HANDICRAFTS & SOUVENIRS
Tanzania offers the visitor a treasure trove of art, handicraft, spices, furniture and other collectibles.
No holiday would be complete without taking home some mementos of the trip or some unusual gifts for those back home. The creativity of the people and the diversity of cultures ensures that there is something to suit every taste and budget with a lot of temptation for the serious collector.
The use of beads for bodily adornment, embroidery and currency began with locally made ostrich egg shell beads. Imported beads date back to the 10th century or earlier, originating from the Near East, India and China and from Europe after the 15th century.
In the stone houses of commercial coastal towns, doors were made with beautifully carved surfaces and frames, usually with big iron or brass spikes, mountings and chains. Many of these doors can still be found in the islands along the coast of East Africa, including Zanzibar.
Favourite carving motifs include the lotus, symbolising reproductive power, the fish, symbolising fertility, the chain, symbolising security, the date, symbolising plenty and frankincense, wealth.
Carved jewellery boxes and kists featuring brass inlays are readily available in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.
The traditional musical instruments are a fine example of the excellence of Tanzania craft. The big fiddle with resonator made from a coconut shell is common in the coastal region near Dar es Salaam while the marimba is used by many tribes.
There are many different types of drums - some pointed at one end so they can be thrust into the ground, others big, heavy and need special suspension. Some stand on their own supports and others are held between the knees. Traditionally, drums were used to announce the departure or arrival of leaders or to keep a rhythm and build morale.
When a Kwere girl reached puberty she was secluded until the harvest season. During the seclusion, she carried a wooden or gourd doll, the care of which would ensure her fertility.
In many parts of Tanzania, clay figures were and still are used as visual teaching aids for younger people undergoing one of the rites of passage. The teaching took place in initiation schools and the figurines were used to demonstrate the inner meanings of songs, riddles and poems.
Masked dancing is an important activity in southeastern Tanzania, during the coming out of seclusion ceremonies for the young. The masks enhance the importance of initiations and the relationship between the people and their ancestors.
Makonde Art is world famous. The carving was originally mainly naturalistic but became more-commercially oriented with time. Originally from Mozambique, the Makonde carvers created their own villages where they have established workshops selling directly to tourists or curio dealers.
The Makonde have been practising their craft for at least 300 years. The simplest Makonde carvings relate to the cult of womanhood. They are carried by the male carver as a good luck charm. For centuries, the figures, carved out of ebony, have a central role in Makonde ceremonies and have even been formed their beliefs concerning the origin of man.
In simple cultures the stool is not only a piece of furniture, it is also a mark of social status. A leader would have an elaborately done stool as opposed to a simple one used by women
Mats are a widely used item in coastal houses and certain areas of the interior. They are used for sleeping and sitting on, for spreading out food to dry and for prayer. Hair plaiting techniques vary with area.
About 1,000 years ago, the people inhabiting Tanzania made and used pots. Pottery is both functional and decorative with pots being cast in open fires.
Combs can be made from pointed bamboo sticks or carved from a plain piece of wood or decorated with carved patterns. Many visitors enjoy collecting the many styles and shapes of combs.
A detailed record of Stone Age life exists on the walls of many caves and sheltered overhangs in Tanzania. From these paintings it can be seen that Stone Age man in Africa wore clothing, had a variety of hair styles, hunted, danced, sang and played musical instruments among other activities. The paintings are beautiful and delicate. The colouring materials consist of various pigments mixed with animal fat to form crayons.
- Nyumba ya Sanaa (House of Art). On Upanga Street near the entrance to the Gymkhana Club. A self-sufficient, non-profit handicraft centre supporting young artists. Paintings, chalks, clothing designs, earrings, cards, batiks, pottery and weavings are on display. Visitors can watch the students at work.
- Kariakoo Market. On Tandamuti Street. Various items are sold in the bazaar that surrounds the market, along with furniture, clothes and utensils.
- The Village Museum On outskirts of Dar es Salaam, 10km north on Bagamoyo Road. Traditional houses represent the homes of different ehtnic groups, and villagers demonstrate ancient carving and weaving skills, selling the finished products. Traditional dances are performed on special holidays.
- Mwenge Handicraft Centre. On Mpakani Road, near the Village Museum, is a famous Makonde carving community. Dozens of craftsmen display their wares ranging from wooden kists to soapstone chess sets, masks, jewellery and figurines.
The best craft shops in Arusha lie between the clock tower and Ngoliondoi Road. Here you can find Makonde carvings, batiks, Maasai bead necklaces and meerschaum pipes. Lake Amboseli in Tanzania is the world's largest known deposit of the rare mineral, meerschaum.
- The alleys of Stone Town are filled with bazaars where hawkers sell curios. Arab doors and kists can be purchased near St. Joseph's cathedral.
- Zanzibar Market, opened in 1904, is located on Creek Road, beyond the bus station. Fruit, flowers, spices, vegetables and souvenirs are sold here.
- The Spice Shop of Zanzibar is situated in the Kiponda area of Stone Town. The shop sells a wide range of spices, craft, postcards and books. The restaurant terrace offers excellent light meals accompanied by the spicy aromas emanating from the shop below.
- Vitenge (singular Kitenge), the cloth garment worn by most Tanzanian women, can be bought at any market.
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