Women, Royalty, and Indigo Dyeing in Northern Nigeria, Circa 1500–1807

Heidi J. Nast

in Servants of the Dynasty

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780520254435
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520941519 | DOI:
Women, Royalty, and Indigo Dyeing in Northern Nigeria, Circa 1500–1807

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapterk presents preliminary historical geographic evidence from three sites discovered in and near the ancient city-state of Kano, in northern Nigeria, that shows that as early as the 1500s, royal concubines in the Kano palace held exclusive rights over the production of indigo-dyed cloth; and that they did so because of indigo blue's association with human and earthly fertility over which royalty was understood to have control. The data suggest that over subsequent centuries, royal women and non-royal women across Hausaland (a linguistic region straddling Nigeria and Niger of which Kano was a leading economic and cultural part) began producing indigo-dyed cloth for domestic and commercial purposes. It was only after a reformist jihad in the 1800s that men effectively wrested industry control away from royal and non-royal women alike. The findings indicate that while the gendered makeup of Kano's nineteenth-century indigo dyeing industry was indeed anomalous in West Africa, it was so for only a relatively brief period of time.

Keywords: Kano; Nigeria; indigo dyeing; indigo blue; concubines; fertility; royal women; Hausaland; West Africa; Kano palace

Chapter.  11190 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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