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
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:
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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 tree.
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.