Arts & Crafts: Introduction:
the vicinity of most of the major tourist hotels
you will find a small craft market
(called bengdulas) made up of a number of small stalls offering
a selection of wood carvings featuring tribal masks,
elephants, hunters etc., batiks, tie dye fabric prints, trade
beads, gold and silver jewellery and locally made hand woven
baskets. Despite the influence of tourism in creating mass
production of such art (particularly in Brikama
Craft Market) you can still see authentic local handicrafts
and cultural dancing in the villages along the coast
and the River Gambia.
Artworks can be found being peddled on the beaches
as well as in craft shops.
Batiks, Tie-Dye, Waxes & Damask Cloths:
dye and batiks are extravagant, rich in different shades of colour and
are compulsory item to be seen at every tourist
and are tailored into men's Kaftans (haftans),
women's warambas (grandmubas), skirts, shirts, ladies blouses,
skirts as well as bed sheets, curtains and tablecloths. Many are made
by local professional women who produce the finished fabrics from their own
homes using hot dye, oil drums and various techniques to produce
abstract designs as well as animals, natural objects and people.
Baskets are woven in
plain beige or intertwined using coloured strips of mostly dry
palm leaves and are shaped into not only baskets but hand fans, table
mats, lampshades, fruit bowls and a variety of other household
objects. The craftsmen tend to be from Senegal and the quality is
generally quite good.
Calabash & Gourds:
The gourd family,
Cucurbitaceae, which includes the pumpkin and squash has many
different uses. Before use as utensils the insides of the gourd is
saturated in water and left to rot after which they are left to sun-dry
which hardens them greatly. They are then used as ladles, storage containers and
spoons (bottle gourd). The larger versions (called leket) are used to make food
preparations and the Kora string
Traditionally gold and silver jewellery is made by the lower
caste of people called
the tega in Wolof. The families that
are famous for making local jewellery are the Touray, (Samba)
Mbow, Jobe and Cham clans. The metals are made into bangles,
bracelets, pendants, brooches, earrings, spoons and fine rings.
However, you can also see wealthy women who go to special
occasions dripping with hugely
extravagant gold jewellery which would put MR.-T to shame!
Glass beads which one sees
being peddled to tourists do not have Gambian origins. After Europeans
began to mass manufacture them they bought them to West Africa and
Gambia in exchange for slaves and gold with local chiefs.
Clay pots have been made in
the Senegambia area for over 6,000 years and is the preserve of the
women, with the finest examples being made by the
and the Serahules. This last group are
mainly concentrated in the Upper River
Division town of Basse and the
nearby village of Alohungari where they are known to make beautifully
decorated clay pots from a clay silicate mineral called kaolin (or
dar) dug up from the fields or river banks. The clay is particularly
suitable for making terracotta containers.
Pottery is shaped and
moulded by hand and without the use of a kiln or potter's wheel then it
is placed into a hollow in the ground where it is subsequently fired. Many pieces are moulded to be used as water containers
cooking pots, grain storage jars called buntungo and for incense
burning in the home.
carvings are huge so be prepared to pay
excess to get such works back to your
country. With the craftsmen of such pieces being often
Bambaras, many busts portray tribal signs. For example there are magnificent
pieces to be found in Brikama market which can be more than four feet tall with scars engraved on
each cheek, temple or forehead.
You will often find in the
craft markets stylized silhouettes and two dimensional forms. There are also
carvings of scaled down pipe smoking hunters, warriors with a spear in
the right hand which are made of the soft wood from the bombax or
On a more practical level there are the carvings that have more
domestic uses such as mortars and pestles, combs, djembe drums, salad
bowls made from khankhalla and paper-knives. Another example which has
seen a re-emergence is the
traditional African seat which if often made of mahogany wood
locally known as
(jallo). Some carvers may claim that one of their creations is ebony
but they are very often just stained black with charcoal and in any
case you can tell whether it is ebony as it is much heavier and denser
that other wood. There are also the ubiquitous forms in the shape of elephants, antelopes
with suckling fawns monkeys, crocs and hippos.