Emergent Masculinities: Gendered Power and Social Change in the Biafran Atlantic Age

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by Ndubueze L. Mbah

Ohio University Press

10/29/2019, paperback

SKU: 9780821423899


Finalist for the 2020 African Studies Association Book Prize · Cowinner of the 2020 Rosalyn Terborg-Penn Book Prize for outstanding original scholarship on gender and sexuality in the African diaspora, awarded by the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD).

In Emergent Masculinities, Ndubueze L. Mbah argues that the Bight of Biafra region’s Atlanticization—or the interaction between regional processes and Atlantic forces such as the slave trade, colonialism, and Christianization—between 1750 and 1920 transformed gender into the primary mode of social differentiation in the region.

He incorporates over 250 oral narratives of men and women across a range of social roles and professions with material culture practices, performance traditions, slave ship data, colonial records, and more to reveal how Africans channeled the socioeconomic forces of the Atlantic world through their local ideologies and practices. The gendered struggles over the means of social reproduction conditioned the Bight of Biafra region’s participation in Atlantic systems of production and exchange, and defined the demography of the region’s forced diaspora. By looking at male and female constructions of masculinity and sexuality as major indexes of social change, Emergent Masculinities transforms our understanding of the role of gender in precolonial Africa and fills a major gap in our knowledge of a broader set of theoretical and comparative issues linked to the slave trade and the African diaspora.


Emergent Masculinities transforms our understanding of the role of gender in a particular region of precolonial Africa and deepens our knowledge of the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and European colonialization on Igbo and neighboring societies. Its ramifications extend beyond the Bight of Biafra to vast areas on both sides of the Atlantic. The book constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of the political, economic and social dynamics that shaped the Atlantic world during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is a must-read—and a must-have—for scholars of Africa and the Atlantic world and for college and university libraries.” --Elizabeth Schmidt, Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines

“In a timely and necessary contribution to our understanding of the gendered threads of connection between West African communities and trans-Atlantic processes, Mbah delivers a fine-grained reading of transformations in social practice and cultural meaning among the Ohafia-Igbo people over two centuries. He thus complicates how we use gender to understand power and social meaning in broader African history and challenges presumptions about the general contours of the trans-Atlantic slave trade." -- Emily S. Burrill, author of States of Marriage: Gender, Justice, and Rights in Colonial Mali

“[Offers] offers theoretical sophistication, rich textual analysis, and extensive empirical research…. Emergent Masculinities is both interdisciplinary and transnational. It illustrates the author’s facility with anthropological debates, gender theory, and literary theory, along with Atlantic and Caribbean history. Given its breath, this book should be read by scholars on both sides of the Atlantic as one model for integrating Africa into Atlantic history.” -- Judith A. Byfield, Journal of African History

About the Author:

Ndubueze L. Mbah is a West African Atlantic historian and teaches at the University of Buffalo. He uses a variety of oral, written and material culture sources to examine changing labor systems, mobilities, slavery and abolition, and cosmopolitanism; as well as constructions of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity in West Africa between the 18th and 20th centuries.