Folasade Ojikutu wears a standard white lace costume for her work on the lagoon dock behind Oluwo market in Epe. The small city is dwelling to one of many largest and hottest fish markets in Lagos – and nearly all 300 merchants are girls. Many are from households who’ve bought fish right here for generations, and Ojikutu, 47, is their “Iya Alaje”, that means the mom or service of wealth.

As she strides previous a small waterfront shrine, dozens of girls fishing waist-deep within the water chant and hail her, calling out “Aje”- partially a reference to the Yoruba goddess of wealth. On daily basis, a whole lot of individuals journey, generally for hours, to purchase fish at Epe market, as it’s generally recognized, the place the religious and business merge. And the primarily girls merchants look to Ojikutu– who acts as an intercessor, praying for success, alongside managing affairs on the market.

“It was the Ifá [Yoruba priest] that selected me, in 2016. He’s the one which chooses the Iya Alaje,” Ojikutu says. Most markets in Lagos have an Iya Alaje, she explains, a market chief that’s in some instances chosen by a priest, in keeping with Yoruba custom. “The day the Ifa got here, I wasn’t right here however he instructed them my title, my look, then they got here and located me. I used to be panicking, weeping. I didn’t need it, I noticed it as a burden. However the girls insisted and right here I’m.”

In Nigeria’s advanced non secular panorama, blends of indigenous religions with Islam and Christianity are sometimes demonised by mainstream clerics. But the enduring significance of conventional non secular beliefs are seen in markets like Epe. For Ojikutu, a Christian in perception, and a Muslim by marriage who retains two shrines available in the market, there may be concord in her prayers to God and to Aje.

Folasade Ojikuti pointing out her ‘shrine’ at the back of the market, on the dock of the lagoon
Folasade Ojikuti at certainly one of two shrines that she retains on the market. {Photograph}: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

“The Bible says your religion will make you complete. After I get to the Aje, I pray for good favour for the ladies. After I get to the mosque, I pray to God that our prayers will probably be answered. We name God right here. We name God on the mosque, too. So we don’t must criticise this in any respect, it’s our heritage.”

Bola Ajakorin, 57, is placing tilapia into ice baggage. “This morning, [Ojikutu] prayed for us. That we’ll promote, that we’ll make sufficient to eat, to drink, to spend, to progress,” she says. “She’s going to pray, after which we’ll shout, ‘ajeee oooooh’.” The ladies round echo her chant.

Bola Ajakorin has worked at Epe Market for 30 years, coming from a family of fishermen and women
Bola Ajakorin has labored at Epe Marketplace for 30 years, coming from a household of fishermen and girls. {Photograph}: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Ajakorin has bought fish at Epe for 30 years, taking up from her mom, whose dad and mom had been fishers, too. “It’s in our household to be right here,” she says.

Like most of the girls, she is the primary breadwinner, supporting seven youngsters and her retired husband.

“The ladies that you just see right here, they do all of it. After we promote, we eat, we feed our kids. These of us which have moms, fathers, we’re feeding them. Our siblings. That’s what we do.

“This job has been nice for us, nevertheless it’s arduous,” she says, describing how Africa’s largest economic system has suffered in recent times.

Two recessions since 2016, rising meals costs and the price of residing have pushed hundreds of thousands of Nigerians into poverty. “Issues that folks purchased for 10,000 naira [£18] in Lagos are actually 20,000 or 30,000 naira. Every little thing is dear, so folks have much less cash for fish than earlier than,” says Ajakorin.

Most men are fishers, so the women have the role of selling their catch
Most males are fishers, so the ladies have the position of promoting their catch. {Photograph}: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Mrs Abdullahi, 54, wears a inexperienced T-shirt and yellow wrapper and shows a fish nearly as huge as herself on her chopping board. “This one is even small,” she laughs.

Alongside the aisles, girls reduce and carry, some sitting excessive on high of freezers, peering down on their trays of fish and shrimp. They discuss how working on the market is of their blood.

“Because the time that I’ve been at school, I’ve been right here, following my mom to the market,” says Abdullahi. “We’ve despatched our youngsters to highschool, to school. And the little [money] that’s left, we’ve used for our automobile, our meals, our dwelling. You realize the state of affairs of the nation. However we handle and we thank God.”

Mrs Abdullahi holds a large ‘Barakuta’ fish. She followed her mother into working at the market
Mrs Abdullahi holds a barracuda. She adopted her mom into working on the market. {Photograph}: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Abdullahi says girls have develop into the dominant merchants as a result of males demean the work, seeing fishing as extra respectable.

“Males go and kill the fish, even girls go and kill, too, however primarily males. But it surely’s the ladies that purchase it from them. Males have a look at it prefer it’s soiled work, however for us, it’s not soiled work.

“If I get my fish, I can promote it right here. I can drive my automobile and take it to Ijora [a settlement in Lagos], name my clients and inform them what’s on the bottom – orange fish, yellowtail, catfish, tilapia. I’ve that freedom to go right here and go there.”

The a whole lot of market girls with deep roots to the world kind a help community, says 50-year-old Lawal Bolanle, who has bought fish at Epe since she was 15. “We do many issues,” she says, together with ‘ajo’ – a communal saving system, the place folks put a month-to-month sum right into a shared pot, and one particular person receives that quantity on rotation. “We be a part of arms and assist one another in several methods.

Oluwakemi Sanwo (left) and Lawal Bolanle
Oluwakemi Sanwo (left) and Lawal Bolanle. Sanwo’s husband died 5 years in the past. Her job at Epe market permits her to supply for her seven youngsters. {Photograph}: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

“Amongst us, there are some who produce other companies. Let’s say a store. They’ll open their store. Then come right here and promote fish, then return, shut their store and go dwelling. However most ladies available in the market, we work and we don’t have anything.

“Some have a child however no husband. Or a husband who’s sick or has died. However you then’ll come right here, God will carry out wonders, you’ll discover meals to eat, go dwelling and attend to your youngsters,” says Bolanle.

“We help one another. When an elder sister right here involves us and says she has a state of affairs that’s urgent, we’ll rapidly name one another and say, look, we don’t need this case to tug her to the grave. You could find cash and say to a girl, right here, take a bit, supply fish to promote, to assist your self,” she says

Oluwakemi Sanwo, 45, has a modest show on picket trays. She has cared for her seven youngsters alone since her husband died of coronary heart issues 5 years in the past. “I don’t have dad and mom, my mom has died, my father has died. My husband’s household stopped coming after he died. For my youngsters, it’s me that’s the mom, it’s me that’s the father.”

The market girls have been a power, she says. “For instance, my pal right here, when she sells quite a bit, they’ll give me 4,000 naira, 5,000 naira. I’ll feed my youngsters and maintain some to purchase fish to promote. Progressively, issues are enhancing.”

The Oluwo Fish Market is popularly called “Epe market”
The Oluwo Fish Market is popularly known as “Epe market”. In Yoruba perception, the market is a religious place. {Photograph}: Grace Ekpu/The Guardian

Islamic prayer beads, bibles open to psalms, candles wrapped with palm leaves, are laid on high of freezers and tucked in corners, behind trays or buckets of dwell seafood throughout the market. Whereas at a shrine stored on the quieter far finish of the market, a sacrifice is made in a small ceramic pot as Ojikutu kneels on a mat to hope.

“After all, many pastors, imams, will say that is an evil observe,” Ojikutu says. “It’s the identical God that we’re worshipping. Everybody has a spirit. For some, their spirits will match collectively. These with clear hearts, that work collectively, it’s from that which good issues occur. That’s what we imagine.”


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