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Gambia Arts and Crafts

Wooden masks
Which might either be human or animal or of mythical creatures, are one of the most commonly found forms of art in western Africa. In their original contexts, ceremonial masks are used for celebrations, initiations, crop harvesting, and war preparation. The masks are worn by a chosen or initiated dancer.

During the mask ceremony the dancer goes into deep trance, and during this state of mind he “communicates” with his ancestors. The masks can be worn in three different ways: vertically covering the face: as helmets, encasing the entire head, and as crest, resting upon the head, which was commonly covered by material as part of the disguise. African masks often represent a spirit and it is strongly believed that the spirit of the ancestors possesses the wearer. Most African masks are made with wood.

Is a traditional Malian fabric dyed with fermented mud, particularly associated with the Bambara. The name is a Bambara word meaning “earthcloth.” In the creation of bògòlanfini, simple cotton cloth is woven, shrunk, and then soaked in a preparation of leaves from certain trees. An artist then outlines an intricate design with a mud dye, often taking several weeks to cover the entire cloth.

Yellowish areas of mud are then treated with a caustic soda, bleaching them back to white for a stark black and white design. Traditionally, a man will do the weaving while a woman will do the dyeing. In recent years, fashion designers such as Chris Seydou have employed bògòlanfini in international clothing lines, while Malian painter Ishmael Diabate has developed it as a fine art form.

Melted wax is applied to cloth before being dipped in dye. It is common for people to use a mixture of beeswax and paraffin wax. The beeswax will hold to the fabric and the paraffin wax will allow cracking, which is a characteristic of batik. Wherever the wax has seeped through the fabric, the dye will not penetrate. Sometimes several colours are used, with a series of dyeing, drying and waxing steps.

Thin wax lines are made with a canting, a wooden handled tool with a tiny metal cup with a tiny spout, out of which the wax seeps. Other methods of applying the wax onto the fabric include pouring the liquid wax, painting the wax on with a brush, and applying the hot wax to pre-carved wooden or metal wire block and stamping the fabric. After the last dyeing, the fabric is hung up to dry. Then it is dipped in a solvent to dissolve the wax, or ironed between paper towels or newspapers to absorb the wax and reveal the deep rich colors and the fine crinkle lines that give batik its character.

Ju-Ju is a word of West African origin that refers to the supernatural power ascribed to an object or charm as a means of protection; It can also refer to the use of such objects, used in a form of witchcraft. “, Also the supernatural or magical power attributed to such objects. Juju’s are worn by most people in Gambia, often on the arm or around the waist and some times as a necklace. You will find many for sale in the local markets and they are often offered as gifts of friendship.

Silver Smiths can also be found in the markets hand made silver.

Enjoy your Gambia Holidays!

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