Caitlin Hoover

Professor Campbell

Due: February 23rd, 2016

Reflections on “Male Daughters, Female Husbands”


        “Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society” by Ifi Amadiume explores the historical role of gender for Igbo peoples in Nigeria. She explains how authority, power, and wealth were distributed evenly across genders in Igbo society. She also gives clear descriptions of the roles female organizations and male organizations played in Igbo society as well as how their worship of the goddess Idemili and ideology of matriarchal family units set Igbo society apart from Western societies. The book then goes on to dissect how colonialism brought new ideas of gender roles from the West and ultimately set Nigeria on a course of female oppression. The effects of colonialism and forced Western concepts of life on the people of Nigeria can still be seen throughout the country today. This paper will summarize the main themes of the book by part, then analyze these themes in relation to Western concepts of gender, religion and patriarchy.


Part One: The 19th Century

        In part one of her book, Amadiume paints a picture of Igbo civilization. She explains how in precolonial Africa both genders had access to power, and held important roles within society. Women drove the marketplace and wealth for women consisted of “livestock, fowls, dogs, rich yields in farm and garden crops, lots of daughters, who would bring in-laws and presents, and many wealthy and influential sons”[1] while wealth for men, “consisted of houses, many wives and daughters, livestock, voluntary and involuntary titles, yam and cocoyam farms and a huge oba ji, yam store, an extensive ani obi, ancestral compound, with surrounding lands, and osisi uzo, food and cash-crop trees.”[2] 

Women could acquire more wealth, titles, and prestige than their husbands, “very wealthy women soon overshadowed their husbands to the extent that the men were no longer known by their own names, but by reference to their role as husband.”[3] Women were also the only ones able to gain the Ekwe title, “whatever such a woman touched yielded multiple profits: all her crops increased, her domestic animals reproduced prolifically and were not killed by diseases, her chicks were not carried off by hawks. These signs were reported to the messenger of the goddess Idemili, who would then, through divination, tell the woman that the goddess Idemili was knocking at her door. This meant that she had been favored and chosen by the goddess to take her title of Ekwe.”[4] This title meant an accumulation of wealth, charisma, and respect within the community.

 In addition to men and women having equal roles and access to wealth within society, gender relations were extremely flexible. “This flexible gender system resulted not only in role ambiguity, but also in status ambiguity. In the political system there was a flexibility in gender classification which allowed the incorporation of certain categories of woman into the male category, giving them positions of authority in the power structure.”[5] Daughters could be given the status of a son as “Male Daughters” thus allowing them to inherit their father’s wealth, prosperity and obi. Wealthy women could be given the status of “Female Husbands” where they could take a wife in woman-to-woman marriage and acquire more wealth. Women therefore had a role in politics along with men, and were praised for their industriousness. In fact, Igbo society centered many of its religious practices on a goddess named Idemili. Further praising the female embodiment of power. “On the one hand, there was a body of beliefs and practices embedded in a matriarchal ideology derived from the worship of the goddess Idemili”[6]

Part Two: The Colonial Period

        In part two of her book, Amadiume explains how colonialism brought about the erosion of women’s power in Igbo society. The first thing British colonialism did was demolish the flexible gender system, “Whereas indigenous concepts to flexible gender constructions in of access to power and authority mediated dual-sex divisions, the new Western concepts introduced through colonial conquest carried strong sex and class inequalities supported by rigid gender ideology and constructions; a woman was always female regardless of her social achievements or status.”[7] Igbo women protested this enforcement of patriarchal societal views through “the dancing women’s movement of 1925”, however British colonialism continued to enforce patriarchal ideology.

This can be seen in their enforcement of the Christian religion, “Church and school were synonymous. Classes were in fact held in church buildings and no one was admitted into the school who had not been converted to Christianity.[…] The first lessons and teachings focused on the condemnation of indigenous religion and beliefs.”[8] It was through this that colonialists insisted God was male and men held more authority than women.

 “Not only did Christianity condemn the goddess religion, but it also banned the associated Ekwe title.”[9] Thus successfully taking away a huge chunk of authority and respect for women. This limited their abilities to accumulate wealth as well as woman-to-woman marriage was no longer allowed because “Male Daughters” and “Female Husbands” were outlawed titles. Christianity was also associated with commerce, thus stripping the female role in the marketplace. “…Nnobi women became more constrained, less mobile, and generally poorer. Men, on the other hand, became richer, gaining new wealth and new ideologies which they employed in the gender war, reinforcing their determination to marginalize women’s position.”[10]

Part Three: The Post-Independence Period

        In part three of her book, Amadiume discusses how the positions of women became marginalized by colonialism, the female gender lost access to titles and wealth, and females were essentially “trained” by the British to be docile and good wives. “Decisions on, and the imposition of levies for community projects such as the building of schools, churches, maternity homes, assembly halls, roads, piped-water and electricity systems, police barracks and post offices etc., were made by men. Women, even though also liable to pat the levies, became an unwaged labor force for bush-clearing, carrying sane and wood, and fetching water, and in general became the public cleansing department and an entertainment group to dance for local chiefs and politicians.”[11] Women were marginalized, lost their voice in politics, and leaders of the once great and influential Women’s Council were arrested[12]. Women were degraded to commodities through capitalism and their bodies were sexualized.


Throughout the book, Ifi Amadiume proves that Western concepts of Gender, Religion, and Patriarchy are not always beneficial in a society. In fact, the author argues that these Western concepts were detrimental to the well-being and success of the Igbo society and of Nigeria as a whole. Before colonization, women had a respected and safe place in society. Women and men had the ability to acquire wealth, get married, hold titles to authority, have a voice in politics, and to maintain societal rules. Women no longer have the ability to acquire wealth, let alone gain enough wealth to have influence in any part of society. All titles giving women power have been stripped away, taking their voice in politics and community with them. In addition, society has moved so far away from matriarchal ideologies that it practically condemns them. Patriarchy has consumed complete control of Nigeria.

We can still see the after-effects of colonialism in Nigeria today. Islam and Christianity are continuing to enforce patriarchal societal views upon Nigerian people, and gender-based violence is at an all-time high. Without groups such as the Women’s Council and Lineage Daughters, the interests and well-being of women is not being protected. Capitalism has taken over the marketplace and all things are seen as a commodity. This includes marriage, development, crops which once held high spiritual prestige such as yam and palm, and even women’s bodies.

There is a clear unequal distribution of power and men are not held to the same standards which they were pre-colonialism. This can be seen in the case of Nigerian woman Amina Lawal who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, but the man she committed adultery with, was free from condemnation[13]. Sharia law has been brought into Nigeria through the spread of Islam, which would not have spread so widely if not for pre-existing patriarchal views present as aftermath of British colonialism. Amadiume argues that if British colonialism had not taken place and enforced Western concepts of gender, religion and patriarchy, Nigeria would not be in the current state it is in. Therefore, these concepts have been used as a method of female oppression since they were introduced, and female oppression cannot be beneficial to any society’s growth.


        In conclusion, the oppression of the female gender was enforced on Nigerian society through British colonialism. This oppression came steadily through the seizure of women’s ability to accumulate wealth, power and voice within the community. It then spread patriarchal views through the veil of Christianity and Western capitalism. Through capitalism all things became commodities and ties to the goddess Idemili were lost. Thus, Western concepts of gender, religion and patriarchy stifled the growth of Nigerian society.


Amadiume, Ifi. Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society. 2015 ed. London: Zed Books, 1987. Print.

Sengupta, Somini. "Facing Death for Adultery, Nigerian Woman is acquitted." New York Times. N.p., 26 Sept. 2003. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/26/world/facing-death-for-adultery-nigerian-woman-is-acquitted.html>.

[1] Amadiume, page 31

[2] Amadiume, page 31

[3] Amadiume, page 48

[4] Amadiume, page 43

[5] Amadiume, page 51

[6] Amadiume, page 99

[7] Amadiume, page 119

[8] Amadiume, page 121

[9] Amadiume, page 123

[10] Amadiume, page 143

[11] Amadiume, page 147

[12] Amadiume, page 152

[13] Sengupta, 2003