WOMEN AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN IBIBIO LAND (1885-1970)
1.1 Purpose of the study
There is hardly any aspect of Nigeria’s national life that has received so much attention in recent times as the role of women in the socio-economic development of the country. It is necessary to state here that the contributions of women are not a new phenomenon in Nigerian life. In pre-colonial Ibibio society “polygamy” was the accepted norm. With this institution, the Ibibio women was born, raised and given out in marriage. Her worldview, self concept and gender identity were nurtured within such an environment. Competition and survival was the name of the game which was played out endlessly among men and women. In such a highly competitive society, education, moral standards, taboos and expectations existed, all woven into an unwritten tradition and culture with sets of Divine punishment and records to enforce these beliefs. Well organized institutions existed to provide governmental and judicial instruments. Within that society, Ibibio women had well defined roles, not as slaves, but as indispensable complements to man in procreation and in socio-economic development. The roles Ibibio women played were mutually supportive and even integrated into their family life in a very high degree. According to Chief Sylvester Inyang, the village-head of Use-Offot, Ibibio women bore children and looked after their daily needs. They maintained the home and did the cooking. In so doing they were expected to provide the condiments-pepper, oil, vegetables and other soup ingredients. In Use-Offot village, he continued, the man provided the main substances of the meals, normally the yams, meat or fish, oil and firewood. This he said was not an invariable role or rigid arrangement. But agriculture or farming which was the main source of sustaining a living was essentially a co-operative venture. The major work involving clearing of the bush for farming was generally the man’s job, gathering and burning the resultant trash was a joint endeavour, the tilling of the soil, hunting, most of the fishing, harvesting the palm nuts were task performed essentially by the man.
Marriage, according to Chief Nsini Ufeh, the village-head of Idu-Uruan, did not amount to a consignment of the women into slavery. It was usually a union of at least two families in which mutual honour was expected to be strictly observed and was generally so observed, thanks to the associated social and cultural sanctions. This element of mutual support and interdependence between male and female in pre-colonial Ibibio society is clear from the complementary nature of their roles. Almost invariably, every woman in Ibibioland, whether married or not, learnt a trade or occupation from which she supplemented the returns or earnings from agriculture. Some of these occupations like cloth-weaving and dying, hair plaiting or dress-making, pottery-making and the manufacturing of various foodstuffs such as garri, cow-meal added value to the family sustenance.
It is true that women had inferior status as many sociologists, anthropologists and even some economists suggest that social and cultural norms consigned the women to an inferior status. There are standards to justify this claim. That the roles of women differed in many respects from those of the male is natural and understandable; however, they were, and remain, mutually supportive. During the pre-colonial era, the role of Nigerian women in development revolved mainly around their efforts in different sectors towards maintaining the kin groups, adding that, pre-colonial Nigerian economy was basically at a subsistence level and Nigerian women participated effectively in the economic pattern. (Talbot 1968:34). A woman who was totally dependent on her husband was not only rare, but was regarded with contempt. As the society moved away from this well ordered age towards modernity, due to European influences, the fabric that held the Ibibio women together started to disintegrate. Early Europeans writings about Ibibioland held the view, that a wife was her husband’s legal property, and was treated little better than a slave. It was viewed that their unfamiliarity with the people’s cultures might have led early Europeans to formulate such an opinion. As men, they were not privileged to interact freely with women. What they knew about women at that time came through male sources (interpreters and husbands), once that erroneous opinion was formed, it was upheld for a long time. It was exploited by the ruling classes, blacks or whites, who had early access to political power.
The point is that women exist amidst external environments-human rights, religious barriers, labour laws etc. these environments must be perceived as integral to the women in development concept. Neglecting development issues when speaking of women is just as bad as neglecting women when speaking of development. Yet some development and some sex/gender approaches persist in doing both. Women and socio-economic development is an inclusive term used throughout in this study to signify a concept whose long-range goal is the well-being of society, the community of men, women and children. Over the years, there has been a great debate as to what extent women contribute to the socio-economic development of society. While it could be argued from two opposing ends, it is important to study this sociological problem with a view to finding out if women have actually been contributing to development. However, this research is about the prime contributions of Ibibio women to the socio-economic development of the society from the pre-colonial era and terminates at the on-set of the post-colonial era. The area under review being a patriarchal society