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The Female King of Colonial Nigeria

Ahebi Ugbabe

Nwando Achebe

Publication Year: 2011

Nwando Achebe presents the fascinating history of an Igbo woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who became king in colonial Nigeria. Ugbabe was exiled from Igboland, became a prostitute, traveled widely, and learned to speak many languages. She became a close companion of Nigerian Igala kings and the British officers who supported her claim to the office of headman, warrant chief, and later, king. In this unique biography, Achebe traces the roots of Ugbabe's rise to fame and fortune. While providing critical perspectives on women, gender, sex and sexuality, and the colonial encounter, she also considers how it was possible for this woman to take on the office and responsibilities of a traditionally male role.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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Ekene / Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

The Igbo have a saying that coming and going keeps the road from getting cold. Like that insightful proverb, my journey into researching and writing King Ahebi’s world has required several comings and goings to navigate and complete. I owe a debt of gratitude to my family, friends, and colleagues who have all in one way or the other supported and nurtured my journey...

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Nkwado / THE PREPARATION:All Trees Grow in the Forest, but the Ora Singled Itself Out

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pp. 1-18

The Discovery... “No one will grant you a Ph.D. for writing another history of the women’s war.” With this stern chastisement and a dry chuckle, my mentor and advisor, the late Professor Boniface Obichere, plunged me into a state of nervous trepidation. It was a sunny afternoon, that day in March 1995, and the “women’s war” my mentor so ungraciously denounced, was of course, the Igbo women’s war of 1929...

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Nkowa / THE INTRODUCTION: Unspoken, Blame the Mouth; Unheard, Blame the Ear

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pp. 19-36

The remembered history of the people of Nsukka Division from the earliest times can be sorted into a series of memorable events, definite landmarks or, put differently, "public disasters of the greatest magnitude" 1 that have been passed down orally from one generation to the next. In some cases these events were recorded by the first British administrative agents...

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ONE Oge Nwatakili: The Time of Childhood, ca. 1880–1895

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pp. 37-61

Umunne na Umunna: Genealogy and Naming in the Ohom Eguru Elechi Clan What has survived of Ahebi Ugbabe's family genealogy is at best imprecise and at worst sketchy. However, much like the Igbo philosophy of naming, igu afa, the Ugbabe family observed a similar ethos in their selection of names for their descendants. The family's choice of names tell us something about the circumstances of birth, as well as the ...

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TWO Mgbapu Ahebi: Exile in Igalaland, ca. 1895–1916

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pp. 62-96

The Igala monarchy, one of the oldest and most formidable king-doms in central Nigeria, is centered on the office of the attah-Igala, who was regarded as the "father" of all Igala people.1 However, one of the earliest attah-Igalas (kings of Igalaland) in living memory was a woman named Ebulejonu, meaning "woman" (Ebule) "that became chief or ...

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THREE Performing Masculinities: Homecoming—and She Becomes a Man, ca. 1916–1930

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pp. 97-135

Oge Otikpo / During the Time of the Destroyer: The Creation and Consolidation of a New Government By 1914, most of Igbo country had been subjugated by the British. It would take until 1920, though, to bring the expanse of land in the northernmost corner of Igboland effectively under British control. In chapter 2 we saw how the British relied on intelligence information provided by members of the groups they were attempting to conquer. Ahebi Ugbabe ...

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FOUR Inside King Ahebi’s Palace, ca. 1916–1948

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pp. 136-171

King Ahebi's palace grounds were large. The palace was a gated com-munity of sorts, with a market, a court, a prison, a school, a "retraining" house, a masquerade house, animal stables, several residential homes, guest houses, and a brothel. Samuel Apeh, a retired army sergeant and one of the pupils who attended King Ahebi's palace school, equated the ...

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FIVE Mastering Masculinities:Ekpe Ahebi Masquerade—the Final Insult, ca. 1931–1948

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pp. 172-198

The underlying reason that the elders encouraged schoolteacher Jacob Elam to move out of Ahebi's palace was that they had had enough of her antics and abuses. It was not simply that Ahebi had eroded the traditional leadership of male elders by transforming herself into a British-sanctioned and imposed headman and warrant chief and then into an ...

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Mmechi / THE CONCLUSION: Ahebi Today—the Works That We Do Are the Things by Which We Are Remembered

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pp. 199-208

The Ahebi Primary School: Reflections on a 1996 Visit It was a relatively cold day that harmattan morning of November 23, 1996. Being a Saturday, the Ahebi Primary School was closed. However, the trip to Umuida enabled me to take a self-guided tour of the layout of the elementary school named after the female king I was researching. From my vantage point on Ahebi Ugbabe Road, I could see the large ...

Appendix: Select Criminal and Civil Cases in Nsukka Division, in which Ahebi Participated 1918–1930

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pp. 209-218

Glossary of Chronological Terms

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pp. 219-220

Glossary of Igbo and Igala Words

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pp. 221-224


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pp. 225-276


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pp. 277-296


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pp. 297-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780253005076
E-ISBN-10: 0253005078
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355386

Page Count: 322
Illustrations: 29 b&w illus., 12 maps, 9 music exx., 5 tables
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 707092916
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Female King of Colonial Nigeria

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ugbabe, Ahebi.
  • Women, Igbo -- Biography.
  • Sex role -- Nigeria.
  • Igbo (African people) -- Kings and rulers -- Biography.
  • Nigeria -- Kings and rulers -- Biography.
  • Nigeria -- History -- 1851-1899.
  • Nigeria -- History -- 1900-1960.
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