Women's Authority and Society in Early East-Central Africa

March 2010
4 black and white, 8 line illustrations
205 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora
ISBN: 9781580463270
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC LCO001000, HIS001000, SOC028000

Women's Authority and Society in Early East-Central Africa

Christine Saidi

A radical reassessment of the importance of women in East-Central African society during the precolonial period.
This study of more than two thousand years of African social history weaves together evidence from historical linguistics, archaeology, comparative ethnography, oral tradition, and art history to challenge the assumptions that all African societies were patriarchal and that the status of women in precolonial Africa is beyond the scope of historical research. In East-Central Africa, women played key roles in technological and economic developments during the long precolonial period. Female political leaders were as common as male rulers, and women, especially mothers, were central to religious ceremonies and beliefs. These conclusions contribute a new and critical element to our understanding of Africa's precolonial history.

Christine Saidi is Assistant Professor of History at Kutztown University.

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Table of Contents

The Patriarchal Myth: Deconstruction and Reconstruction
Correlating Linguistics and Archaeology in East-Central African History
The Early Social History of East-Central Africa
Women's Authority: Female Coalitions, Politics, and Religion
Women's Authority and Female Initiation in East-Central African History
Pots, Hoes, and Food: Women in Technology and Production
Sacred, but Never Profane: Sex and Sexuality in East-Central African History
Kucilinga na Lesa Kupanshanya Mayo


By providing a plausible account of the emergence and evolution of activities, practices, and rituals central to the lives of women, Saidi has made a valuable contribution to central African historiography. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW

Saidi's book is innovative, presenting a new synthesis of "deep-time" history for East-Central Africa and recasting issues of gender and women's authority in the precolonial past. Her multidisciplinary approach -- combining linguistics, archaeology, and ethnography -- provides a powerful model for recovering gender histories not only for early Africa but for all human societies. --Kairn A. Klieman, Associate Professor of History, University of Houston

Saidi's careful, pathbreaking study of the central African savannah from Kasai-Katanga to Malawi reminds readers that the relevance of powerful women to African history extends deeply into the rich past of that region, certainly to the 16th and 17th centuries. Recommended. CHOICE

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