Actual History: Refusal 8

I’m working to learn more from the stories of people who have refused and rejected attempts to exploit and tyrannize them, and I thought you might like to do that, too.

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Women in the provinces of Calabar and Owerri fought the Women’s War, Ogu Umunwanyi or Ekong Eban, in the fall and winter of 1929.  British colonizers had appointed “warrant chiefs” in place of the chiefs that the Igbo people elected, and when these British-appointed chiefs and the colonizers who appointed them threatened to tax the women who sold food to the growing cities, and sacriligeously invaded their privacy with the excuse of calculating this tax, Andoni, Ibibio, Igbo, Ogoni, Bonny and Opobo women began to plan and discuss resistance.

Beginning in November of 1929, the women blockaded roads, knocked down telegraph poles and severed wires. They attacked the Essene “Native Court” and released people imprisoned there, burned down other Native Court buildings and attacked European-owned stores and banks. They chanted threatening songs and organized ceremonial mockery (“sitting on him”) of the warrant chiefs, wearing palm leaves as a symbol of the summons to action and a mark of protection. Between 15,000 and 25,o00 women resisted in this way, destroying property and attacking pride and status but killing  no one.

Colonial authorities, on the other hand, killed many of the women in fear and retaliation. They did ultimately abandon the plans for a tax, curb the power of the warrant chiefs, and acknowledge the necessity for women’s involvement in governing, but as we know, they did not leave.

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As always, I’ve attempted to source this well, but if anyone has any corrections I will take them.

In learning this story I was particularly struck by the destruction of relevant property (businesses owned by colonizers, buildings that represented and inflicted the unjust law), the release of prisoners, the severing of one form of communication and the use of another, and the work done by mockery and shame.

If you want to honor the women of the Women’s War, you could start by learning about the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and their fight against Shell Oil, and get a North American you know who’s thinking about “volunteering in Africa” to do the same. (I’m looking for additional things you could do, but wanted to post this.)

 

 

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