Yoruba - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The precolonial economy was primarily based on agriculture and trade, although fishing, hunting, and crafts were significant. As recently as 1950, two-thirds of the men were farmers. Depending on the ecological zone, the main food crops included beans, yams, and, later, cassava and maize. The main cash crops have been kola and cocoa in the forest belt and cotton and, more recently, tobacco elsewhere. Intercropping and swidden methods have been practiced, with fallow periods ranging from three to ten years following a typical three-year cultivation period. Until around the mid-twentieth century, mechanization and draught animals were lacking; the main tools are still the hoe, ax, and machete. Yoruba women seldom farm, although they may assist with harvesting or transporting produce. Farmers have suffered in the late twentieth century from fluctuating world prices for cash crops, civil war, and an oil boom, all of which have driven many into urban employment in commercial, governmental, and service sectors.

Industrial Arts. Men traditionally practiced metalworking, wood carving, and weaving. Since the mid-nineteenth century, they have also taken up carpentry, tailoring, and shoemaking. Artisans often belonged to guilds. Women's crafts included pottery making, spinning, dyeing, weaving, and basketry; dressmaking was added in the nineteenth century.

Trade. An extensive system of marketing and long-distance trade is a hallmark of Yoruba history. Precontact overland commerce emphasized kola, woven cloth, and salt; coastal trade with Europeans involved slaves, cloth, ivory, and, by the nineteenth century, palm products. Both men and women conducted long-distance commerce. Women organized local trade networks and markets and, as a consequence, were given official roles in public affairs. Markets still meet daily, at night, and in periodic cycles of four or eight days. Their revenues still help to support local government.

Division of Labor. There is a division of labor according to sex (see "Industrial Arts" and "Trade") and a clear division of finances. Husbands and wives keep their work and accounts separately, each taking responsibility for some household and child-care expenses. Labor also is divided according to age: heavy work is reserved for the young; the load lightens with age. The goal is to gain sufficient wealth to control the labor of others and thereby free oneself from physical work and from being accountable to a superior.

Land Tenure. Most land is held corporately by descent groups and allocated to members according to need. Rights to use farmland and housing are primarily patrilateral in the north (although rights can be acquired through female agnates) and cognatic in the south. Tenant farming, sharecropping, and leasing were introduced by the British. The land-tenure system was changed in 1978 when the Nigerian government took control of all unoccupied or unused land and rights to allocate it.

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Samuel Ekundayo
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Dec 9, 2012 @ 3:15 pm
What are the determinants and consequences of long distance trade among market women?
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Mar 19, 2018 @ 4:16 pm
It is such an interesting and educating piece. But how do I reference it in case I use part of it in my current work?
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Jul 11, 2019 @ 6:06 am
A wonderful write up indeed, but please can I get more fact on the economy of yorubaland especially as regards the guild system.

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