The "Working in Ghana" Project

Market Queen, Yam Traders

["Maame Mary" has sold yams at a market in Accra for about 30 of her 55 years. She became queen (head) of the yam sellers two years ago, when the former queen died. She and her husband have three daughters and three sons. Two of her daughters work with her at the market. Maame Mary's household includes three of her children, her husband who "is too old to work," and one grandchild. She speaks no English, and never attended school. Stephen Obiri-Yeboah spoke with her in the Twi language at her station in the market. Maame Mary has the same amount of space as the other sellers, with whom she competes for customers.]

I work as the queen in charge of yams at the market. In addition to this responsibility, I sell yams like any ordinary market woman to earn my living. There are no formal qualifications for a person to be a market queen in charge of foodstuffs, such as yams. The only condition is that the person should be a yam seller and should have worked for a long period at the market. To become market queen, you should first be an assistant to a market queen to acquire the necessary skills for the job.

In selling yams, as in any trading business, education is an advantage. An education will help most in keeping records. We, the illiterates, just commit them into the brain and hence can easily forget. The traders with education can keep their accounts well and therefore maximize their profit just by knowing the cost of the yams and their selling prices. There have been instances where we have sold all our yams at losses. Very unfortunately, I could not educate all my children to an appreciable level like university. Only one of my children, a son, has taken his studies seriously.

I got the job through the help of my elder sister. After selling akpeteshi (a local alcoholic drink) for some time, I joined my elder sister who was a yam seller. I finally got the necessary skills and capital to start my own business. After some years my sister died so I occupied her place at the market, which was yielded me by the then yam market queen.

On a typical day, I combine my responsibilities as the yam market queen with my own sales. I make sure that enough yams are available. In case of shortages, I rush to the timber market where yams from the northern part of the country are deposited to be sold to the yam sellers. Through the help of wheelbarrows or wooden trucks (carts), I move them to the market for sale. I also make sure that I give enough yams to the hawkers to sell outside the market and at two lorry parks near the market. I do this to increase my sales, given the competition at the market. The hawkers sell on a commission basis. That is, the number of tubers a hawker sells will determine the amount she or he will receive from me. I make sure that all debtors' names have been compiled by my daughters, who work with me. In the evening I check all the accounts to know the profit for the day. The yams that are left are sent to a nearby place for safe keeping.

I represent the yam sellers at any meeting that may concern us. I assist the metropolitan officials in collecting their daily taxes from the yam sellers. All disputes are also sent to me for settlement. I am proud to say that because of the love existing between the yam sellers and also the good leadership I exhibit, quarreling and other confusions are at a minimum. I also assist new members to get space to sell but now space is very limited. All organizational work is also initiated from my position as queen. All monthly contributions to our association are also collected. In short, I serve as the mouthpiece and at the same time as their servant in the market because I believe in leadership by example.

I am very proud to be both a yam seller and the yam market queen. The job provides enough food for my household. Things would have been very different for me had it not been for the job. My husband does not work because of his age. Now, even those who have acquired higher levels of education are jobless, meaning that there would not have been any work for me as a complete illiterate. The position as queen has accorded me a great respect. People don't even mention my name because of shyness. Most of them call me "queen" which in our own tradition is a great achievement. Working with the metropolitan authorities has opened many opportunities for me. I can now approach them with my personal problems and have them soon resolved.

The yam business doesn't have any specific hours for sales. Yams can be eaten anytime and hence can be bought any time, even at night. I don't have set hours to go to the market to work. But most days I work from 9 in the morning to 7 in the evening. I don't have any specific time to rest. I rest whenever I am free. At times I have worked from morning to evening without stopping to eat. This job is such that we eat while working. If my children are with me, I get some few hours to stroll. We really make use of any available time.

I would encourage young unemployed ladies to sell yams. I would not hesitate to accept such a golden opportunity to be their queen in a subsection of the market. To start in the yam business, one has to get enough capital to buy the tubers from the timber market as well as pay the truck fee (for transporting the yams to the public market). The more yams one has, the more she can give to the hawkers to sell and hence the more profit she will earn. One has to get a space in the market as well as table and chair or bench. The table should be very broad but relatively short. One should also get a sauce pan and other containers for the hawkers. Some sellers also sell plastic bags for customers to put their tubers in. All these facilities win customers easily.

Yam selling is not an easy task. Too much sitting results in heart pains. The starchy substance in the yams is so irritating that one can easily dispose of her clothes. Carrying heavy yams can also affect one's health. Also, a person may buy some tubers from you and return them the following day to complain of defects. She may even end up insulting you if care is not taken.

As I said, being market queen entails a lot more, especially when you also sell with the other yam sellers. Always, one's temper should be very low even when you are offended. It is not easy to deal with people who have no proper education. However, despite these situations, I still appreciate the work. There is no job without problems.

My social contacts at work are so cordial that people sometimes make comments about that. I am at peace with all the other yam sellers as well as with the other market queens. Someone could envy my position as the market queen, but because I don't project myself too much there would be no basis for it.

We have a yam sellers association as well the local market women's association, of which I'm an executive member. We help members when needs arise like funerals, weddings, and other gatherings. We present gifts to the needy also.

The yam business is a year-round business, but during the planting season, which varies from one type of plant to another, the market becomes depleted, and prices go up. I have adapted myself so that there are no significant effects on my family.

I always do most of my cooking in the morning and on Sundays so that my daughter serves my husband in the evening when I am away. I have not heard my husband complaining about my long period of working hence I assume that all is well at home.

Copyright: Allan W. Wicker, 1996

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