Seamstress at Amani ya Juu

Six Arts and Crafts Hotspots in Africa

Although I generally avoid shopping, I love to buy things when I travel — especially in Africa (which is most of my traveling these days). So when Afristay asked me to write a post about traveling in Africa, I decided to take a look back at some of the best arts and crafts I’ve found in my explorations around the continent.

I’ve been to 13 African countries and I’ve come back from every one of them with something amazing. But for brevity’s sake I’m limiting this list to six favorite spots in five countries.

African Arts and Crafts: My Top Six Picks

1) Teyateyaneng, Lesotho

Teyateyaneng (or TY for short), a small town about 30 minutes from Lesotho’s capital city of Maseru, was one of my first African craft discoveries. There are several weaving cooperatives in TY, in which groups of women work together to create Basotho-themed mohair tapestries.

I love the tapestries themselves (I have three), but I also love watching the women make them. My favorite place to visit is the Elelloang Basali Weaving Centre, which I blogged about here and here.

Marosa weavingMarosa, one of the weavers at Elelloang Basali.

Marosa weavingThe weaving center is lined with recycled cans.

Alin at Elelloang BasaliAlina with some of the finished products.

Teyateyaneng is an easy drive from Maseru and close to several South African border crossings. You can literally visit on a day trip from Clarens. So do it — just don’t forget your passport.

2) Malkerns, Swaziland

I wrote an entire post about crafts in Swaziland several years ago but it’s time to revisit.

The Malkerns Valley, also easily accessible from Swaziland’s main cities (Mbabane and Manzini) and a quick hop over the South African border, has two must-visit craft spots: Swazi Candles and Gone Rural.

Elephant candles from Swazi Candles

Elephant-shaped candles from Swazi Candles.

Swazi Candles is a crafts paradise, with a flagship candle-making factory/shop surrounded by a smattering of other craft shops selling, clothes, jewelry, and paintings. There’s also a nice café on the premises.

Swazi candle with fishMy own Swazi candle. The round ones look incredible while they’re burning.

Gone Rural, just up the road from Swazi Candles, is based at House on Fire, the quirky venue where the Bushfire Festival takes place. Gone Rural is another women’s cooperative producing handmade woven grass baskets, rugs, and all kinds of woven crafts.

Baskets at Gone RuralBaskets at Gone Rural.

Woven rugs and crafts at Gone Rural in SwazilandThe top floor of Gone Rural. The blue and gray rug pictured here is sitting under my feet as I type this post. These rugs are affordable and incredibly durable, even when cats use them as their personal scratching pads. (The Melville Cat, who is also resting on the blue and gray rug as a type, can attest to this fact.)

3) Accra, Ghana

Global Mamas, a fair trade clothing and accessory company in Ghana, sells colorful, handmade products made with batik fabric. I had a massive shopping spree at the Global Mamas shop in Accra when I went there in 2014. Apparently I was so focused on shopping that I forgot to take pictures inside the beautiful store.

Batik fabric from Global Mamas in GhanaFabric for sale at Global Mamas — the only photo I can find.

I do, however, have pictures from a few days earlier when my friend Michelle and I took a batiking course in Cape Coast, a couple of hours away from Accra. The course was organized by Global Mamas, whose operations are based around Cape Coast.

Heather making batikMaking batik with help from Rose (I think that was her name), our lovely instructor. (Photo: Michelle Stern)

 Heather with batik
Me and my batik table cloth, sitting out to dry. (Photo: Michelle Stern)

4) Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi has tons of great crafts, but I particularly enjoyed my visits to Kazuri Beads and Amani Ya Juu.

Beads dryingClay beads drying in the factory at Kazuri Beads.

Kazuri is a huge fair trade factory in the Nairobi suburb of Karen, producing finely crafted clay beads and pottery.

Painting the beadsPainting beads.

Finished beadsBeads ready for stringing.

Amani Ya Juu, right in Nairobi, produces clothing and accessories along the lines of Global Mamas. The beautiful clothes there, made mostly from East African fabric, hammered a big dent in my wallet.

Seamstress at Amani ya JuuAn artisan sewing at Amani Ya Juu.

Showroom at Amani ya JuuThe children’s clothing section at Amani Ya Juu.

5) Limpopo, South Africa

Last year I visited the Ribola Art Route in northern Limpopo Province and watched Shangaan and Venda artists produce intricate wooden sculptures and clay pots. I also learned to make batik in the Southern African style, different from the West African style I learned in Ghana.

Patrick Manyike in his houseWood sculptor Patrick Manyike in his bedroom studio.

Mukondeni Village PotteryStunning clay pots from Mukondeni Village Pottery.

Painting completeGift Mkhari, my guide, helps me finish my pig-themed batik.

This part of South Africa has some of the richest artistic traditions in the country. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Tours of the Ribola Art Route can be organized through Open Africa.

6) Mpumalanga, South Africa

I just blogged two weeks ago about my visit to the Ndebele artists in Mpumalanga Province, so I won’t repeat myself.

Mama Sophie painting an Ndebele muralMama Sophie Mahlangu painting a mural for the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market.

Visiting the Ndebele artists in Mpumalanga is a little tricky to do on one’s own, as it’s not really an organized tourism route. But I wanted to use this post as an excuse to show off the new shoes I bought from Mama Sophie at the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market in Joburg last weekend.

Ndebele painted sneakers
My Ndebele sneakers.

If you’d like some of your own authentic Ndebele art, keep an eye out for announcements about next year’s Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market.

This post was commissioned by Afristay, an accommodation booking site with listings in most of the African destinations in this post. Opinions expressed are all mine.

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  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson September 5, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Great Blog it makes me want to get in my car and head off to Swaziland to get a rug, then onto Limpopo for some clay pots and a flight to Ghana so that I too can make my own table cloth.

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      Haha. My evil plan worked then.

  • Reply Mr Bunny Chow September 5, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    eish but those are some lekker takkies

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      That could be the most South African sentence of all time 😊

      • Reply Mr Bunny Chow September 5, 2017 at 4:15 pm

        I toyed with the idea of making them “lekker kif” but thought that was taking things little too far

  • Reply Eva Melusine Thieme September 5, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    I love this, Heather!

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      I’m glad. It was nice to receive an assignment like this 🙂

  • Reply autumnashbough September 5, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    So bright and beautiful. All of it.

    • Reply 2summers September 6, 2017 at 11:19 am

      Yes 😍

  • Reply eremophila September 5, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Long live handmade crafts!

    • Reply 2summers September 6, 2017 at 11:18 am

      Indeed. The world can never have enough of them.

  • Reply carolanneb September 6, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Was in Arusha in Tanzania in 2011 and loved Shanga – its definitely worth checking out if you are there. They support disabled artists and the things that they make are beautiful! All of the females that I was buying Christmas presents that year got one of their lovely necklaces 🙂

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