chapter  1
12 Pages

Peasant Women

ByCatherine Coquery-Vidrovitch

This chapter examines women's place in the family to understand their place in ancient African societies. Women took care of agriculture, household tasks such as supplying water and firewood, nearby gardening, and small-scale subsistence and neighborhood trading. Whether in forest or savanna, in nation-state or decentralized society, or among farmers or herders, peasant women's work was organized in the same way. Although occasionally invested with administrative or military functions, they commonly lived together in a special place, conducted royal ceremonies, and at most supervised an army of female servants and slaves who took care of the palace's and the king's daily needs. Women appear to be beasts of burden within the strict patrilineal order of Tswana society. Polygamy, doubtless linked with women's important dual role as producer and reproducer, was very widespread. This position, glorified as both symbol and reality of fertility, was one of the pillars of marriage.