Maasai Market in Nairobi – beautiful curios

A trip to Maasai Market in Nairobi is always fun and I love it! A long time ago, in the 80-s, when I needed souvenirs to take back to Europe I used to go to Nairobi city centre, behind Uchumi (for those who know Nairobi it was opposite City Market), and find a lot of fascinating curios, batiks, carvings, nice bracelets, necklaces and lots of other interesting things. Loads of presents and gifts were purchased there and taken overseas over the years. Later, in the 90-s, the vendors had to move out as the site was to be developed, but they did not give up and started an open air market. Many years have passed since then and not many people would recognise that the well organised Maasai Market as we know it now, which takes place nearly daily in different locations throughout Nairobi, started from a few little stalls perched high on the rocks in the dust and fumes above the Globe Roundabout every Tuesday.

 

Maasai Market - Plates and dishes made of soap stone

Colourful soap stone plates and figurines

 

Nobody could tell me exactly why, but I think it is called the Maasai Market not only because in the beginning a few Maasai ladies saw the opportunity of selling their handicraft directly to tourists, but also because of the sheer burst of colours you see immediately when you arrive there – the colours of beautiful and vibrant Maasai ornate decorations which have become inspiration for many successful designers worldwide.

Masai Market entrance on Friday

At the entrance of Maasai Market on Friday at the Village Market Shopping Centre, Nairobi

 

Over the years I watched local artisans getting more adventurous with their designs; they developed with time and were very susceptive to the needs and wants of a Western visitor. Colours were becoming brighter, patterns trendier and some beautiful pieces still take my breath away every time I visit the market.

 

One of the stalls at Masai Market in Nairobi with different items of local craft

One of the stalls at Maasai Market in Nairobi selling gifts and artefacts

 

I love things made of beads, they are my weakness. Inspired by the traditional Maasai beads, which you can also buy in the market, the artists create very bright and colourful items from small key rings to beautiful belts and necklaces, lovely baskets, place mats, coasters, candle holders and even lamp shades. I struck friendships with a couple of very nice business ladies who make things to my design and colour schemes and who now get referrals from me when our guests ask us to disclose the source of one or the other item they fall in love with. Curtain tie backs, candle holders, napkin rings, flower baskets, chameleons on the walls – you name it, we have it! Every time I go to Nairobi I cannot stop myself from ordering something and my two friends deliver the goods against a modest deposit and a lot of trust. Modern technology helps us communicate and while a sample is work in progress, there are a lot of photos and ideas travelling back and forth, before getting my final approval. They don’t let me down and I have no intention of letting them down so I have been their faithful customer for many years now.

 

Maasai Market - Colourful Masai decorations - bracelets, anklets, necklaces and head decorations

Traditional Maasai “jewellery” made from colourful beads

 

 

Maasai Market - Beautiful necklaces hand made with colourful beads

Necklaces hand made with colourful beads

 

 

Maasai Market - Belts decorated with colourful beads and interesting motifs

Belts decorated with colourful beads

 

I also love soap stone. It is such an interesting material which allows the artisans to make anything they want with it and which looks very attractive whether in natural colours or painted. It is delicate and brittle so you have to be very careful especially if you are taking it overseas, and is also quite heavy, but definitely one must have a few soap stone items in one’s living room. Whether it be a sculpture, an animal figure, a jewellery box, chess set or a fruit plate, it will look both solid and elegant at the same time. Soap stone is soft and when rubbed with water and a bit of sandpaper the edges become very smooth and rounded which gives it its fine finish. I saw beautiful coasters and jewellery boxes made of soap stone with vibrant embedded beads and guess what… Yes, I have those! We have had to replace our soap stone chess set twice now as our lovely guests would not leave without it and we did not have enough time to have it ordered for them, but we are happy as these sets are now proudly displayed somewhere in Europe spreading the word about Kenyan art.

 

Maasai Market - Jewellery and decorative boxes made of soap stone and decorated with beads

Soap stone decorative boxes with colourful beads

 

 

Maasai Market - Soap stone dishes and decorative figurines are hand painted with bright colours

Hand painted soap stone dishes and decorative figurines

 

 

Maasai Market - Hand painted soap stone dishes and trays

Bright and colourful soap stone hand painted trays and dishes

 

 

Maasai Market - Brightly decorated dishes and trays made of soap stone and hand painted

Hand painted dishes made of soap stone

 

Batiks are definitely worth mentioning. These beautiful paintings on cotton or silk are very colourful and present traditional scenes of village living, love between two people, gorgeous Kenyan landscapes, animals and some amazing abstract designs. Pictures and souvenirs made of straw and banana leaf are also very traditional and attractive. Kenyans are generally very talented; only the other day the gardener in our house in Nairobi made a fantastic wildebeest for my kids out of some dry palm leaves – he is definitely an artist by heart and keeps himself busy and us amused with his topiary, sculpting shrubs in to interesting designs all over our Nairobi garden.

 

Maasai Market - Hand painted batiks on canvas or silk

Hand painted batiks on canvas or silk

 

 

Maasai Market - Bright colours of hand painted batiks

Hand painted batiks on canvas

 

 

Maasai Market - Bright hand painted batiks and pictures made of banana leaves

The seller and his wares: hand painted batiks and banana leaf pictures

 

 

Maasai Market - Interesting pictures made of banana leaf

Banana leaf pictures

 

 

Maasai Market - Beautiful hand painted batik with elephants at sunset

Beautiful hand made batik – elephants at sunset

 

Wood carvings are another source of admiration for me. You have to be strong not to be tempted to have a carved zoo in your house or to fill every corner with statuettes or masks – the variety is amazing, and the thought and skill put into some pieces are really incredible. Of course as with everything else you need to look carefully for a gem, as quite a lot are mass produced and are not of high quality, but when you see one – you will know it straight away!

 

Maasai Market - Wooden cravings and various wooden masks

Wooden masks from Kenya, West and Central Africa and wooden carvings

 

 

Maasai Market - Many beautiful gift items and decorations are on sale at this stall

Various gift items are on sale at this stall

 

 

One of the stalls at Maasai Market selling traditional gift items: batiks, patchwork quilts, carvings and more

Maasai Market stall selling batiks, patchwork quits and wooden carvings

 

 

Maasai Market - Colourful hand painted wooden carved birds are very popular and this one is an interesting mobile with such birds

Beautiful colourful mobile made with hand painted carved wooden birds

 

 

Maasai Market - Kenyan souvenirs: shields,  wooden carvings and more

Various souvenirs and gift items from Kenya

 

 

Don’t get me started on beaded flip-flops, patch work or kikoys – all my friends, relatives and their friends have them. Kikoys are universal and are the best invention! The vibrant colours and designs will ensure that you will never think that you have enough. Beautiful straw handbags from Madagascar also have found their way into Maasai Market and are very popular, a few beaded decorations of your choice can be added while you wait and these additional touches will make them look even more attractive. The varieties of key rings now are endless and they are also beautiful inexpensive mementos of Kenya.

 

Maasai Market - Beautiful colourful kikoys and sarongs on sale

Colourful kikoys and sarongs

 

 

Maasai Market - Beautiful handmade colourful patchwork quilts

Beautiful colourful patchwork quilts

 

 

Maasai Market - A stall selling beautiful colourful handbags from Madagascar made of straw

Beautiful colourful straw handbags from Madagascar

 

 

Maasai Market - Colourful fruit bowls made of sisal and banana leaf place mats.

Colourful sisal fruit bowls and banana leaf place mats

 

Tie-and-die dresses, kangas, kikoys and sisal handbags, quilts, beautiful costume jewellery with traditional elements, wooden birds, soap stone and beaded animals, metal sculptures, West African masks, drums, malachite figurines – they have it all, and new designs and ideas are constantly being introduced. The Maasai Market is an endless source of gifts, an example of small enterprise by a few entrepreneurs which grew into a big and successful operation, a place to make friends and find suppliers, to get inspiration from and admire the skill and imagination of some unknown artists whose craft will not look out of place in any modern art gallery or museum.

 

Maasai Market stall selling various items: dresses, traditional jewellery, soap stone, beads and others

One of the Maasai Market stalls

 

 

Maasai Market - Traditional carved wooden decorations and colourful drums

Traditional drums and carved wooden wall decorations

 

 

Maasai Market - Copper, brass and beads decorated belts, necklaces and earrings are amongst items for sale at this stall

Traditional belts, earrings and necklaces with copper and brass decorations and beads

 

 

Maasai Market - Various items made of malachite: figurines, jewellery and decorative boxes and costume jewellery

Beautiful malachite figurines, jewellery boxes and costume jewellery

 

 

Maasai Market - Free standing colourful wooden carved birds

Beautiful carved hand painted free standing birds

 

Some items are fun! Not much goes to waste and some kids fun toys are made of beer bottle tops or clay – a nice memento of being in Kenya and a tribute to some local artists who come up with these amusing items.

 

Maasai Market - Gift items and toys made with beer tops

Gift items made with beer tops are fun to look at

 

 

Maasai Market - Small gifts and fun toys made of beer tops and clay

More fun items made of beer tops and clay are for sale here

 

 

Maasai Market - Wooden hand painted free standing birds are very popular

More carved wooden hand painted free standing birds

 

Tips:

–        Do not accept to be taken around the market by so called brokers – you will enjoy it more if you walk around at your own pace and negotiate your own price; you will definitely save money and will not be pushed into buying items you do not need

–        Definitely do bargain! It is a tradition at the market, but keep in mind that a few shillings which might not make huge difference in your life will make a difference in someone else’s

–        Do remember that most of the vendors are not the people who make the items, they are entrepreneurs, but they also work hard to make sure that their suppliers are kept busy providing income for their families

–        If you need something you can always order it and agree to collect at a later stage. The vendors are always the same, they all know each other and they come to the same venue all the time, so they have no interest in cheating you. But deal only with the owner of the stand, pay a small “good will” deposit, exchange phone numbers and be assured that you will get your order as agreed

 

Maasai Market - Various hand painted canvas batiks, banana leaf pictures and other items on sale

More colourful batiks and traditional banana leaf pictures on sale

 

P.S. As Christmas is just around the corner as I am writing this, here is what you can get for stocking fillers or decorations.

 

Maasai Market - Christmas items made with beads: christmas trees, reindeers and others

In preparation for Christmas local craftsmen and artisans made some festive items with beads

 

I hope you enjoyed seeing this pictures and reading, I certainly enjoyed this particular blog entry as much as I enjoy visiting the Maasai Market in Nairobi! From Kenya with love!

 

Maasai Market - Hand pained sopa stone hearts in different sizes and colours

From Kenya with love – hand painted soap stone hearts

 

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