The Place of Women in AKU Development
Every society is distinct, in large part, to the extent to which there are cultural divisions of activities that define roles taking between the men and women folks. This article written by Dr. (Mrs.) R. A. Ocho and first published in the Visions, a Journal of Ejuona Acada Front, AKU, Vol.1 No.1, 2000, pp. 66-74, examines the place of women in AKU development efforts within the context of the culturally defined activities under the purview of the women. Through historical nay sociological account, the article captures how the improved egalitarian principles of AKU in comparison with any other culturally defined community elsewhere in Nigeria, encourage her women to be catalysts for development. In farming, trading, community governance, education etc. the women stand out. The outstanding AKU moral system that disposes the AKU women to play significant roles in family and community development is not left out in the article. Areas of improvement to enable the women stand out in contemporary society are also well documented. (Please see the full text of the article in the link that follows for details). Enjoy the piece.
THE PLACE OF WOMEN IN AKU DEVELOPMENT
Dr (Mrs) R.A. Ocho
In all societies there are cultural divisions of activities between the male and the female. In all societies, too, women play many roles; for example, the woman is a wife, a mother, a farmer, a labourer, a trader, a teacher, a nurse, etc. Most women combine two or more of these roles. The cultural division of activities places the female as the principal actress in child rearing; the man on his part is expected to be more outgoing and more adventurous than the woman. The man is expected, if need be, to sacrifice his life in the defense of his society.
Through the centuries, almost every society has developed definite ideas of what activities are proper for women. It is believed by many societies that the woman’s major role is to bear children and take care of the family. This may be the reason for the old adage that the “woman’s place is in the home.”
The women, after the delivery of her child, starts breast feeding the child. As the child is developing, the woman plays the major roles in the training and shaping the behaviour of the child. In this way, the woman contributes to the development of the child right from birth.
Aku Women in the Development of Aku
The literary meaning of development is gradual growth of something so that it becomes bigger or more advanced. Development also means a new event. It is putting in place new phenomenon. The writer is of the view that the Aku woman is an indispensable tool in the development of the town. In Aku, for example, there are two dominant economic activities. The activities are farming and trading. Both male and female are expected to participate in farming. The major roles of the male in this context are: tilling the soil, preparing mounds and heaps, sowing yams and staking yams. The women are engaged in cooking while farming is going on, weeding the farm, planting vegetables and the so called women crops like beans, melon, okro, etc.
Trading in the olden days before the establishment of British rule was a dangerous undertaking because in Igbo land each community was independent of the other and movement from one community to the other required diplomatic passes issued through in-laws and friends. For this reason, distant trading was almost exclusively the preserve of men. A good evidence of this was posited by Afigbo in Okikpe (1997) where according to him (Eru) Aro people who were major traders in slaves and “Ekwa Eru” (Aro textile) and “Ede Eru” (Aro cocoyam) were trade partners to Aku people. When there was a decline in slave trade because of the cessation of the Atlantic slave trade in the 1860’s, the Aro retreated to Amokwe Udi from where they came to Aku to buy “akiri Utu” (latex from wild vines).
After the spoiling of the market for slaves, according to Afigbo, Aku started moving further in search of trade. They went to Ejule to buy horses, to Nike and Uburu to buy salt, Ekwa, Eru, gun powder, potash and selling in return, horses, “ajima” (woven Cloth), dogs and “akiri utu”. Aku people then came to be known at Uburu as Aku Mgbugbu from the “mgbugbu” (pigeon peas) which they were noted for bringing to the Uburu market. He mentioned the prominent Aku distant traders, such as: Ozo Nwa Offie and Attah Ezea. These people traded far and wide at times not touching home for a whole year because they moved from one market to another.
With the establishment of British rule at the beginning of the 20th century, relatively more peaceful conditions prevailed and women were encouraged to participate more in trading than before. Courageous women joined the men in distant trading. Ochiebo Nwugwu from Ezelu Obie-Aku, according to Okechukwu in Okikpe (1974) competed with the men in articles of trade for distant trading. In addition, she participated in bringing the Protestant Mission, Church Missionary Society (CMS) to Aku in 1932.
How Aku Culture Encouraged Women to
Participate more in Farming and Trading
Unlike many African systems, Aku women were allowed to own property whether of crops or proceeds from trading. Unlike other African cultures, Aku women own economic trees, e.g. palm tree, oil bean tree, locust bean tree, bread-fruit tree, banana, plantain, etc. However, Aku culture does not allow women to own kola nut tree, coconut tree and Ukakarami. Women were not allowed to own yams, cocoyams, but they own vegetables, okro, melon, garden egg, beans, pumpkin, etc.
Men own yams, cocoyam, “okpa” (ground pea) and maize. Women were allowed to sell the crops which belong to them and also trade on other goods which they find convenient. They were allowed to own the fruits of their trading activities. The Aku woman were allowed to use her money the way she desires though she needs permission of her husband to spend money on her paternal home. This makes it possible for her to build a house for her husband if the husband has no comfortable house. She may marry a wife for her husband or for her son. To crown it all, the Aku woman may single-handedly train her child up to tertiary level of education. Many of our professors in different academic fields, engineers, medical doctors, architects, teachers were trained by either their mothers, step-mothers, rich sisters or fathers or combination of all or some of the above.
As farming crops are culturally divided between men and women in Aku, the two seasons in the year are shared between men and women in terms of family feeding. The men are required by culture to feed the family during the harvesting season while the women are responsible for feeding the family during the planting season. In other words, women feed the family when the major crops have been planted, “oge uya” (famine period).
Another aspect of culture that encourages the women production is the moral system. In Aku culture, adultery by women is a heinous crime. While it is also a heinous crime for men, the circumstances surrounding that of the men are limited. While it is defilement for married women to commit adultery anywhere and with any man, it becomes defilement for a man only when the sexual partner is a married woman of his extended family, i.e. within the group who worship the same god of the land.
In Aku culture, it is not the business of the husband to police the wife because it is believed that the god of the land follows the woman wherever she goes. Even if she is in another continent, it will visit her with retribution for committing adultery.
Ironically, this belief that the god of the land looks after the behaviour of married women has given the women freedom to trade anywhere or to farm alone anywhere. It has given them the freedom to spend four or more days in distant trading at a street without incurring the suspicion of the husband and his relative.
From about 1920 to the present it would be correct to say that more Aku women participate in trading activities than the men
Aku Women Assembly
The Aku Women Assembly has long been in existence. The exact date it was formed was not known, but according to history, by 1926 Aku women organized and fought a just war when British rule of the 20th century introduced a kind of peace-keeping force in all districts in the country. There were police and army to keep peace and order in towns and districts. Judicial courts were in existence for people to lodge their complaints. In the year 1926 according to Okechukwu in Okikpe (1974), Aku women took the laws into their hands and challenged the chiefs in Aku who conscripted Aku young men into going to construct the Eha-Amufu railway line. Ugwumanu and Ugwuisife were the chiefs. Aku women organized demonstrations protesting that their children should not take part in the construction of Eha-Amufu railways. They marched to Ugwumanu and Ugwuisife respectively, chanting as they were going – “Onyonyo Muru Nwanya” (the woman is the mother of her child). In other words, the child belongs to the mother. Before these men, they raised their voices and shouted, “enough!, enough!, enough!”. In the riot, the women were destructive. They did not heed the intimidation from the authorities, they continued disturbing until they were given audience. Their children were then not forced to do the job, from then those who went to Eha-Amufu did that voluntarily in order to earn money.
In 1960, an illustrious son of Aku, Mr. F.N. Ugwuoju initiated the Aku Water Project. Every taxable male in Aku was expected to make financial contributions towards the project. Aku women took a decision to encourage men by helping them with the counterpart fund demanded by the Eastern Nigerian Government.
The Aku Water Bore Hole was installed and was commissioned in 1966. Since then, Aku women have been making their own contributions towards the water bill. They continued with this process until 1995 when allegation of embezzlement arose. The Aku General Assembly declined in power and the system of paying the water bill together by the whole town broke down. Presently, payment of water bill in Aku is individualized. The Aku Women Assembly performs judicial as well as political functions. They settle quarrels that may arise among themselves. When the bride price of especially educated girls became very high in Aku, young men went outside Aku where they felt the bride price was less and married there. The rush for Aku girls by Aku young men slowed down. Aku women were scared and they forced the Aku General Assembly to bring the bride price in Aku down to as low as possible to enable their daughters get husbands without delay. In addition, Aku women are peace-loving. The most important condition for development is peace. Aku women help to ensure that there is peace in the town. They help to settle disputes among the men and when parties to a quarrel are recalcitrant, the women use the instrumentality of “Odo Achi” to instill fear in such people and through that they achieve peace.
Aku is comparatively peaceful. This is because Aku women insist on peace and this is one of the reasons why Aku is regarded as one of the most developed towns in Enugu State. Development is almost impossible where there is no peace.
There are other women organizations in Aku in recent times. In the Catholic Church Aku, for example, there is the Catholic Women Organization (C.W.O), while in the Anglican Communion there is the Anglican Women Organization. Each of these organizations in their different denominations makes enviable contributions towards the development of the churches. The Catholic Women Organization (CWO) embraces all women who attend the Catholic Church in Aku, and also Aku Catholic Women outside Aku, making it the CWO Aku Station and CWO Abroad, two of them coming under one umbrella – CWO Home and Abroad. In Aku, the CWO stands strongly behind the Catholic men in making financial and material contributions towards the upkeep of the Catholic Church and the priests in charge of the Church. The yearly harvest and bazaar, the highest fund-raising event in the Catholic Church, Aku, functions smoothly every year because the CWO is strongly behind it. Presently, there is a long-term project of putting up a building to house nursery and primary schools and also a skill acquisition centre for adolescent secondary school leavers. This was initiated by the CWO, Home and Abroad. A reasonable amount of money has been set aside for this project. The Anglican Women Organization in the same way helps in the development of the Anglican Church in Aku.
Aku Charity Women Organization made up of some Aku women residing at Nsukka, Aku, and Enugu are also working relentlessly for the development of Aku. They have embarked on repairing dangerous death-trap roads in Aku, one of which was the Ugwu-Onu-Ofu, a section of the Aku-Nkporogwu-Adani road which has constituted great danger to motorists plying it. Many Aku farmers have lost their lives at this Ugwu-Onu-Ofu. The Aku Charity Women Organization has graded the Ugwu-Onu-Ofu section which is the worst part of the road. They also constructed water drainage in the same area. Aku women do not wait until they are called upon to help in the development of the town. They do not wait for the men before embarking on any project they feel is necessary.
Aku women are also shareholders in the Aku Diewa Community Bank. They are among the major customers to the Bank. There are other smaller women organizations in Aku that make their own contributions towards the development of the town.
Suggestions for Improvement
Despite the ingenuity of the Aku women, there are still areas where they are under-developed. In the present era the Aku women should get up and march along with their counterparts in other parts of the country. In power-sharing, Aku women are under-represented at most levels of Aku governance. For example, they have never occupied any of the executive positions in the Aku General Assembly since its inception. At the family level, they do not take part in serious family decision making with the result that some of them are falsely accused of certain misbehaviours.
Punishments are pronounced for such behaviors as adultery, nshi, etc, without giving them fair hearing. On these, therefore, women should take measures to ensure that they are integrated in the town and family decision-making.
These, they cannot do effectively without proper formal education. The Aku women should insist on gender equality in education. More girls than boys are in primary and secondary schools in Aku. But to what level of education do many of Aku girls attain? Girls in Aku are less likely to survive in tertiary institutions than boys. A good number of them end up with secondary education, because they get married while in schools or immediately they finish their secondary schools. Such girls are not being encouraged by parents and the society to aim for further knowledge for fear of not getting husbands after staying too long in schools. As a remedial measure, Aku women should carry out serious campaigns on the importance of women education. They should encourage their daughters to get proper education first before marriage.
Education exposes one to know her rights in the society where she belongs. If women are properly aware of what they are supposed to do, there should be no present demand for equal rights of women and men in politics. The Aku Women should endeavor to engage themselves in political activities, associations including membership of political parties and trade unions.
Aku women are endowed with numerous natural gifts, some of which are child bearing and rearing, food production, patience and perseverance, strength, intelligence, humility to mention but a few. These gifts have made them a group with essential ingredients for the development of the town. However, they should ginger up and engage themselves in the field of education and politics. They should also endeavor to have representation in the governance of the town as well as in family decision-making in their individual and extended families. ‘
Afigbo, A.E., (1997), Trade and Trade Routes In Nineteenth
Century Nsukka in Okikpe 3, (1) 27-46.
Azikiwe, (1992). Women Education and Empowerment. Nsukka: Fulladu Publishing Company.
Okechukwu, C., (1974). The Aku Women in Okikpe vol. 1, 77-78. Aku Undergraduates’ Union.
United Nations (1995). Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. United Nations Development Fund for Women and United Nations Information Centre.