Local African Arts Scene
In South Africa you will find native arts and crafts from all over the continent: Zulu baskets and beads, Ndebele beaded aprons, hand painted Tuareg leather pillows, Kuba cloth from Zaire, and fetishes and masks from all over West Africa. Greenmarket Square is a quaint open-air market located in a cobbled city square of Cape Town, and a great spot to find many of these distinctive items. At Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, you’ll find more upmarket wares, as well as a unique handicraft market with creative pieces made from recycled materials (often sold by the artists themselves). Johannesburg is full of boutiques and specialty stores, specifically in the Rosebank and Sandton sections where Micato guests often spend some time.
While you’re not likely to find any superb deals on gold or diamonds in South Africa (despite the abundance of it here, the price is basically the same everywhere), the design of the jewellery here is extremely inventive and may be worth a look. Art galleries in both Johannesburg and Cape Town offer exquisite works by artists from across Africa.
If your travels take you to Zambia, you may wish to shop for copper wall plaques of wild animals, wood carvings, native spears, masks, boxes and other local handicrafts. The National Museum in Livingstone, near Victoria Falls, is the best place in that city to purchase authentic folk art items.
The biggest and best shops in East Africa are in Nairobi, where you’ll probably also get the best price. Lodges and camps in the bush will have smaller gift shops offering similar goods, but perhaps with higher costs. It’s all relative, however, and the higher cost is probably minimal in the long run. So don’t let that stop you from buying something that you like, and by all means, don’t wait until the last day when you return to Nairobi to do your shopping.
Soapstone carvings are also popular. The Kisii people of Western Kenya are gifted stone carvers. They use a locally quarried soapstone to produce a range of carvings. The most popular items are small animals, chess pieces based on traditional African designs, and functional items such as egg cups, soap dishes, coasters and ashtrays. The soapstone varies in colour from white (the easiest to carve) through various shades of pink to a deep lustrous red (the most difficult to carve). Kenya is also a good place to find traditional musical instruments such as drums and nyatiti, a unique stringed instrument played like a harp. And while we’re loath to mention this last item since it’s neither convenient nor lightweight, the truth is that East Africa produces a stunning selection of extraordinary coffee table books unavailable in the U.S. From oversized volumes of beguiling wildlife photography to innumerable volumes of mesmerizing images and descriptions of African landscapes, elegant safari lodge interiors, elaborate tribal jewellery, chronicles of great white hunters of yore, Swahili style, safari recipes and much, much more. Booksellers are widespread in Nairobi, plus many of these books can be found in lodge gift shops. So if you’re a booklover, make a stop at a bookshop during your safari.