In parts of sub-Saharan West Africa, the production of shea butter is a traditional trade passed down from mother to daughter. West African women expend considerable labor to collect large quantities of shea nuts, separate the nuts from their shells, crush the nuts with mortars and pestles, roast the nuts over fires, grind the roasted nuts into a smooth paste, extract shea butter oil from the paste, and then allow the oil to solidify. This process takes several months from start to finish.
Shea butter serves a variety of functions in West Africa. It is used in cooking as well as in moisturizer. It is prized by cosmetics producers that use it as an emollient in a variety of products, including balms and soaps.
Shea Yeleen International was founded in 2005 by Rahama Wright, a Peace Corps volunteer who served in Mali from 2002 to 2004. Its mission is to aid the economic development and empowerment of women in rural West African communities by organizing cooperatives, helping to bring shea butter to international markets, and educating consumers about this product.
Shea Yeleen products will be available for sale at the Folklife Festival Marketplace.
To find out more about Shea Yeleen, please visit http://www.sheayeleen.org/ and come talk with Ms. Wright and her colleagues who will be demonstrating the production process in the Peace Corps area of this year’s Festival!