As audiences await Bolanle Austen-Peters’ landmark film on Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the celebrated mother of afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-kuti, the visual arts community is excited by a painting that celebrates one key thing that Funmilayo was known for – the 1946 Abeokuta Women’s Revolt.
A 2022 work by Sumanu David, who is an OYASAAF Artiste-in-Residence for this year is drawing attention to Fela’s mother and the epochal revolt she led in 1946.
Titled “1946 ABEOKUTA WOMEN’S REVOLT”, the work, in oil on canvass, is the subject of positive appraisal on many art platforms.
It has invoked fresh interest in the life of the woman who was the first female to drive a car in Nigeria and who would later suffer untold hardship in the hands of successive military junta.
Austen-Peters’ film, which is titled Funmilayo: The Lioness of Lisabi, will not be released until 2023 but it examines in detail the heroic life of the woman, especially how she succeeded in leading a women’s revolt against colonial authorities.
Sumanu David’s work also brings to life the stuff that made Funlima Ransome-Kuti tick.
The historical facts about the artwork, reproduced below, gives a context to the significance of this important artwork:
This painting depicts the Abeokuta Women’s Revolt, also called the Egba Women’s Tax Riot. A resistance movement led by Fumilayo Ransome-kuti in 1946, against the imposition of unfair taxation on women by the then Nigerian colonial government. In the early days of British colonial rule, the colonial government of southern Nigeria was financed mainly through import duties on traded items such as Textiles, alcoholic drinks, kolanuts etc. The impact of World War II of 1939-1945 and its immediate after effects, depleted the source of colonial government revenue and the exports from Nigeria became insufficient for government financing. Hence, the colonial government of Britain allowed the imposition of direct taxation on women.
Local officials in the province, then used their initiative to impose sanitary fines on women, which largely affected farming and market women. Those fines included violations, such as failing to sweep the outside of women’s houses. New tax policies were introduced which required women as young as 15 (the age at which they were then considered marriageable), including those who were unemployed to pay three shillings per year as income tax. Men, on the other hand, did not have to pay until they were 18. It was said that, government agents went about raiding homes and stripping girls of their clothes in other to assess their ages for the purpose of taxation to earn commissions, leading to extortion and abuses, which were very rife. The situation took a turn for the worse, when the Alake increased “flat-rate tax on women”, which action was supported by the British residents in Abeokuta. It was to resist this that the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) was formed in 1946, by Funmilayo Ransome-kuti.
Funmilayo Ransome-kuti was born on October 25, 1900. She was a Nigerian educator, political campaigner, suffragist and women’s right activist. She formed and led the union to defend, protect, preserve and promote the social, economic, cultural, political right and interests of women in Egbaland. Funmilayo Ransome-kuti, also presided over the Christian-educated women of the Abeokuta Ladies Club in alliance with AWU. This August 17th 1946 revolt involved about 10,000 women, who went in determination, to stop their undue taxation by “Stripping Naked” in their march to the palace of Alake Ademola II (the Paramount ruler of Egbaland). The Alake by tradition, could not dare see naked women in public. He thus sent Oro cult to stop the women in their match to the palace. Funmilayo Ransome-kuti in reaction, courageously grabbed the Oro symbol from the Oro and dared the Oro forces mustered against the women. On seeing this, Oba Ademola had to run away from his palace in abdication of the throne. The women only left the palace on the 10th of December 1946, only after the incarcerated women that had hitherto been arrested were released. After this incident, the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) continued to send their petitions to the British administration and eventually claimed victory on the 3rd of January, 1949. The Alake thereafter returned to his throne, and four women were appointed into the new Abeokuta system of local administration, with the new imposed tax, stopped.
Funmilayo Ransome-kuti thus became famous around the country for her activism, and had regular speaking engagements on women’s rights both at home and overseas. She also extensively toured her region and raised awareness about women’s political and voting rights.
The purpose of this painting is for documenting the history of women activism in Nigeria’s leadership. History reveals that the woman (Funmilayo Ransome-kuti) who led the revolt was only in her mid-40 and would of course, only have had her peers around her in the front, during the protest. The older and flat breasted ones would only have been timid and afraid to lead in the front. The energy and courage of the youths as depicted in the front rows of the painting, is required in today’s life as a nation.