  • Little depth of knowledge from all on Igbo resistance[ to colonialism] before “modern day”.
  • The market is a place political activity and women tend to dominate the marketplace.
  • During times of colonialism which altered marketplace activity and other cultural guidelines for women, they were forced into a more “robust” form of sexism which limited their movements and resources.
  • “Age Grades”

Structured for peer development and accountability. (This is outside of traditional schooling as we know it!) Children in a town or village would essentially have a set of “playmates” that were agemates (what we say in Ghana for children of the same age and emotional and/or physical developmental stage). As the children age they will move amongst new groups and work with their peers in creative and (literal) community building endeavors. Using the ‘Age Grade’ and mentorship through advice from elders and wise folks (what ppl call “thought leaders” now) accountability could be seen through a community level. 

The Story

  • Participants take turns reading the story about what led up to the Aba Women’s War [see slides] 
  • Upon hearing women would be taxed (along with many other grievances with the colonial system (warrant chief)) women collectivized often using nonverbal communication (ex. “leaf”) across regions and tribes to physically meet and confront those in charge of the taxation (among other egregious wrongs).
  • Facilitator goes over the demands [see slides] 
  • One demand was “ stop taxing and arresting prostitutes” 

Noteable(!) Demanded the right of freedoms (no incarceration) for known prostitutes. Also noteable that this was likely a result of colonialism to find prostitution “criminal” while colonialism also forced far more African women into Poverty.”

Group collectively read this quote from one of the participants in the war 

  • “We are all dying. It is a long time since the Chiefs and the people who know book have been oppressing us. We are telling you that we have been oppressed. The new Chiefs are also receiving bribes. Since the white men came, our oil does not fetch money. Our kernels do not fetch money. If we take goats or yams to the market to sell, court messengers who wear a uniform take all these things from us.”
  • “This means that there was a time before the current colonial system that women were not oppressed in the way they are not and that they are trying to change it for the future. There was also a system that did not include chiefs”
  • “Its is affirming to know things can and do change” 
  • “Its the same thing today. Being both oppressed by people in your community and also white community. This is Class struggle – something has changed and it needs to go”

Facilitator asks the group what they would do in this situation?

“ I don’t know. It is a lot to take in” 

“ It is hard to imagine what to do because theIngrained nature of colonization ; it becomes difficult when we are colonized and it’s been going on for so long. At the time, colonization is newer so opportunity to collectivize is more available and people being able”

“Yeah and there were already existing organizational structure that made it easy for them to get the message across 6 different tribes who speak different language and live very far apart. They used a special leave to communicate with over 25,000 women” 

Facilitator reviews some of the tactics used

  • Song
  • Dance
  • Sitting on man 
  • Going to individual’s compound and singing war songs and making derisive jokes, effectively forcing the individual to bend to their demands
  • Burning colonial buildings
  • Looting factories
  • Freeing prisoners
  • Baring breasts

“Many prisoners were elders or people who did not want to adhere to colonial rule” 

“Sit on the Man”

“Literally lol and then listing demands for accountability/reparative action for the harmed party (individual or the collective). Using what we have to get it done and see things through! Practical and largely nonlethal form of accountability.”

“It is pretty inspiring” 

“Importance of using what we have and what is around us. They did not have technology but they used things that are easy to access and they had the numbers” 

“Baring breasts in a tactic used all around the world but is very prevalent on the continent in many African cultures” 

Facilitator shows videos and images of people singing, dancing, including Area scatter (gender queer/trans Igbo person ) 

  • “ Celebration and joy used in that context . Today I feel that approach can be marketized. Well being culture ; it has replaced the tradition of creating music for community” 
  • “Singing and dancing is somewhere between that. It is song and dance for discipline and accountability. It’s not always a happy things. It is can be sorrowful song 
  • “Singing and dancing can be used on any occasion to communicate ideas. Also, a form of collective learning and build community among each other” 

Facilitator goes over some of the songs and sayings the women used during this war 

  • “Nzogbu, Enyimba Enyi” (lWe are like elephants, marching to battle, crushing obstacles on our way)
  • Ndem mbu Enyi, Enyi, Ndem Mbu Enyi (women were as strong as the elephant)
  • Nso itebe ntom? Mkpa etebe ntom. (What is the smell? Death is the smell!) 
  • Ihe putra anyi ge erne (whatever comes, we will face it!).

Facilitator asks what are some powerful words or sayings you would like to incorporate in the rev? 

  • “ I would have to think about it. I am still taking all of this in” 

Last words or reflections? 

  • What stood out for me was the “We are dying quote” 
    • “It starts out with “ we are all dying” and today we are still dying from all types of stuff. It is a call for us to start where people are. There has been a call for people looking for life and liberation. Meeting the material needs of people guaranteeing we can have life.”
  • “The Collectiveness of it all and making it practical with their demands.”
  • “How practical and real is that to have such a direct way in a way that is effective on a day to day basis. That sort of resistance and that’s what I’m left with.”
  • “I just learned from my mom that One of my grandmothers took part in  this riot. There is not a lot history with it. She definitely burned down one house. My mom said the spirit it had stayed with them. In the 60s, the nurses where my mom worked went on strike to stop working until they got a refund for their work”

Here is a google slides version of this Kickback

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