A Tanzanian woman made her fortune by pretending to be a man working in a mine – and only had her identity unmasked when she was accused of rape.
Pili Hussein was 31 when she ran away from her abusive husband and in search of work, she arrived in the small town of Mererani, the only place in the world where mining for a rare, violet-blue gemstone called tanzanite takes place.
However women were not allowed in the mining area and so she hatched a cunning plan to enter the mine, located just south of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, the Daily Mail reported.
“I took on the name of Mjomba Hussein (Uncle Hussein)”, she told UN Women.
“My ski cap hid my hair and part of my face. I abandoned my skirt for loose trousers and long sleeved shirts.
“I worked alongside men for 10 – 12 hours every day; they never suspected that I was a woman. I drank Konyagi (local gin) and joked with the men about which village women I liked.
“The miners treated me as an equal and even sought my counsel. I was able to convince them to stop harassing the village women.”
Speaking to the BBC Magazine, she added: “I acted like a gorilla. I could fight, my language was bad, I could carry a big knife like a Maasai [warrior]. Nobody knew I was a woman because everything I was doing I was doing like a man.
After about a year she uncovered two massive clusters of tanzanite stones, 1000 grams and 800 grams each.
With the money she made she built new homes for her father, mother and twin sister, bought herself more tools, and began employing miners to work for her.
Her true identity was only unmasked due to an extraordinary turn of events.
A local woman had claimed she’d been raped by some of the miners and Pili was arrested as a suspect.
She was taken to a police station and had no choice but to come clean.
She asked the police to find a woman to physically examine her, to prove she couldn’t be responsible, and she was released straight away.
Her fellow miners found it hard to believe she was a woman, until she married in 2001.
However with the money she made, the 60-year-old was able to set up her own mining company and now employs 70 workers, as well as having 150 acres of land, 100 cows and a tractor.
She told UN Women: “I have sent 32 children from my family to school. I want to work with younger women to teach them how to do business in the mining sector. I never had anyone to guide me and had to live with a false identity as a man, just to access the mines. It doesn’t have to be this way for the next generation.”
– Daily Mail