African women throughout history have always been active in agriculture, trade, economic, and even political pursuits but today, the majority of them have been relegated to the informal labor force represented in part by the market women and canny female entrepreneurs who are truly responsible for keeping the continent afloat during post-colonial times. These women are guardians of their children’s welfare and have an explicit responsibility to provide for them materially thus they are the household managers, providing nutrition, health and education, as well as passing the important cultural values which have sustained them so well throughout the harsh times of conquest and colonialization to an extent greater than elsewhere in the developing world, and indeed the entire world.
This unfortunately, places a heavy burden on them and despite developments such as improved agriculture technology, availability of contraception, and changes in women’s socio-economic status, which one might think would have made their lives easier, in fact, it would be fair to say that their workload has increased with the changing economic and social situation in Africa. Women’s economic capabilities, and in particular, their ability to manage family welfare, are being threatened because ‘modernization’ has shifted the balance of advantage against African women. The legal framework and the modern social sector and producer services developed by the independent African countries under the careful tutelage of the West, have not served African women well.
Historically speaking, Africans have always placed a higher socio-economic value on women than is given to women in most other cultures. For example. In African tradition, it is the family of the prospective groom who pays the dowry rather than the bride’s family, which is the case in most other cultures and because in Europe, where historically women were only one step above property, as they were bartered and traded for economic, social and political gains, the colonialization of African by Europeans resulted in the adoption of many European values which are anathema to African culture. As a result, the logical and pragmatic tradition of placing higher socio-economic value on women in Africa, and embracing women in positions of power is quickly disappearing.
Over the next month I will be examining in detail the role of the African Matriarchy from ancient times to modern times and eventually the great differences between the African-American Matriarchy, which I have previously discussed, and the African Matriarchy, in an effort to both illuminate the growing distance between the two cultures and also to place at the forefront once more the incredible contributions of African women in the birth and expansion of the kingdoms and empires of the past, all the way to their admirable efforts in maintaining the family structure alongside the economic status quo in a rapidly developing African continent. But with the insidious spread of Occidental values into traditional African society we see that the potentially disastrous influence of these Western traditions which, although they seemed to have helped the rapid economic growth the continent, they have also quietly begun to erase millenia of rich tradition which have guided and nurtured Africans throughout some of the darkest times in its long history.
The first topic in the upcoming week I will discuss is the role of African women in ancient times, from the powerful female rulers such as Hatshepsut, who was one only two confirmed females to actually formally take the title and rule as Pharaoh in 1478 BC for twenty years in ancient Egypt, the canny Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba in what was then 16th Century present day Angola who outwitted the Portuguese and ended their despicable slave trading endeavors in her kingdom after the murder of her brother and king Alfonso by the Portuguese, the Amazons of Dahomey, an elite and truly mighty force of undefeated female warriors in what is now the country of Benin who provided the last fierce resistance to the French invasion of the kingdom between 1890-92 and the Ashanti Matriarchs of Ghana who still to this day invest the elected king one of the richest and most powerful African kingdoms in the modern world with his royal power and divine mandate.