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This study examines the interaction between growing palm oil export production and changes in Ngwa patterns of food production and family relations during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It challenges the arguments of both dependency and vent-for-surplus theorists on the dominance of export-sector developments and the importance of changes initiated by Europeans. Local patterns of export growth and capital investment are shown to have been heavily influenced by independent changes in food production methods, gender and inter-generational relationships. Ngwa producers were affected by falling world prices, trading monopolies and colonial taxation. During the Igbo Women's War of 1929, Ngwa women protested vigorously against government interference and falling incomes, but failed to reverse either trend. The subsequent life stories of Ngwa men and women, set against a background of archival and anthropological evidence, provide the essential link between this historical experience and the current national problems of rural-urban drift and moribund export industries.