Sitting on a man refers to an Igbo method of public shaming, often employed by women, involving the assembly at a man's hut or workplace to express grievances through dance, song, and symbolic acts such as pounding walls or removing roof thatching. This custom, also known as "making war on a man," was practiced against men and women alike, serving as a means of resistance and preserving social and political equilibrium during pre-colonial times.[1][2]


Historical context edit

Igbo political system edit

The political structure of the Igbo people was rooted in collectivism, where authority wasn't centralized but shared. Decision-making took place through village assemblies where concerns were discussed and consensus reached. While both men and women could lead, patrilineal norms favored men. Women's influence derived from their achievements, with no explicit power limitations. Although rare, women's involvement in political matters was accepted and facilitated by their participation in specific gatherings, such as "Mikiri" and "Mitiri," where they discussed matters of mutual interest.[2]

Women's role in politics edit

Igbo women had a significant presence in traditional politics, with the freedom to voice their opinions based on merit. Their influence was determined by their contributions rather than husbands' achievements. While restrictions existed, women engaged in discussions concerning their interests and concerns. Patriarchal norms persisted, leading to a disparity in status, despite women's active roles. Women's meetings were categorized as "Mikiri" and "Mitiri," fostering discussions on trade, farming, and other shared activities. These forums served as a platform for women to organize and express themselves, sometimes resorting to strikes and boycotts, which eventually evolved into the practice of "sitting on a man."[2]

The practice of sitting on a man was a collective response to various transgressions, including mistreatment of wives, destruction of crops, market violations, or marital disputes. Women would consult the mikiri assembly, seeking support before engaging in the practice. Dressed in ferns and loincloths, with painted faces and palm frond-adorned sticks, women demonstrated unity and reinforced their societal influence.[3]

Colonial influence edit

Resistance strategies edit

In the early 20th century, Igbo women responded to political reforms during Colonial Nigeria by organizing protests against the Native Administration. "Sitting" on Warrant Chiefs emerged as a prominent form of resistance. The Women's War highlighted the adaptation of "sitting on a man" as a response to imposed indirect rule. Protests featured singing, dancing, and invading personal spaces, aiming to capture the attention of Warrant Chiefs. The involvement of colonial representatives' wives pressured Warrant Chiefs to address women's concerns, leading to the widespread use of "sitting on the Warrants" as a resistance tactic.[4]

Impact and transformation edit

During the pre-colonial era, Igbo women held significant social and political positions, despite being subordinate to men. Their involvement allowed them to engage in village politics and influence decision-making. However, the colonial period brought changes, as missionaries sought to reshape Igbo society, emphasizing Christian values and suppressing Pagan rituals like Mikiri. The practice's criminalization and altered gender roles disrupted women's influence, and the emphasis on education for boys further marginalized girls. Despite some missionary support for women's suffrage, colonial rule eroded women's political standing and traditional roles, perpetuating gender disparities.[2]

By reshaping social institutions, colonialism negatively impacted women's rights and social status, undermining their means of influence. The ban on Mikiri and altered societal norms relegated women to subservient roles, affecting trade practices and the ability to address abuses. As traditional gender relations shifted, women's empowerment suffered, leaving a lasting legacy of inequality.[2]

Notes edit

  1. ^ Van Allen, Judith (1976). "'Aba Riots' or Igbo 'Women's War'? Ideology, Stratification and the Invisibility of Women". Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change. Stanford University Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-0-8047-6624-1.
  2. ^ a b c d e Van Allen, Judith (1972). ""Sitting on a Man": Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women" (PDF). Canadian Journal of African Studies. 6 (2): 165–181.
  3. ^ French, Marilyn (2008). From Eve to Dawn: Revolutions and the struggles for justice in the 20th century. New York: Feminist Press at CUNY. p. 287. ISBN 978-1-55861-628-8.
  4. ^ Sheldon, Kathleen (2005). "Sitting on a Man". Historical Dictionary of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lanham (Maryland): Scarecrow Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-8108-5331-7.