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Date: Mon, 10 Apr 1995 21:55:46 GMT-5
Sender: H-NET List for African History <>
Subject: REPLY: Cooperative Labor in Africa
From: P.K.Muana, University of Sheffield <>
Date sent: Sun, 9 Apr 1995 21:34:43

Cooperative Labor in Africa

By P. K. Muana, University of Sheffield <>, 9 April 1995

On this subject, Dana Farnham, wrote:

The works with which I am familiar (e.g.,Swindell) speculate that communal labor arranngements are of relatively recent vintage, as opposed to the view that they have been an integral part of "traditional" society.

Allow me to differ on Swindell's speculative generalisation. It is unfortunate that not much has been documented about the Mende (of Sierra Leone). Labour patterns in that culture are intricately interlaced with the hierarchical social organisation of the ethnic group. I would delineate, amongst others, three traditional communal labour arrangements: the "ndooyeingei" (pronounced /ndor-yea-ngay/), the "mbembei" (pronounced /mbeh-mbay/) and the "tewei" (pronounced /tay-weigh/). The first is mandatory labour enlisted by the Chief for a communal project. All able-bodied men and women are expected to fully cooperate. Traditional sanctions for failure to cooperate include prosecution although just a century ago the unpleasant punishment of enslavement or banishment could be enforced at the chief's or the elders' whims. The "mbembei" is another form of communal service in which the owner of the farm, usually a rich patron, provides "kondei" (food) and "tawei" (tobacco) for a number of workers who may well have either familial or social ties with the owner of the farm or project. The last one, the "tewei", is a social arrngement between co-operating farmers. The "teweyeingei" or "turn- taking" involves all families of a number of farms or projects pressing all their labour forces into service for one individual and then moving on to the next individual. Apart from the first form of cooperative labour which is declining largely because of the diminishing powers of chiefs in Mende society, the last two are still extensively used.

Get in touch later if you are interested in an extensive chat about labour patterns in Mende society. In case you are wondering who the Mende are: it is an ethinc group that resides in most of Southern and eastern Sierra Leone and in Western Liberian. The people are of Mande stock and they migrated into present day Sierra Leone from the Upper Guinea forest belt in the 16th and 17th centuries.