Everyday Islam in Kumasi: Devout Lay Men and Women in Daily Life

by Gracia Clark

Traders

The commercial importance of Kumasi encourages both men and women to trade, and many moved here for that purpose. The savannah-based trading networks to the north of Kumasi are dominated by Muslim men. Long before Kumasi was founded, towns like Salaga were important centers in this network, and attracted traders from present-day Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Mali. After British conquest allowed them access to Kumasi, men from these ethnic groups continued to control wholesale trade in cattle, kola nuts, and other important commodities.

About 80% of the total female population of working age in Kumasi makes a living by trading. Muslim women trade in the Central Market and in smaller neighborhood markets, especially in shea butter and in other foods popular with the Northern ethnic groups. A few women own stores in the commercial areas of town, but it is more often men who have this much capital. Many women also sell from tables on the roadside just outside their houses. Those who wish to stay at home can still trade, and many sell cooked food to regular customers. They can also buy and resell other goods by visiting suppliers and customers at their homes, by receiving visitors in their own homes, and by selling through hawkers who carry their goods from door to door.

A Trader and a Teacher

A Trader and a Teacher

Date: 2006
Format: Video/mp4
"My uncle saw that I was not interested in marriage, so one day he just called me and said 'I want you to be married to your brother [cousin],' and it worked."
Abdu Basit

Abdu Basit

Date: August 13, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"Bicycles have helped me."
Abdul Hannan Al Waiz

Abdul Hannan Al Waiz

Date: August 13, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"I know what is bad and what is good for me."
Abu Rawbil

Abu Rawbil

Date: August 15, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"Islam teaches us to love one another."
Ahmed Abdulah

Ahmed Abdulah

Date: August 21, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"I will drive peacefully; I will come home peacefully."
Ahmed Abubakar Ali

Ahmed Abubakar Ali

Date: August 21, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"I'm a real Zongo man."
Ahmed Bashir Baba

Ahmed Bashir Baba

Date: August 13, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"All that we need is unity."
An Arabic Teacher

An Arabic Teacher

Date: 2006
Format: Video/mp4
"As I understood the teachings of Islam, I pledged to let my fellow Muslims also know more about Islam and the Koran. That is why I prefer teaching."
Front Porch

Front Porch

Date: 2009
Format: Image/jpeg
Front Porch
Interviewing on the front porch of a compound house.
Fuseini Nahidshah

Fuseini Nahidshah

Date: August 15, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"People like coming here."
Halima Abdallah

Halima Abdallah

Date: August 21, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"I don't think I can marry again."
Headloading at a Village Market

Headloading at a Village Market

Date: 1979
Format: Image/jpeg
Headloading at a Village Market
Lifting basket on man's head.
Herbal Stall

Herbal Stall

Date: 2009
Format: Image/jpeg
Herbal Stall
Herbalist stall in Kumasi Central Market.
Ibrahim Abdul Rashid

Ibrahim Abdul Rashid

Date: August 15, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"We don't advise that."
Kumasi Central Market

Kumasi Central Market

Date: 2009
Format: Image/jpeg
Kumasi Central Market
Overview of Kumasi Central Market from above wholesale yards.
Madame Hawa, Tomato Wholesaler

Madame Hawa, Tomato Wholesaler

Date: 1979
Format: Image/jpeg
Madame Hawa, Tomato Wholesaler
Silhouette of old lady at tomato yard.
Men Tomato Sellers in North

Men Tomato Sellers in North

Date: 1979
Format: Image/jpeg
Men Tomato Sellers in North
Northern men with tomato boxes selling in Bolgatanga market.
Mohammed Bawa

Mohammed Bawa

Date: August 13, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"First, be honest; second, be patient."
Not Every Woman Can Do This Work

Not Every Woman Can Do This Work

Date: 2006
Format: Video/mp4
"It is only me, a woman selling these double axles here. My family are proud of me as a woman selling this, because it is not easy for some women to learn this trade."
Palaver Held at the Central Market, Kumasi

Palaver Held at the Central Market, Kumasi

Date: October 13, 1946
Format: Text/jpeg
Muslim traders settled freely in Kumasi after British conquest in 1898, but they had to negotiate a place for themselves politically and economically as a minority. Each immigrant ethnic group acknowledged a Kumasi headman, who maintained constructive relations with the Asante chiefly hierarchy and the British colonial authorities to protect their trading activities and legal traditions. Although most of the translations for this case will be from oral interviews, the paramount chief's archives contain valuable English language documents from earlier decades, such as petitions and court cases. The following sample document shows high-ranking palace officials mediating a conflict between male traders from Gao (Mali) and Asante women traders. Their rivalry over access to truckloads of yams arriving in Kumasi Central Market sparked several violent clashes between 1938 and 1952.
Sadick Jaffo

Sadick Jaffo

Date: August 15, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"I have to respect these people."
Suleiman Zakaria

Suleiman Zakaria

Date: August 13, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
"The religion of Islam is totally about peace"
Suleman Haruna

Suleman Haruna

Date: August 21, 2009
Format: Video/mp4
Truck Parts and Engines

Truck Parts and Engines

Date: 2006
Format: Image/jpeg
Truck Parts and Engines
Hajia Habiba in her stall with double axles in Suame Magazine.
Veiled Buyer

Veiled Buyer

Date: 1979
Format: Image/jpeg
Veiled Buyer
Customers standing, tomatoes on sack.
Zongo Street

Zongo Street

Date: 2009
Format: Image/jpeg
Zongo Street
Commercial building in Old Zongo.