Re-reading Compliance : Women in the Colonial Record in South West Nigeria, 1870-1930

Cette intervenante n’a malheureusement pas pu venir au colloque.

Narratives of the past in Ado-Odo (S.W. Nigeria) paint a picture of a time when women were compliant with their parents wishes, endured their marriages and conformed with societal expectations that a woman must be ‘under’ a man. Pasts in the present serve a normative purpose, used to chastise errant youth. The past that emerges from court records and colonial documentation tells a different story, one in which women colluded in evading unattractive marriage prospects, or literally ‘went astray’ having escaped pressurising parents. This paper will be based on a close reading of cases documented in the records of the nearby coastal town of Badagry in the late 1870s, prior to the establishment of the Protectorate and subsequent colonisation of Nigeria, and on cases from the colonial court established in Otta, between Ado-Odo and Lagos, in the first decades of the twentieth century. It begins with the story of one woman who came to seek release from a marriage marred by boredom in 1879, petitioning the colonial official resident in Badagry to release her from her tedious husband. It goes on to consider on a string of cases in the decades that followed the introduction of divorce legislation, in which a series of feisty characters are revealed, whose demeanour departs substantially from the tales that were told of the era of early colonial rule in oral histories. These cases, I suggest, offer interesting re-readings of women’s encounters with colonial governance, as well as on the making and shaping of gender relations under colonial rule.

Andrea Cornwall is Professor of Anthropology and Development in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. Following PhD research that combined anthropology and history, she worked at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex for 12 years, where she published widely on gender, sexuality and governance. Her books include Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies (co-edited with Nancy Lindisfarne, 1994), Readings in Gender in Africa (James Currey, 2005), The Politics of Rights: Dilemmas for Feminist Praxis (co-edited with Maxine Molyneux, 2009), Feminisms and Development: Contradictions, Challenges and Contestations (co-edited with Elizabeth Harrison and Ann Whitehead, 2007), Gender Myths and Feminist Fables: Struggles for Interpretive Power in Gender and Development (co-edited with Elizabeth Harrison and Ann Whitehead, 2008), Development with a Body: Sexuality, Human Rights and Development (co-edited with Sonia Correa and Susie Jolly, 2009), Democratising Engagement (2009) and Negotiating Empowerment (edited with Jenny Edwards, 2010).


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