Ajé & Àjé: Gender and Female Power in Yorùbáland
Yorùbá culture of present-day Southwest Nigeria and Southeast Republic of Benin, has received much attention from academics over time. In part, this is due to the culturally ingrained female power that has existed and persisted over time in Yorùbáland. However, some scholars have argued against the gender structure generally accepted by scholars to be grounded in Yorùbáland. In particular, Oyeronke Oyewumi made a compelling, yet controversial argument in her book The Invention of Women: Making An African Sense of Western Gender Discourses (1997). Oyewumi asserts that scholars have imposed their Western bias in their research on the Yorùbá based on their own understanding of gender roles throughout history.
Although Oyewumi makes many valid arguments in her volume, this study will expose weaknesses in her claim in regards to important gender distinctions that have existed in Yorùbáland over time, and in particular female power in the marketplace. By examining two Yorùbá concepts of female power, the deity Ajé and the concept of àjé, the culturally ingrained importance of female power will be made clear and contribute to the vast scholarship on related subjects.
The goddess Ajé, as a deity of the marketplace, has received little attention in scholarship on the Yorùbá pantheon, yet she provides an example of the importance of womanhood in Yorùbá culture. The concept of àjé, on the other hand, is much better studied concept of female power in Yorùbáland. Àjé represents female power throughout many facets of Yorùbá life, including economic, domestic, religious, as well as political spheres. These expressions of culturally grounded female power within Yorùbáland are exemplary of the dynamic gender structure in Yorùbá culture. Contrary to what Oyewumi asserts, and contrary to many early Western feminists' accounts, Yorùbá women have been able to harness female power to their advantage throughout Yorùbáland over time.