Women And Socio-Economic Development In Ibibio Land (1885-1970)

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Women And Socio-Economic Development In Ibibio Land (1885-1970)


Women and their contributions to the socio-economic development in the society is often rooted in controversies. This may be traced to their changing roles in terms of traditions, cultures, customs and beliefs. This dissertation invites attention to the prime contributions of Use-Offot women to the socio-economic development of Ibibioland. It examined the role of Use-Offot women in the socio-economic development of Ibibio society, from the pre-colonial period and terminates at the early years of post-colonial era (1885-1970). A review of related literature was done and investigation carried out in the course of this study and it was discovered that for any meaningful socio-economic development to occur in the society, there must be changes in discriminatory behviours, attitudes and values against women. It was also discovered that involving women in the socio-economic development programme of a society ensure a rapid development of the society. The finding of this study expose the fact that significant relationship existed between the level of educational attainment of women and women’s contribution to socio-economic development of the society, women’s active participation in politics and their contributions to development. The purpose of the present study is to access the social and economic development process of Ibibioland within the period being studied; to examine the contributions of women in the socio-economic development of Ibibioland; to assess how gender (sex) has affected the contributions of women to the socio-economic development of Ibibioland; to examine how the socio-economic development of Ibibioland has affected the status of women and to assess the socio-economic transformation in Ibibioland, and its impact on women within the period. This study employed the multi-disciplinary approach and recourse was made to other disciplines such as sociology, economics, political science, literary arts, religion, psychology and anthropology in the course of investigation. The crux of this paper is that socio-economic development of any society is centred on humans, and it is devoid of gender exclusivity. It was generally observed that Ibibio women has shown excellent industry in their ability and resolve to contribute to the socio-economic development of the society. It was also observed that the pre-colonial Ibibio women have transformed tremendously as could be seen in their educational attainment, population growth, technological advancement and feminine regime. Based on these findings, recommendations were made for the integration of more women into socio-economic development programmes of Akwa Ibom State.

Chapter One


1.1 Purpose of the study

There is hardly any aspect of Nigeria’s national life that has received so much attention in recent times as the role of women in the socio-economic development of the country. It is necessary to state here that the contributions of women are not a new phenomenon in Nigerian life. In pre-colonial Ibibio society “polygamy” was the accepted norm. With this institution, the Ibibio women was born, raised and given out in marriage. Her worldview, self concept and gender identity were nurtured within such an environment. Competition and survival was the name of the game which was played out endlessly among men and women. In such a highly competitive society, education, moral standards, taboos and expectations existed, all woven into an unwritten tradition and culture with sets of Divine punishment and records to enforce these beliefs. Well organized institutions existed to provide governmental and judicial instruments.

Within that society, Ibibio women had well defined roles, not as slaves, but as indispensable complements to man in procreation and in socio-economic development. The roles Ibibio women played were mutually supportive and even integrated into their family life in a very high degree. According to Chief Sylvester Inyang, the village-head of Use-Offot, Ibibio women bore children and looked after their daily needs. They maintained the home and did the cooking. In so doing they were expected to provide the condiments-pepper, oil, vegetables and other soup ingredients. In Use-Offot village, he continued, the man provided the main substances of the meals, normally the yams, meat or fish, oil and firewood. This he said was not an invariable role or rigid arrangement. But agriculture or farming which was the main source of sustaining a living was essentially a co-operative venture. The major work involving clearing of the bush for farming was generally the man’s job, gathering and burning the resultant trash was a joint endeavour, the tilling of the soil, hunting, most of the fishing, harvesting the palm nuts were task performed essentially by the man.

Marriage, according to Chief Nsini Ufeh, the village-head of Idu-Uruan, did not amount to a consignment of the women into slavery. It was usually a union of at least two families in which mutual honour was expected to be strictly observed and was generally so observed, thanks to the associated social and cultural sanctions. This element of mutual support and interdependence between male and female in pre-colonial Ibibio society is clear from the complementary nature of their roles. Almost invariably, every woman in Ibibioland, whether married or not, learnt a trade or occupation from which she supplemented the returns or earnings from agriculture. Some of these occupations like cloth-weaving and dying, hair plaiting or dress-making, pottery-making and the manufacturing of various foodstuffs such as garri, cow-meal added value to the family sustenance.

It is true that women had inferior status as many sociologists, anthropologists and even some economists suggest that social and cultural norms consigned the women to an inferior status. There are standards to justify this claim. That the roles of women differed in many respects from those of the male is natural and understandable; however, they were, and remain, mutually supportive. During the pre-colonial era, the role of Nigerian women in development revolved mainly around their efforts in different sectors towards maintaining the kin groups, adding that, pre-colonial Nigerian economy was basically at a subsistence level and Nigerian women participated effectively in the economic pattern. (Talbot 1968:34).

A woman who was totally dependent on her husband was not only rare, but was regarded with contempt. As the society moved away from this well ordered age towards modernity, due to European influences, the fabric that held the Ibibio women together started to disintegrate. Early Europeans writings about Ibibioland held the view, that a wife was her husband’s legal property, and was treated little better than a slave. It was viewed that their unfamiliarity with the people’s cultures might have led early Europeans to formulate such an opinion. As men, they were not privileged to interact freely with women. What they knew about women at that time came through male sources (interpreters and husbands), once that erroneous opinion was formed, it was upheld for a long time. It was exploited by the ruling classes, blacks or whites, who had early access to political power.

The point is that women exist amidst external environments-human rights, religious barriers, labour laws etc. these environments must be perceived as integral to the women in development concept. Neglecting development issues when speaking of women is just as bad as neglecting women when speaking of development. Yet some development and some sex/gender approaches persist in doing both. Women and socio-economic development is an inclusive term used throughout in this study to signify a concept whose long-range goal is the well-being of society, the community of men, women and children. Over the years, there has been a great debate as to what extent women contribute to the socio-economic development of society.

While it could be argued from two opposing ends, it is important to study this sociological problem with a view to finding out if women have actually been contributing to development. However, this research is about the prime contributions of Ibibio women to the socio-economic development of the society from the pre-colonial era and terminates at the on-set of the post-colonial era. The area under review being a patriarchal society explains why Ibibio women could not be relegated to the background completely during the pre-colonial period, but that it was the imposition of British rigid gender construction on the Ibibio traditional flexible gender system at the on-set of colonialism that helped to accentuate the exclusivity of women from the vital forces of change.

Having discussed the role of women in the socio-economic development of the society, it was observed that the pre-colonial Ibibio women have transformed tremendously as could be seen in their educational attainment, population growth, technological advancement and feminine regime. A consideration of the historical, social and cultural institutions of women in Ibibioland showcases the fact that there was gender equality of both sexes in pre-colonial times. Women during the period were not regarded as second class citizens, but were seen to perform the task assigned to them by the tradition of the people. On the whole, patriarchal leadership in Ibibioland never oppressed women since women traditional institutions were parallel to those of the men and often, the role of these institutions over-lapped.

As the society moved away from this well ordered age towards modernity due to European influence, the fabric that held Ibibio women together started to disintegrate. Gradually Ibibio women started adapting themselves to the new wave of change. It was not a sharp practice or development, but a development Ibibio women had to understudy and inculcate as their new way of life. It was the external factors like slave trade, western education, Christianity, as well as the new forms of patriarchal concepts introduced in Ibibioland under colonialism that accentuated the alienation of women. In Ibibio society and Nigeria at large, gender relations had existed and had to a great extent determined both the individual development of the Ibibio women and the society. It is asserted by Nwokocha (2004:25) that, the development of any society derives it force from the personal and collective development experienced by members of that society-males and females. Thus, socio economic development derives from the consistent development of the individual components of the society.

As events unfolded, Ibibio women started belonging to groups, organizations, trade and commerce. This awareness changed the horizon of the women. They started acquiring western education, their scope and knowledge began to change. It is this changing role from the two epoch of transition (pre-colonial to post colonial era) that this paper attempts to x-ray, to examine if there was any change in the transition of Ibibio women in their socio-economic role to the development of the society in general and in Ibibioland in particular. To seek to establish the changing pattern of gender relations among the Ibibio between 1885-1970. Most importantly, it seeks to examine the major contributions of Ibibio women to the socio-economic development of the society. This is based on the fact that socio-economic development is centred on humans, and it is devoid of gender exclusivity. It was therefore as a result of this gradual change and socio-economic role in the gender inequalities of women that prompted this investigation. It was generally observed that Ibibio women had shown excellent industry in their ability and resolves to be actively involved in activities favoured by the men. What gave them the impetus for these equal relations with the men? How can these equal relations be sustained? How did this situation impact on the socio-economic development role of Ibibio women to the society specially? How significant are the contributions of women to the development of Ibibio society? How can we remove impediments to their roles in the process of development? What do we mean by development? What measures should be taken to improve the participation of women in development? It is these and other posers that are the concern of this study.

This study entitled “women and socio-economic development in Ibibioland (1985-1970)” is very crucial to Ibibio and Nigeria’s social history, especially in the light of paucity of literature which refers to the present study. Although considerable research has been carried out about the Ibibio: particularly about their origins, migratory-routes, languages and settlement patterns, none in their entirety had been wholly devoted to the theme of this dissertation. For this reason, the study is relevant as it seeks to fill the gap in the historiography of Ibibioland. This study seeks to investigate the major contributions of Ibibio women in the socio-economic development of Ibibioland during the period under study. This is against the assumption that almost every literature on Ibibio focused on the contributions of men to the society, neglecting those of the women. This in itself will constitute a significant contribution to Ibibio social history. The findings of this study will constitute a viable source of information thereby enlarging the mass of existing literature on Ibibio historiography.

Moreover, the study has the potential to stimulate scholarly interests in feminism, gender studies and gender relations, hence contribute to knowledge in the sphere of Ibibio social history. This research work would be very useful in solving the problem of how women may be integrated more into the activities and programmes that promote the development of Akwa Ibom society and Nigeria at large. It would be of great assistance to the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), which is the umbrella organization of all women bodies in Nigeria, in its future consultations with the government on how women could be better incorporated into development projects carried out in the country. The study would also be of immense value to the personnel of the Ministry of Women Affairs in their developmental potentialities. Most importantly, the work will be an immense guide to the Federal Government in formulating genuine national policy on women.

From the foregoing, it is evident that little has been done on Ibibio women and their role in economic development. The available literature on Nigerian women has tended to merge the Ibibio with their dominant Igbo neighbours. While some of the ethnographic literature on the Ibibio refers to women, the historiography of the Ibibio pays little attention to women. The limitation of the written sources referred to above, means that his study is therefore an attempt to re-invent the socio-economic development roles, contributions and status of Ibibio women. It is the intention of this research to highlight the various anti-colonial protests and movements of Ibibio women to show that such was not limited to the Igbo women. Moreover, this research would show that the 1929 women’s political disturbances were not unique, but were part of a historical pattern. This dissertation argues that there were all kinds of differentiations based on gender conception and construction in Ibibio pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial societies that the self image and actions of Ibibio women were often gendered and as such embedded in complex interactive processes. The present study therefore examines the economic, political, social and religious institution in Ibibioland in order to outline the position of Ibibio women.

1.1 Objectives of the Study

The present study has the following objectives:

  1. To assess the social and economic development process of Ibibioland within the period being studied;
  2. To examine the contributions of women in the socio-economic development of Ibibioland;
  3. To assess how gender (sex) has affected the contributions of women to the socio-economic development of Ibibioland;
  4. To examine how the socio-economic development of Ibibioland has affected the status of women;
  5. To assess the socio-economic transformation in Ibibioland and its impact on women within the period.

1.2 Limitation of the Study

In keeping with the objectives of this study, the focus is mainly on Women and Socio Economic Development: A study of women in Ibibioland (1885-1970). That is, their strength and role in the socio-economic development in the society, the household, the factors which determined their participation, the question of the relationship between women’s participatory development and that of the men, their contributions to the social, economic, political development and the benefits accruing to them.

The ways of improving these benefits and the modalities for uplifting the welfare of women in Ibibioland will be attempted. Thus, the issue of women’s welfare, empowerment, their past and present role in the informal sector, the characteristics of these roles and the activities they embrace, the framework of women development issues, women activities (informal) and the economic, social, political and their occupational status are assessed in this study. For the purpose of this study, Ibibio women and the socio-economic development of the society, has been chosen as the study area. The researcher made comparison with other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to widen the scope of knowledge on the subject.

For the purpose of convenience and clarity, this research considered Ibibio women and their socio-economic development role in the society during the pre-colonial periods and terminates at the on-set of the post-colonial era (1885-1970). What factors inspired their transition? The changes Ibibio women adapted were predicated upon the result of the missionary enterprise and attendant impact in terms of Western education, Christianity, new vocations, as well as the articulation of the Ibibio society with the capitalist world economy. During this period many traditional ties and values slackened, owing to the introduction of Christian doctrines.

As research of this nature often portrays, a number of indices during the course of the study manifested to impede and impinge on data collection for the study. Paramount among these during oral interviews was the tendency on the part of some of the respondents to with-hold useful information. There were also constrains regarding the conduct of extensive interviews. The area of study was quite expansive and finance was glossly inadequate, thus constituting setbacks in the location of sources of data. Be that as it may, the data gathered from the sources at the researcher’s disposal are representative of the issues/factors investigated.

1.3 Methodology

This study employed the multi-disciplinary approach, for recourse was made to other disciplines such as sociology, economics, political science, literary arts, religion, psychology and anthropology. In the course of this study, effort was made to garner useful materials. These materials were obtained from the archives, books, relevant documents, journals, and oral interviews. In the final analysis, information was derived from the following sources.

1.3.1 Primary Sources
(a) Oral Tradition

Oral Tradition is the most important oral evidence. It covers virtually every aspect of life in society, except that they may not provide quantifiable data or may not adequately mirror unconscious change. In terms of reconstructing the socio-economic life of African community, oral traditions are really invaluable.

Oral tradition a specialized kind of oral evidence has been defined by Vansina (1985:13), as all verbal testimonies which are reported statements concerning the past. The reality of oral tradition as document from the past resides in the whole body or corpus of the community traditions rather than in individual texts, and include their relation to the ethnographic record of language, culture and artefacts. Zerro (1990:54) defined Oral tradition, as being a testimony transmitted verbally from one generation to another. It special features are the fact that it is verbal and the manner in which it is transmitted. It is thus certainly more fragile, than written records, which are embodied in objects such as manuscripts for instance. It should be added however, that there may be several traditions of a single event and, conversely, there are stereotyped and fixed version of oral tradition.

Oral tradition may originally be based either on an eye-witness account, or on an unsubstantiated rumour of purely personal inspiration, or else on an interpretation of other oral tests to produce an entirely new tradition. However, only tradition based from the outset on an eye-witness account are really valid.

Marwick (1970:24) reasoned that Oral tradition which take us back beyond living memory, are specially valuable, for societies where the written words is little used.

(b) Sources of Oral Information

This comprised oral interview which required that the researcher interact with the informants and where necessary ask questions with a view to collecting information on the subject of research. It involved travelling out of the locality where the researcher resides so as to obtain relevant information for the study. The researcher collected a lot of oral evidences and oral traditions from knowledgeable informants in Ibibioland. These informants were selected from different parts of Ibibioland for the purpose of emphasis and for averting ambiguities and inconsistencies.

(c) Archival Materials:

These were essentially documents and correspondences from the National Archive located at Calabar (NAC) which the researcher consulted.

1.3.2. Secondary Sources

This comprised all information derived from printed sources such as text books, journals, articles, magazines as found in both, private and public libraries, electronic data as derived from world wide website and Microsoft Encarta DVD. Below is a breakdown of the secondary sources.

(a) Private Libraries:

The researcher made use of the private libraries of some reputable scholars where-in some textbooks and journals were consulted. Among these were those belonging to Ambassador (Professor) O.E. Nya, Professor M. B. Abasiattai, Professor Dominus Essien, Professor I.V.O. Modo, and Professor Kalu Uka, Dr. Dominic Akpan, Dr Oto-Abasi Akpan, Dr. Edemekung, Dr. Peter Essoh and Dr. Damson. Another private library consulted was that of Elder Ita Iniekung.

(b) Public Libraries:

Similarly the researcher made use of such public libraries as those situated at the universities of Uyo, Calabar, and Ibadan. The Akwa Ibom State library located in the heart of Uyo was equally very useful. In these public libraries relevant textbooks were consulted.

(c) Electronic Database:

The internet was very helpful in this regard; resource materials which bore relevance to the study were electronically retrieved from the world wide websites (www). Equally use was the 2009 Microsoft Encarta DVD.

Chapter Five

Summary and Conclusion

5.1 Summary

The study has been concerned with Women and the socio-economic development of Ibibioland 1885-1970. The study was necessitated by the erroneous belief of some people that women do not contribute to the development of the society. The research reviewed relevant literature on the topic under consideration, examining women in pre-colonial Ibibioland, women in development and challenges facing women in Ibibioland. To achieve the objectives of this study, interviews was conducted and relevant books consulted to elicit information on the role of women and their socio-economic role in the society. It was observed that the level of educational attainment, women active participation in politics, existence of women oriented programmes, all have a positive relationship. Constraints to women participation in development were also identified. Finally, solutions and recommendation were proffered and how best to integrate women more into development processes.

5.2 Conclusion

The findings of this study provide us with some evidences to reach specific conclusions. That women do contribute to the development of their families and the society, but that there are still some hindrances militating against their full participation in developmental processes. It was observed in this research that there is a strong relationship between the level of educational attainment, women active participation in politics, the existence of women oriented programmes and women’s contributions to development. It can be concluded that women constitute more than half of Nigeria’s population and represent an important force in the dynamics of development. A developmental process that does not carry the women folk along is therefore unwholesome. For as Sankara (1998:18) said, decision-makers must concern themselves with women’s issue. To device development planning without the participation of women is like using four fingers when you have ten. By being proactive, government and the society can identify employment and income generation opportunities, assist women to gain equal access to essential information and resources (credit, land, agriculture inputs etc). also a strong commitment to women’s basic needs for education, healthcare, housing and food security combined with a high rate of investment, efficient use of capital and means of effectively participating in decision-making at all levels can go along way to provide a foundation for economic, social, and political development and this will provides an overall development of the society. The importance of women and their contribution to the development of the society has been recognized. As Snyder (1995:62) put it, the most serious problems of development defy solution without the active participation of women. Whether one holds a pragmatic or a humanistic view of development, the participation of women is necessary, and their involvement will hasten the development of the whole society. Since the study have shown that there is a significant relationship between level of educational attainment, active participation in politic and women’s contributions to development, the following recommendations are made in the light of that. Women oriented programme, such as the family support programme (FSP) despite their limitations can be beneficial to women and the society at large. And by encouraging women to voice their concerns and get involved in community affairs, women who had long been subordinated and silenced can empower themselves. Government need to inquire from ordinary women to find out what they want. Women want a serious programme that can yield good benefits to them. Most women are primarily interested in meeting their practical gender needs, they want things like access to clean water and the means to improve life for their children. Their main objective is to earn money through income-generating projects to help their families and communities, but some strategic gender needs should be addressed as well. It has been emphasized that women are pivotal to realizing development objectives and that every development intervention has an impact on people whether direct or indirect, whether intended or unintended. Consequently, it is vital that all project plans by government be scrutinized in terms of its consequences for women. To do so a number of techniques exist such as checklists and the use of quotus as earmarking of fund: women’s interest must be included in government plans at all stages of the project cycle, including project implementation and monitoring. In doing so, it is pertinent that the positive experiences on how to integrate women be fully utilized. It is where women have participated in defining project means and goals and have taken active part in project implementation that projects have succeeded in benefiting women.

This is one of the few researches on Ibibio women which covers such a long historical period. It is an in-depth academic inquiry on the Ibibio which tries to proffer reasons for the various anti-colonial struggles of Ibibio women and their sudden appearance on the Nigeria political scene. It forms a stepping stone for further research on Ibibio women particularly their socio-economic development role in the society. It is therefore a useful contribution as it demonstrates that women in their various geographical locations have contributed substantially to the development of their respective groups irrespective of the group’s political structure, demography or technological advancement. Ibibio women are therefore, very active ingredients in the historical development of not only South-Eastern Nigeria but Nigeria as a whole. This is because the reconstruction of Nigeria’s political history will be incomplete without the mention of the Women’s War of 1929 or what is wrongly termed “Aba Riot” in which Ibibio women were the dominant participants who paid the capital price with their own lives. Hence, they set the stage for subsequent Nigerian Nationalism.

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