Thousands of shoppers troop to this travelling tourist attraction both to buy into and learn about diverse cultures. The kaleidoscope of beauty, colour and array of artefacts is simply stunning, reports PENINA GITUMA
Mention Nairobi’s Maasai Market and what comes to mind — for the sadly uninitiated — is a market for the Maasai community or rather a market that trades exclusively in Maasai wares. But to the cognoscenti, those in the know, this renowned cultural bazaar bursting with accessories is one of the Kenyan capital city’s foremost delights.
Maasai Market is an ambitious initiative seeking to improve the well-being of Kenyan artisans. It is one of the biggest markets in Kenya and started in early 1980s as a tourist centre, where visitors would go to the site to see Maasai people from the abounding African culture wearing authentic clothes, accessories and jewellery.Their astounding cultural wares that set them apart them from other communities were enticing and thus attracted people who came to see the popular culture and buy their products.
Situated within Nairobi’s central business district (CBD) in the Nairobi High Court’s spacious parking lot, the market trades on Saturdays and Sundays from 7am to 7pm and accommodates thousands of traders. On Sundays, the market records low business since most traders move to the outskirts of town, to Yaya Centre, creating a fresh and friendly atmosphere for traders evading the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
The Yaya Maasai Market operates from 9am to 5.30pm and sells a wide array of handmade products that are purely African. This market complements the shops at Yaya Centre, giving shoppers an opportunity to do the rest of their shopping at Yaya’s ultra-modern coffee shops, pubs, reataurants and boutiques. It is simply a place you cannot afford to miss. I am now compelled to baptise Maasai Market a nomadic market, as it moves much like the tribe originally did.
On Fridays, traders pour in their thousands into the high-end Village Market in Gigiri, bringing together 400 artisans and craftsmen who specialise in a dazzling array of cultural artefacts and accoutrements.
In one corner, an artisan is polishing his carvings. Not far away is a sculptor engraving names on a beautifully-carved wooden food tray and, at the far end, a light-skinned woman wrapped in a kikoi from head to toe is busy weaving a kiondo. (Kikuyu sisal basket).
My curiosity gets the better of me and I approach her. Mrs Margaret Mwangi, the owner of Screen Crafts, says the products are all handmade by local artisans, including the various accessories she weaves from the kikoi. She makes hats, handbags, ciondo (plural of kiondo) and dresses from kikoi and her wares sell fast due to their uniqueness. I am stunned, not only by the variety and beauty, but also by the knowledge that these articles are all locally made! I marvel at the creativity, innovativeness and the raw talent.
I also espy exquisite sculptures and carvings of different items ranging from animals, chess boards, food trays, birds and wall hangings to masks that are a literal lesson in local history, the list is endless.Most of the carvings are done by the Kamba and Kisii, the raw material being soapstone. I approach one sculptor who discloses that the business is seasonal and the prices are determined by the artisan depending on the labour and the availability of raw materials.
Just like other markets, here you must learn the art of negotiation as the prices of items is never fixed; the traders are affable, customer-oriented and very cheerful. They always have sugary words to entice you to buy their wares, and they take the initiative to explain the product and how it’s made. By the way, this is the only market where you can request the artisan to custom-make a product to suit your tastes and interests.
This cultural market — this veritable moveable feast, to borrow a phrase from that great admirer of Africana, the Nobel Literature Laureate Ernest Hemingway — has grown in leaps and bounds since its inception in the 1980s and attracts not just locals but international tourists, lured by the allure of the spectacular products. They constitute a huge market and of course they have to dig deeper into their pockets, being bearers of hard currency.
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