Mamprusi - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture and animal husbandry provide subsistence for most of the population. Sheep, goats, pigeons, fowl, and guinea foul are kept by most households, and wealthier families have cattle. Chiefs may have horses for ceremonial use, but horses and donkeys (formerly important beasts for transport) are bred farther north, in Mossi territory. Increased population density has led to greater pressure on land. Grazing land, formerly used by transhumant Fulani herders, is now scarce. Fallowing periods are shorter, and, in some areas, drought has led to the destruction of ground cover. Traditionally, millet, guinea corn, and sorghum were the major cereal crops, but maize is now increasingly cultivated despite widespread recognition that it is of less nutritive value than traditional crops that require longer growing seasons. Rice, which has a long history of cultivation as a minor crop, has been introduced in new varieties as a cash crop.

Division of Labor. Mamprusi used to claim that their women did not farm, by which they meant that their wives did not hoe, as do women of neighboring peoples, but helped in the sowing and harvesting of crops; however, famine conditions during the early 1980s resulted in the use of all available labor in agriculture. Men and women now both participate in all phases of the farming cycle other than firing the bush and clearing land for cultivation, which is the work of men. Dawadawa pods and shea nuts, collected by women, are still an important source of food, and their elaborate processing is a task for women. Building houses is men's work. Women finish the floors and walls. Baskets, pots, and locally woven cloth are made by neighboring peoples, and certain foodstuffs (e.g., smoked fish) are also bought from neighbors rather than produced by Mamprusi. Literate adults who have been through the Ghanaian school system are employed by local government offices or work for foreign missionaries and nongovernmental organizations. Local salaries are usually insufficient, however, and farming is a necessary adjunct to most other occupations.

Trade. Women are expected to trade as an extension of their domestic duties. Traditionally, they received cereal from their husbands to make the staple porridge but were expected to collect or trade for ingredients to make soup to accompany the porridge. Shea butter and dawadawa flour, firewood, and millet beer were prepared by women, both for domestic use and trade. Some women are engaged in large-scale trade of grain and yams, cooked food, beets, kola nuts, smoked fish, and imported manufactured goods. Mamprusi men may engage in trade as a full-time alternative to agriculture. Specialists trade in salt, kola, cattle, yams, and, now, manufactured goods. Although women own livestock, they never buy live animals themselves; even hens and guinea fowl are bought and sold by men. Local markets are held either on every third or every sixth day, and specialist traders follow particular sets of markets, which constitute local market cycles. Major market towns have a permanent market site, daily markets, a few small stores, and beer bars. Smaller villages have only periodic markets.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, Mamprusi have regarded land as belonging to the ancestors and to future generations; hence, the sale of land is considered an offense against the ancestors. In urban areas, houses are sold, but this is considered sale of the construction alone. Use rights to cultivate land belong to the person who has cleared it. Usufructuary claims to land may be inherited within a family, but unused land reverts to the community, to be allocated by village chiefs and elders. Until the late twentieth century, there had been relatively little pressure on land, and the only major conflicts over land use occurred between neighboring village communities. Formerly, these conflicts might be resolved by the movement of farmers to unused land and the relocation of village communities. This has become more difficult with increased population density and capital investment in unmovable village infrastructure (e.g., school, clinic, government office, market, church/mosque, water pipes).

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