Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Excerpt From Margaret Read's,Native standards of living and African culture change,: Illustrated by examples from the Ngoni highlands of Nyasaland, (International Institute of African languages and cultures), 1938
With our main problem of the standard of living in view it is necessary to set certain limits to this discussion of the market of the Paramount Chief Gomani. I shall therefore begin with a survey of the present methods of trading in this area and their relation to the former types of distribution, referring to the factor of price as an incentive to marketing. I shall then describe the market at Lizulu in terms of the area served, the people concerned, and the goods exchanged; and discuss the relationship of the Paramount Chief Gomani to this institution which he created. Finally, I shall endeavour to show how the market reflects the standard of living in this area and how it has proved to be an important link between political development and the welfare of the people.
Types of trading in this area. We saw how in the pre-European days the large-scale economy of the Ngoni meant that the aristocrats, who were also the wealthy, were continually accumulating goods and redistributing them, thus achieving a certain equalisation of consumption at least of necessities. Artisans made goods to order for the 'big houses' and received rewards of food and clothing. A certain amount of inter-village trading of 'industries' went on at the same time,especially after the Ngoni had brought some peace to the land and made communications safe Today the existence of scarcity and surplus is met by trade, of which there are three main forms. There is village or inter-village trading, which as we saw, can include both a hawking of goods or going directly to the producer. Few days pass in a village, especially if remote from a market when some kind of trading transaction does not take place. The villages on the sides of the main road maintain a constant sale of fruit, flour, other food-stuffs, and until recently beer,1 to the passers-by. The traffic on these main roads is very heavy at all times of year, and this roadside trading is a marked feature of the district. Formerly travellers would have been entertained by the 'big houses'. Today men returning from the south and therefore supposedly wealthy, are expected to buy their provisions.2 Now and then I have seen men from the north going south with only a small quantity of flour in a goatskin packet being fed in roadside villages, on the plea that once they get into Portuguese East Africa they will have a very thin time.
The third form of trading today takes place in the markets. There are regular produce markets at the European Bomas, occasional, small markets at cross-roads, but none in this area to compare in size or importance with that held weekly at the Paramount Chief's village of Lizulu.There are also organised seasonal markets for the buying of cotton and tobacco, but none of these takes place in the Ngoni Highlands.
All the transactions, whether in the villages, at the roadsides, or in the markets, may be either by barter or cash sale. The interaction of economic and social interests is seen clearly in the way in which the prices of goods are settled. They are seldom, if ever, determined on strictly economic lines, that is, solely by the operation of supply and demand. In the Paramount Chief's market prices are regulated by his authority according to the seasonal variations of supplies. In village trading there is a socially accepted equivalence of goods for goods, as, for example a cooking pot or a basket for the amount of maize it will hold. Bargaining and arguing often take place but sooner or later the social factor comes into play, and the buyer and seller arrive at an agreement by which neither feels defrauded and both are content. The economic motive of gain in the form of a definite reward is clearly the incentive for selling anything. Equally the reputation for generosity is a social asset, as it was in former days. Any kind of goods which can be measured by a little more or less such as beans or maize must always be measured on the generous side. If there is no evidence of generosity the other partner in the transaction will say, 'Ha! you Indian trader ', which is equivalent to skinflint and cheat.I have watched scores of these transactions both in the villages and in the market. Nowhere could it be said that there is a purely commercial attitude' about trading. If the seller is a clever talker with ready wit he may coax the buyer into giving a little more but equally this advantage may be on the side of the buyer. Buyers and sellers both frequently exhibit a disdainfully aloof attitude towards the goods, and it is certainly true that some individuals dislike the necessity of trading while others find in it an oulet for wit. Cheating and profiteering are regarded as anti-social acts, and a person with such a reputation is avoided.3 These forms of trade and the motives which influence buyers and sellers we will now consider in common with the market at Lizulu.
Description of the Market. The village of Lizulu is on the main road running north and south through Nyasaland. Dominating the village is the Paramount Chief's long brick house in its tree shaded courtyard, and beyond it the new circular court house designed and built by himself. From this court house you can count a dozen villages perched on the sides of the hills. To the south side of the village is the market-place flanked by three Indian stores on the main road on one side and on the other by a few huts to accommodate travellers arriving over night.
If you walk into the market about 8 a.m. on a Saturday, in the month of October, you find it already humming with activity. On the side nearest the main road are the sellers from Portuguese East Africa chiefly women with maize, vegetables, and other food-stuffs. On the far side,4 round the ant-hill where the men like to congregate5,are the people from the lake shore country, mostly men, with building materials' such as bamboo and bark rope, and with village industries such as reed mats, baskets of bamboo and palm fibre, wooden spoons and hoe handles. Here are the fish sellers, also men and boys, with smoke dried and fresh fish which they have carried up the two escarpments from the lake during the night. Round the trees in the centre is the 'meat stall', where butchers are cutting up the carcasses each on its skin, arranging small portions for sale, and hanging large pieces on the trees. In little groups, arranged according to their wares over all the remaining space, are the women selling grain vegetables, fruit and pots, chiefly in small quantities taken from their own storehouses or gardens. In and out, stepping round the sellers and their wares,now bending down to talk, now sitting to drive a bargain walk the buyers and the onlookers, clustering most thickly round the butchers' section, which attracts people as much as flies. Here will be found the men who are cattle owners and have slaughtered a beast to provide them with needed cash. They generally use a 'butcher' to cut up and sell the meat. He gives the money at the end to the owner, who pays him 2s 6d.for his services.
As the market fills up the buzz of conversation gets louder and deeper, and in the little knots of people talking everywhere, it is hard to sort out the buyers from the Sellers. The Indian stores on the edge of the market are thronged with would-be purchasers, choosing, fingering, talking price, watching the salesman measure the cloth, going to the tailor on the veranda to get it made up. The whole scene is one of great activity, cheerful bargaining, orderliness, and good burnout. Quarrels and angry voices and fights are unknown. 'Is it not the Chief's market? And must we not respect him.'
In a changing scene such as this it is not easy to count heads, but there are generally 500-600 people at any one time in the market-place during the cold weather, more in the hot weather, and fewer in the rains. The area served is roughly 15 miles east and 15 miles west 10 north and 10 south from Lizulu. People come from the villages below the escarpment to the east and from the Portuguese lands to the west thus focusing in one centre all the Ngoni country with its diverse climatic areas.
Kinds of goods sold, the regulation of prices, and collection of market dues Of the goods brought to the market one quarter perhaps are village industries, three quarters food-stuffs. The scarcity of building materials in the Highlands makes a ready sale for bamboo and bark rope especially in the house building season after the harvest. There is always a steady demand for baskets, mats, wooden spoons, and small sieves. This supply is greater in the cold weather 'because the men like to sit round their lire in the talking place making these things'. Baskets for carrying maize are plentiful just before the harvest, and wooden hoe handles just before the rains when the hoeing season begins.
On most market days, except in the rains, one to three beasts are disposed of and one to two pigs. The meat sells for about 25s. to 30s.per beast and 5s. to 6s. per pig. The amount of fish brought in varies, but it is always quickly sold out, and the total, in 1d. lots, is about 10s. to 15s. worth
The food-stuffs, other than meat and fish, consist of maize and millet, 'relishes', that is, peas, beans, and ground-nuts; quantities of greens called 'turnip'; European vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, and cabbages; sweet potatoes, yams, and cassava; and sugar cane and fruit according to the seasons, mangoes, pawpaws, bananas, peaches, &c. The people In the low level country always have yams and bananas, and those from the Portuguese country maize and beans. Hence a scarcity of staple food like maize in one area will be met by supplies from another, and the same is true of standard relishes like beans.
The unit of price in terms of money is 1d., kobidi. Most portions of vegetables, fruit, cereals, meat, and fish are arranged in pennyworths.The price for bananas, for example varies from 8 a 1d. to 15 a 1d., for yams from 4 to 8; sweet potatoes from 6 to 12. These seasonal variations in prices are regulated by the Paramount Chief on information given him about shortage and supplies in different parts of his territory.As prices are fixed by his authority, there is no haggling over price only over the amount put into the given measure. A woman selling millet at 1d. a basinful will be urged by a buyer to put more in until the basin is heaped up and running over. Protesting all the time she will go on adding minute handfuls as the buyer says, 'Tiye, Tiye! (come on! come on!), until the cloth round the basin has a circle of overflowing millet. The woman gathers it up and hands it over with a sigh and a laugh, and the onlookers say, 'She has a good heart. She is not a 'mwenye', the derogatory name given to Indian traders.
In and out through the people goes a little man with a grizzled head and a khaki uniform followed by a lad with a sack. Into the sack go an odd banana, a yam or two, handfuls of maize, bits of sugar cane, small fish, while the official collects a penny here and there from the craftsmen, and 1s 9d. per beast from each butcher. This is the 'customs officer', collecting the Chief's dues from all the sellers at a fixed rate x which they give willingly. The Chief gets a considerable amount of foodstuffs from this 'custom', which are put away in his storehouses,and a few shillings a week in cash dues.
Other facilities Provided at Lizulu. When people come to Lizulu to buy and sell they find other facilities there. The Paramount Chief's office in his new court house has a postal section where stamps can be bought and letters sent and received. Permits for selling beer, and marriage certificates, both introduced by him, can be bought here. Friday, the day before the market is court day, that is, the day for the Appeal Court at the Paramount Chief's, and for the ordinary court at the near-by village of the Sub-Native Authority. News and gossip from the rest of Nyasaland and from farther south is exchanged when the mail lorries arrive with their load of passengers. The Paramount Chief, his wife his officials, and the Sub-Native Authority and his officials, walk in and out of the market, and are accessible for greetings and petitions. Normally the Chief can only be approached through his izinduna, and his wife through her attendant women. The ordinary people who seldom have cause to seek them out are gratified at being able to see and greet the Paramount Chief and they speak warmly of his condescension at walking among them thus freely.
Paramount Chief and his market. The Paramount Chief is 'owner' of the market in the same sense in which he is called the 'owner' of the country. It is a recognition that the market depends on him because he set it up, he regulates it, and he receives custom from it as he receives tribute from the country. It takes place in his village, where people come also for court cases and for dances,and at New Year and on other occasions. Thus the people associate the residence of the Paramount Chief with legal assistance, economic facilities for exchange, and social recreation. Ngoni tradition of the correct relationship between the Paramount Chief and his people.
The market further shows an important transition of the economic function of the Paramount Chief in former days to a new form today. We saw how in pre-European days the Paramount Chief had a monopoly of ivory which he traded to the Arabs for cloth and then distributed the cloth to his relatives and officials; and that he showed the same type of generosity in giving away war loot. This role of distributor of goods which were highly valued was allied to that of provider of food and meat and beer, and he was thus regarded as the one who satisfied the needs of his people. Having no Arab cloth or war loot to distribute in these days, the Paramount Chief organised a market where by exchange of goods people could satisfy their needs. The reciprocal relationship between Chief and people shown in the old days by tribute and military service on the one hand and gifts and food on the other has also its counterpart today. The people at the market pay custom and keep the peace and accept his ruling of prices. The Chief gives facilities for exchange, fixes a just price and walks about among them The personal relationship between the Chief and people is thus based on the old ideas, but take shape in new forms
This analysis of the market shows, as did the institutions of cattle keeping and agriculture that economic activities are closely related to political and social organisation. It is, moreover, a proof in modern form of the organising ability of the Ngoni leaders to meet the needs of their people. We shall now summarise the chief ways in organization of the market is related to raising the standard of living in the area served by it.
The market and standard of living: Even without the data of a quantitative assessment of food eaten, it is evident from observation that the existence of the market both equalises consumption and increases it. Local scarcity of essential foods such as beans is met by exchange in the market, and the display of foods like meat, fish, fruit,and vegetables is an inducement to purchase them. A great many households in the neighbourhood of the market buy a small regular amount of meat and fish every week It is common to meet women setting out in the early morning with a basket of grain or beans on their head and to see them returning about noon with the same basket full of a bundle of entrails, some sun-dried fish, and perhaps some bananas or mangoes. Whether those purchases represent an actual increase of the quantity of food consumed, or only more variety, that is, less porridge but a better relish it is very dicult to say. But the 'lure of the shop window ' in the display of varied foods in the market certainly excites the ambition to have a more varied diet.
The steady demand at fixed prices for food-stuffs, and especially for 'industries', acts as a direct stimulus to production. Some of the semi-educated youths lounging about the villages jeer at such spare-time occupations. 'A man's work', they say, _ is to earn wages, not to make things.' At the same time the incentive of profit is a strong one, and a maker of good baskets can get from 3s. to 5s. a week in the market. The profits from sales represent an added purchasing power and hence the possibilities of an increase in the standard of living
We can therefore conclude that the market does affect the standard of living by equalising consumption in that area, and that it is also instrumental in raising the standard of living by stimulating production. The part played in the market by the Paramount Chief shows how economic progress and political development can be allied. The Paramount Chief is using his old power for new ends, or rather for a new method suited to changing conditions, thus promoting the welfare of his people. Hence we do not find in the market and its working any of the tension or instability or resistance shown in attempts to improve agriculture and cattle keeping. In this institution the old and the new are in unison and not in conflict.
- The sale of beer on the rosin roads was prohibited because it to too many motor accidents. There is now a 3- mile limit which is somewhat elastic in its interpretation.
- It is getting quite usual to find eating-houses at the chief stopping-places where tea and scones and more solid food can be bought.
- on the other hand, in the cotton and tobacco markets it is considered quite justifiable to cheat the European traders, who are invariably looked upon as profiteers.
- The sellers coming from a distance take up sites in the market place nearest the place at which they arrive, i.e. those from the west on the western side , and so on.
- In old days chiefs sat on an ant-hill with their officials below them.