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PROJECT TOPIC- BEYOND STEREOTYPES: GENDER AND POLITICS IN IRON SMELTING SOCIETY OF LEJJA, NIGERIA

PROJECT TOPIC- BEYOND STEREOTYPES: GENDER AND POLITICS IN IRON SMELTING SOCIETY OF LEJJA, NIGERIA

ABSTRACT

There is general yet erroneous consensus that women are underrepresented in the fields of science and technology. The underrepresentation is assumed to be one of the causes of the imagined than real marginalization of women in social, economic and political spheres. As iron smelting has a lot to do with science and technology, this paper intends to debunk such views using Lejja, an ancient iron smelting community in Nigeria as a case study. To do this, attention was focused on the relationship between iron smelting and politics in the community. Gender-specific roles that depict power sharing and division of labor during smelting will be discussed. Questions to be answered include but are not limited to the role
of women in the transfer and legitimizing of power from one village-head to the other, the implication of women of every lineage paying some respect to a diseased man of their lineage during the dance of Igede music and the nexus between such actions and iron smelting. Given that, it would help to correct wrong notions about iron smelting and power playing between both sexes and the role of women in the iron smelting industry.

INTRODUCTION

In 2008, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) published a book titled, Gender, Science and Technology: Perspectives from Africa. The editor of the work is Catherine Wawasi Kitetu. In one of the articles written by Kenneth O Nyangena,
he observed that “there is a worldwide consensus that women are under-represented in the field of science and technology and that this under representation is one of the causes of the continued marginalization of women in the social, economic and political spheres” (Nyangena, K.O, 2008).

 Speaking of the political dimension of women marginalization, Jeanne Munn Bracken observed that the study of history usually involves learning about generals and battles, the dates and the military strategies. Except for Helen of Troy or Joan of Arc, who led troops into battle, “women are generally assumed to have been sitting back home, wringing their hands and worrying about the fate of their men (Bracken. J.M, 2009: 5). The above generalizations have no room for specific exceptions, which the Lejja example provides, hence the need for this work.

Gender, Iron smelting and Politics in Lejja The very first sign of the link between gender, iron smelting and politics in Lejja is manifest at
Otobo Ugwu Dunoka. Otobo Ugwu serves as their parliamentary square. It has a large assemblage of iron slag blocks with a lot of rules as well. One relates to gender and seating arrangement. Men sit facing the East, where the house of the traditional masked spirit is located.
The house itself is shaped like a furnace. Women on their part sit facing west, but are seated at the base of the masked spirit house. Rationalizing this sitting arrangement, Iduma observed that the furnace is the “kitchen where stone is cooked to form iron” (Iduma, 2007). He went on to state that women sit at the base of the furnace-shaped masked spirit house because they are the ones who own the kitchen and have the powers of giving food to the hungry. “Food” and “hunger” as used by Iduma are euphemistic.

PROJECT TOPIC- BEYOND STEREOTYPES: GENDER AND POLITICS IN IRON SMELTING SOCIETY OF LEJJA, NIGERIA

Whereas food refers to political power, hunger refers to the quest for political power. In giving “food” to the ‘hungry’, women and iron smelting play very important roles in Lejja traditional political system. The symbol of authority in all the villages held by the eldest male is called arua.

ARUA

Arua is made of iron. The handing over of arua to any village head (Onyishi) is done by women whose fathers are from the same village with the said Onyishi. Prior to the official handover, the arua is transferred from the house of the dead Onyishi to that of the new one by Umuada alu nna (married women from the said village of the late village head) after divination.

This divination was done after the burial of late village head. Before the burial of the dead village head, the women (Umuada alu nna) performed some rites which are linked with smelting. The very first rite is called Omii Ozu (literarily translated as drying the corpse). During this exercise, the body of the dead Onyishi is placed on a local bed which is made of clay, deleafed palm fronds and stones.

Ogodo (local bed)

Within the clay part that forms the stand of the bed, a hole is created from which heat is supplied to the heat up the deleafed palm fronds that were used in weaving the bed. The three sides of the square hole created are laced with hematite at the eastern, western and northern sides leaving the
southern end with none.

Firewood used in generating the heat is limited to akpaka (pentaclethre macropylla) and ahaba (Aciona bateri).

Wood fuel sourced from akpaka and ahaba

 

PROJECT TOPIC- BEYOND STEREOTYPES: GENDER AND POLITICS IN IRON SMELTING SOCIETY OF LEJJA, NIGERIA

 

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