In honor of Women’s History month, we continue to highlight rural women and their contributions to our communities and nation. In this post, we honor all the Fish Traders; many have educated a number of their children and provided for their families and community from their fish trade income.
Mammy Fatu Tejan comes from Lungi, in the Port Loko District, a costal area well known for its rich fisheries. As with so many Sierra Leoneans, Mammy Fatu is not sure how old she is…in those days, they didn’t give birth certificates. However she is surely over 40 years of age, because she was born and raised during the period of British colonialism.
Mammy Fatu never went to school, but learned her trade from her mother as a small child. Eventually she went into business for herself. In 1976 Mammy Fatu and her family moved from Lungi to Tombo town, a formerly small village now expanded into a semi-industrial fishing centre. There she set up her fish smoking and marketing business again. She is now the proprietor of a business with two bandas, or drying sheds, that she runs with the help of her large family. In 1990 Mammy Fatu Tejan was crowned one of the Themne chiefs for the Tombo area.
Mammy Fatu explains how she learned the fish trade
My mother was engaged in this fish business until her death. When I was small, whenever she was ready to go and buy the fish, she took me along to the wharf. While my mother bought, I would carry and was the fish and help make the fire. As I grew up, I stood by her to listen and observe the way she sold for a very long time until I myself started to do like her.
When I married I started my own business. I began buying fresh fish, I dried them, and packed them in boxes to go up country to sell. At times I sold them while they were still in the banda (drier). I was engaged in this way until I bore all my children. Now that I am approaching old age I have started teaching my children and the wars I have in my household. All of them here are engaged in this fish business, both men and women with the exception of our children who we allow to go to school. But when they are on holidays I teach them the fish business.
Mammy Fatu’s Advice to women in business
If you really meet a good husband he will not take money from you. He will know that it is a help (to him), especially when you have children. In a case where your husband wants to take your money and misuse it, you have the right to disgrace him. Or if you have elderly people, you can take the matter to them…these people will tell him the truth…because many times when a husband dies, the responsibility of caring for the children becomes yours.
Mammy Fatu’s take on Women helping women
When a fish woman friend engaged in the fish business goes bankrupt, and then she comes to me for help…I will ask her what type of help she wants. If she says she wants fish, I will give her a reasonable amount of fish to sell. When she makes a profit she will come and pay back the capital…if she needs money, I will ask her how much and if the loan requested is not too high…I will give her a loan. She will be able to do business with this money until she can stand on her own as before. By then if she feels she no longer needs my loan she can refund my money and then continue with the profits already accrued.
When I have a problem I will do the same thing. There are many of us in the fish business…even the buyers…if I have problems I will tell them. They can help me too.
Excerpts from: Women of Sierra Leone: Traditional Voices (1992).
A publication of the Partners in Adult Education Women’s Commission.