After a few weeks of contemplation – I am finally ready to put together the long-awaited post on the arts & crafts that we accumulated on our trip to Djenné and Timbuktu.  This post follows on from To the Ends of the Earth, via Djenné & Mopti and Reaching the End of the Earth.

In Djenné we were taken by our guide through the narrow streets of the town and into a house which hosted a traditional crafts shop.  I remember it being a strange set up, where you walk through the family’s quarters, into a small courtyard, up some steps and into a small room.  This small, dark room had wall hangings which covered every square centimeter of space. Mats, beaded bangles and many more traditional crafts lay in baskets covering much of the floor space – making it quite the obstacle course!  Everything is made by the local Bozo Tribe.  The Bozo are traditional fisherman whose way of life is centered on the River Niger.

Wall hanging - created using vegetable dyes

Hand-woven cotton strips are sewn together before designs are painted on

Whilst still in Timbuktu, Isa – our guide and friendly Tuareg, took us to his family’s house to show us how many of the crafts that are available for purchase are actually made.

The work-shop also provides a gathering place for the men to sit and chin-wag and of course drink tea

Rudimentary tools are order of the day – and the “work-shops” are nothing more than a grass-mat covered structure in the back yard.

Here they are working on knives - "stamping" designs onto the blades

So we bought a few things.  My husband has a penchant for knives and spears.  It must have something to do with having been brought up on a farm.  Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he is just a guy – and guys tend to like that sort of thing!

Hunting Spear

Traditional knives and a pipe - which can't hold that much tobacco surely?

Copper wire is hammered into the ebony wood to create these designs

The handle and sheath for this knife is made from camel hide

Close-up of metal stamp-work on the blade

I, on the other hand, eyed up this cute bangle.

Again, copper and other metals hammered into ebony

And bought these 4 necklaces, with pendants made of silver.  Tuareg ladies are superstitious and apparently refuse to wear gold out of fear.

Traditional Tuareg Silver pendants

Most tourists who visit this corner of the world are usually restricted by luggage considerations.  The Tuareg here have obviously sussed this out and successfully sell many a small trinkets to their visiting travellers.  However, there are more than just trinkets, knives and spears for sale.

Brightly painted camel hide cushion cover

Some of the most amazing craftsmanship can be found in items that are made using camel hide.

Strips of camel hide are woven into this mat

We were lucky in that we were living in the country and could order some items that would take a little time to fabricate.

Jewellery box, which still conveniently fits into a suitcase

Anyone for Backgammon?

Detail on Backgammon case

Not only was Isa our guide, but he was the craftsman who made these items for us.  His signature is incorporated into the hide (I just hope that I have this the right way up!)

Craftsman's "hallmark"

As a final thought, we’ve owned these items now for over 3 years – and camel hide, let me tell you now, still honks!