3. Did Igbo society and colonial officials interpret events differently?
Colonial officials and African women, and, indeed, African men who testify as well, are in some ways on completely different levels. Theyre not even talking to each other in some respect. There was no obvious leader. The women didnt see things that way. And the idea of what the revolt was about was also quite different in the minds of colonial officials and the women who were involved.
Aba riots comes from the name of one of the towns, Aba, where the women congregated. The officials saw it as disorderly, as chaotic, as disruptive. They said the women were hysterical. But in this area, the women uniformly referred to it as a Womens War, and that actually harkens back to something from the precolonial era. It was a practice that women had where they could make their grievances known against men in what was a male-dominated, by-and-large, society.
Its a very decentralized society. Its a society where women marry into villages that are full of men who are related. They all come in as wives when theyre adults. Because the women are strangers, they have ties to other wives in that village. They also have ties back to their birth communities, and so theres these networks of women across Igbo society. Theres no obvious chiefly authority, central authority. Things are run through councils of elders, through womens societies, through religious societies.
There are ways to mobilize people, especially women, very rapidly across long distances. If a wife in one of these Igbo societies was being abused by her husband and nothing could be done to alleviate the problem through the normal channels, women had an extreme practice they could do which was called sitting on a man. And what it meant was that all the women from the community would come and sit outside the homestead of the offending husband and they would sing offensive songs. They would mock his sexual prowess. They would make fun of him. They would torment him day and night. Women might go on strike and refuse to cook for their husbands and refuse to have sex with their husbands until the grievance was met.
So this was an exceptional practice, but it was something that everybody knew about that could be resorted to. And its largely the model that women follow when they undertake this campaign against colonial taxation. Because colonial officials essentially know nothing about the society, this completely surprises them. In fact, I dont believe there was a single colonial official at this time who spoke Igbo, the local language.