Continuity and Change among Adigo Women’s Roles, Status and Education: An Exploratory Anthropological Study

Wamahiu, Sheila P.  (1989). Continuity and Change among Adigo Women’s Roles, Status and Education: An Exploratory Anthropological Study. Kenyatta University, Department of Educational Foundations. Nairobi: Kenyatta University

Guided by a feminist conceptual framework, this study investigated the interface between the varied roles and educational experiences of women in pre-colonial, colonial and contemporary Adigo societies. The Adigo, who occupy the southern coast of present-day Kenya, were traditionally matrilineal. The study hypothesised that the relatively higher status of women in indigenous societies, particularly matrilineal ones had been depressed by mainly non-indigenous educative influences as reflected in their current socio-economic dependent status. Based on the emerging evidence, the study suggested the need for a re-examination of literature on women's position and consequent redefinition of their status within matrilineal societies.

Contrary to traditional anthropological perceptions of women's status in matrilineal societies, the study revealed that Adigo women had inheritance rights and could assume public office in indigenous contexts. They also had far more ritual, and therefore, political power than has been credited to them. However, despite enjoying considerable marital and personal autonomy, political, religious (ritual) and economic powers, the study found that the power of Adigo women had been greatly curtailed by the time the fieldwork was being conducted. Islamic education, initially and subsequently colonial education, by denying easy access to females, ensured their non-participation in newly introduced religious and economic activities. Increasing participation by Adigo women in both Islamic and postcolonial western type education notwithstanding, the dominant patriarchal ideology propagated through both these educational systems, continued to erode women's status in contemporary society.

Data for the study were collected over a period of one and a half years from the Kwale District of Coastal Kenya. It combined traditional anthropological methods with techniques developed by feminist anthropologist sensitive to women’s roles and status. Additional data were collected from the archives and other documented sources, an exercise that was particularly useful in the reconstruction of pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial Adigo societies.