Cassava and rice were the principle food crops. Two kinds of rice--upland and swamp--were grown in the region. Rice could also be traded for dried fish. Other foodstuffs grown were sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, bananas, and okra. Hall wrote:
Economically, the most important crop is the nuts of the oil palm; domestic use of the oil apart, the kernels are exported in large quantities. The oil palm receives no cultivation. Kola nuts also are exported.
Rice and cassava farming are environmentally-aware processes. After a crop is harvested, the land is allowed to remain fallow for four to five years, sometimes as long as eight years, before it is cleared, the debris burned, and another crop sown. Clearing is carried out during the dry season; sowing occurs before the rainy season begins in April, May or June; weeding is done during the rainy season, usually July; and harvesting can begin as early as September. Men do the clearing; women are responsible for hoeing, planting, and weeding but are sometimes helped by children or men.
The oil palm is a valuable tree. It provides two kinds of oil: one is taken from the soft pulp surrounding the outside of the palm kernels (red oil) and the other extracted from nuts that are inside the kernels (white oil). In a lengthy process, the palm kernels are cracked open to obtain the nuts inside them, and the nuts then pressed to extract oil. Both oils are used as a local food product or sold for export. The palm fibers are used to make hunting and fishing nets, looms, and brooms; the leaves are used to thatch roofs or create fences; the heads or cabbages--young leaves at the top of the palm tree--are eaten as a vegetable; and the sap of the tree is tapped to make a beverage called palm wine.
is usually organized as a domestic endeavor. The working group involves
a husband, wife or wives, children, and sometimes the junior siblings
of either partner but quite often the son of the husband's sister. In
busy times, young people from a village, or village group, assist farmers
in return for food or gifts.
Fishing is an important part of the economy because the Sherbro live near the sea and because dried or smoked fish can be exported to markets throughout the interior of the country. Men ordinarily fish in the ocean in small dug-out canoes that hold one to two men or in large canoes that can accommodate up to six people. They use several types of nets and lines. Fishing canoes are "small, slender dugouts with upward-curving prows" are made by men who shape them from a single piece of wood by excavating the interior with an axe or adze. Planked boats are generally a European innovation and made by local carpenters to carry fish, palm oil and kernels, or salt to trade centers. Harpoons are used to kill manatees, porpoises, tarpon, barracuda, and shark.
in rivers and shallow water using scoop nets that are sometimes large
enough to require two people. Weirs and traps, made and watched over by
men, are also used in shallow waters.
considered men's work in the Sherbro area, whereas preparing and spinning
cotton is the work of women. Hall wrote that "A fair amount of cotton
is grown in the colony, for native use, and a considerable amount of yarn
is spun and woven..." Most weavers in the Sherbro area are Mende-speaking
is also prepared and used as an export commodity. Men and women join in
this work--a laborious process which involves straining sea water and
through sand and then boiling the liquid until water evaporates and only
salt remains in the cooking pot.