A Treasured Crop in Zanzibar that has Put Women on Top

Seaweed farming in Zanzibar by Women/BBC

Most of the women in Zanzibar used to wake up very early in the morning to go to the beach carrying ropes and sticks to plant the seaweeds. They drove the sticks inside the sand, knee-deep in water. Then with the ropes, they tied up the pieces of seaweed attached to the sticks and leave it for about six weeks to grow. They ate some, sold some to brokers and most of it dried up.

It was like a watery neighborhood, as they worked together, they cracked jokes and laughed as they exchanged gossips. Men in 1990s mostly preferred fishing or tourism jobs since the introduction of seaweed farming. They thought seaweed could consume their time and even some didn’t allow their wives to do such work.

Most men complained much about their women who did this kind of job. They said their women left their home duties. Moreover, the job acted as a kind of family planning because once they come back home after work, they were so exhausted even to allow their husbands to perform their husbandry duties…..making babies. One of the men who complained was Mohammed who initially did not allow his wife to go with others. Though at last, he had to because his wife was so gloomy and kept crying a lot.

In this Muslim island, the seaweed farming was a liberating force for women. They neglected everything else to farm in seaweeds for financial breakthroughs. They only isolated this work when maybe there happened to be a funeral or a wedding in the village or when visiting a sick relative. This isolation was even reflected on their only kind of architecture, whereby, they created stone benches alongside the walls of their houses to allow their husbands to welcome visitors who visit them without compromising their wives’ privacy.

According to Flower Msuya, a marine biologist, in the beginning, the husbands threatened to divorce their wives if they went for seaweed farming. As soon as they saw the huge money their wives brought home, they changed their minds.

This business allowed them to afford school fees for their children, buy furniture, have better foods and roofs made of corrugated iron rather than grass, and their children had books to read and uniforms to wear back to school.

One of a very successful venture in this work is Safia Yusuf, a seaweed farmer, from Bweleo village on South-west coast is proud of herself. She has opened a shop where she sells jam, chutney and seaweed soaps. She even proceeded in buying her son a scooter, fishing boat and built a mansion house for a family. She was married in 1985 and since then, she is still the only first wife of her husband, and she is proud of it, also thankful to have four children.

Safia invested in real estate as her main business. She is also looking at her partly life in such a way she will live in one of her houses with her grown-up children in case her husband divorces her because of other women. This is like a policy assurance in the society where men are seldom forced to pay alimony.

Safia said there is no guarantee of marriage in Zanzibar, she laughs saying, “If our husband falls for another woman, love can make him crazy and he can just tell you to go.” This is what the norm was about.

The seaweed farming generally has kept many women on a pace of earning a living in different ways, as long as they are outside the house, not just staying and babysitting and house chores alone. Although some had left that job, they do other common self-independent businesses like selling fried samosas, making handicrafts sold to sunbathing tourists. They left a seaweed legacy.

The advice from marine biologist is that planting cotton help make seaweed more profitable in Zanzibar. The hitch is that women need boots to conduct this valuable job successfully since they have no idea in swimming, unlike men.

Nowadays, women in Zanzibar practice both swimming and rowing a boat, though it seems difficult for them, they’ll get used to it. They wear life jackets and straw hats. They are happy that at the end of it all, they are going to be experts in that field and earn more to improve their living standards. #Rewordit


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