Igbo Descent Organization - Women's Participation

In general Igbo social organization reflects a close connection between patrilineal groups at various levels of segmentation and delimited territories, i.e. villages, village sections, and compounds, with which they are identified. We should note, however, that this arrangement is relevant mainly to male residence and participation. Because of the rule of local exogamy, most adult women will live away from their natal groups among other members of their gender from a diverse set of patrilineages. Some of them may come from the same place of origin, but the majority of women in a settlement will be related only in terms of their marriage to husbands of a common localized lineage. In spite of their absence, however, they retain rights and relationships with their home communities and visit frequently, usually with their children for whom mother's family constitutes an important social group, the umunne. Eldest daughters and sister in particular bear a special title, ada are are considered to be senior leaders within the group assuming special responsibilties for mourning and other rituals and settling various disputes, especially between men of the lineage and their wives. In many cases, women  also develop significant gender based organizations according to both their current locality and their original partilineal descent group identities.

A eldest daughter leads a dance group into the square of her natal village in celeberation of her father's second burial.
Source: Ijele: Art eJournal
  1. Locality.  All of the married women within a village will often form a group with well defined and important functions that include religious rites, judicial deliberations, and entertainment, mostly in the form of dancing. They may also organize to represent their specific gender interests. For example, in a ground breaking study of Igbo women, Margaret Green, observed that gender conflict was regularly instigated when domestic animals, usually owned by men, foraged on crops in the field, usually planted and tended by women. Often the women would successfully organize and petition for the establishment of local regulations that would permit the confiscation (and consumption) of errant goats or pigs. Their major weapon was a collective boycott on domestic tasks and responsibilities (Green 1964:178-216).

  2. Descent. Aside from village-based groups, women also organize on a patrilineal basis, and as such according to their villages of origin. Green recorded a formalized arrangement in which out-married wives within a region formed a spatially defuse organization of women from the same place of origin and accordingly from the same patrilineage. These groups were called mikiri after the English word "meeting" and were loosely based on urban “improvement unions” that migrant Igbo’s formed in many of Nigeria’s large cities. Their members would set up visits on a monthly basis that would occur in a circuit of villages in which the mikiri’s members had married. Functions focused on mutual sociability and aid. Authority and other prerogatives, such as sharing, were generally allocated on the basis of the relative seniority of the lineage segments of the participating women (Green 1964:217-232).

© Brian Schwimmer, All rights reserved
Department of Anthropology
University of Manitoba
Created: April 2002
Last updated: September 2003