The Nigerian fish market where gods and commerce meet

9 months ago 139

Folasade Ojikutu wears a accepted achromatic lace formal for her enactment astatine the lagoon dock down Oluwo marketplace successful Epe. The tiny municipality is location to 1 of the largest and astir fashionable food markets successful Lagos – and astir each 300 traders are women. Many are from families who person sold food present for generations, and Ojikutu, 47, is their “Iya Alaje”, meaning the parent oregon bearer of wealth.

As she strides past a tiny waterfront shrine, dozens of women sportfishing waist-deep successful the h2o chant and hail her, calling retired “Aje”- successful portion a notation to the Yoruba goddess of wealth. Every day, hundreds of radical travel, sometimes for hours, to bargain food astatine Epe market, arsenic it is commonly known, wherever the spiritual and commercialized merge. And the chiefly women traders look to Ojikutu– who acts arsenic an intercessor, praying for bully fortune, alongside managing affairs astatine the market.

“It was the Ifá [Yoruba priest] that chose me, successful 2016. He is the 1 that chooses the Iya Alaje,” Ojikutu says. Most markets successful Lagos person an Iya Alaje, she explains, a marketplace person that is successful immoderate cases chosen by a priest, according to Yoruba tradition. “The time the Ifa came, I wasn’t present but helium told them my name, my appearance, past they came and recovered me. I was panicking, weeping. I didn’t privation it, I saw it arsenic a burden. But the women insisted and present I am.”

In Nigeria’s analyzable spiritual landscape, blends of indigenous religions with Islam and Christianity are often demonised by mainstream clerics. Yet the enduring value of accepted spiritual beliefs are seen successful markets similar Epe. For Ojikutu, a Christian successful belief, and a Muslim by matrimony who keeps 2 shrines successful the market, determination is harmony successful her prayers to God and to Aje.

Folasade Ojikuti pointing retired  her ‘shrine’ astatine  the backmost  of the market, connected  the dock of the lagoon
Folasade Ojikuti astatine 1 of 2 shrines that she keeps astatine the market. Photograph: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

“The Bible says your religion volition marque you whole. When I get to the Aje, I commune for bully favour for the women. When I get to the mosque, I commune to God that our prayers volition beryllium answered. We telephone God here. We telephone God astatine the mosque, too. So we don’t request to criticise this astatine all, it’s our heritage.”

Bola Ajakorin, 57, is putting tilapia into crystal bags. “This morning, [Ojikutu] prayed for us. That we volition sell, that we volition marque capable to eat, to drink, to spend, to progress,” she says. “She volition pray, and past we volition shout, ‘ajeee oooooh’.” The women astir echo her chant.

Bola Ajakorin has worked astatine  Epe Market for 30 years, coming from a household  of fishermen and women
Bola Ajakorin has worked astatine Epe Market for 30 years, coming from a household of fishermen and women. Photograph: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Ajakorin has sold food astatine Epe for 30 years, taking implicit from her mother, whose parents were fishers, too. “It’s successful our household to beryllium here,” she says.

Like galore of the women, she is the main breadwinner, supporting 7 children and her retired husband.

“The women that you spot here, they bash it all. When we sell, we eat, we provender our children. Those of america that person mothers, fathers, we’re feeding them. Our siblings. That’s what we do.

“This occupation has been large for us, but it’s hard,” she says, describing however Africa’s largest system has suffered successful caller years.

Two recessions since 2016, rising nutrient prices and the outgo of surviving person pushed millions of Nigerians into poverty. “Things that radical bought for 10,000 naira [£18] successful Lagos are present 20,000 oregon 30,000 naira. Everything is expensive, truthful radical person little wealth for food than before,” says Ajakorin.

Most men are fishers, truthful  the women person  the relation   of selling their catch
Most men are fishers, truthful the women person the relation of selling their catch. Photograph: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Mrs Abdullahi, 54, wears a greenish T-shirt and yellowish wrapper and displays a food astir arsenic large arsenic herself connected her chopping board. “This 1 is adjacent small,” she laughs.

Along the aisles, women chopped and carry, immoderate sitting precocious connected apical of freezers, peering down connected their trays of food and shrimp. They speech astir however moving astatine the marketplace is successful their blood.

“Since the clip that I’ve been successful school, I’ve been here, pursuing my parent to the market,” says Abdullahi. “We’ve sent our kids to school, to university. And the small [money] that’s left, we’ve utilized for our car, our food, our home. You cognize the concern of the country. But we negociate and we convey God.”

Mrs Abdullahi holds a ample  ‘Barakuta’ fish. She followed her parent  into moving   astatine  the market
Mrs Abdullahi holds a barracuda. She followed her parent into moving astatine the market. Photograph: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Abdullahi says women person go the ascendant traders due to the fact that men demean the work, seeing sportfishing arsenic much respectable.

“Men spell and termination the fish, adjacent women spell and kill, too, but chiefly men. But it’s the women that bargain it from them. Men look astatine it similar it’s soiled work, but for us, it’s not soiled work.

“If I get my fish, I tin merchantability it here. I tin thrust my car and instrumentality it to Ijora [a colony successful Lagos], telephone my customers and archer them what’s connected the crushed – orangish fish, yellowtail, catfish, tilapia. I person that state to spell present and spell there.”

The hundreds of marketplace women with heavy roots to the country signifier a enactment network, says 50-year-old Lawal Bolanle, who has sold food astatine Epe since she was 15. “We bash galore things,” she says, including ‘ajo’ – a communal redeeming system, wherever radical enactment a monthly sum into a shared pot, and 1 idiosyncratic receives that magnitude connected rotation. “We articulation hands and assistance each different successful antithetic ways.

Oluwakemi Sanwo (left) and Lawal Bolanle
Oluwakemi Sanwo (left) and Lawal Bolanle. Sanwo’s hubby died 5 years ago. Her occupation astatine Epe marketplace enables her to supply for her 7 children. Photograph: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

“Among us, determination are immoderate who person different businesses. Let’s accidental a shop. They’ll unfastened their shop. Then travel present and merchantability fish, past spell back, adjacent their store and spell home. But astir women successful the market, we enactment and we don’t person thing else.

“Some person a babe but nary husband. Or a hubby who is sick oregon has died. But past you’ll travel here, God volition execute wonders, you’ll find nutrient to eat, spell location and be to your children,” says Bolanle.

“We enactment each other. When an elder sister present comes to america and says she has a concern that is pressing, we volition rapidly telephone each different and say, look, we don’t privation this concern to propulsion her to the grave. You tin find wealth and accidental to a woman, here, instrumentality a bit, root food to sell, to assistance yourself,” she says

Oluwakemi Sanwo, 45, has a humble show connected woody trays. She has cared for her 7 children unsocial since her hubby died of bosom problems 5 years ago. “I don’t person parents, my parent has died, my begetter has died. My husband’s household stopped coming aft helium died. For my children, it’s maine that is the mother, it’s maine that is the father.”

The marketplace women person been a strength, she says. “For example, my person here, erstwhile she sells a lot, they volition springiness maine 4,000 naira, 5,000 naira. I’ll provender my children and support immoderate to bargain food to sell. Gradually, things are improving.”

The Oluwo Fish Market is popularly called “Epe market”
The Oluwo Fish Market is popularly called “Epe market”. In Yoruba belief, the marketplace is simply a spiritual place. Photograph: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Islamic supplication beads, bibles unfastened to psalms, candles wrapped with thenar leaves, are laid connected apical of freezers and tucked successful corners, down trays oregon buckets of unrecorded seafood crossed the market. While astatine a shrine kept astatine the quieter acold extremity of the market, a sacrifice is made successful a tiny ceramic cookware arsenic Ojikutu kneels connected a mat to pray.

“Of course, galore pastors, imams, volition accidental this is an evil practice,” Ojikutu says. “It’s the aforesaid God that we are worshipping. Everyone has a spirit. For some, their spirits volition lucifer together. Those with cleanable hearts, that enactment together, it’s from that which bully things happen. That’s what we believe.”