Female Masculinities, Dissident Sexuality, and the Material Politics of Gender in Early Twentieth-Century Igboland

Colonialism, Christianity, and Western education alienated women from the dominant resources of social mobility, which resulted in the masculinization of wealth in early twentieth-century Igboland. This article examines women’s individual challenges to changing practices of gendered access, sexuality, and power. By performing ogaranya (wealth-power) masculinity through trade, mediumship, and matronship, Ohafia women expanded the ideological scope of gender hegemony beyond colonial patriarchal structures. The case studies of two Ohafia women, Unyang Uka and Otuwe Agwu, who performed ogaranya masculinity and the dissident sexuality of oke-nwami (masculine female husband), bridge a gap in gender theory in African studies by reconciling the literature on West African women’s power and authority with the nascent field of African masculinity studies. They show that changes in women’s sociopolitical power paralleled the shifting constructions of masculinity in West Africa. Igbo women’s masculinity performances simultaneously elided and reinforced changing notions of gendered power.

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