Female militancy or ‘culture of silence’?
Historical evidence exists regarding African women’s militant action against colonial oppression and patriarchal power (cf. Kolawole, this volume) as well as against sexual insults from men. Based on data from Cameroon in the 1950s, Shirley Ardener (1975) has described how women collectively would confront a male offender, singing abusive songs accompanied by obscene gestures. Machera supports this kind of evidence with data from her native Kenya, where “a form of curse employed by women involved deliberate exhibition of their private parts towards the person being cursed.” Similar stories are told by Susanna Yene Awa – som from contemporary Cameroon, where in the early 1990s a group of postmenopausal women were fighting government troops by raising their dresses high in the air, and holding out their old women’s breasts towards the soldiers as if to fire bullets from them:
These octogenarian women were believed to possess potent mystical powers because of their sex and age. As women who had brought life, it was believed that they could use these very reproductive organs to curse and terminate lives (Awasom 2002:5).