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Aba Women’s Riots of 1929

Aba Women's Riots of 1929

The riots/ war led by women in the Calabar and Owerri provinces of southeastern Nigeria in November and December of 1929 became known as the Aba Women’s Riots of 1929 in British colonial history and Aba Women’s War in Igbo history.

Thousands of Igbo women organized a massive revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in southeastern Nigeria. This riot is one of the most serious challenges to British rule in the history of Nigeria.

It took the colonial government two months to suppress the Aba women’s riots which became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest.

Causes of the Aba Women’s Riots of 1929

The roots of the riots evolved from January 1, 1914, when the first Nigerian colonial governor, Lord Lugard, instituted the system of indirect rule in Southern Nigeria.

Warrant Chiefs

Under the indirect rule system, British administrators ruled locally through warrant chiefs – Igbo individuals appointed by the colonial governor. Within a few years, the appointed warrant chiefs became increasingly oppressive.

They seized properties, imposed draconian local regulations, and jailed anyone who openly criticized them. Although much of the anger was directed against the warrant chiefs, most Nigerians knew the source of their power, British colonial administrators.

Taxation of Igbo Women

Colonial administrators added to the local sense of grievance when they announced plans to impose special taxes on the Igbo market women. These women were responsible for supplying the food to the growing urban populations in Calabar, Owerri, and other Nigerian cities.

They feared the taxes would drive many of the market women out of business and seriously disrupt the supply of food and non-perishable goods available to the populace.

Aba Women's Riots of 1929

The Riot

In November 1929, thousands of Igbo women congregated at the Native Administration centres in Calabar and Owerri as well as smaller towns to protest both the warrant chiefs and the taxes on the market women.

Using the traditional practice of censoring men through all night song and dance ridicule (often called “sitting on a man”), the women chanted and danced, and in some locations forced warrant chiefs to resign their positions. The women also attacked European owned stores and Barclays Bank and broke into prisons to release prisoners.

They also attacked Native Courts run by colonial officials, burning many of them to the ground. Colonial Police and troops were called in. They fired into the crowds that had gathered at Calabar and Owerri, killing more than 50 women and wounding over 50 others. During the two months war, at least 25,000 Igbo women were involved in protests against British officials.

The Aba women’s riots of 1929 prompted colonial authorities to drop their plans to impose a tax on the market women and to curb the power of the warrant chiefs. The women’s uprising is seen as the first major challenge to British authority in Nigeria and West Africa during the colonial period.

Thanks for reading, OldNaija.com

References:

  1. Judith Van Allen, “Aba Riots” or “Women’s War”?: British Ideology and Eastern Nigerian Women’s Political Activism (Waltham, MA.: African Studies Association, 1971);
  2. D. C. Dorward, ed., The Igbo “Women’s War” of 1929: Documents Relating to the Aba Riots in Eastern Nigeria (Wakefield, England: East Ardsley, 1983);
  3. Omipidan, T.eslim O. (2014). Colonial Rule in Nigeria and Nigeria’s Struggle for Independence. OldNaija. https://oldnaija.com/2014/11/05/colonial-rule-in-nigeria-and-nigerias-struggle-for-independence/
  4. Nina Emma Mba, Nigerian Women Mobilized: Women’s Political Activity in Southern Nigeria, 1900-1965(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982);
  5. Evans, M. (2009, March 27) Aba Women’s Riots (November-December 1929). Black Past
Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (April 10, 2020). Aba Women’s Riots of 1929. OldNaija. Retrieved from https://oldnaija.com/2020/04/10/aba-womens-riots-1929/

21 Comments

  1. The Aba women riot was indeed a genocide. The colonial rule was deadly by imposing indirect rule and demanding taxes from poor market women was inhumane. May God help us!

  2. The levying of tax was not a genocide nor an attempt to commit genocide. It was simply an act of greed and a washing-away of tradition. Unhealthy acts to oppress the Igbo culture.
    Even if the tax had been imposed, life would have gone on. Taxation, I think, is not Igbo-related yet the Igbo men continued living, did they not?

  3. Yes, “the levying of tax was not a genocide nor an attempt to commit genocide”, but it was the main source of the genocide. If the British authorities had not imposed tax on Igbo market women, the women would not have protested and got killed as well. Also, the tax was imposed on market women who feared that if they pay the tax, there would be no gain left from their business. And they had to survive.
    Thank you for your visit and comment, Mr. Ikemmuta Enyimba. Please visit often.

  4. A Genocide is simply a deliberate act of eradicating an entire tribe. A commits genocide when A knowingly eradicates a tribe, nation or country. The British would have intended that their new law was passed and carried out without conflict. What ruler doesn’t want that? It was the fault of the women alone who were not coerced nor cajoled by anyone but themselves to rebuke such law. They knew that they were protesting against a powerful oppressor and with actions like that comes consequences. Did the British send them message? No.

    1. Fine, the British didn’t send them, but if the women had stood arms akimbo and watched, Igbo market women, till today, will still be paying exorbitant tax. A market woman earned 10,000 monthly form her sales, she paid a tax of 7,000, her husband did the same, and they have a family to carter for, children to feed and rent to pay. The question is “will they survive”? Had it been that our educated elites and traditional rulers in the 1950s sat back and watched, what will be the fate of Nigeria today? We would probably still be strugling to gain independence and watching the British exploit our land. The women had no choice than to stand against the killer law of the British to save their coming generations. Or what do you think, Mr. Ikemmuta?

  5. We are often guilty of exaggerating oppression. Taxation, at all is a foreign concept in Igbo society. And to have the women give in to that untraditional and delimiting concept is a taboo. A year ago, they manoeuvred it upon the men, and now they wished to impose it upon the women. No way!

  6. Always. Thank you for creating this blog. One of the things I’ve often thought completes a man, among other things, is his history, the complete knowledge of himself: why he is that way and all that.
    Keep up the good work.

  7. Thanks a lot
    i never new some of these women were killed in the course of rioting.
    Such humiliating move by the colonial masters

  8. I thrill when debating, I love activities that make me extend myself (exercises, brain games, learning new things, etc) and I thank you for providing this forum where diverse ideas thrive. Thank you.
    However when you said, till today, I disagree with you. We’ve had four or three constitutions that have replaced the white man constitutions, so chances of any of his regulations remaining is nil.
    Also, colonialism ended before the 21st century began, so chances of the British still being our master regardless of the educated elite fight, is nil.
    Then, let us not as we Nigerians are accustomed to doing, exaggerate the facts. It was not a killer law. Even if the law had been imposed, they would still have survived. Are we not now suffering Buhari’s recession? Are we dead?

    1. If that law stands that time maybe you wouldn’t have been opportune to go to school let alone to come write on this platform

  9. Women at that time
    fought for their rights
    they were indeed brave…..women of today should learn from them
    though the educated elites began to see reasons for the nations independence….and with time we gained our freedom…..now these same people are still the ones explioting the nations economy. Are they in anyway better than the colonialist then?..to me i think they are even worse because they take and dont give at all….somehow i feel if the colonialist still colonised us Nigeria would have been very much developed than this.

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