Sitting on a man
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"Sitting on a man" is a method of employed by Igbo women of publicly shaming a man by convening upon his hut or workplace; women may dance, sing songs detailing grievances with his behavior, beat on the walls of his home with yam pestles, or, occasionally, tear the roof from his home. The practice is also referred to as "making war on" a man and may be employed against women as well. "Sitting on a man", along with strikes and various other resistance methods, ultimately functions as a tool for women to maintain balance of both social and political power throughout pre-colonial times; however, this status would be negatively impacted by colonialism.
There were multiple reasons a man could be subjected to the practice of "sitting on a man". If a man was found mistreating his wife, allowing his cows to eat the women's crops, breaking the rules of the market, or causing marital disputes, women would collectively consult with the mikiri (a forum which which gave women the opportunity to gather for political, kinship, and market regulation issues) in support of the women making the grievance, and employ the practice. Women would wear ferns on their heads and don loincloths. They would paint their faces with charcoal and carry sticks wreathed with palm fronds. Such a display of solidarity among women reinforced their influential role in society, offered access to autonomy throughout precolonial times, and lent itself as an effective measure to enact change.
In the early twentieth century, women in British Nigeria organized anti-colonial protests in response to political reforms regarding the Native Administration."Sitting" on Warrant Chiefs was a prominent method of resistance. The Women's War was a significant demonstration of the adaptation of "sitting on a man" in efforts of resistance from imposed indirect colonial rule in British Nigeria. Protests would often consist of singing and dancing around homes and offices, invading personal spaces, and other actions which demanded the attention of the Warrant Chiefs. Wives of the local colonial representatives were often disturbed by this form of protest and aided in encouraging Warrant Chiefs to adhere to the requests and demands of the women. "Sitting on the Warrants," became a widespread colonial resistance tactic utilized by women in Nigeria.
Igbo women held significant social and political standings (while still second to men), colonial imposition excluded women from political settings and activities, despite resistance, this alteration in social institutions negatively affected women’s rights and status in society by de-legitimizing their means of influence. This was done through the outlawing of the practice of “sitting on a man” in the new British Administration. The criminalization of the tactic was not necessarily deliberate, as colonists were naïve of the functions and implications of the practice, nevertheless through disturbing women’s means of balancing power, colonialism detrimentally effected Igbo gender relations and societal structures.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Judith, Allen. "Sitting On A Man":Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women. Canadian Association of African Studies. p. 171.
- 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.