THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN WEST
AFRICA AND THE SLAVE TRADE
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Arhin, Kwame The
Political and Military Roles of Akan Women in Oppong, Christine ed. Female
and Male in West Africa G. Allen and Unwin London 1983 (notes)
Members of the
royal matrilineage had access to the largest tract of the land belonging
to the community, the largest collection of slaves, mmonko, which
freed their women from most menial services, and also the largest hoard
of gold dust.
counterpart of ohene, of the same mogya (blood or clan)
'mother' of the ohene, she was the ohene's most effective adviser and
she had the right to administer to him a public admonition
- wisdom personified - thus moral guardian of females of the political
community and a kind of moral censor
adolescent girls before puberty rites, licensed marriage, was expected
to say whether pregnancy had occurred before the rites
authority on genealogy of royal matrilineage
played leading role in choosing successor to ohene
Akan matrilineage incorporated into it 'stranger' segments which in time
became concealed. Stranger segments could be descended from slave women
or freeborn women of another clan whose descendants were not eligible.
Regarding succession, Ohemaa consulted members of the matrilineage, her
husband and community at large through her nkotimsefo - household
servants - who were so selected as to represent various sectors of the
Kolawole, Mary E. Modupe, An African View of
Transatlantic Slavery and the Role of Oral Testimony in Creating a New
Legacy in Tibbles, Anthony (ed.), Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human
Dignity, HMSO, 1994
- 107 Slave
revolts, insurrections in Africa, en route and on the plantations
in the Diaspora did not exclude women.
108 Revolts in slave warehouses at El Mina castle
. . . cut across gender lines.
108 Women used oral as well as written poems,
songs, folk-tales, proverbs, anecdotes, parables and fables to transpose
African culture to the new world as well as relive their African
Patrick, The Impact of the Slave Trade on the Societies of West and Central
Africa in Tibbles, Anthony (ed.), Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human
Dignity, HMSO, 1994
- 101 Women
enslaved in the interior of Africa tended to be kept by African owners.
102 The long experience
of the slave trade must have had a profound effect on the thinking of
Africans. . . . Slavery and the slave trade . . . brought dreams
of wealth and power, as seen in . . . the golden regalia of Asante . . .
On the other hand it brought the rejection of hierarchy and a strong
desire for independence and equality. This egalitarian ideal is
evident in the willingness of people to live in isolated villages to
avoid submitting to slave raiders, and in the development of an artistic
tradition, abstract in form, that emphasized ties to the ancestors and
to such basic life forces as the earth. The position of women in
African society today reflects both sides of the earlier choice:
women play full and independent social roles, especially in commerce;
yet the majority of slaves in Africa were women, and all women have
suffered some oppression as a result.
Patrick, Slavery and African Life, Cambridge, 1990
- 119 .
. . since a slave woman had no lineage except that of her master, a
man's sons by slave wives would be in his own lineage - or in no lineage
at all. Thus for a man to marry his female slave provided more than the
advantages of his personal power over here. It also gave him new control
- not to be shared by his brothers or elders - over the labor of his
offspring and the inheritance of his goods, without formally breaking
matrilineal descent rules.
123 . . . the sharp increase in the number of
slave concubines and wives in the era of slave exports, many of them in
positions of utter dependence on their men, certainly served to degrade
all wives and to drive them toward the position of the slaves.
Jennifer Lyle, Women in Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in
Tibbles, Anthony (ed.), Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity, HMSO,
- 61 Those
Africans sold on the transatlantic slave trade were the men and women
who were not highly valued, for whatever reason, by the men and women
who made them available to the European purchasers.
62 At these fortresses
women were subjected to the sexual demands of the white men who were
stationed there to oversee the business of enslavement. These factors,
as they were called, required enslaved women to clean and cook for
them as well as to submit to sexual advances. The only thing that
could work in the favour of these women was that they were subjected to
a stable situation which could ultimately provide them with means to
escape or manoeuvre. . . .
This . . . could mean, for those amongst the first to be enslaved, weeks
on board a ship before setting out on open sea. In this situation
. . .women were particularly vulnerable to exploitation and
assault on the part of European sailors anxious to give vent to their
Once a loaded slave ship left the African coast, the seven or eight week
journey to the Americas began. On many ships, women were allowed a
limited degree of freedom which was denied to the enslaved men.
63 The women's relative
freedom of mobility allowed them to move about and communicate with one
another in a fashion the men could not. . . . women took advantage
of that freedom to plan revolts or attacks upon the white sailors who
enslaved them. For most women however, time above deck meant
unwanted exposure. It subjected them to rape and attack from
65 Enslaved women's lives
in the Americas were characterized, above all, by incessant work.
Beck, Evelyn, Bibliography: Gender and the
Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
Bush, Barbara, Slave Women in Carribean
Robertson, Claire and Klein, Martin (eds.), Women
and Slavery in Africa, U of Wisconsin Press, 1983.
Small, Stephen, Racist
Ideologies in Tibbles, Anthony (ed.), Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human
Dignity, HMSO, 1994
Angela Davis, Women Race and Class, The Women's Press, 1981) . . . 'rape
was a weapon of domination, a weapon of repression, whose covert goal was to
extinguish slave women's will to resist, and in the process, to
demoralize their men.'