The people of Tanzania are well known to be creative masters,
and whatever your budget youre bound to come home laden
with handicrafts, jewellery, tribal trinkets, furniture and
works of art. Perhaps the most celebrated craft from the region
is the extraordinary wooden spirit-figures, carved by the
Makonde people for over 300 years.
The Makonde people live on either side of the Tanzania-Mozambique
border. Carving communities lived in relative isolation
in the savannah highlands until the beginning of the 20th
century, when they began to migrate to the coastal areas in
search of employment. Awareness of their craft, which was
passed down through the generations, gradually spread and
in the 1950's a Makonde workshop was set up in Dar es Salaam.
The peculiar carvings began to attract attention from international
art dealers and fine example can be seen in galleries and
museums around the world.
The figurines are carved out of a single block of African
Blackwood using an adze or teso, saw, chisel, and a variety
of other tools to create certain effects. Modern Makonde carvings
fall into three main categories: representing men and women
carrying out traditional roles within the community; intertwined
figures participating in ceremonial rituals or showing several
generations derived from a common ancestor, known as people
trees; and depictions of ancestors & spirits from
mythology in human form, often with an enlarged left ear.
Many communities actually believe the sculptures are embodiments
of the spirits, and make offerings of maize and corn to them.
Some still hold that they possess supernatural powers, and
male Makonde carvers can carry a female figuring as a good
Where to bag a bargain
You can buy all manner of ethnic arts and crafts at market
stalls and shops throughout Dar es Salaam, Arusha and
One of the most colourful markets is Kariakoo Market in
Dar es Salaam, built by the Germans as a military base in
1914 and subsequently taken over by the British during World
War I. Today the market stocks all kinds of foods, household
goods, clothes, carvings, pottery and other handicrafts. The
eastern wall is decorated with beautiful murals, and shoppers
are entertained by musicians and performers. Locals and visitors
alike flock to Kariakoo - its a place where different
cultures from all over East Africa intermingle.
If you want to watch artists at work, visit the Nyumba
ya Sanaa, or House of Art on Dar es Salaams
Upanga Street. Its a non-profit making centre which
supports the continuation of artistic traditions amongst young
artists, and has a permanent display paintings, textiles,
jewellery and pottery.