Our New Husbands Are Here: Households, Gender, and Politics in a West African State from the Slave Trade to Colonial Rule
Emily Lynn Osborn
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In Our New Husbands Are Here, Emily Lynn Osborn investigates a central puzzle of power and politics in West African history: Why do women figure frequently in the political narratives of the precolonial period, and then vanish altogether with colonization? Osborn addresses this question by exploring the relationship of the household to the state. By analyzing the history of statecraft in the interior savannas of West Africa (in present-day Guinea-Conakry), Osborn shows that the household, and women within it, played a critical role in the pacifist Islamic state of Kankan-Baté, enabling it to endure the predations of the transatlantic slave trade and become a major trading center in the nineteenth century. But French colonization introduced a radical new method of statecraft to the region, one that separated the household from the state and depoliticized women’s domestic roles. This book will be of interest to scholars of politics, gender, the household, slavery, and Islam in African history.
unobtrusive. Bate's residents curbed their outside contact by supporting themselves principally through agricultural production, while they developed strategic connections with their polytheistic neighbors through household and marital ties. This limited approach to statecraft offered a practical response to the violence of the era, as well as a means for Bate's residents to negotiate their status as a religious minority in a region dominated by non-Muslims. By carving out a deliberately pacifist
fudunvolu, married into the state's host families under the guidance of a wise and just Muslim leader. But for all the effort that Alfa Kabine is said to have put into setting an example of openness, welcome, and faith, the man considered to be Kankan's most eminent leader did not himself put to work one of the tools that proved so important to the growing state. Holding fast to the priorities of study and faith by which he lived as a youth, Alfa Kabine never married, nor did he have children.
learned to keep their possessions "out of reach" Evidence of war abounded: "At every house can be seen muskets, cutlasses, powder horns, war-belts and warcoats, a powerful large bow and four or five large quivers filled with poisoned arrows."22 Edward W. Blvden made a similar observation in 1872 when he traveled to Falaba, also south of Kankan. On that trip, he confronted the "deplorable condition" of constant warfare. "We were surrounded by lamentable illustrations of a war which has lasted
and written evidence that relates to Bate in the midnineteenth century is rife with contradictions. Alfa Mahnnul, who became a famed and powerful chief, is depicted in local narratives as a devout and tolerant Muslim, in the style of earlier generations of pious and scholarly leaders. There are even stories that celebrate his friendships with non-Muslims from neighboring, polytheistic regions." But that very same man is also remembered for introducing a more muscular form of statecraft to Bate,
students then enrolled." A year later, in rgro, a school for girls opened with an enrollment of twenty students.'' Although the numbers of male students steadily increased in Kankan's schools in the early colonial period, Ponty's educational reforms did not radically change the composition of Kankan's student body. In an ironic example of the way in which French republican values converged with the prerogatives of local elites, boys of slave descent had constituted a major sector of Kankan's