Shea butter (butyrospermin parkii) has been produced and sold by rural West African women and circulated on the world market as a raw material for more than a century. Shea butter has been used for cooking, making soap and candles, leatherworking, dying, as a medical and beauty aid, and most significantly, as a substitute for cocoa butter in chocolate production. Now sold in exclusive shops as a high-priced cosmetic and medicinal product, it caters to the desire of cosmopolitan customers worldwide for luxury and exotic self-indulgence. This ethnographic study traces shea from a pre- to post-industrial commodity to provide a deeper understanding of emerging trends in tropical commoditization, consumption, global economic restructuring and rural livelihoods. Also inlcludes seven maps.

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