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Catalog Archive / Fall 2021

Shaping Tradition
Women's Roles in Ceremonial Rituals of the Agwagune

Women in Africa and the Diaspora

“This study’s success as an intellectual piece is premised on the fact that it refuses to yield to generalization. Raising issues that challenge stereotypes, it identifies topics that are likely to spark more debates and research on the role of women in society. A must-read for gender experts.”
—Christian Opata, University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Agwagune women in southeastern Nigeria contribute to the cultural construction of their societies in deep and systematic ways. This reality is often concealed, misrepresented, or unexamined in studies that do not consciously set out to address female agency and authority. Most recently women have reshaped traditional male-centered village practices behind the scenes, such as when they updated the premarital ritual of fattening prospective brides, and when they ended female circumcision. Women use their status to direct and influence male leadership on matters of war, finance, education, and political stability.

Using this community as a case study, David Uru Iyam asserts that these women are not stereotypically submissive, oppressed, or passive. Agwagune women participate in male ceremonies by pretending to be unaware of them, concealing their authority under a veneer of secrecy. Instead of focusing on obvious male political power, Iyam highlights the overlooked domestic and public contributions of women that uphold—and change—entire social systems.


David Uru Iyam is an anthropologist and previously served as a professor at Whittier College in Los Angeles.




“Iyam’s original analysis of changes in parallel and related ceremonial rituals underscores the interconnected roles of women and men in these transformations, while descriptions of masquerade costume and marriage dress that visually portray these gendered interrelationships are invaluable strengths of this volume.”
—Elisha Renne, University of Michigan



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November 2021
LC: 2021009794 DT
160 pp. 6 x 9
32 b/w photos, 6 figures, 2 maps

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Casebound $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299334406
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