Wednesday, June 17, 2009

souvenir hunting in the Mwenge Crafts Market, Dar es Salaam

Only have a few hours in Dar es Salaam and need to buy some souvenirs? Hop on a taxi or a dala dala bus and head to Dar’s biggest crafts market in Mwenge.

Even if you don’t know Swahili, English is widely spoken by the vendors. The range of artwork represents what is native to Tanzania or even Kenya, from beadwork jewelry to wood carvings, Tinga Tinga paintings and local fabrics. As in any arts market, goods can be had cheap if you know how to bargain. As a rule of thumb, sellers usually jack up the prices by as much as 4x so start by offering a quarter of the original quote. If you like one item, don’t express too much interest. It helps too to back off and say no as typically, vendors will chase you with a lower bid. Check other stalls to compare prices.

roadside market
Mwenge sits along a major highway in Dar

Mwenge quadrangle
The market has a large quadrangle in the center which makes browsing easy

The selection is immense and it can work to your advantage. Take time to acquaint yourself with what are in store. Move around. You can always come back to haggle on items you really fancy.

Tinga tinga paintings
The paintings are copies of art styles popularized by renowned painters like Tinga Tinga

Masai man passing by
It is not uncommon to see natives like this Masai man in the market

tie-dyed batik shirts
Tanzania shirts come in African “batik” that often uses the tie dye technique

It was my second time to visit Mwenge and like before, it was late afternoon. As the market closes at sundown, shopowners are in a hurry too to get some last day sale so this can work to your advantage. Wear a smile and enjoy.

carver at work
A carver busy at work. I bought a 7”x14” ebony bowl that is carved out from one block of wood for $15. Original offer was about $34. I bought a similar one last 2005 at less than $10

the Masai fabric I bought
I bought this Masai shuka fabric for about $7.5

To go: The Mwenge Crafts Market is in Sam Nujoma Road, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The complex is near the University of Dar es Salaam and cannot be missed. Unfortunately, during rush hour, traffic around the area can be horrendous.

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