Most family businesses are passed one from generation to generation, and for this modest Ghanaian family, the family trade has been over four decades of selling ‘Kelewele’.
For the non-Ghanaian readers, ‘Kelewele’ is a snack made from deep-frying spiced ripe plantains. There is one Kelewele seller, famous for her trade in the Labone suburbs of Accra, in fact when you Google Labone Junction Kelewele, you will get a map that takes you straight to her.
YEN.com.gh editor, Richard Quashie found out in a recent Kelewele adventure that, behind the popular tasty snack, is a family history spearheaded by the chief vendor and matriarch of the Tormegah family, 68-year-old Abigail Tormegah.
42-year old Delfina Akosua Tormegah, who is the eldest among seven children, revealed to Richard Quashie: “I was just a child before the business was started… this is a generational thing. I started with her from my childhood, I always came in to help her right after school”.
According to madam Abigail Tormegah, she has been running the business for 43 years. She was born in the Volta Region but She moved to Accra with her husband in 1969 to seek greener pastures. She started the kelewele business in 1974. “I have no other work, I never went to school so I don’t have any other work, so the one I have is the one I have to hold on to. It is a good work. If it wasn’t good, I wouldn’t have still been doing it,” she said passionately.
Although business is good as madam Tormegah expressed, the road is often bumpy and she cited the Accra Metropolitan Assembly as being one of her biggest banes of her career. According to her, when the AMA in 2015 moved in to clear them from the area, they demolished her stall alongside property of others, but one ‘Good Samaritan’, Bernabeu, who was her customer, intervened for her. Bernabeu had spoken with the AMA to allow her continue selling at the location, but on the condition that she did not set up a permanent structure.
“When they broke up my first kiosk, the AMA warned that I could only continue selling if I wanted to sell over a tabletop”, she explained. And ever since then, she only sells from a tabletop, and even though the AMA still worries them occasionally, there had been no major ruckus as the one in 2015.
Madam Abigail Tormegah has so much gratitude for her business and her customers over the years. All of her children had gotten education up to the Senior High School level through proceeds from her venture. “I, alone, look after my children. It is from this kelewele business that I have sent all my 7 children to school. It is all from the kelewele, I don’t sell maize, I don’t work in an office; it is just the kelewele business”
According to her, one of her biggest regrets or failures is the fact that out of her seven children, it was only her last-born twins who have had the chance to get a tertiary education. She also expressed fears that her children would not continue her trade after her. “I don’t know if my children can continue this job after me. For now, they are very lazy. Even when it is raining, they want to run away from the job. It is through my strength that I force them to stay and work.”
Delfina, her oldest daughter however shows some extra commitment to the business. The 42-year-old also remarked that her own children don’t really come out here to help. Delfina commented: “I haven’t chosen any different job, because if I should leave her, she would lack help. This is a rubbish job; it is not an easy job. We are only here, because this is what we are used to doing now”.
Will madam Abigail Tormegah and Delfina be forced to train other people in order to sustain the family business? “I don’t have people I train. It is not something that I can teach others. You just have to know how to cut the plantain, spice it and make sure it tastes nice for the consumer”, Abigail Tormegah answered.
So the next time you enjoy the famous Labone Juction Kelewele with some roasted groundnuts, know that you are part of a great tradition of hard work and resilience.