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
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
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
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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