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Shopping in Tanzania
 
 
 

Gneneral

Specific areas around the country are particularly renowned for their craftsmanship, and craft centres, artist cooperatives, and good gift shops should have a selection of carvings, paintings, baskets, and jewellery from all over Tanzania. Bargaining is advisable in smaller shops and cooperatives, where the artists usually gain a significant percentage of the proceeds.

In larger shops and hotels, prices will be higher and bargaining is usually not allowed. As you travel, you will often see people selling curios on the street – Masaai women hawking necklaces at petrol stations, children selling bracelets outside a popular restaurant, or a batik seller walking the city streets in search of customers. Foreign currency is often accepted in larger shops around the country.

How do you know if you’re paying too much or if the goods you’re buying are really authentic? Check basket weaves for quality and woodcarvings for signs of shoe polish and cracks, but ultimately if you’re happy with your purchase, you’ve made the right decision.

Local Curios

Regional specialities and unique finds include Masaai beadwork, gourds and spears from northern Tanzania, and Makonde woodcarvings of people and wildlife. Woven mkeka mats make good floor coverings – the plain, straw-coloured kind are woven from sisal by craftsmen in Karatu, near the Crater Highlands. On the coast, the women of Mafia Island are particularly renowned for their colourful mkeka weaving and incorporate colours and designs (among them ‘gecko’s backbone’, ‘the Arab’s scarf’, and ‘popcorn’) into the mats they make from dried and twisted palm fronds. Baskets often make great storage places for magazines and newspapers back at home and often double as handbags – the best come from Singida, and most craft shops in Dar es Salaam and Arusha will carry them. In Zanzibar, old tiles, bowls, and carved wooden chests make fantastic souvenirs of your journey to the coast.

Aside from regional specialties, there are a variety of smaller local items that make great presents and take-home souvenirs. Bright printed clothes called kangas are worn by women all over Tanzania. They’re sold in pairs and emblazoned with a witticism or traditional proverb. Kangas go in and out of style – look around and you’ll see this season’s fashions on women from Dar es Salaam to the shores of Lake Victoria. Kikois are similar in shape and size to kangas, but are traditionally worn by the men of the Swahili coast as wrap-around sarongs. Woven with vertical stripes, kikois make popular gifts and are simpler and more demure than the bright colours and prints of women’s kangas. If you’re looking for special food or delicacies of Tanzania, pick up bags of Zanzibar spices direct from the market – vanilla beans fresh off the tree, bags of whole cloves and round nutmegs laced with mace make great gifts for cooks back home. Honey direct from Tabora in central Tanzania is also a special delicacy.

Gemstones

Tanzania is the world’s only source of tanzanite, a semi-precious stone found in the open mines around Arusha. The stone comes in three grades, ‘A’, ‘AA’, and ‘AAA’, whereby ‘AAA’ is the highest quality.

Millions of years ago, metamorphous slates, gneiss stone and quarzites shaped impressive flat insular mountains on the wide plains near Mount Kilimanjaro. In the core of these unusual rises the valuable crystals are stored. For a long time they remained hidden, until one day some Masai herdsmen passing by noticed crystals sparkling in the sun and picked them up. The deep blue of Tanzanite is magnificent, ranging from ultramarine to a light purplish blue. The most coveted colour is a blue which shows a purplish hue shimmering around it, which is extremely spectacular in sizes above ten carats.

Fakes abound, so if you’re going to invest in one of Tanzania’s largest exports, be sure to do it right. Don’t buy from dealers on the street or anyone who looks suspect. Most licensed curios shops and dealers stock different grades, cuts, and colours of the popular gem and please be sure to follow export procedure.

 

 
 

 



 


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