Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Concubines and Power

Five Hundred Years in a Northern Nigerian Palace

2004
Author:

Heidi J. Nast
Foreword by Hausatu Abba Ado Bayero

Concubines and Power

A groundbreaking study of royal concubinage and how it influenced and was influenced by social and political forces

The palace of Kano, Nigeria historically housed hundreds of concubines whose influence has been largely overlooked. In Concubines and Power, Heidi J. Nast demonstrates how human-geographical methods can tell us about a place bereft of archaeological work or primary sources. Social forces undoubtedly shaped concubinage, but Nast shows how the women’s reach extended beyond the palace walls to the formation of the state itself.

A vitally important, highly significant and badly needed contribution. To a literature dominated by male concerns, it adds a potently reasoned and brilliantly documented female perspective.

Jay Spaulding, Kean University

The monumental palace of Kano, Nigeria, was built circa 1500 and is today inhabited by more than one thousand persons. Historically, its secluded interior housed hundreds of concubines whose role in the politics, economics, and culture of Kano city-state has been largely overlooked. In this pioneering work, Heidi J. Nast demonstrates how human-geographical methods can tell us much about a site like the palace, a place bereft of archaeological work or relevant primary sources.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic work and mapping data, Concubines and Power presents new evidence that palace concubines controlled the production of indigo-dyed cloth centuries before men did. The women were also key players in the assessment and collection of the state's earliest grain taxes, forming a complex and powerful administrative hierarchy that used the taxes for palace community needs. In addition, royal concubines served as representatives of their places of origin, their freeborn children providing the king with additional human capital to cement territorial alliances through marriage.

Social forces undoubtedly shaped and changed concubinage for hundreds of years, but Nast shows how the women’s reach extended far beyond the palace walls to the formation of the state itself.

Awards

African Studies Association Women’s Caucus’s Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize winner

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Concubines and Power

Heidi J. Nast is professor of international studies at DePaul University, Chicago. She coedited and contributed to the volumes Places through the Body and Thresholds in Feminist Geography.

Concubines and Power

A vitally important, highly significant and badly needed contribution. To a literature dominated by male concerns, it adds a potently reasoned and brilliantly documented female perspective.

Jay Spaulding, Kean University

Unique in subject matter, in disciplinary approach, and in the comprehensive nature of the evidence—highly engaging and persuasive.

Jane Guyer, Johns Hopkins University

This is an important and useful little book that should be of interest to scholars in many fields, both for the data contained in it and for its theoretical analysis.

Africa: Journal of the International African Institute

Heidi Nast’s book recovers and reconstitutes this world. It is an imaginative and innovative contribution to cultural geography.

Cultural Geographies

Heidi Nast’s Concubines and Power demystifies the exotic, offering an analytical view of concubines’s roles in the communal context of the royal palace in Kano, Nigeria.

African Studies Review

Concubines and Power is a valuable addition to gendered histories of Nigeria and a product of both excellent scholarship and collaborative ethnographic research. It is a fascinating book that will be of interest to historical and feminist geographers as well as Africanists, historians, archaeologists and anthropologists.

Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography

This product of over ten years of research has resulted in a work that is original and profound. This competent study is rich in ethnography, offering new data on slavery, gender, the management of the Kano palace, grain treasuries, and the role of Islam. Highly recommended.

Choice

Concubines and Power is an important rethinking of the role of royal concubinage in the historic city-state of Kano in northern Nigeria. At a time when human geography seems to be yet again reconsidering its approach to research, the empirically-rich interpretations found in Concubines and Power might serve as an innovative foundation for new qualitative studies of social phenomenon in the past and present.

The Professional Geographer

Concubines and Power offers a detailed sociospatial geographical history of the residences, activities, and value of concubines in the Kano palace. It brings together a wealth of information on the lives of women who populate the harem, the heart of the palace, and lends insight into how women contributed to Kano politics and culture during the past 500 years. It will surely inspire further research on Hausa women and their vital roles in the culture.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Heidi Nast’s Concubines and Power is an outstanding contribution and a remarkably radical departure from previous works on the royal emirate because is highlights the pivotal roles of these concubines in the staging of social, political, and economic power in the city despite their apparently marginal position.

African Affairs

Concubines and Power

Contents

Foreword Hausatu Abba Ado Bayero
Acknowledgments
Prologue

Introduction

1. Grain Treasuries and Children: Royal Concubines in the 1500s and 1600s
2. Fecundity, Indigo Dyeing, and the Gendering of Eunuchs
3. Great Transformations: Expropriation and Fulani Rule
4. Concubine Losses and Male Gains: Abdullahi dan Dabo
5. British Colonial Abolition of Slavery and Concubinage

Conclusion

Epilogue
Notes
Bibliography
Index