35 Abisi Women at Work

Sexual Division of Labor

Sexual division of labor is a universal simple way to manage human energy.
It is obvious that men and women are naturally different, they are born with different sexual organs and functions and with what biologist call secondary sexual characters.
Women being mothers, have the responsibility to care for babies and young children for which they are assisted by young girls.
But as any human observer will testify, biological sexuality is transformed by society into all kinds of arrangements, none of which are natural but are caused by human activity.
Child Care and Farm Work
Monogamists see the two sexes as if men and women each were half of the world and marriage was the only way to find wholeness in their union.
Some polygamist gives another ratio to sexuality, they think a man may need four women to make a whole and Abisi philosophy think that both men and women may be many to support their half of the sky!
Assigning some task to one or the other sex is thus a question for society to solve: farming may be men’s or women’s work, so are carrying heavy burdens, hunting, war and even child-care.

Women learn to carry burdens on their head
The sight of neighboring Rukuba women who hoe their farm together side by side with their husband is not envied by Abisi men who sarcastically say that these women are almost men.
As some Abisi men explained: women do not have the strength and discipline to hoe large fields but men do not have the patience to weed them, neither do they have the kind of physical force to transport crops on their heads or to pound millet. They probably lack the necessary training…
Comparing situations show that the sexual division of work is a customary choice based on the kind of economic relations between men and women.

Women Access to Land

In a context where land ownership is the collective propriety of men of  the same  patriline, married women coming from outside can use some fields for themselves.
Economic control of land makes a clear-cut distinction between new wives /uko pas/ and older wives /uko pↄk/ ( house wife) and non-married girls /ki∫akwo/.
New wives do not get the use of a field during their first stay at their husband, except sometimes, small gardens.
Later, other women of the house may have had conversations with the new wife and concluded that she will stay with them and tell it to the landowner.
When he is confident that the woman’s will to stay with him , she is allocated a parcel, generally near the house (kimarapok: hut-field). The woman loses automatically this access if she goes to another spouse.

Women control the distribution of their own products.

After harvest, during the dry season, they feed their children, they help to provide their daughter’s dowry and they brew beer for sale, using the money for their own  needs. They may buy sweets, clothing, replace some cooking pots and lend tax money to their husband if needed…
grinding-wom-work
Grinding grain on a stone

Women’s Work

In Abisi, the sexual division of labor is applied in all branches of production.

Sexual division of work

Cooking, Making Beer and Other Tasks

A married woman usually prepares and cook food for her household with the help of her daughters.
At meal time, the household forms separated age and gender groups. Each eating group sits in a different place: grand-father, father and son’s generation, on the one hand, and girls apart from married women.They eat together in a big plate.
Women also make abisi beer.
Beer, /mi:jet / made with millet or guinea corn. Women do /a:wa/, pound the grain and put the flour in /obiŋgidŋ/ baskets .
The basket is covered with leaves and sunk to the top in a water hole or a river for 12 hours, from 6 am to 6 pm and taken out for the night. This is done for 7 days. The fermented grin is called /iruru mijet/.
After it is brought back at the house to be dried on a clean slate.
It rest for the night in a /apeh/ pot. The next day it is cooked for two hours. This is the /iwali mijet/, the second cooking. It’s then put back in a pot /upeh/ and spiced with red pepper. It may be served in small pots .
Women are excluded from a number of tasks like hunting, fishing and beekeeping. They also do not own dogs nor horses but they can keep other animals like chickens or goats, young boys taking daily care of them.
They prepare food for pigs and a woman is dedicated to the daily task of giving fodder to horses.
Wood crafting is a men’s work but it requires wood gathered by women.
Mortar and pestle are made in Abisi. The women gather the wood, burns the bark but a specialized man digs or sculpt the instrument.
The mortar belongs to the house, not to a particular woman.
There are a big one used to grind guinea corn and millet and a small one for sauces. Basketry and weaving are done by both sexes but for different products.
In agriculture sowing and harvesting may be done by both sexes on their own plots but women are responsible for transplanting millet on men’s plots.
Harvesting can be done by both but women, organized in mutual help groups, usually do the harvest in return for a small portion of the crops.

Help from Family Men and Male friends

Excluded from hoeing tasks, women receive help from their husbands, their sons, and their sons-in-law.
Once a year, young men of the house organized a small Gayya or /tikap kituen/, the “morning hoeing” for every woman of the house.
Most women also have friendly relations with boys from the neighborhood and even from her husband’s sections of other areas.
Either one can start such a friendship relations.
A young man can ask a woman to lend him 50 kobos and ask her to be his friend.
He may say he heard she needs some work on her fields and proposes to help her. He may also ask her to be introduced to girls from her father’s house or patriline.
At dry season, the friend may give her a bundle of guinea-corn or millet or mobilize small mutual aid groups to hoe her fields.
She may also gather some of her own women friends to do some weeding on his field.
The women and men friendship can last a long time, sometimes more than 10 years.
Abisi customary sexual division of work separates men and women in some fields of production but also institute complementary exchanges in other fields .
Abisi men and women were well aware that their gender relations  could be organized otherwise.
They can learn about  their neighbor’s customs or one of those proposed by any of the international religious organization active in Nigeria to see the diversity of women’s work organization.
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