Widows in Africa

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Oct 29, 2017 - sions to widow remarriage and the levirate-the widow's obligation to be in husband's brother-and ignoring the woman's opinion of the situation.

Review Reviewed Work(s): Widows in Africa: Choices and Constraints by Betty Potash Review by: Alma Gottlieb Source: African Studies Review, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Sep., 1988), pp. 157-160 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/524430 Accessed: 29-10-2017 18:39 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://about.jstor.org/terms

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Book

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Reviews

participation

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157

women

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ing

powerlessness into new form earning money from beer br

women supported the men in th themselves that transcended clas tivity, challenged male dominance Kisangani in Zaire. In 1980, 28 pe

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women.

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to take advantage of different o mal) economy that some women h The final section in the book co (female solidarity) and class cons lower the solidarity among the w piece on South African women, w cause they cannot rely on their h class the

consciousness.

garment

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document

textile

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new analyses of historical materia ly engaged in anti-colonial activi

tions to illuminate the women's p class formation during the coloni

women on the coffee estates that to maximize the worth of their w

The volume may at first seem i heavily on the jargon of Marxism

going. But the material is well-d of reasoning set forth in the

line

thropological, the data derived f raw, which makes for engaging r Deborah Pellow

Syracuse University

Betty Potash, Ed. Widows in Africa: Choices and Constraints. Stanford: Stanford Uni -

versity Press, 1986. 309 pp. $35.00. When Hamlet's father died and in less than two months his widow Gertrude married

Claudius, Shakespeare's audiences were appalled. Not only had Gertrude remarried too soon, but her new mate was her husband's brother, an incestuous category of affine in seventeenth-century England. However, Tiv elders in Nigeria, hearing this story told to them by anthropologist Laura Bohannan (Bohannan 1966), dissolved the play's initial

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158 AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW plot impetus by insisting that Gertrude and Claudius had done the

in Nigerian Tiv society, as in many others throughout Africa, it is a his brother's widow, and only if he shirked his responsibility woul

Gertrude's feelings in the matter were not touched upon by the Tiv; p sumed she would have been pleased to be inherited by a "clan-mate" o than having to fend for herself.

Until the Potash volume under consideration, anthropological wo variably took the perspective of the male Tiv elders, focusing on th sions to widow remarriage and the levirate-the widow's obligation t

husband's brother-and ignoring the woman's opinion of the situ

least compliance on the part of the widow was assumed. This unacce remedied by the volume under review. Most chapters in the presen extent to which widows, rather than being helpless, passive victims depicted, may have at least partial and in some cases full control ov this endeavour, as Potash points out (p. 4) in her solid introduction sues and definitions, the contributors also reject the common view

fined solely as wives, by considering cases of widows who choose Jean-Claude Muller writes for the Rukuba of Nigeria, such women eral lovers (pp. 182 ff.).

This case suggests an important observation that is underlined rep book: there are no typical widows even within a single society (as D

states for the Akan-p. 225), let alone across an entire continent.

aims precisely to challenge many stereotypes about African widows t been guilty of perpetuating, by showing strikingly how many variat widowhood exist in Africa. If it is surprising that anthropologists h variations, it is all the more so, when one considers their sheer num

have been so negelected as subjects by anthropologists. Where the age

spouses is relatively great, as it is in many African societies, widow

large portion of the adult female population: for the Dukawa of mone's estimate is up to 30 percent (p. 173). Still the overwhelm

focus has been on documenting the formal norms concerning widow viewing individual widows for their reactions to such norms. Significantly, several articles in this volume demonstrate how for

necessarily followed at all. The most striking cases are explored by Mona Etienne. Oboler shows how among the Nandi of Kenya, the lev ed, is in fact rarely practised. By contrast, Etienne eloquently analys tion for the Baule of Ivory Coast, who technically forbid the levira circumvent their own prohibition. She carefully explores exactly w would find such remarriage attractive and conversely which affinal g to persuade widows to stay.

Intracultural variation is surely apparent in women's experiences and leviratic unions. Potash points out that among the Luo of Kenya levirate, (better termed simriply "the levirate"), a woman's marriage As with the Nuer, made famous by Evans-Pritchard (1951), a woman i

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Book

Reviews

159

ried

to her first husband: after he by a levir. This situation is a good supposed. Luo have far fewer obli while alive: they neither have to c themselves may be very short-liv she wishes, to find another levir ( Vellenga, Christine Obbo and Jan toms pertaining to widowhood. G

uating

Beti

widow

inheritance

centuries of Cameroonian history striking expansion of polygyny a veloping ivory trade. Wealthy me

the main form of wealth-with on Widow inheritance necessarily bec being

assessed for the potential w wealth for her daughters, and so the late twentieth century most p

ows are now older and often rem not be more dramatic. Guyer's ch that our customary neglect of hist

As with the previous generation a pawn in a male game; the other avaliable to widows. Indeed in som ble to them than do men. Salamo er

has

few

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as

he

must

off

may in turn refuse the offer (pp the child and leave the mother" re

ther more than on the widow; as and respect his widow" (p. 258). In

general,

the

contributors

shar

pologists Fredrik Barth and F.G. their situations. As Obbo paraphr

risks and benefits involved in the this perspective, most of the auth by an individual, newly widowed pecially

relevant

are:

whether

er she is still fertile or Schildkrout, writing on

adult

brothers;

Swahili

the

speakers);

she

is post-m the Hausa

availability

and

the

nature

o

o

This focus on actors-as-maximer emerged in anthropology, althoug novel. Still, the book's very theor of other perspectives that might

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160 AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW

realms of religion, ritual, symbolism, and systems of meanings and va

tirely overlooked, with even funerary and mourning rituals being ba

alone analyzed. The reader is left with the surely mistaken impression

Africa is an entirely secular affair determined by pragmatic considerat ratios.

This criticism in no way detracts from this reader's overall enthus ume. The book is in step with several other recent feminist approach

rica and elsewhere (e.g., Collier and Yanagisako 1987, Sacks 1

integrate women into the traditional anthropological study of the fa collection is a welcome contribution to the literature that seeks to look types and it will undoubtedly open up the study of the topic for furt approaches. REFERENCES

Bohannon, Laura. 1966. "Shakespeare in the Bush," Natural History 75: Collier, Jane Fishburne and Sylvia Junko Yanagisako, eds. 1987. Gende says toward a Unified Analysis. Stanford: Stanford University Press Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1951. Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer. Ox Press.

Sacks, Karen. 1979. Sisters and Wives: The Past and Future of Sexual Inequality. Westport CT: Greenwood Press. Alma Gottlieb

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ladislav Holy. Strategies and Norms in a Changing Matrilineal Society: Descent, Succession and Inheritance Among the Toka of Zambia. Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology, 1986, 233 pp. At its most ambitious, this book deals with "the relationship between the conceptual or cultural level of phenomena and transactional processes" (p. 53). The central question is how cultural notions relate to practical actions. Rather than assuming that these domains are isomorphic, the author suggests their relationship is problematical and hence in need of careful scrutiny.

The occasion to do so is provided by a long-standing controversy surrounding the demise of matriliny. Does the entire ideology of matrilineal descent disappear under the impact of a capitalist market system, or is it only the practice of matrilineal inheritance, the

author asks? According to Holy, most previous threorists have asssumed that changes in relations of production and forms of inheritance inevitably bring changes in the conceptu-

alization of descent. He argues that these are parallel processes, and he sets about to prove his point by using a concrete example. The analysis centers on the Toka, a matrilineal people occupying four districts in the

Southern Province of Zambia. While he was Director of the Livingstone Museum, Holy

This content downloaded from 130.126.162.126 on Sun, 29 Oct 2017 18:39:29 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms