Although Dar es Salaam and Tanzania in general, has not had any Covid-induced lockdown, sectors that rely on tourists such as the Mwenge Woodcarver’s Market, have suffered from lack of sales, as visitor arrivals into the country dropped to a trickle.
My recent visit to the market one Saturday afternoon found desperate woodcarvers stuck with sculptures and carvings, after months of no sales due to the pandemic.
Sebastian Lyala, a Makonde carver at the Mwenge market said that without any "European, American or Japanese tourists, due to lockdowns abroad, we have no buyers of Makonde carvings. We are starving. We can go a month with no single tourist coming to buy our carvings since Covid hit last year,’’ he said.
Despite being located near the traffic-heavy Mlimani City shopping area in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, this does not help the Mwenge market, which is deserted. Before Covid, shoppers from Mlimani City would spill over to Mwenge.
But even with no buyers walking in, more than 30 woodcarvers were busy at work when I visited, with their chisels, knives and files, giving pieces of wood shapes and faces.
Lyala said they are now looking for local buyers like church leaders, for their sculptures. The Makonde carvings, locally known as “Vinyago” in Swahili are world famous.
The Makonde art of wood carving has its roots in Mozambique, where the Makonde community originate from. Their carvings are made from the highly prized “Mpingo” or Ebony. The price per piece varies according to size and type, ranging from Tsh185,000 ($80) to Tsh7 million ($3,000).