A Living Past: Igbo Matriliny in Memory, Practice, and History, c. 1750–1900

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 10:30 AM
Gramercy East (New York Hilton)
Ndubueze Leonard Mbah, State University of New York, University at Buffalo
Among the Ohafia-Igbo society of the Bight of Biafra’s multi-ethnic Cross River frontier, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, matriliny developed as a principal mode of accumulating wealth and distributing inheritance, sustaining multi-ethnic religious systems, and mitigating certain types of marital power imbalances. Matriliny was foundational to the society’s dual-sex socio-political institutions, and prevailing conceptions of hegemonic masculinity. In the course of the Atlantic slave trade, matriliny conditioned the society’s premier role in military slaving for Atlantic and domestic markets in the Biafra region, and governed the gendered uses of captives. The society’s female breadwinners, renowned for emasculating spectacles of political policing also relied primarily on gendered mobilization of matrilineal principles. The distinctive socio-political systems of the only matrilineal Igbo society unravel notions of “Igbo patriarchy,” illuminating a recent pre-colonial past, in which women had enjoyed socio-political authority.
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