Women and Trade at the Dawn of Colonialism
Women's situations varied by region and society. Whereas the central and eastern areas of Africa were particularly ravaged by the slave trade, in West Africa some women enjoyed a certain autonomy because, in addition to working the land, they produced handicrafts and sold goods in the market. The autonomous female market activities were thought to exist only in West Africa. Women in the rest of Africa were thought to be more limited in type of work and more male-dominated. In central Africa, men accumulated wealth through cattle and trading in connection with hunting or warfare. Colonial reports emphasize Kikuyu women's submissiveness and dedication to subsistence tasks, but recent research suggests that colonialism, especially harsh in these regions, may have stripped women of prerogatives they once held. Locally, women also controlled trade in foodstuffs; men could not use the food reserves stored in special granary huts without their agreement.