Throughout history, several kinds of objects have been used in Africa not only to facilitate the trade for goods but also to measure wealth and power. Barter trade saw the exchange of goods and services between parties mainly with the use of many objects such as salt, shells, beads, metal, indigenous coins, and later, European coins, jewelry, woven cloth, weapons and tools. Fast-tracking to present times, African nations have gained new fiscal denominations which not only identify them by their names and legal tender but also represent the sovereignty of such countries.
And in the 21st century where money is believed to be the answer to problems, a community in southern Nigeria is proving otherwise. The Esuk Mba community market in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State is still trading by barter instead of money. Locals exchange one food item for another one, and they have been doing this since 1956 when their community market was established.
The market, found in a remote village in Esuk Mba in Akpabuyo, is a weekly market that starts from 7 a.m. and ends at noon every Saturday, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). On every market day, members of the community bring their consumable items to the market in exchange for the ones they do not have. Local traders sell various produce including vegetables, fish, palm oil, fruits, cassava, among others. Although the arrangement is not perfect, local traders told BBC “it is helpful”.
“Whatever they give me I collect. If it’s not good, I leave it. It’s helping us mothers and our children,” Arit Ekpo, a local trader, said.
“We grew up to meet this market. We hold it so much in high esteem and we want to sustain it. We use it to remember our forefathers and to sustain our culture,” Esuk Mba community’s Youth Leader Asuquo Effiong told NAN. “As you can see, they are varieties of food items in this section for exchange. In this market, you can bring your palm oil and exchange it for gari, yam, fish or plantain as the case may be,” he said.
Indeed, no money is exchanged in Esuk Mba. Residents however do collect money when visitors tour the area or when they sell their goods outside the community. They use the money to pay bills like school fees, a report noted. Locals are nevertheless grateful to have the market as it has helped them over the years to save costs.
Esuk Mba market opens only for a few hours. Residents wish that it will be more. “The specific challenge we face here is that the market does not stay open too long. I want the market to last longer, from morning till evening,” trader Merit Akon told BBC.
The market has helped preserve the culture of the community. “Trade by barter can never be abolished here in Cross Rivers State, in as much as Akpabuyo is concerned and Esuk Mba in general. We cannot abolish the system,” Akpabuyo traditional ruler, Chief Edem Duke, recently said.
For Rosemary Archibong, Commissioner for Commerce, Cross River State, “there is nothing like emphasizing and affirming culture.”
“It would not thrive as a money-spinning trading venture. But it reminds us and our children that there was a time that money did not answer all the problems,” she said.