Aba Women Riot 1929 – The short Story
The “riots” or war, led by women in the southeastern Nigerian provinces of Calabar and Owerri in November and December 1929, became known as the “Aba Women’s Riots of 1929” in British colonial history, or as the “Women’s War” in Igbo history. Thousands of Igbo women organized a gigantic revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial authorities in south – eastern nigeria, igniting the colony’s most serious challenge in its history. The government took months to put down the “Women’s War,” which became a historic indication of feminist and anti-colonial protest.
The riots began on January 1, 1914, when Lord Lugard, the first Nigerian colonial governor, established the system of indirect rule in Southern Nigeria. British administrators would rule locally through “warrant chiefs,” essentially Igbo individuals appointed by the governor, here under the plan. Igbo chiefs have traditionally been elected.
Within a few years, the warrant chiefs who were appointed became increasingly oppressive. They seized property, imposed harsh local regulations, and began imprisoning anyone who openly criticized them. Despite the fact that much of the rage was directed at the warrant chiefs, most Nigerians were aware of the source of their power: British colonial superintendents.
Colonial administrators fueled local resentment by announcing plans to levy special taxes on Igbo market women. These women were in charge of supplying food to Nigeria’s growing urban populations in Calabar, Owerri, and other cities. They feared that the taxes would drive many market women out of business and severely disrupt the population’s access to food and non-perishable goods.
Large numbers of Igbo women gathered in November 1929 at Native Administration centers in Calabar and Owerri, as well as smaller towns, to protest both the warrant chiefs and the taxes on market women. Using the traditional practice of censoring men through all-night song and dance ridicule (often referred to as “sitting on a man”), the women chanted and danced, forcing warrant chiefs to resign in some locations.
The women also attacked European-owned stores and Barclays Bank, as well as breaking into and releasing prisoners from prisons. They also attacked colonial-run Native Courts, burning many of them to the ground. Colonial Police and troops were summoned. They opened fire on the crowds gathered in Calabar and Owerri, killing more than 50 women and injuring more than 50 others. During the two-month “war,” at least 25,000 Igbo women participated in anti-British protests.
The Aba Women riot forced colonial authorities to abandon plans to tax market women and limit the power of warrant chiefs. The women’s uprising is widely regarded as the first significant challenge to British authority in Nigeria and West Africa during the colonial period.