O level Notes : FRS - Gender roles in Indigenous religion

In African societies, men and women have specific roles defined by the society and in accordance with Indigenous religion.

Indigenous religion

In African societies, men and women have specific roles defined by the society and in accordance with Indigenous religion.

Gender roles for women in Indigenous Religion

(a) Household duties

African   women   do   household   chores   such   as cooking, sweeping, fetching firewood and water.

(b) Child bearing and nurturing

Women are responsible for bringing  up children in the right path. It is them who spend most of the time with children who will in turn become closer to them. A mother’s influence dominates in the house and it is believed that good children reflect a good mother. Mothers teach their children values and ethics.

(c) Preserving culture

Aunties preserve culture of respect, honour and dignity through educating girls. It is the duty of women to shape the future of girls according to community’s expectations. Women such as aunties educate girls on their future roles.

(d) Religious roles

Some women are religious practitioners such as medicine women, spirit mediums, diviners and traditionalists. Holding such roles, they have a special role in people’s lives as they are in connection with the ancestral world. These women  relay messages from the other world and are highly respected in the community. Women who are traditionalists play the role of counsellors, judges, advisors, fortune-tellers and revealers of secrets. As ancestors, women  are responsible for fertility, good health and protection of the living.

(e) Source of wealth

Women are a source of wealth through dowry (lobola or roora). Women acquire property and gain income through craftwork like basketry, pottery, weaving and farming.

(f) Being submissive

Women are to be subject to their husbands. They depend on males and cannot make decisions without consulting their husbands.

(g) Ritual specialists


Women play important roles in personal rituals associated with birth, puberty and death. At childbirth, women express gratitude to God with prayers and sacrifices and at death they sing dirges to express their sorrow. Being ritual specialists, they are upholders of community norms and traditions. Some women are rain messengers and it is believed women have a special power to bring rain by appeasing the goddess of rain and fertility.Their duties include making sacrifices, offering prayers and conducting  private and public rites and ceremonies.


(h) Musical role


A  lot  of  festivals  abound  in  Indigenous   religion and  there is singing  and  dancing  by well-dressed women  during   festivals.  Some  of  these  festivals are in honour of the most important divinities and ancestors. Women also sing  songs  during  various rituals and ceremonies.


Gender roles of men in Indigenous religion


(a) Decision makers

Men are decision makers; it is their sole responsibility to make all decisions for the good of the family.

(b) Providers

Men are to love and take good care of their wives. It is their duty to provide food, shelter and clothing to his family. Women are dependent on males.

(c) Head of the family

As the head of the family, a father has a say in everything that happens at his home. He solves problems that arise in the family. He has full control of his homestead.


(d) Ritual specialists


As religious practitioners they conduct  ceremonies and rituals. Priesthood is a highly  respected office in African societies. Priests give advice and perform judicial and political functions in addition to caring for the temples and shrines to which they are attached. They also intermediate between people and the spirit world.


(e) Traditional doctors


With their expertise as traditional doctors, they symbolise  the hopes of their society such as good health, protection and security from evil forces. They cure disease which cannot be cured in the modern hospitals.


(f) Mediums and diviners


As mediums and diviners, they relay messages from the other worldandalsorevealthe secrets of the past, present and the future when they are possessed by their deities. People consult them on private matters and when having a national crisis.

  • They consult the ancestral spirits for protection of the family and society.
  • Indigenous religion believes in life after death and deceased men become ancestors who will protect and guide the living. As ancestors they intermediate between the people and the Supreme Being. They fight evil spirits and drive them away from their family descendants where they once belonged.
  • Most leadership positions  such as chieftainship  and headmen  are for men.  They have a duty to protect morals and values in Indigenous  religion. Through  prohibitions  on sacred places they do not only conserve the environment but they safeguard the sacred places preserving African culture.
  • It is men who pay lobola to bring spiritual union between families of the bride and the groom.