Chapter IX





The men have so far dominated the scene in this discussion of trade but they should not be regarded as intruders, still less as usurping the interest in a book devoted otherwise to the activities of the women. My aim throughout has been to preserve some sense of proportion by examining the role of the women within the wide context of the economic life of the community, by comparing it with that of the men, and by revealing its complementary function. Women still play a relatively small part in the total system of trade, and therefore any account of their participation would result in distortion if due weight were not also given to that of the men. This point rises again in a discussion of their standard of living. Any attempt to assess it, without reference to that of the members of the opposite sex, who are their co-partners and dependants, would be meaningless. The unit of study must be the household which, in Bamenda, is generally the elementary family. Within this group, one may analyze the contribution made by each individual.

In the traditional economic organization, the principal responsibility of women was farming. In so far as they traded at all (and it should be remembered that many villages in Bamenda do not lie within easy access of markets) they dealt in small quantities of foodstuffs, beer, or articles such as pots and baskets which they manufactured. Their object, usually, was not to acquire capital on which to support a family, but to obtain a few coppers for the purchase of something needed immediately in the house or for the farm, - utensils, seed, perhaps a little tobacco, or an ornament. Even today many women never sell anything from one year to another. In the compounds with which we have been chiefly concerned, there were six out of eleven adult women at Djem who never trafficked in the market; and six out of thirteen at Mbonyaar. Elizabeth-Bika was middle-aged, frequently busy on the farm, and relied on her husband to supply all her needs. Djo'kem, a pagan woman of about the same age who was rather sickly, was also content to remain at home on market day. The young and favourite wife of the fai received sufficient salt, oil, and trinkets from her complacent husband; while Semtur, an elderly, mournful woman married to an even more elderly husband, did nothing to remedy the chronic shortage of salt and oil in the household. There were also at Djem two young married pagan women - one with two children, the other with none. These, with Biy-Menggu and Wanaka of Mbonyaar, either remained at home on market-day, or pottered about on the farm, or visited friends and kin. They were typical of other women of their age and status in this matter. For, although many adolescent girls go to market to sell pounded orchid root (nyanguf - a relish), a few potatoes, pears, or greens in order to buy groundnuts, beads, ear-rings, or perhaps something for their mother, the young matron is, as a rule, reluctant to mingle with the crowd. Quite apart from the fact that her husband is generally assiduous in supplying requirements for house and farm, she is apt, in the first years of marriage, to be shy and retiring. During her first pregnancy she would, in any case, shun the market-place on pain of being regarded as brazen; and, finally, until her


child is weaned she is fearful of the evil eye.1 Biy-Menggu had a child, who was about three years old, and she was free to visit the market; but it was not until just before I left Kimbaw, that she attempted to sell a little prepared foodstuffs. Lacking experience, she was unmercifully cheated by the urchins who frequent the stalls. They took more than they should, proffered bad coins and, as she put it, "were very happy about it all (awinni shee'eeri feyi)!" She made a penny profit on the transaction.

At the other extreme in age are some of the old women, who either have no dependants, or only a grand-child as companion and diminutive helpmeet. They have no surplus on their farms, and no spare cash with which to buy foodstuffs which they might cook and retail. Even if they have an odd copper presented to them, they are reluctant to change their ways and contend with the bustle and sharp practice of the market. Shemsum, the Yelaa of Mbonyaar, had no children of her own and received very little salt and oil from her husband, who had inherited her when he was appointed fai. But when I used to inquire, somewhat tactlessly, at the close of a market-day whether she had been to market she would reply caustically: "Have I so many things to sell?", or: "Why should I go to market? In a little while I shall go to earth (I shall die)!" An elderly co-wife of hers, Fhshwaa, adopted much the same attitude, but was more fortunately placed in that her two adult sons kept her supplied with salt, oil, and other necessaries.

However it not infrequently happens that the wives of polygynists, and particularly inherited wives, either send their daughters to sell any small surplus of plantains and vegetables, or go themselves for this purpose. Yuliy of Djem (see No. 13 in App. C), during the course of five months, made 4s. 11 d. from bananas and sugar cane, and with this bought at different times and in small quantities 2s. worth of oil, 3d. of meat, 3d. of groundnuts, 1/2d. of tobacco, and 2d. of cowpea-seed. Her co-wife, Vindjan, who was also inherited and had three children, earned 3s. 2d. from the sale of bananas, sugar cane, and pears (see No. 14 in App. C). Most of this was spent on items for the house and farm: cowpea-seed, pots, and baskets. In addition she bought, all told, 4.5d. worth of tobacco, a few groundnuts, bead-thread for her little daughter, and a pencil for her schoolboy son. Yadiy, the third and younger co-wife had an even more miniature budget (No. 15): in five months she disposed of bunches of bananas for 3.5d. and sold 6d. worth of beer, brewed from her own maize. With the proceeds she bought cowpea-seed, a knife, a bag, a basket, and a little thread for beads. She depended for her other requirements on her husband. The fourth wife, Kengeran, who was inherited and had a large household comprising her own three daughters and three grand-children, never received sufficient salt or oil from her husband. Worse still, he failed to buy the more costly tools and utensils, such as raffia storebins and hoes. Fortunately, she had a large farm and good harvests, and was able to dispose of much of the fruit from her extensive plantain groves. Over a full year (6th March 1947 to 5th March 1948), she and her daughters sold plantains for 8s. 10d., beans for 9d., and sweet potatoes for 1d.: a total cash income of 9s. 8d. In addition to this she received 11s. 1d. from friends and kin. Out of this income she spent 8s. 6 1/2d. on house and farm replacements, 7s. 7d. on oil, 2s. 5d. on meat, and 1 l 1/2d. on groundnuts for her children. A necklace, camwood, medicine, and a razor blade accounted for another 9d., while a tiny shirt for her grandson, to whom she was passionately devoted, cost 3s. (see No. 11 in App. C). I should stress that her plight was exceptional, for even when

1 In Nsaw, Kom, and many other Tikar groups, the wives of a Føn are not permitted to enter the market-place, although they sometimes buy and sell on the outskirts, or send their children to make tiny purchases and sales. Among the Widekum people there is no such taboo.




polygynists tend to be neglectful of elderly wives who have no dependants, they usually fulfil their obligations more adequately when there are children in the household.

Vindjan, Kengeran, and Yuliy were all typical of women who only engaged in petty trade occasionally, and who were fortunate in possessing a surplus of plantains. There was another woman, Audelia-Kilar, who was much better off but who liked to buy extra relishes and ornaments. She disposed of bananas, pears, oranges, and sugar cane at a profit of 7s. 5 1/2d. during five months. (See No. 10 in App. C.) She was young and lived in a compound where some of the women traded regularly in cooked foodstuffs. When I asked her why she did not do likewise, she replied that she preferred to sell bananas and pineapples, since no additional work was entailed. Moreover she had a friend in the Hausa Market with whom she could leave her produce, and this left her free to go on to her farm and stay there for the rest of the day.

Women, who have no farm produce to sell but who require something for the house, must save up the odd coppers received at festivals or from friends, buy vegetables, cook and retail them in the market. For example, Yeduda occasionally bought beans which she boiled, ground, mixed with salt, pepper and oil, shaped into balls, and sold at 2 to 5 a penny according to size. Even when she had only 4d. worth to sell she might be left with a few on her hands at the end of the day; or, sometimes before she had even reached the market, her husband would appear in the kitchen, snatch a few and, as she pointed out more in resignation than in anger, "eat her profit"! (See No. 8 in App. C.) When I asked her why she did not trade in gari or cassava gruel, she said that the first was very hard work (lim ye tavine feyi), and that the latter was a trouble (mee dzë ngeeee) since it entailed the cutting up of banana leaves to serve as wrappers for the paste. In any case, she had tried several times but she kept cracking pots and grew tired. The easiest thing to prepare was beans, though the profit was small (kifa ke feeteer ki dzë kuni. Abei seeee yi dzë shishar). It was indeed! On a total outlay of one shilling she made only 2d. Margaret Labam, whose husband was the tailor Nicholas of Ka, also traded occasionally and she too obtained only 3d. profit on 18d. worth of beans. But she was more enterprising than Yeduda, and went to the trouble of cooking cassava gruel,buying 3d. to 7d. worth of raw vegetable at a time for the purpose. Over the period of five months she earned 2s. 6d. on an. outlay of 4s. Clara, who lived in the same compound and was the wife of Alphonse Fannso, also sought to augment the family income in the same way, and she made 1s.1 1/2d. on 2s. 1/2d. worth of cassava. Just before I left Kimbaw, she had persuaded her husband to buy her two bags of maize for beer-brewing, and hoped to be as successful as her friend, Elizabeth-Kila who dealt regularly in that commodity. (See Nos. 7 and 9 in App. C.)

And this brings us to the category of women who sell something every week in the market. In the minority, but a minority which is increasing in number, are those Christians whose husbands already earn more than the average householder in Nsaw, but who desire a better standard of living for themselves and their dependants: better food, clothes, house comforts and also schooling. Elizabeth-Kila was the wife of Francis Lole, whose activities we have already discussed above (see No. 3 in App. C). Throughout practically the whole year she brewed beer, which she sold to one djanggi which met at Mbonyaar every Sunday, and to another at Banka. Her profits varied; but she made from 2s. to 4s. on 4s. worth of maize. She was exceptionally fortunate in possessing "a corner" in beer, and so could afford to risk a bigger outlay than most women. During the year she spent, all told, £7-2-4 1/2d. on bags of grain which she sold as beer for £10-3-2, - a profit of £3-0-9 1/2d., less the cost of firewood used in the brewing (about 5s.). She was a member of the Mbonyaar




djanggi, contributing a shilling a week; and she gave the rest of her earnings to her husband, saying that later he would buy her a dress. He was the best judge in such matters! Another regular trader, to whom reference has already been made, was Christina Lambiif, wife of Benedict Somo. She was younger and more "modern" than Elizabeth having had a little schooling and having travelled more extensively in Bamenda. She made gari and starch regularly, though she frequently complained of the hard work entailed and the inroads on her leisure.1 She would buy anything from 1s. 5d. to 7s. worth of raw cassava on market-day, process it and dispose of it during the following week. Her earnings were her own, but were mostly spent on luxury foods for the household, and ornaments for herself and her children. During a full year she bought cassava at £3-18-8; she sold part of it as gari at £5-15-10.5, and part of it as starch at £1-1-8: a total profit of £2-18-10 1/2, and one which was proportionately higher than that obtained by Elizabeth from beer. Christina sometimes sold bean-balls as a sideline, a transaction on which she gained 1s. 5d. profit from an outlay of 3s. 10d. Finally, she had learnt to knit: she purchased some wool for 12s., which she made into a sweater and a cap and sold for 24s. 6d. (See No. 2 in App. C.)2

Most women, when questioned, were in agreement that gari was the best foodstuff in which to deal in the market, since the demand for it was fairly constant, the profits good, and any remainder would keep for a week, whereas other things such as bean-balls, cassava gruel, or maize porridge would not. Against these advantages, however, was the fact that its preparation entailed time labour, patience, and a resignation to having ones legs scorched while frying it over a fire in the house. For this reason and also because, unlike Christina, she had no assistance on the farm, Melalia of Mbonyaar preferred to sell maize porridge and relish. In the early morning she would go to the market to buy 1s. to 2s. worth of maize flour, return with it to the house, cook it into rounds weighing 3/4 lb. to 1 1/2 lbs., which she sold at her stall for 1/2d. or 1d. each. Usually she concocted a relish of cassava leaves, salt, and oil, contriving where she could get away with it to give more liquid than substance! But she was a good cook, was popular, and had her regular customers, who were mainly boys or men who came from other villages. Her takings for the day ranged from 4d. to 1s. 6d., or an average of 8d. Unfortunately, during the year under review, the new Føn closed the market to women from the 18th July to the end of September, that is, for 10 market days. In May 1947, and again in February 1948, Melalia made two long journeys, - one to Fumban and the other to Bamenda Station. On Christmas Day 1947 she was celebrating in her compound, and on five other occasions she was either ill or did not buy flour because it was too dear. All told, then, she engaged in trade for only 28 weeks out of a possible 46. During that period she spent £1-9-4 1/2 on flour and sold porridge for £2-4-0 - a profit of 14s. 7.5d., or nearly 50% on her outlay. Sometimes she cooked bean-balls or cassava gruel, but her earnings from these were only 5s. 5d., bringing her total income from trade to £1-0-0 1/2. In normal years it would be in the vicinity of 30s. (see No. 12 in App. C).

1 Gari-making is a tedious process. The cassava must be peeled, cut into slices, washed, grated, tied tightly in a bag, and left for four days. It is then re-grated and fried in oil in a shallow pot (kikang), an activity which demands constant attention. To make cassava gruel, a woman peels the cassava, washes and pounds it, and leaves it to soak in water for 3 to 5 days. The water is drained off, and the pulp is left for a while in the sun on banana leaves. It is tied up in small bundles in the leaves, boiled, and sold at about 9 ozs. a halfpenny.

2 In Appendix C, the earnings of some of the women have been listed in the budgets of their husbands, cf. those of Elizabeth-Kila, Christina-Lambiif Clara-Yaya, Yeduda, Audelia-Kilar and Biy-Menggu. Those of Sui, Melalia, Vindjan, Yadiy, Yuliy, and Kengeran have been tabulated separately.




Melalia had to feed two sons, both of whom were at school, and to provide herself with tools and utensils. One son, however, earned sufficient from trade and from the sale of straw hats for his fees and his clothes, and to pay her contribution to the djanggi when she lacked the means. The other son was assisted by a man of the compound, who was related to Melalia and who also, together with her brother, made her gifts of salt and oil from time to time. From other kin and friends she received 14s. during the year; and when she went to Fumban somebody gave her a dress and headtie. She was thus able to maintain her small household as far as its basic needs were concerned. She was an energetic farmer and had plots at Kimbaw, near the Mission at Shisong, and also at Meluf where her mother lived. Unfortunately the house, in which she was living and which had been lent to her by Francis, was in bad repair and was sagging dangerously. She had requested permission from the fai to pull it down and have another built, but he had refused on the grounds that he needed the space for his own dependants. Melalia was not a member of his lineage, and had therefore no moral claim to a residential site. When I asked her why she did not return to Meluf she objected that she had her plantain groves in Kimbaw, trade contacts and, finally, her intimate friends. She therefore continued her efforts to find a vacant house nearby.

Melalia had no husband and was a member of that group of women, comprised of unmarried mothers, widows, divorcees and prostitutes, which is almost entirely dependent on its own efforts to secure food and other necessaries, although relatives do what they can to help. Lacking, as a rule, assistance on the farm, they have no surplus to sell except for plantains, and they therefore buy small quantities of raw vegetables, greens or flour, to cook and retail in the market. Prostitutes often supplement their main source of income by brewing beer, and enjoy a relatively high standard of living. Several had houses lined with pith-matting and furnished with tables, chairs, and a variety of ornaments. As might be expected they had good clothes, and, almost inevitably, umbrellas of European manufacture!1 Quite a number of Christian widows and divorcees sell porridge, flour or gruel; but elderly pagan women in this group, either because they are more conservative or more probably because they are fearful of taking risks with their slender savings, cultivate plantains, are sedulous in picking up windfalls from kola trees, and from time to time buy small quantities of groundnuts or vegetables for retailing. Sui was a typical example and was noted for her skill in squeezing a profit from diminutive resources. Some of the men said she could drive as hard a bargain as any male trader; and often women, who could not afford the time to stay in the market or were inexperienced in haggling, would entrust their foodstuffs to Sui and give her a small commission. She was regarded as somewhat mean and was sometimes ridiculed by the other members of the compound. Like most Nsaw women, she had a caustic tongue for the parsimonious host at a marriage or festival; unlike the others, she made no bones about openly balancing accounts! She would point out that she had contributed two shillings' worth of flour to a marriage and had received in return "a little meat (shinyam), a little wine (shilu), and a little threepence (shitoro)! Her habit of prefixing most words with the diminutive, shi, was mimicked by the others: "I sold a little groundnut and ate a little profit; I picked a little plantain and sold it for a little halfpenny". When others were paying at least one

1 Many of the prostitutes were attractive and appeared to me to have intelligence above the ordinary. One of them was known as the wiisaki sardjin, the Sergeant of the Prostitutes, because she was prosperous and had a fine house. Although she was not shunned by most of the women, she had few intimate friends among them because their respective husbands (whatever their own morals) were fearful that their wives would be tempted " to go walka " if they associated with her. Some of the prostitutes were Christians who had refused to marry the men chosen for them by their respective lineage heads.


shilling for a raffia storebin, Sui was aggrieved because she could not obtain one for sixpence! Nevertheless, her reluctance to part with her little halfpennies was understandable, since she had to keep herself in all necessaries. Unfortunately the records of her transactions from September to March were not typical, and gave no index of her skill as a trader. She had injured her foot and was confined to the house for weeks. But, from accounts which I received from her in my first tour, I estimated she made about 3d. a week and earned about 10s. to 12s. a year (see No. 16 in App. C). Incidentally, it should be noted that when she had her accident the women in the compound were the first to come to her assistance by visiting her, cooking food, and contributing firewood, and one of them harvested her finger millet for her.


I collected only 12 budgets among the women for the simple reason that the others in the compounds, which I visited regularly, never traded at all. But, despite the smallness of my sample, it serves to illustrate the diversity and extent of market transactions and their relation to the status and conditions of life of the women concerned. It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that the generalizations made in this chapter are based not merely on the slender budgetary material discussed, but also on observations and information gained from many individuals during the course of my tour; and in particular from data obtained in the market, which I attended weekly and where I recorded variations in the price of the principal commodities sold.

Several points require emphasis. In the first place, there are still many women in Nsaw who, although they visit the market to sight-see or perhaps to buy something with money given them by their husbands, rarely have anything to sell themselves. At most they may make one or two shillings a year from a few plantains, sticks of sugar cane, beans, cassava, or potatoes. Secondly, the earnings of those who trade regularly represent but a small fraction of that gained by their husbands in their occupations. This is understandable, in so far as women must still spend most of their time on the farm. But there are changes occurring in the pattern of trade which affect the standard of living in the household, and which may well modify not only the existing division of labour between the sexes but also the status of women in marriage. There are indications that the number of women who trade regularly is steadily increasing. This includes not only the category of husbandless women, in particular Christian widows and divorcees, but also the wives of Christian men who are already earning considerable incomes by traditional Nsaw standards. Christina Lambiif is a case in point, Elizabeth-Kila another; while both Margaret and Clara were attempting to sell a little weekly for two or three months before I left Kimbaw.

It is true that even among the Christian men, and more especially the middle-aged, who themselves follow a traditional craft or profession, the old prejudice against women trafficking frequently in the market-place and handling relatively large sums of money dies hard. Somo, on more than one occasion, expressed the fear that his wife was spending too much time on the making of gari to obtain little luxuries, instead of concentrating most of her energies on farming. Nevertheless, attitudes are changing under the pressure of economic necessity. A cash contribution from a wife to the running expenses of the household is welcome, providing she does not neglect her duties and is not secretive about her earnings. Moreover, entertainment may be carried out on a more lavish scale and gifts made more often to kin, affines and friends. To a hospitable people like the Nsaw generosity in such matters is both a pleasure and a source of prestige: the man or woman whose hand is always open to bestow freely is admired; while he, who keeps his closed for his own benefit,


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