& Traditions Dance
Art Galleries Masks Music Shopping
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:
Gambian Tie dye and batiks are extravagant, rich in different
shades of colour and are compulsory item to be seen at every tourist
craft market 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 either 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 instrument.
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 Mandinkas,
Jolas 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
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 and coolers, colanders, cooking
pots, grain storage jars called buntungo and for incense burning
in the home.
Many 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 Fulanis or 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 silk-cotton
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
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.