Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Securing Ablodé Blibo: West African Women Traders and the Transnational Politics of Decolonization 1930-1963

Beginning in the 1930s, the Nana Benz, a group of women cloth traders, established a commercial enterprise in West Africa by securing exclusive rights to distribute European manufactured textiles throughout the African continent. The women became so wealthy that they were the first people to import the Mercedes Benz into Togo, thus earning them the name Nana Benz. To maintain their business networks, these women traveled extensively across the Ewe-speaking regions of West Africa, which were partitioned between the British Togoland, French Togoland and the Gold Coast colony. With the wealth accumulated from the textile trade, Nana Benz financed the Ewe Unification Movement, which sought to unite the Ewe-speaking regions. Their vision of a united Ewe nation was termed Ablodé Blibo, meaning total independence in Ewe, and the Nana Benz inscribed this ideology into the Ablodé cloth, which people wore to anti-colonial rallies across British and French Togoland. The Nana Benz's political activism garnered them international attention. In 1963, Ebony magazine published an editorial on one of the most prominent Nana Benz, Eunice Adabunu. Despite their influential role in the political history of West Africa, the Nana Benz remain absent from political histories of the region. My dissertation, "Securing Ablodé Blibo: West African Women Traders and the Transnational Politics of Decolonization," traces the lives of the Nana Benz across the contemporary Ghana/Togo boundary and considers the multiple levels of the women's anti-colonial activism in the mid-20th century. Although my project also interrogates how the Nana Benz became models of black feminist liberation in the United States, I am applying for the SSRC-IDRF specifically to support archival and field research in Togo and Ghana over a span of 12 months. My research in West Africa will help me understand the women's life histories and the larger political and economic context in which they lived.