Shea butter, an age-old tradition
We are taking you to Mali, in Dioïla, to meet the women working for a Shea Butter cooperative.
Our interlocutor is speaking Bambara and we get the help of one of the women to transcribe his words so we can understand what her experience with Shea butter was during her childhood.
In this 3 voice conversation, she shares her story about how her ancestors used to produce Shea butter:
“The whole family was producing Shea butter; my grandmother and then my mother. Since our childhood, producing Shea butter is what our mothers have always known and done. We follow their path.”
She remembers: “I was going to the bush early in the morning to collect shea nuts.”
“Women were digging ditches to pour the nuts inside. They were waiting for the fruit to rot, for the pulp to come apart from the nut. In the ditch, they were trampling on it. In this way, the air was removed from the heap of nuts. They used to add water to this mixture, closed the ditch and restart this process for three days. Thanks to fermentation, the flesh finally breaks away.
“Then, after cleaning the nuts, they would dry them with the traditional cookstove, the 3 stone fire. They used to go to the field to collect wood to feed the fire.
“After three days, the nuts were dried and would remove it from the stove.
“Then, they were sorting and dehulling the nuts with stones to remove the shells and spreading the kernels to dry them in the sun. They would pour the kernels in a mortar and crush them into grains. These grains were then roasted and milled to get it into a coarse paste. Then, women used to kneed the dough to get a thinner grinding. They would pour the paste in a pot and women were dipping their hands into the paste to churn it. To collect the butter, they would clean the paste with fresh water and until a whitish butter was produced.
“Once they got the butter, they used to boil the grinding with water to separate impurities from the butter. One more time, they would use the 3 stone fire. After having collected the butter, it was cleaned with water and cooked.
“This way, they were getting the oil that they set aside in a container in an area away from light and dust. During the night, they turned it to get a paste.
“When they got the paste, they would go to the market to sell it, buy food, clothes, medicine for their husbands and children.
“What has changed today?
“Now, the women are free, given that there is the machine, we don’t grind anymore or churn manually. The machine does that. Also, we waste less firewood. “
From West Africa to South Asia, meet people, all involved in the cookstove sector.
The portraits’ series:
- Shea butter, an age-old tradition
Next week: Shea Butter and modernization
And discover more people's stories in the next few weeks, stay tuned!