Mossi - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The basis for life throughout the region was (and is) the cultivation of millet and sorghum. Millet flour is made into porridge, eaten with a sauce of meat and/or leaves and condiments. Sorghum is made into beer. Because of the lack of substantial agricultural surpluses, together with a cultural expectation that each household head grow his own millet for subsistence, almost everyone was a farmer. Many cultivators also engaged in local market trading; indeed, sale of beer on market days was the main source of independent income for women. As is usual for West Africa, markets are on a regional rotation; for the Mossi, that cycle is seven days. When a market falls on a Friday, it is especially large and well attended. Formally non-Muslim, this is one of the several ways in which Mossi culture is affected by the Sahelwide presence of Islam.

Industrial Arts. In common with inhabitants of their larger region, Mossi blacksmiths and potters are distinct, castelike, descent groups living in specially named villages or neighborhoods.

Trade. Besides the local markets, which involved much of the population, there are also, among the Mossi, long-distance traders, the Yarsé. Of Mandé origin, from what is now Mali, they settled among the Mossi. They were not unusual in their assimilation of Mossi culture and language, but are distinct from other Mossi in their retention of Islam, a necessary affiliation for Sahelian traders. Mossi exported cattle, donkeys, and cotton cloth (in large, strip-woven "wheels") and imported salt, kola nuts, and luxury goods.

Division of Labor. Work in household fields is done by all family members. When a cooperative work group is held, women in the host household prepare beer and porridge for the participants. Women are generally responsible for food preparation, including collecting water and firewood. Spinning cotton is done by women, whereas weaving the thread into cloth and sewing the strips into panels and clothing is done by men. Precolonial iron smelting and contemporary smithing were/are the preserve of specific lineages, which in some but not all Mossi societies are endogamous; throughout West Africa, iron is associated with the earth, and smiths are held in spiritual awe and frequently segregated from the rest of society. Pottery is likewise made by specialist lineages, which also provide drummers who set the rhythm for large cultivating and threshing parties.

Land Tenure. Land is held by virtue of membership in one's patrilineage, although, in cases where sufficient land is available, it may also be let by the lineage to affinal kin or outright strangers. As heritage from the ancestors to the living lineage members, land is not alienable, but is rather held in trust for future descendants. The lineage allocates fields to households on the basis of need, dividing at intervals both the fields within the settlement that surround the houses, and those further away.


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