Gender, Sexuality and Struggles for Control: The Nd’ishi Tradition among the Nsukka-Igbo of South-eastern Nigeria


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


Department of History and International Studies


African writers normally romanticise the past ontologies of African women where they held considerable social power. This obscures the gender imbalances in precolonial and post-contact Africa. The nd’ishi tradition of northernmost Igbo communities (generally called Nsukka) is a paradox that all of pre-contact Africa had a fair deal for the female. Among them, married women that engage in extramarital affairs or who assist their natal relatives without their husbands’ permissions became mentally deranged unless they confess early enough and certain purifications applied. Employing phenomenology and historical methodology, I will examine the lived experiences of Nsukka women and analyse how the male folk deftly deploy the nd’ishi tradition to relieve them of control over their sexuality and material resources, and the growing defiance by women through ritual “blinding” of nd’ishi tradition. This study will be an ethnographic example that subverts the prevailing romanticised view of gender balance across traditional African societies.