chapter  5
12 Pages

Female Identity and Culture

ByCatherine Coquery-Vidrovitch

Women's fertility is at the core of African beliefs, but women's role in ancestral religions appears to have been small. Slave women did most of the domestic labor in the capital of the Kuba kingdom. The largely urban Swahili culture, developed along the Indian Ocean between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, combined foreign Arab and indigenous Bantu influences. This cultural hybridization can be seen in the language, in which both origins can be detected. The scarity of women created alliances that were at least based on something other than a master-slave relationship. The troop of warrior women was unique in ancient Africa; Shaka's female soldiers are not really comparable. Until the nineteenth century, they alone had the right to work the land, which meant that they were in charge of supplying the city with foodstuffs, water, and firewood. The women entrepreneurs or the western coastal region, who had long confronted the vicissitudes of trade, enjoyed a certain autonomy.