Kamba - Arts and Crafts

The oldest form of Kamba artistic expression seems to have been the engraving and painting of calabashes (or gourds; the decoration was done by women), which served both to embellish, and possibly to imbue the vessels with mystical or spiritual meaning. Their skill at metal extraction (both iron and copper), and at working it, found artistic expression in the form of the armlets and bracelets worn by women, and more practical use as fighting swords (simi) and arrow heads, which were useful in trade.
   Incidentally, I'd appreciate more images of Kamba carvings and decorated gourds, if anyone has any.
In this page:
Wood carving
Woven baskets - vyondo

Wood carving

The Kamba are nowadays most famous for their African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) carvings, although this is actually a very recent art form: the Kamba were introduced to the techniques of wood sculpture by Mutisya Munge, who had served in the colonial Carrier Corps in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) during World War I. There, he came into contact with Zaramo carvers, who had themselves been influenced by the Makonde (see my pages on Makonde figurative carvings and Makonde masks). Munge collected Zaramo models, and on returning to Kenya took up carving as a full-time occupation.
   Following Munge's efforts, a booming trade in carvings developed at the small town of Wamunyu, along the road from Machakos to Kitui, as evidenced nowadays by a welter of self-help and co-operative carvers' societies and their shops. Here, some 3000 people - many of them children - eke out a living with wood carving. Many more carvers are located throughout Ukambani, and elsewhere in Kenya (especially the coast), where they supply the tourist market.

Maasai Couple Anyone who has been to Kenya will undoubtedly have come across the miniature carvings of elephants and antelopes, lions, reptiles and birds, as well as the necklace pendants embellished by coiled wire, which are sold in hotel gift shops and tourist stalls throughout the country. No matter where you see or buy them, chances are that they will have been made by the Kamba - even the life-size Maasai warriors, which I once saw a German couple carting through Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on the way to the check-in desk.
   These animal and human figures are far from traditional, but most the remunerative for the carvers. Spoons and ladles are an exception, as are the three-legged stools, often beautifully inlaid with wire coils.

The carving top left is entitled "Skinny Person"
Image: Beverly Stone www.ainamoja.com

Related to the Makonde-influenced "Shetani" carving style is that of several painters. The examples below are from the Kamba painter, Peter S. Jjingo.

Shetani painting, Peter S. Jjingo Shetani painting, Peter S. Jjingo

Woven baskets - vyondo

The weaving of baskets (vyondo) is also a major industry, practised by women as a means of supplementing their income,. Traditionally made from the fibres of baobab and wild fig trees, these are now almost exclusively made from sisal, which is a major cash crop for the Kikuyu (and multinationals).

visit bluegecko.org

Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
Chasing the Lizard's Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle
Planosphere.com - fine art photography