1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
From pre-colonial times to the early 21st century, the role and status of women in Nigeria have continuously evolved. However, the image of a helpless, oppressed, and marginalized group has undermined their proper study, and little recognition has been granted to the various integral functions that Nigerian women have performed throughout history. In the pre-colonial period, women played a major role in social and economic activities. Division of labour was along gender lines, and women controlled such occupations as food processing, mat weaving, pottery, and cooking. Moreover, land was communally owned, and women had access to it through their husbands or parents. Although a man was the head of the household in a patrilineal system, older women had control of the labour of younger family members. Women were also central to trade. Among the Yoruba, they were the major figures in long-distance trade, with enormous opportunities for accumulating wealth and acquiring titles. The most successful among them rose to the prestigious chieftaincy title of iyalode, a position of great privilege and power. In politics, women were not as docile or powerless as contemporary literature tends to portray them. The basic unit of political organization was the family, and in the common multifocal arrangement, which allowed a woman to gain considerable authority over her children, a woman and her offspring could form a major bloc in the household. Power and privileges in a household were also based on age and gender, thereby allowing senior women to have a voice on many issues. Because the private and public arenas were intertwined, a woman’s ability to control resources and people in a household was at the same time an exercise in public power. She could use food production to gain respect. She could control her children and influence men through this power. She could evoke the power of the spirit or gods in her favour. On the other hand, she could simply withdraw and use the kitchen as her own personal domicile for interaction with her colleagues, friends, and children. Beyond the household level, men generally dominated power, but in many areas, specific titles were given to women. The queen mother, a powerful title among the Edo and Yoruba, could be bestowed upon the king’s mother or a free woman of considerable stature. In her own palace, the queen mother presided over meetings, with subordinate titleholders in her support. Yoruba and Hausa legends describe periods when women were either the actual kings or heroines. Such women as Moremi of Ile-Ife and Amina of Zaria are notable legendary figures, as are the powerful queens in the Ondo and Daura histories. The most serious threat to the influence and privileges of women occurred during the 20th century, when patriarchy combined with colonial changes to alter gender relations. As male chiefs collaborated with the British colonial administration in collecting taxes and governing, the position of female chiefs declined in importance. When the economy became increasingly geared toward the production of cash crops for export, Nigerian men and European firms dominated the distribution of rubber, cocoa, groundnuts (peanuts), and palm oil. Women, pushed to the background, were forced to shift to the production of subsistence crops. A previous land-tenure system that had prevented land alienation gave way to land commercialization, favouring those with access to money gained from the sale of cash crops. Western-style education also favoured boys over girls and thus largely excluded women from many of the new occupations introduced by colonialism. The most powerful agency of change for the modern woman has been Nigeria’s formal education system, from which a large number of elite women have emerged. Intelligent, educated, and confident, they can be found in all leading occupations; they now challenge many aspects of patriarchy and are gradually organizing to ensure that the political arena expands sufficiently to accommodate them.
1.1 Objective of the Study
This study is chosen because of the significant role played by women in Idoma land particularly their cultural responsibilities to the Otukpo LGA
What stimulated the researcher to embark on this writing is to contribute to knowledge. Nothing much has been written on the significant role played by Idoma women in the area of their cultural responsibilities particularly in Otukpo LGA. This study focuses on the cultural responsibilities of women to the Otukpo LGA in Idoma land which form a large bulk of the economic activities of the present day Benue state of Nigeria. The study aims at an evaluation of the specific roles of women in Idoma land. It is for the purpose of this work to focus on the various developments achieved by women in Otukpo local government of Benue state which include socio-cultural development, economic development and to bring such significant role played by women into lime light from the period under review
Attempt shall be made in this essay to give some knowledge of the nature and diversity of the role of women in the economic developments of Otukpo LGA. The researcher shall also assess the religious, cultural and other factors shaping their various roles and examine policies that have attested the position of women in Otukpo LGA during the period under review. Basically, emphasis would be placed on gender relation in the society and how this might have influenced the various activities involving women.
This essay focuses on women mainly because their cultural and economic roles have not been sufficiently emphasized in historical writings. They are rather discussed most times as passing references. It is important to note that unless one goes into the field to specifically find out about the agirucltural and economic contributions of women, there is the tendency of not pursuing in detail the role played by them.
1.2 Scope of the Study
This research would endeavor to look at women and their socio-cultural and economic responsibilities in Otukpo local government area of Benue state in the 20th century. Therefore, the study covers the period from 1950-1990. Women activities in Otukpo Local Government will be discussed which will include societal view on women in Otukpo Local Government area of Benue state. Women in economic activities will be discussed, the socio-cultural and economic development of women in Otukpo will be highlighted which include the socio-cultural responsibilities of women in Otukpo, the position of women in the family, the role of women in community service, the role women in festivals, women in commerce and other factors shaping their various roles. It will examines polices that have affected the position of women in Otukpo during the 20th century.
1.3 Research Methodology and Problems
Since this study is aimed at identifying the activities of women in Otukpo LGA in the 20th century, it is therefore mainly based on oral source and fieldwork, since secondary source materials often deals with activities in the region without specific reference to women. Group inferences were also conducted with those in the same ward in other to determine the various roles played by women in Otukpo LGA of the present Benue state. Information was also gotten through individuals interviewed.
The secondary sources that are consulted for this work are either on things written on the area of study, reports, journals and textbooks from the Archives and libraries. As might be expected, all the source of information had their limitations. It is found out that there are little or no reference to the cultural activities of women in Otukpo LGA and where materials are found on women it centre’s more on feminism and their liberation, and those found relating to the work are not of great relevance to the work.
At the Archive, most of the files and textbook asked for on women are not available and at times when found it is of no importance or some pages were completely torn off. The fact that a large number of people is interviewed does not eliminate problem from the oral source, the reason being that the women could not spare their time for interviews even though previous arrangements has been made for it. It is found out that the information contained there are the same as those already gathered. There is also problem in the area of provision of dating for specific events, and also, on how much profit they do realize from their economic ventures.