The Female King of Colonial Nigeria

Nwando Achebe presents the fascinating history of an Igbo woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who became king in colonial Nigeria. Ugbabe was exiled from Igboland, became a prostitute, traveled widely, and learned to speak many languages. She became a close companion of Nigerian Igala kings and the British officers who supported her claim to the office of headman, warrant chief, and later, king. In this unique biography, Achebe traces the roots of Ugbabe’s rise to fame and fortune. While providing critical perspectives on women, gender, sex and sexuality, and the colonial encounter, she also considers how it was possible for this woman to take on the office and responsibilities of a traditionally male role.


This important, but neglected, story of Nigeria’s only female warrant chief is thoroughly grounded in local meanings and local categories, yet speaks to some of the most important concerns in comparative women’s history: from slavery and freedom, to sexuality, power, and spirituality.

Jean Allman, Washington University of St. Louis

[A] fascinating exploration of the fluidity of gender and the nature of political authority. And it’s a remarkable reconstruction not only of colonial rule at the local level, but also of pre-colonial life and post-colonial memory. I highly recommend.

New Books in Gender


  • Aidoo-Snyder Book Award (2013), Women’s Caucus of the African Studies Association. “For the best scholarly book [published in the preceding three years, 2010, 2011, and 2012] that prioritizes African women’s experiences.”
  • The Barbara “Penny” Kanner Book Award (2012), Western Association of Women Historians. “For the best biography or bibliography about women.”
  • Gita Chaudhuri Book Award (2012), Western Association of Women Historians. For “the best monograph about women in rural environments, from any era and any place in the world.”
  • Book Riot, “100 Must-Read Titles about Women’s History,” July 11, 2016.
  • Nigerian Daily Trust, “Five Books for the 2016 Journey,” February 6, 2016. “Books for the 2016 journey, for rebounds, for success, for more knowledge and deep philosophical thoughts.”