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The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe

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Nwando Achebe presents the fascinating history of an Igbo woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who became king in colonial Nigeria. Ugbabe was exiled from Igboland, became a prostitute, traveled widely, and learned to speak many languages. She became a close companion of Nigerian Igala kings and the British officers who supported her claim to the office of headman, warrant chief, and late Nwando Achebe presents the fascinating history of an Igbo woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who became king in colonial Nigeria. Ugbabe was exiled from Igboland, became a prostitute, traveled widely, and learned to speak many languages. She became a close companion of Nigerian Igala kings and the British officers who supported her claim to the office of headman, warrant chief, and later, king. In this unique biography, Achebe traces the roots of Ugbabe's rise to fame and fortune. While providing critical perspectives on women, gender, sex and sexuality, and the colonial encounter, she also considers how it was possible for this woman to take on the office and responsibilities of a traditionally male role.


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Nwando Achebe presents the fascinating history of an Igbo woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who became king in colonial Nigeria. Ugbabe was exiled from Igboland, became a prostitute, traveled widely, and learned to speak many languages. She became a close companion of Nigerian Igala kings and the British officers who supported her claim to the office of headman, warrant chief, and late Nwando Achebe presents the fascinating history of an Igbo woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who became king in colonial Nigeria. Ugbabe was exiled from Igboland, became a prostitute, traveled widely, and learned to speak many languages. She became a close companion of Nigerian Igala kings and the British officers who supported her claim to the office of headman, warrant chief, and later, king. In this unique biography, Achebe traces the roots of Ugbabe's rise to fame and fortune. While providing critical perspectives on women, gender, sex and sexuality, and the colonial encounter, she also considers how it was possible for this woman to take on the office and responsibilities of a traditionally male role.

36 review for The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    I read this book for a course on "Class Formations"; the prof wanted us to read a book that we may never have picked up on our own. What I liked about this book is that it is an important intervention in the recognition of women in history. Although my area of familiarity is the Asia-Pacific, Africa shares similarities with this region in being Orientalised (in the way of Said) and being made "Other" in a mirror image of the West. People consider these cultures to be patriarchal "backward" cultu I read this book for a course on "Class Formations"; the prof wanted us to read a book that we may never have picked up on our own. What I liked about this book is that it is an important intervention in the recognition of women in history. Although my area of familiarity is the Asia-Pacific, Africa shares similarities with this region in being Orientalised (in the way of Said) and being made "Other" in a mirror image of the West. People consider these cultures to be patriarchal "backward" cultures that denigrate women. However, Achebe shows for example the various conceptions of sex work in colonial Nigeria and they should not be simply viewed as victims. Instead there were taboos in place to prevent men having sex with married women but sex workers were not necessarily looked down upon and "In Nsukka, the free woman was perceived as autonomous, independent, assertive, daring, bold—in other words, o walu anya. In this context, prostitutes were viewed with a degree of deference and possibly admiration. The free woman was not marginalized by society; she asserted herself and exercised a degree of power" (p.80). King Ahebi was perhaps one particularly successful example that, through sex work, as well as trade and entrepreneurship, became incredibly rich and influential. Furthermore, I feel that Western discourse generally projects its own theories and ways of being onto other countries and cultures; Western conceptions cannot be simply projected onto other regions of the world. Like the "hwarang" of Ancient Korea, an elite group of warriors that engaged in male-male sexual relations in the form of senior mentors and junior apprentices, sexual relations cannot be cast in the same light as LGBT+ relationships today. Another example would be the "third sex" groups that have existed in many different cultures but should not be (I argue) considered as "transgender" in the Western sense. The book outlines the way King Ahebi becomes male and showcases her power by marrying women and paying their "bride-price" or rather their "child-price". However, the book does not idolise Ahebi. It is with some discomfort that she is complicit and enables the British to colonialise her own peoples. The book seems to leave any judgement quite open ended. The book is an easy and interesting read but I expected more analysis especially into the social formations. Nevertheless it is a thorough biography that rigorously makes the reader aware of possible deviations and guesswork involved in historical studies.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amarachi Erondu

  4. 4 out of 5

    Frank

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hayden

  6. 5 out of 5

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  7. 4 out of 5

    Shyann Kilgore

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kim Roberts

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ann

  10. 4 out of 5

    Krista the Krazy Kataloguer

  11. 4 out of 5

    Indiana University Press

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Calderwood

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pelumi

  15. 5 out of 5

    Naricane

  16. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  17. 4 out of 5

    Zawadi Vanessa

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dave Glovsky

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chidi Aningo

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elham

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  22. 5 out of 5

    Forest

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bri

  24. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  25. 4 out of 5

    a. chigozie

  26. 5 out of 5

    ugh

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adamma Oti

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lori

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  30. 4 out of 5

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  31. 4 out of 5

    Tope

  32. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Olayinka

  33. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  34. 4 out of 5

    Mfonido Ukpabio

  35. 5 out of 5

    Benja

  36. 4 out of 5

    Kris-ann

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