African Studies Association Women’s Caucus’s Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize winner
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title
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.