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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Politics
Lagos, the port city and at one time the capital of Nigeria, was given its name by the Portuguese who settled in Nigeria as early as the sixteenth century. It was out of Lagos that the Portuguese exported their flourishing slave trade. The Portuguese maintained control over the city until 1861 when the British took control and eventually abolished the trade. In the early 1950s, Nigeria was still under British control with a British governor ruling from Lagos.

Villages, especially among the Ibo people, usually consisted of scattered homesteads called compounds. Each compound housed a man, his immediate family and some relatives. A number of compounds made up a village that was usually populated by people all claiming a common ancestry. Each village had a chief who was, on the whole, left alone to rule his village in a traditional manner. There were, however, European officers, nearby, who guided the chiefs. Sometimes this guidance included influencing the choice of a chief based not on the qualifications of the candidate but rather on the ease with which the British could manipulate him. The British, in an attempt to prevent united opposition to its authority, kept Nigerian groups separated, using their chosen chiefs to help them in this effort.

Just prior to the 1950s, Nnamd Azikiwe, an Ibo man, joined Herbert Macaulay (called the father of modern Nigerian nationalism) to establish the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons. African men trained as soldiers in World War II as well as restless youths, market women, educated villagers, and farmers, joined the National Council to protest the British tax laws and to demand political representation. Eventually succumbing to the pressure, the British gave up control, and Nigeria was granted independence on October 1, 1960.

Pre-Colonial Times
Before the colonization of Nigeria, traditional Ibo people were not united as a single tribe but rather lived in autonomous local communities. A typical village might include as many as five thousand people who could, in some way, trace their lineage back to the founder of the village. Linguists, who have studied the Ibo language, believe that some of these villages may have existed in the same location for as many as four thousand years.

Although the village was traditionally ruled by men, the people believed in common deities that included both gods and goddesses. Also, both men and women farmed, with women's work seen as complementary to the man's. Many women were, in fact, economically independent. Women were expected to give birth to many children, hopefully sons, to ensure the future of the group, but as she grew older, the woman received assistance from younger wives who took care of the children, so the older wife could farm and make crafts, thus allowing her the opportunity to achieve impressive economic status.

In the oral tradition, women were prominent storytellers. These stories were peopled with women characters as heroines and founders of great dynasties and civilizations. The women not only performed the stories, they also composed new stories or transformed old ones in order to incorporate a woman-centered perspective on village life. Women storytellers were also known to use political story-songs or abusive songs as forms of social control.

Colonial Times
European colonization influenced village life in many areas. There was the introduction of Western style education, the English language, and Christianity as well as new forms of money, transportation, and communications. The Europeans also brought with them the Victorian concept that women belonged in the home, nurturing the family. With this concept came the emphasis on the man as the primary source for the economic stability of the family. It became the man's sole responsibility to grow cash crops like yams, while the woman was relegated to growing only subsistence crops that brought in less money. In addition, cheap goods from Japan and Europe were imported, thus...

(The entire section is 5,500 words.)