Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Undressed Soldiers, Embodied Dualities: Igbo Women, and the Making of Communities During the Nigeria-Biafra War, 1967-1970

This project will be a comprehensive social and gender history that re-centers Igbo women's voices and wartime experiences in the historiography of the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967—1970). Utilizing a combination of oral traditions, material culture, archival records—and relying on methods like ethnography and oral history—my project will demonstrate that, during the Nigeria-Biafra War, Igbo women acted as "undressed" soldiers, conscious participants, and combatants who fought side-by-side with Biafran men. It will also stress that the roles and wartime contributions of Igbo women helped to shape the outcome of the war. Hence, I argue that the patterns and outcomes of wars can never be fully appreciated without considerations of the roles of women in those conflicts. Questions such as "what cultural, economic, and sociopolitical conditions allowed Igbo women to engage in the war as 'undressed soldiers'?" and "how did Igbo women's wartime soldiering shape the patterns and outcomes of the war?" are central to my project. In tackling these questions, I frame my discussion around two theories —"embodied dualities" and "making community" —to explain the central positions of Igbo women in the Nigeria-Biafra War. Explaining embodied dualities, I draw on Ifi Amadiume's (1987) concept of Igbo gender fluidity and Nwando Achebe's (2005) 'female principle' to depict Igbo women's ability to take on dual cultural identities like mothers and heads of household; wives and prostitutes; traders and spies/smugglers, etc. that enabled them to perform both male and female roles during the war. I also employ Darlene Hine's (1997) concept of "making community" to demonstrate the complex ways that Igbo women developed alternative sociocultural institutions like the Biafran Nurse's Corps to sustain the Biafran society during the war era. By "making community" and performing "embodied dualities," Igbo women collectively and individually shaped patterns and outcomes of the Nigeria-Biafra War.