Anlu Remembered: The Kom Women’s Rebellion of 1958–61

  • Eugenia Shanklin


On July 4, 1958, a dramatic series of events began at Njinikom, a village in the former kingdom of Kom, located in what anthropologists call the Bamenda Grassfields, now part of Cameroon’s North West Province. Outraged by rumors that Kom land was to be sold to Nigerian Ibos,2 and unhappy with a new law calling for contour farming, the women of Njinikom used anlu, a, centuries-old woman’s organization, to show their discontent. In the morning, they gathered at the quarterhead’s compound, where the traditional village council was meeting and where Chia K. Bartholomew,3 council member and local schoolteacher, had already handed down the message from the Native Authority that the contour farming law was to be put into effect. Before the council members emerged from the meeting, the anlu leaders began their demonstration with a shrill warning cry that strikes terror in the hearts of those who hear it.4 People came running from all directions, in time to see the women begin to dance wildly. They carried newly-cut branches of trees, their faces were covered with leaves or torn rags, and they sang a threatening song:
  • Dr. Endeley [KNC party leader] will not Visit Kom.

  • He has sold our land to the Ibos in Nigeria.


African Woman Political Division Modern Context Colonial Authority Contour Farming 
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  1. 1.
    I am indebted to many Kom people in addition to those mentioned in the Interview List. They include His Royal Highness Jinabo II, reigned 1976–1989, d. 1989, and His Royal Highness Yibain, reigned 1989-present. I hope by thanking the representatives of Kom people to convey my thanks as well to all their subjects, especially those who asked not to be quoted directly in connection with this paper. I also owe an immense debt of gratitude to friends and scholars who have read endless drafts of this paper— Shirley Ardener, E. M. Chilver, Christraud Geary, Susan Geiger, Mary Huber, Benedict Nantang Jua, Victor LeVine, Francis Nkwain, Paul Nkwi and Elizabeth O’Kelly. They have caused me to rethink many issues, but they have not been responsible for my errors. My Kom fieldwork was carried out in 1981–1982 and 1965–1986. The latter was funded by a Fulbright grant, the overall objective of which was to write a history of Kom for Kom schoolchildren. Accordingly, I take very seriously the question of representing opposing views of an incident; the working method I use to arrive at these distinctions is delineated in note twenty.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robert E. Ritzenthaler, “Anlu: A Women’s Uprising in the British Cameroons,” African Studies vol. 19, no. 3, p. 152; Tambi Eyongetah and Robert Brain, A History of the Cameroon (Essex, England: Longman Group, 1974), p. 142.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The description of events is Chia K. Bartholomew’s. He has since shortened his name to C. K. Barth, but to avoid confusion I refer to him here by the name he used at the time of political anlu. He plans to write his own version of the events of anlu and may one day publish it under his shortened name.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The warning cry is also used for fires, to rally anyone in the vicinity to help extinguish the fire.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    F. I. W. Nkwain, “Some Reflections on the AnIu Organized by Kom Women in 1958,” mimeograph, Buea Archives (Cameroon: 1963).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Anlu is also one of the longest-lasting of women’s uprisings, since it went on for three years, a length of time almost unprecedented in the literature on women’s rebellions. Compare Jean O’Barr, “African women in Politics,” in Hay and Stichter eds., African Women South of the Sahara (New York: Longman, Inc., 1984).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Shirley Ardener, “Sexual Insult and Female Militancy,” in Ardener ed., Perceiving Women (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1975) Nkwain, “Some Reflections on the Anlu Organized by Kom Women in 1958;”Google Scholar
  8. 7a.
    Ritzenthaler, “Anlu,” Paul Nchoji Nkwi, “The Problem of the Origin of Korn Matrilineal Institutions,” in Symposium Leo Frobenius (Yaounde: Commissions for UNESCO, 1973)Google Scholar
  9. 7b.
    Nkwi, Traditional Government and Social Change (Fribourg: University Press, 1976)Google Scholar
  10. 7c.
    Nkwi, “Traditional Female Militancy in a Modern Context,” in Jean-Claude Barbier ed., Femmes du Cameroun (Paris: Karthala-Orstom, 1985), pp. 181–191.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Ritzenthaler, “Anlu.”Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    Ardener, “Sexual Insult and Female Militancy.”Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    Susan Diduk, “Women’s Agricultural Production and Political Action in the Cameroon Grassfields,” Africa 59, pp. 338–355.Google Scholar
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    Eyongetah and Brain, A History of the Cameroon, p. 142.Google Scholar
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    David M. Rosen, “The Peasant Context of Feminist Revolt in West Africa,” Anthropological Quarterly 56, pp. 35–43.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p. 86.Google Scholar
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    Kathryn March, and Rachelle L. Taqqu, Women’s Informal Associations in Developing Countries (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986), p. 83.Google Scholar
  20. 17.
    Political anlu’s second in command, Nawain Mwana, the “D.O.” (short for District Officer, the officer in charge of the colonial governing apparatus), says that she and the anlu queen spoke only to those white men mentioned in her account and that all anlu participants were forbidden to speak to whites. Some women, of course, may have violated that prohibition and spoken to Ritzenthaler but he mentions only one woman, who was at that point no longer a member of anlu. My guess is that Ritzenthaler’s primary Kom informants were men, especially C. L. Bartholomew (and Bartholomew’s father-in-law, an even more militant opponent of anlu than Bartholomew himself) and, possibly, Augustine Jua. Ritzenthaler may have believed he had obtained a “balanced” view of anlu from having interviewed men who took opposite sides of the question, but the view he presents is not a balanced one. In 1985–1986, it was difficult to interview women involved in political anlu; some feared reprisals, others believed that anlu’s secrets should not be told to outsiders, and a few, like Nawain Mwana, thought so much had already been said on the subject that there was no point in attempting to set the record straight.Google Scholar
  21. 18.
    Chilver and Kaberry’s wise summary statement about the movement is still very close to the mark: “The breakneck speed of political and social change after 1945 caused some convulsions, such as the emergence in 1958 of an antinomian women’s movement of protest employing some traditional formulae,” E. H. Chilver and Phyllis M. Kaberry, “The Kingdoms of Korn in West Cameroon,” in C. D. Forde and Kaberry eds., West African Kingdoms in the Nineteenth Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 125.Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    All questions about anlu cannot be answered in one paper and I reserve for other publications two broad questions: first, the indigenous meanings attached to the symbols used be traditional and political anlu; and second, the means by which women governed Kom for three years, the ways in which the movement was emulated in the Grassfields region as a whole, and what happened to the movement after 1961.Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    My summation of these opinions rests on a fieldwork method I generally use in investigating any topic within Korn. In this case, after hearing a heated discussion of anlu in a pub one afternoon, I first selected a group of informants (Barth, Mwana, etc.) known to be on different sides of the issue and interviewed them; then I announced my research project to the “traditional” council of Belo Valley and asked them to inform anyone who might have particular interests in the matter to contact me. Many people did, and they recommended others to whom I should speak for confirmation of certain details. In this way, I try to ensure that both sides of the question are represented in the interviews. Opinions of the twenty-six interviewees (fourteen men, twelve women) divided up as six against anlu and fifteen for it, with five people refusing to take a for/against positions. I tried but was unsuccessful in interviewing two women who were opposed to anlu, and compensated for this gap by interviewing more men who were opposed to the movement When the article was first drafted, I took it to several literate informants (generally anti-anlu) and asked their opinions of the way I represented majority/minority views. Following further corrections, I present these as reasonable representations of majority/minority opinions on an issue that remains touchy.Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    Another way of making this distinction would be to distinguish between old (pre-1958), new (1958–1961) and old (post-1961) anlu, but this seems unnecessarily cumbersome.Google Scholar
  25. 22.
    Kamene Okonjo, “The Dual-Sex Political System in Operation: Igbo Women and Community Politics in Midwestern Nigeria,” in N. J. Hafkin and Bay eds., Women in Africa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976), p. 45.Google Scholar
  26. 23.
    Ideally, in the Kom domestic cycle, the first son of each wife of a polygynist will build a house in his father’s compound and live in it, improving it, until he succeeds his mother’s brother’s compound; then he gives his first compound to his younger brother and moves to his uncle’s former residence.Google Scholar
  27. 24.
    Some few practice double-descent. See Jean-Pierre Warnier, “From Hunters to Blacksmiths and Traders,” in Nkwi and Warnier eds., Elements for a History of the Western Grassfields (Yaounde: University of Yaounde Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  28. 25.
    Ritzenthaler, “Anlu,” pp. 151 – 156.Google Scholar
  29. 26.
    Ritzenthaler does not say how long he spent in Kom nor does he mention the dates of his visit; Nkwain says that Ritzenthaler wrote the article in 1959.Google Scholar
  30. 27.
    Ritzenthaler, “Anlu,” p. 162.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. pp. 152, 156.Google Scholar
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  36. 33.
    Paul Nchoji Nkwi, Traditional Government and Social Change; Nkwi, “Traditional Female Militancy in a Modern Context.”Google Scholar
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    Nkwain, “Some Reflections on the Anlu Organized by the Kom women in 1958.”Google Scholar
  38. 35.
    Nkwi, “Traditional Female Militancy in a Modern Context,” pp. 181–191; Nkwi, Traditional Government and Social Change, commented briefly on Anlu’s activities in his doctoral dissertation.Google Scholar
  39. 36.
    Ardener, “Sexual Insult and Female Militancy,” pp. 29–53.Google Scholar
  40. 37.
    Ibid, pp. 29–53.Google Scholar
  41. 38.
    Ibid, p. 47.Google Scholar
  42. 39.
    Ritzenthaler, “Anlu,” p. 153.Google Scholar
  43. 40.
    Nkwain, “Some Reflections on the Anlu Organized by the Kom women in 1958.” Both Ritzenthaler and Nkwain hinted at kingdom-wide anlu actions in the past, but neither described specific incidents. I asked this question many times over in 1985–1986, but no one recalled such an incident Nor do legend and myth now recall any instances of kingdom-wide anlu movements. I take the hints in Nkwain and Ritzenthaler’s accounts as indications that people believed at the time that anlu had the right to act as it did. It is unlikely that we will ever know whether anlu had occurred at more than a local level before 1958.Google Scholar
  44. 41.
    But, in fact, Kóm women did participate in the colonial administration. E. M. Chilver (personal communication) notes: “Before 1958 there had been a ‘woman member’ of the Kom customary court, supposedly a ‘yaa.’ She is listed as ‘Funkuyn of Laikom’ and I am not sure who she is. Funkuyn Ngwey II? Funkuyn-Kumi? She is described as a maternal niece of Lo’o. She was suspended for ‘bad behavior’ in 1958, and reinstated in 1959, but in 1960 the whole court was ‘washed’ and Jua’s nominees substituted, including Mwana; no nafoyns.” Chilver also notes that the Kom Council had 55 members, plus “four elected and four nominated” women who represented the “four valleys” of Kom. This Council was interrupted by political anlu’s eruption.Google Scholar
  45. 42.
    The current schism in Kom politics coalesces around religious and geographic affiliations, for example, Catholics of Njinikom valley and Baptists of Belo valley. Political anlu is generally thought of as a Catholic/Njinikom movement but Nawain Mwana, of the two Anlu leaders, is a Baptist, and some Belo Baptists were supporters of the movement, while others were vehemently opposed. Anlu propelled or fueled schismatic tendencies but it did not create them; it was and is one issue among many.Google Scholar
  46. 43.
    Eugenia Shanklin, “The Track of the Python: A West African Origin Story,” in Roy Willis ed., Signifying Animals (London: Unwin, Hyman, 1990), pp. 204–214.Google Scholar
  47. 44.
    Chia Ngam, “Political and Social Power in Kom Traditional Society,” (1976).Google Scholar
  48. 45.
    Bertrand Masquelier, “Women’s Constitutional Role in Politics: The Ide of West Cameroon,” in Jean-Claude Barbier ed., Femmes du Caméroun, pp. 105–118.Google Scholar
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  50. 47.
    Shanklin, “Even Witches have Friends: Witchcraft Accusations in a Matrilineal Society,” Proceedings of the Leiden Conference on Sub-Saharan African Ethnomedical Systems.Google Scholar
  51. 48.
    Warnier, “From Hunters to Blacksmiths and Traders.”Google Scholar
  52. 49.
    The baskets are called nko; sing., nko ‘se, pl. Normally they are used for carrying seeds to the farm and women carry them tied around the waist or hips.Google Scholar
  53. 50.
    M. D. W. Jeffreys, “Some Notes on the Bikom,” Eastern Anthropologist IV, pp. 88–97.Google Scholar
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  57. 54.
    Elsewhere—Eugenia Shanklin, “The Odyssey of the Afo-a-Kom,” African Acts vol. XXIII (1990), no. 4,—I have dealt with the current selection and nomination procedures for an “anointed” Nafoyn and drawn a distinctions between the “natural” Nafoyns, those who are eligible to become the mother of a Fon, and the “anointed” Nafoyn, the woman who is selected and officially installed as the Nafoyn by the Fon and kwifoyn. Google Scholar
  58. 55.
    Nkwain, “Some Reflections on the Anlu Organized by the Kom Women in 1958,” pp. 6–7.Google Scholar
  59. 56.
    Suzanne Preston Blier, Gestures in African Art (New York: L Kahan Gallery, 1982).Google Scholar
  60. 57.
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  61. 58.
    Eugenia Shanklin, “Installation Rites in Kom Royal Court Compounds,” Paideuma 36 pp. 291–302.Google Scholar
  62. 59.
    I have seen all the women’s ceremonies except ufuaff several times over, but only a few of the men’s ceremonies.Google Scholar
  63. 60.
    In Belo and elsewhere, women who became members of the mukum were children of the quarterhead in whose compound the mukum were lodged, and these women attested that they had full rights and privileges in the mukum groups. The women went through an abbreviated form of the mukum initiation ceremony and were entitled to share in any food brought back by the dancing mukum. Some informants said that they never participated in the land case decisions; others said that they occasionally did so.Google Scholar
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    Nkwi, Traditional Government and Social Change; Northern, Tamara, The Art of Cameroon (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1984).Google Scholar
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    F. W. Butt-Thompson, West African Secret Societies (New York: Argosy-Antiquarian Ltd., 1969).Google Scholar
  66. 63.
    Some men do act as guardians towards some organizations, especially organizations headed by their sisters. Such men may be jokingly described as “fathers” of an organization, for example, as “Boufuaff” the father of ufuaf but they normally serve only as conservators of the properties of the organizations and do not attend meetings or assume any other membership duties.Google Scholar
  67. 64.
    Chilver and Kaberry reported that the njang societies were gone; but in recent years, they have been revived, at least in Belo Valley, where I witnessed three such meetings in 1985–1986. The njang are local organizations that may extend in membership over several villages.Google Scholar
  68. 65.
    In Kom theory, a husband is never entitled to protest a wife’s pregnancy by another man but Kom people also recognize that some husbands are annoyed by a wife’s adultery. The njang women say that their actions ensured that a wife was not reprimanded.Google Scholar
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    Nkwain, “Some Reflections on the Anlu Organized by the Kom Women in 1958,”; Nkwi, “Traditional Female Militancy in a Modern Context.”Google Scholar
  70. 67.
    This was a point on which informants disagreed, some saying that only the man was lu’ed, others that both man and wife were.Google Scholar
  71. 68.
    Nkwain, “Some Reflections on the Anlu Organized by the Kom Women in 1958.”Google Scholar
  72. 69.
    Garden eggs are a type of vegetable that grows wild in Kom; they resemble guavas in that they are bright green but they have the oval shape of an egg. When cooked, they have the smell of fresh excrement, and they are not a preferred food in Kom. What was done with them by anlu was a point on which informants disagreed; some say that the garden eggs were simply carried to the offender’s compound, others that they were cooked beforehand and placed at junctions. Probably both practices occurred but in different regions. Paul Nkwi (personal communication) says that he saw the Njinikom woman putting garden eggs at junctions on at least one occasion, a march to Boyu.Google Scholar
  73. 70.
    Interview with Nawain Martha Fuam, March 4, 1986.Google Scholar
  74. 71.
    Interview with Bobe Elias Chia, December 4, 1985.Google Scholar
  75. 72.
    Interview with C. K. Barth, February 24, 1986.Google Scholar
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    Interviews with Stephen Waindim, February 11, 1986; C. K. Barth, February 24, 1986, and Nawain Ita Itangi and Mr. Gregory Njong, April 10 1986.Google Scholar
  77. 74.
    Interviews with Bobe Elias Chia, 4 December 1985 and Nawain Aluma, May 9, 1986.Google Scholar
  78. 75.
    She is described by Nkwain in the passage quoted above about the role of the Nafoyn.Google Scholar
  79. 76.
    Interviews with Emmanuel Kukwa, February 6, 1986 and Johnson Mbeng, July 14, 1986. “And was she fat?” I asked. “Oh, very fat, almost too fat to walk,” was the reply.Google Scholar
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    Nkwi, “Traditional Female Militancy in a Modern Context,” p. 184.Google Scholar
  81. 78.
    Warnier, “From Hunters to Blacksmiths and Traders.”Google Scholar
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    G. V. Evans, “An Assessment Report on the Kom (Bikom) Clan, Bamenda, “mimeograph,” Buea Archives (Cameroon, 1927).Google Scholar
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    E. M. Chilver, Zingtraffs Explorations in Bamenda, Adamawa, and the Benue Lands 1889–1892 (Buea: Antiquities Commission, 1966).Google Scholar
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    Shanklin, “Installation Rites in Kom Royal Court Compounds.”Google Scholar
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    Chilver, personal communication.Google Scholar
  86. 83.
    Bertrand Masquelier, “Women’s Constitutional Role in Politics,” pp. 104–118.Google Scholar
  87. 84.
    Ibid, p. 106.Google Scholar
  88. 85.
    Christaud M. Geary, Images from Bamum (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  89. 86.
  90. 87.
    Nayah Fuinkuin was the only one of Fon Yuh’s uterine sisters who did not bear a child eligible to succeed Yuh.Google Scholar
  91. 88.
    This may be only a legend, but it is interesting because it indicates that anlu’s members were following the usual revolutionary strategy of questioning the legitimacy of the established, indigenous government. Nkwi cites eyewitness testimony from kwifoyn ‘s members who saw Fon Ndi returning from the place at which he acquired the ability to go into trance. Nkwi also says that since the time of Ndi, subsequent Fons have “chosen” not to go into trance. Nkwain earlier recorded the rumor that Fon Lo’oh (reigned 1954–1966) had not gone into trance, saying there were voices that hinted that Lo’oh was not a real Fon: “He has not since his election gone to Idjum where the Fons of Kom are initiated into the Muso secrets which empower him not only to speak for the living Kom but for the gods and the dead who are part of Kom.” (p. 20).Google Scholar
  92. 89.
    Buea Archives File Number 1599/1926; caps in original; italics added.Google Scholar
  93. 90.
    In some areas within Kom, other women’s organizations dealt with these offenses, that is, at Fundong it was Fumbuen, (interview with Nawain Martha Fuam, March 4, 1986). In neighboring Babanki, Fumbuen is the parallel to the Korn anlu. See Diduk, “Women’s Agricultural Production and Political Action in the Cameroon Grassfields.”Google Scholar
  94. 91.
    Nawain, (literally, mother of a child) and Bobe (lit., father of a compound) are the Kom honorifics, somewhat comparable to Madame and Sir as used in English. Nawain Mwana was the spokesperson for anlu and was probably second in command, after Nawain Fuam, who was known as the “Queen” of anlu. Fuam died soon after political anlu was over.Google Scholar
  95. 92.
    Interfering with crops is a serious crime in Kom; even a farm plot about which there is a pending case cannot be disturbed while the crops are growing and if the crop-owner loses the case, the crops will nevertheless be harvested by the person who planted them.Google Scholar
  96. 93.
    Ritzenthaler, “Anlu,” p. 154.Google Scholar
  97. 94.
    Interview with Nawain Mwana, February 24, 1986.Google Scholar
  98. 95.
    Interview with C. K. Barth, February 24, 1986.Google Scholar
  99. 96.
    This may be one of the few academic controversies in anthropology in which the indigenes participate on both sides—Nkwi and Nkwain are Kom men, both of whom were young at the time of political anlu. Nkwi, who was trained in anthropology, and Bartholomew, who was a schoolteacher, take Ritzenthaler’s positions much of the time; Nkwain, who is now a Minister of the Cameroon government, agrees with Nawain Mwana on most issues. Recent writings by Kom people, for example, Ngam Mimeo., have adopted Ritzenthaler’s views wholesale and, I think, uncritically.Google Scholar
  100. 97.
    An interesting sidelight on the controversy is provided by Elizabeth O’Kelly, an English observer who was Principal Community Development Officer, concerned with placing corn mills to lessen the women’s workload, in the Grassfields area at the time of anlu. O’Kelly (personal communication) says she never doubted that the revolt was “carefully engineered by politicians for their own ends” but she describes a 1960 confrontation with Nawain Mwana and her minions in which the engineering seemed to have gone awry: I asked Jua to arrange the meeting, which was held on June 17th 1960 and was attended by some 200 women, in full war paint. The atmosphere was very tense and I had to rely on Jua for interpretation, as I was reluctant to employ my own staff for fear of reprisals to them. I soon realized however that Jua was by now in considerable fear of the women himself, having lost control of the monster he had created, (Or perhaps the better word is “aroused”).Google Scholar
  101. 98.
    Victor Levine, personal communication.Google Scholar
  102. 99.
    Diduk, “Women’s Agricultural Production and Political Action in the Cameroon Grassfields,” pp. 338–356.Google Scholar
  103. 100.
    The revitalization aspects are also present in Kom’s political anlu, but I do not have space to take them up here; they are dealt with in my article on anlu’s symbols, Shanklin, in preparation. In 1985, I saw the Babanki fumbuen in action; the women were dressed in their best clothes (for which my Kom passengers ridiculed them) and the subject of protest was the Babanki Fon’s courting all the nubile young women in the boarding school, turning the school, as the women sang, into his own private brothel.Google Scholar
  104. 101.
    Interview with Nwain Mwana, February 24, 1986.Google Scholar
  105. 102.
    Nkwi, Traditional Government and Social Change, p .95.Google Scholar
  106. 103.
    O’Barr, “African Women in Politics,” p. 147.Google Scholar
  107. 104.
    Okonjo, “The Dual-Sex Political System in Operation.”Google Scholar
  108. 105.
    Ritzenthaler, “Anlu.”Google Scholar
  109. 106.
    Ardener, Sexual Insult and Female Militancy.”Google Scholar
  110. 107.
    Okonjo, “The Dual-Sex Political System in Operation.”Google Scholar
  111. 108.
    Not just authority, in O’Barr’s (O’Barr, “African Women in Politics”) terms.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

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  • Eugenia Shanklin

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