Shea butter (butyrospermin parkii) has been produced and sold by rural West African women and circulated on the world market as a raw material for more than a century. Shea butter has been used for cooking, making soap and candles, leatherworking, dying, as a medical and beauty aid, and most significantly, as a substitute for cocoa butter in chocolate production. Now sold in exclusive shops as a high-priced cosmetic and medicinal product, it caters to the desire of cosmopolitan customers worldwide for luxury and exotic self-indulgence. This ethnographic study traces shea from a pre- to post-industrial commodity to provide a deeper understanding of emerging trends in tropical commoditization, consumption, global economic restructuring and rural livelihoods. Also inlcludes seven maps.
"This is a wise and imaginative, yet enormously careful, book--one of great interest to analysts of the complex, often perplexing, sometimes contradictory processes of changing political economies at local, national, regional, and global levels and how they affect the lives of 'ordinary' people. It will humble and confound any who think they fully understand these processes, much less believe that they can steer them." -- Tom Callaghy, University of Pennsylvania
"Shea Butter Republic offers a sophisticated account of the changing market for a tropical product which has always been produced for diverse domestic as well as changing export markets. This is a particularly fascinating case because, if African economies diversify successfully, surely more goods will have these characteristics." -- Jane Guyer, Johns Hopkins University
"This is an excellent book...Through rich ethnography, life histories, and archival accounts, Brenda Chalfin traces a vivid progression of strategies through which rural women responded to the changing opportunities and recurrent disruptions brought to their doorsteps by national and global institutions with their own cultural, economic, or political agendas." -- Gracia Clark, Indiana University
"Altogether this is a fascinating case study, showing all the advantages of the new sensitivities in anthropology: alert to global linkages and explicit on historical context." -- Mahir Saul, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, African Studies Review