The Republic of Malawi is a small country in Southeastern Africa known as “the Warm Heart of Africa.” In terms of poverty, Malawi is the 9th poorest nation in Africa after others like Somalia and Zimbabwe. But what it lacks in GDP and modern infrastructure, it more than makes up in good old-fashioned creativity.
For newbie and seasoned travelers alike, there is no better feeling than getting a “deal” on a work of art while souvenir hunting abroad. This post is about the best of Malawi Craft Markets and advice for bargaining on the things you want to buy.
Check out our article: Advice for Traveling to Malawi
While Malawi is a mostly agricultural nation, many people dedicate their lives to arts and crafts. Malawian woodcarvings are varied and charismatic. Local artisans use basic tools such as carving knives, sand paper and shoe polish to fashion pieces that reflect their personal styles and local culture. While some artists may only carve large masks, others dedicate themselves to making chessboards, chairs or decorative bowls. If you are planning a visit to Malawi, visiting the craft markets is a must! Although the capital, Lilongwe, features a craft market, it does not come close to these…
A. Nkhata Bay B. Senga Bay C. Zomba Plateau
Wooden jewelry is inexpensive and make for great souvenirs
Impressively, the majority of these artisans have not been formally trained.
The more you buy, the better the deal!
Chief chairs come in all different shapes and sizes. Some artisans will customize them for you.
You will find many colorful paintings like this throughout Malawi, especially being sold outside of hotels
Straw hats like these require several hours of labor
Guess who bought the guy on the right?
Stalls are simple: thatched roofs and four wooden posts
View of the Zomba market from the entrance of the Sun Bird Hotel
Ironwood mask at Zomba market features scenes from daily life
A sea of chief chairs and a Bao game table
A common theme throughout Zomba market is the “Big Five” : lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo
Various woods are used to produce these crafts including pine, ebony and ironwood. Baobab trees are common throughout Malawi and other parts of Africa, but their trunks are too fibrous to use in carvings. If you happen to pass through Blantyre, there is also a crafts market there. Prices are slightly higher than in the three above, but selection is good too. Watch the video below to see the Blantyre market.
Be aware that the price a shopkeeper tells you is about 30% to 50% more than you can bargain for it. Don’t feel pressured to pay for something if you think you’re being scammed. Also, expect several shopkeepers to be persistent in trying to sell you something. I suggest you tell all of them that you are looking at everything before you commit to making a decision. I never felt unsafe at any time, but it’s always a good idea to be polite, yet stern, when telling someone you are not interested. Most importantly, do not forget that Malawi is a poor country. Some of the crafts take days, weeks and sometimes months to complete. They appreciate your business, but play fair.
And remember to enjoy your shopping experience (and bring an extra suitcase for all your treasures.)
Official languages: Chichewa, English
Currency: Malawian Kwacha
Have you ever shopped at a Malawi craft market? Leave us a question or comment below!
A special thanks to the Malawi Tourism Board for hosting us during our stay.
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Incredible article. I’m from Canada and was in Malawi in 2003 and spent a day with three brothers as they carved one of the chief chairs for me. Incredibly talented. This year I started a cause called http://www.facebook.com/MoreThanAid that is trying to help one of the northern villages to get themselves out of poverty by selling their crafts in the western world. Proceeds go back to the artists and to young kids we are trying to help get educated in secondary school. Feel free to visit our site. Take care Canadian Tim
Hi Tim, thanks for stopping by! Thank you for sharing your cause. It sounds like an amazing concept 🙂
our email is email@example.com.
Paula for any Malawian carvings or any work of art please order directly from http://www.malawiconnect.com. If you cannot see what you are looking for please feel free to email us with a description of exactly what you are looking for and it will be shipped directly to your address. Looking forward to your contact.
If you haven’t yet get one from Malawi let me know,,I send some curvings to Dermark and UK,am sure its possible to send to Portugal as well.thanks.
I haven´t find Malawi nativity. If you can help me and send some pictures of nativities and give me the price, i´ll be very happy.
Thank you so much for your attention and care.
order directly from http://www.malawiconnect.com or email us with a description of what you want at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been to Malawi twice and am going again next year. Can you give me an address for the Nkhata Bay Craft Coop?
Hi Ruth thanks for stopping by. I remember it was the only craft market in Nkhata Bay – about 50 km from the lakeshore. I am sure that if you ask your guide or hotel front desk they would know how to point you in the right direction. I remember being along the main road. Good luck!
David, I have a nativity set from Malawi and am willing to discuss it with Paula. Maybe you could put us in touch. I lived and worked in Malawi 1990 to 1998. Your comments on the craft markets are good. Bless the craftsmen, they do spend a lot of time.
Hi Beverly, I sent her your email address so she can reach out to you. Thank you!
Hi David and Beverly, thank you for your help. we´re going to keep in touch. All the best for both of you.
thank you for your message and attention.
I´m trying to find and it´s really hard to find. The best is to travel and buy .
See you soon
I really appreciate to have a nativity from Malawi. Is it possible to send me photos of the nativities you´ve to sale, please?
Could you ship to Portugal? How much does it cost?
I´ll wait your news.
Have a nice weekend
am victor from kenya, i need yoir email address to send you more beautiful hand crafts.
Hi Paula, thank you for writing me. Unfortunately, I do not sell them myself. I bought a nativity from Malawi during my last visit. I hope you find what you’re looking for…Take care!