Bolanle Awe

Feminist and pioneer of oral history

Bolanle Awe (Yoruba: Bọ́láńlé (Fájẹ́m̄bọ́là) Awẹ́) is a Nigerian and Yoruba history professor and pioneer of feminist history, intersectional thought and decolonisation.

Professor Awe was born on January 28, 1933, in the town of Ilesa, Nigeria. After taking a Master’s in History from St Andrew’s, she came to Somerville to read for her DPhil in 1958. She returned to Nigeria in 1960, where she became the first woman formally appointed to academic office in a Nigerian university. Following a stint at the University of Lagos, she returned to Ibadan, where she was promoted to Professor of Oral History in 1967.

Awe’s work is ground-breaking on several fronts. Her interest in oral history has made her a pioneer in documenting the pre-colonial histories of Nigeria and the Yoruba people, as well as an early advocate for the decolonisation of African history. She is also pioneering as a feminist historian, where her use of oral history helped restore the narratives of previously overlooked or misrepresented women such as Efunsetan Aniwura.

Awe was one of those pioneering women who began to use the master’s tools of academic knowledge and power to demolish the house built on male hegemony.’

Toyin Falola, Honorary Professor, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Awe was also one of the first people to critique the Western, liberal feminist position which universalises women’s subjugation under patriarchal rule. As an advocate of nuanced intersectional thought, Awe argued that we can better serve women’s causes by understanding the history of oppression from culture to culture. In 1982, Awe was made an Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She retired from teaching and government roles in 1998. In 2005 she became the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, and in 2018 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ibadan on its seventieth anniversary.

Did you know? Efunsetan Aniwura, the famous ‘Iyalode’ (high-ranking female chieftain) of Ibadan was consigned to a tragic role by the playwright Akinwunmi Isola until Awe revisited her story?

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