Mother Is Gold, Father Is Glass

Mother Is Gold, Father Is Glass

Gender and Colonialism in a Yoruba Town
Lorelle D. Semley
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/5/2010
Format: paper 256 pages, 9 b&w illus., 2 maps
6 x 9 x .6875
ISBN: 978-0-253-22253-4
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Lorelle D. Semley explores the historical and political meanings of motherhood in West Africa and beyond, showing that the roles of women were far more complicated than previously thought. While in Kétu, Bénin, Semley discovered that women were treasurers, advisors, ritual specialists, and colonial agents in addition to their more familiar roles as queens, wives, and sisters. These women with special influence made it difficult for the French and others to enforce an ideal of subordinate women. As she traces how women gained prominence, Semley makes clear why powerful mother figures still exist in the symbols and rituals of everyday practices.

Author Bio

Lorelle D. Semley is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Wesleyan University. Her work has been published in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures and she is a contributor to Crossing Memories: Slavery and African Diaspora (forthcoming).


"Semley's work is a welcome addition to a growing literature on gender and the European encounter with African societies." —Choice , September 2011

"Semley provides historical depth and historiographical sophistication to this study of Yoruba women in West Africa and the Atlantic World." —
International Journal of African Historical Studies

"A book that will be of great interest to Africanist historians, anthropologists, and others who want to learn more about gender relations on the continent." —Misty Bastian, Franklin & Marshall College

"Focuses on metaphors and realities of women's power, secular and religious, and how power is exercised as public motherhood." —Edna Bay, Emory University

"'Mother Is Gold, Father Is Glass' is a wonderful contribution to the literature on gender, African women, French colonialism, and the African diaspora." —
H-Africa , December 2012

"[T]his is an engaging and informative book for scholars interested in African history and gender." —
African Studies Quarterly

"Lorelle Semley's engaging study of the historical and symbolic power of motherhood (and fatherhood) in Ketu, a Yoruba town in the Republic of Benin, makes an important contribution to the study of gender and power in the Atlantic world." —Africa

"By excavating [the] ambiguous, shifting space between the rhetoric of Yoruba women's power as queens and mothers, and the realities of women's vulnerability and subordination as wives and slaves, Semley's Mother Is Gold, Father Is Glass makes an original and important contribution to women's history generally and to Yoruba history specifically." —Journal of African History

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Table of Contents

Preface. "You Must Be From Here": An Intellectual and Personal Journey
Note on Orthography and Language

Prologue. "Mother is gold, father is glass": Power and Vulnerability in Atlantic Africa
1. Founding Fathers and Metaphorical Mothers: History, Myth, and the Making of a Kingdom
2. How Kings Lost Their Mothers: Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade
3. Giving Away Kétu's Secret: Wives on the Eve of War
4. "Where women really matter": The "Queens" of Kétu and the Challenge to French Imperialism
5. "Without family . . . there is no true colonization": Perspectives on Marriage
6. "The Opening of the Eyes": The Politics of Manhood on the Eve of Independence
7. Mothers and Fathers of an Atlantic World
Epilogue. A Rebirth of "Public Mothers" and Kings

Essay on Sources and Methodology
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