Contemporary ecofeminist scholarship mostly engages with how patriarchal structures relegate the woman to a position abreast with or lower than nature, and how environmental despoliation or injustice directly affects the woman. However, this focus on victimhood has greatly eclipsed engagement with the potential of the woman to save the earth. On the African continent, the urgency of environmental injustice related issues has left little room to explore indigenous ecofeminist epistemologies emerging from the work of key figures like the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. This paper takes interest in the conceptualisation of woman-nature relations emerging from Maathai’s autobiography Unbowed (2006) and a selection of rhetorical speeches. I note that while Maathai’s writing and activism has been widely recognized for its contribution to ecofeminism, it has been mostly read as an effort to challenge ecologically deleterious patriarchal designs in her immediate context. In departure, this paper draws attention to the matriarchal underpinnings of Maathai’s representation of woman-nature relations. I argue that as represented in Maathai’s work, women’s engagements with environmental issues are rooted in a matriarchal system evident in the social setup described. Drawing on the theoretical reflections of Ifi Amadiume, I assert that the matriarchal perspective to woman-nature engagements is more identifiable with the African gender terrain and that an eco-matriarchy might generate empowering debates.
Eve Nabulya is a Lecturer in the Department of Literature Makerere University, Uganda. She completed her PhD studies at Stellenbosch University in 2017, under which program she researched on environmental-activism in East African Literature. Nabulya has engaged in several research projects including: The African Peace Network project on storytelling as a tool of promoting peace, The Andrew Mellon funded programme on indigenous environmental Wisdom in the orature of the Baganda and The African Humanities Program (AHP) project on Communitarianism in human-nonhuman relations in East African literature. Her other research interests are in African Literature, drama, ecocriticism and literary theory.