port of harlem magazine
nubia k essentials
Hand Between Their Legs
Sep 23 – Oct 06, 2021
Praising the Past


(Note: The British set-up and ran the native court system.)
The impatience of Mbano women with the unfavorable colonial policies reached a boiling point in early December 1929. They snubbed colonial orders that prohibited public protests and gathered at Orie-Agu, Nkwor Nzerem, and Afor Ebu Umunumu markets.

During their gatherings, they denounced the artificial decline in palm produce prices, the suspected imposition of taxes on them, and the alleged abuse of power by native court officials. On December 15, 1929, three women, Akumerenyonye, Nwobuaku, and Irugu of the Obollo compound of Nzerem, joined other women at Nkor Nzerem market to verbally rebuke Okororie, a warrant chief who had represented Nzerem at the Umuduru Native Court for 19 years.

The women later stormed his house, demanding the release of a prisoner, Obiaghanwa. Okororie had sued Obiaghanwa for living with his sister, Woriegbu, who was already married to Egwim, a court messenger at Okigwe. The court had found Obiaghanwa guilty on December 12, 1929, a decision the women condemned. The enraged women accused Okororie of using his power to imprison Obiaghanwa for failing to pay a court fine of £3. The women believed that Okororie’s conduct was another example of abuse of power and corrupt practices by a court member.
The looting marked the beginning of the women-led rebellion that swept through 32 towns in Mbano, directed chiefly against native court officials, who suffered physical assault, looting, or damages to their properties.
Obala, one of the women’s leaders from Umunumo, informed Okororie that women met recently at the Oriagu market and determined that he had gone against their laws by putting his “hand between their legs.”  As the women “yelled out and struck their breasts,” they demanded that Okororie should produce the prisoner, or they would kill him and loot his house. 

To the dissatisfaction of the fuming women, Okororie told them that the District Officer had transferred the prisoner to Okigwe. Pleading with the women to wait until the next day to seek his release, Okororie offered them a bribe of £5 to return to their houses. The women collected the money but insisted on the prisoner’s release.

They camped in his compound throughout the night, using his fence sticks as firewood to remain warm in the cold Harmattan night. Okororie was terrified.

When he succeeded in sneaking out of his house in the morning, the women went to Umuduru Native Court looking for him. They demanded that the head court messenger, Ezechukwu, a native of Umuneke town, produce him. When Ezechukwu told the visibly angry women that Okororie had been transferred to Okigwe, they became furious. They “started singing and running about all over the court,” disrupting court activities and ushering in the anti-colonial rebellion in Mbano.

Whether Obiaghanwa was guilty or innocent was immaterial to the women. In their minds, his imprisonment represented an unbroken continuity of the people’s frustration with the abuses and corruption of the native court system. For the women, the discontent grew worse by the British failure to improve the people’s daily economic conditions in the face of fast-declining prices of their primary source of income, palm produce, and the government’s rumored plan to extend taxation to them.

Unable to produce the prisoner, the protesting women looted Okororie’s house as he took refuge at the Okigwe District headquarters for 12 days. The looting marked the beginning of the women-led rebellion that swept through 32 towns in Mbano, directed chiefly against native court officials, who suffered physical assault, looting, or damages to their properties. In the women’s eyes, those native court officials were the state’s agents in undermining their traditional institutions. By targeting court officials, the women emphasized the failures of the colonial system and a desire to audaciously restore the vanishing pre-colonial political, economic, and social systems.
On Port Of Harlem Talk Radio:  A 30-minute discussion with Dr. Anyanwu on his book including the women’s rebellion.

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