P126 – Locating Gender in the History of Angola
9 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Kananoja Kalle / University of Helsinki


Angola’s history has been characterized by a great deal of interaction between local and foreign people. For centuries, European settlers to Angola were almost exclusively male. Over time, their intimate relationships with local women led to the emergence of Luso-African families with access to networks of wealth and power. Certain female political and religious leaders, such as queen Nzinga and Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita, are well known in the history of West Central Africa. Some attention has also been paid to the emergence of a group of female entrepreneurs referred to as Donas in the nineteenth century as well as to the lives of enslaved women. Despite the presence of these female personages in historical narratives, gender has remained an understated analytical category in Angola’s historiography. This panel invites contributions that reflect critically on the social relations of gender at any stage of the Angolan past. Gender affected not only the political economy of the region but also played an important and complex role in cultural life, affecting, and being affected by religion, sexual roles, kinship and family, expressions of identities, work, and medical practices.

Localizando o género dentro a história de Angola
A história de Angola é caraterizada pela grande interação entre a população local e estrangeira. Durante séculos os colonos europeus foram quase exclusivamente masculinos. As suas relações íntimas com as mulheres locais levaram para a emergência de famílias luso-africanas com acesso às redes de riquezas e poder. Algumas líderes políticas e religiosas, como a rainha Nzinga e Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita, são bem conhecidas na história de África centro ocidental. Os historiadores também prestaram alguma atenção relativamente ao surgimento de grupos de empreendedoras conhecidas como Donas no século dezanove, bem como os percursos individuais de algumas escravas. Apesar da presença destas personagens femininas de relevo na sociedade, o estudo do género ainda se encontra pouco explorado pela historiografia. Este painel pretende reunir contribuições que possam refletir criticamente acerca das  relações sociais de género durante o passado de Angola. Além da economia política, o género assumia um papel importante e complexo na vida cultural, afetando a vida religiosa, a sexualidade, o parentesco e a família, as expressões de identidades, o trabalho e as práticas medicinais.

Paper 1

Heywood Linda / Boston University

Queen Njinga of Angola: Violence, Diplomacy and Gender and the Keys to Notoriety and Remembrance

Queen Njinga of Angola (1581-1663) has gone done in history as the only African leader to became a legend during her own life not only in Angola but in sacred and profane spaces of Europe and America. The paper argues that Njinga’s calculated use of violence against allies and enemies alike, her strategic use of soft power in the form of religious diplomacy, and the elaborate lengths she went to expand and exploit the gender norms of her own society had no comparisons in world history. Using published and unpublished sources as well as oral traditions recorded and collected in Angola and the Americas, the paper interrogates the life of this extraordinary woman who by successfully combining violence, diplomacy and creating new gender conventions in many ways shaped the shifting legacy of notoriety and sacred memory which she has garnered in Angola and elsewhere. The paper shows that the continuing fascination with this Angolan leader has much to do with the way Njinga creatively appropriated and exploited strategies of violence, diplomacy and gender norms from the African and Afro-Europeans conventions dominant in Angola at the time to set down the parameters for how her contemporaries and later generations from Angola and elsewhere would remember her.

Paper 2

Buri Maryann / York University

Beyond Slaves and Wives: Free Black Women and the Church in Eighteenth Century Benguela

On October 19, 1776, Caeta Sebastiao, a free black woman from the hinterland of Benguela, was buried in the Catholic church. Caeta never married and had no relatives, yet she was able to access a position of social standing in Benguela, according to her obituary, through involvement in the church. Many free, freed, and enslaved women from the hinterland received church burials in Benguela in the late 18th century. Black women were considered part of the church community much more frequently than black men; local constructions of gender determined that the church could be a social space for African women. An examination of how these women engaged in Catholic dying practices offers new insights into the role of African women in evolving Luso-African coastal societies during the slave trade. Burial records offer a wealth of information on the social position of individual African women, as well as the extent to which they participated in Catholic rituals upon their deaths. This paper examines burial records from the church of Nossa Senhora de Populo between 1770-1800, engaging in a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the findings; it shows that women were able to gain access to social power and act as cultural brokers in the wider community through conversion to Catholicism and membership in Catholic Brotherhoods. While many African women became socially mobile through domestic relationships with European men, others strategically negotiated participation in the Church.

Paper 3

Dulley Iracema / London School of Economics

The production of gender in Protestant ABCFM missions in the Central Highlands of Angola

The project of the Congregationalist American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), active in the Central Highlands of Angola from the 1880s to 1961, was founded on the pillars of Christianization, literacy, and education through work. ABCFM archival sources reveal that missionary schools were based on a strict gender division, in both continuity and rupture with pre-colonial patterns of gender differentiation. One of the main purposes of education in ABCFM missionary schools was to train male Christian preachers and qualified workers and female Christian housewives and mothers, and the long-term effects thereof can be observed in the present gendered structure of Protestant families in the region. In considering the production of gender in ABCFM missionary schools in Angola, this paper intends to address the following issues: How was a gendered habitus produced in missionary schools? What kind of behavior was expected of male and female Christians and how were such dispositions inscribed in their bodies? To what extent can one affirm that there was continuation and/or rupture between this gendered Christian habitus and pre-colonial gender structures?

Paper 4

Paredes Margarida / PPGA-UFBA, Salvador e CRIA, Lisboa

Deolinda Rodrigues: Female Masculinities as Strategy of Resistance and Subversion in the MPLA Liberation Struggle in Angola

This paper will address the MPLA guerrilla fighter Deolinda Rodrigues, an ‘avant la lettre’ feminist who explored different gender roles and challenged the ruling order in the anti-colonial liberation movement to which she belonged from 1956 until 1967. The nationalist struggle was designed as a space where, to reinvent herself, she was required to broke with values linked to femininity and calling upon attributes considered as masculine, such as authority, decision, strength, courage, bravery and violence. In order to build herself as a “comrade in arms” fighting in a movement where male dominance was naturalized and where women’s emancipation was subject to the priority of national liberation, Deolinda was taken to subvert the ruling order and to articulate multiple dimensions of social construction of masculinities, or rather, alternative masculinities such as “female masculinities” (Halberstam 1998) to achieve the objectives of her nationalist activism. This reflection upon Deolinda Rodrigues will be based on MPLA documents, her biographical writings, the book “Diário de um Exílio sem Regresso” (2003) and testimonies recorded by former MPLA comrades who were interviewed in Angola during fieldwork undertaken in Anthropology (2011).

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