Millet And Manhood
MY name is Zenabou Bambara. I’m 28 and I have four children. My husband’s name is Adama Mone and my co-wife is called Mariam. Mariam was in labour last night - there is a new baby in the household. Until yesterday she worked with me in the fields, but now she will have six days rest until the naming ceremony - in that time all she has to do is fetch water and cook.
This means more work for me in the fields. It’s the third time we’ve planted but there is no rain. I’m tired, my back aches. But there is nothing to show for my work. Look at the earth. See how dry it is? The millet should be one foot high by now. but this dry ground yields only dust.
A woman’s work in the fields is important. But it is not her only work. In the morning I get up and prepare the meal, and if I have no flour I pound the grain. After that I walk to the fields which are 14 kilometres away and join my husband who has ridden there on his bike. I work the land with him until two o’clock. and then I fetch firewood to carry home. Sometimes I sell this wood to other people and get a little money for myself - then I buy something for the sauce to go with the tô* In the afternoon I have to make four trips to the well to fill the storage jar in my compound.
This work is woman’s work, and it’s because of this that a woman has more to do than a man, that she gets more tired. I would like it very much if my husband helped me, but he will not because he is the one who holds the authority. The man cannot help the woman - it is not his role.
He can demand anything of his wife but she cannot ask anything of him.
A man only has to worry about the family’s land. But I have my own field to weed too, on top of all my other work - I have to organise myself to find enough time to cultivate my own land, because every bit of food counts.
After the harvest last year my husband gave my co-wife and me some millet to keep in our huts as an emergency store. But we have used it up and have to rely on what he gives us every four days. If only it would rain we could pick leaves to make a thick sauce and make the millet stretch further.
I’m the one who gives the orders concerning our work and our food. With this calabash I measure out the millet to my two wives - it is up to them to make it last.
Actually, it’s true - women do work more than men. The woman works with us in the fields. Then she has to go back to the house to fetch water and firewood, grind millet into flour and cook the tô and sauce. She also has to wash the children. I can see for myself that she is tired, that she works too hard. But tradition and habit stop me from helping her. It is a woman’s place to do that work. I don’t see why I should help her.
Zenahou will tell her own story along with women farmers from two other African countries, in a major New Internationalist film called ‘Man-made famine’. It will be screened in the UK on Channel Four early next year. Look out for it in Australia and North America too.
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