Skip to main content
Shea Butter Production in West Africa

In many parts of sub-Saharan West Africa, the production of shea butter is a traditional trade passed down from mother to daughter. These 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. Cosmetic companies purchase the butter for use in a variety of products, including balms, moisturizers, ointments, 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 helping to bring shea butter to international markets and educating consumers around the world about this product.


Rukaya Amidu, Damongo, Ghana
Rukaya is a member of the Christian Mother’s Association shea butter cooperative in Damongo, Ghana, where she has learned how to make high-quality shea butter. She is a single parent of one boy and three girls and uses the money she makes to help send her children to school and care for their daily needs. Her goal is to purchase a home for herself and her children.

Gladys Sala Petey, Damongo, Ghana
Gladys is a member of the Christian Mother’s Association shea butter cooperative in Damongo, Ghana. She is in charge of supervising the shea butter production teams and ensures that each team follows the proper guidelines to make excellent quality shea butter. Prior to working with the shea project, Gladys was an administrative assistant at the Christian Mothers’ Association Guesthouse. She loves to cook, and one day she hopes to save enough money to run her own restaurant.

Braimah Shietu, Damongo, Ghana
Braimah is a shea butter producer from Damongo, Ghana. She is the mother of seven and the first wife out of three. Producing shea butter has helped her make money to pay for health insurance, utility bills, and school fees for her children. Braimah is proud that she has become a productive member of her household and is able to help her husband care for their family.

Rahama Wright, Washington, D.C., Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Mali
Rahama served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 2002 to 2004. During her service she helped create the first shea butter cooperative in her village. When she returned to the United States in 2004, she founded Shea Yeleen International, a 501(c)(3) social enterprise that helps women in Mali, Ghana, and Burkina Faso connect their shea products to the global marketplace. Her ultimate aim is to ensure that each woman generates a living wage from the production and sale of shea butter.

Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.