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Curio vending, tourist attraction

  20 May 2019

(Originally published: 01/2010) Beyond its national parks and beautiful beaches, the local people of Malawi have something a little different to offer, bringing tourists from around the globe. The sale of traditional art, from beads to statues, also known as Curios, attracts souvenir-hungry holidaymakers keen to leave with mementos of their trip to the warm heart of Africa. Blair Mahone speaks to one vendor about the small business which supports both him and Malawi’s tourism industry. (527 words) - Blair Mhone

Big Issue Malawi

Courtesy of The Big Issue Malawi

Aside from the Sapitwa peak on Mulanje mountain, the vast fresh waters of Lake Malawi and its more or less unique species of fish, numerous beaches, national parks and game reserves and the warm heartedness of its indigenous people, there are other secrets behind the influx of tourists into Malawi.


Passing through the elegant edifice housing the new Malawi Savings Bank head office in Blantyre you will find many tourists flocking past the car park just next to the building, leading one to wonder what they are up to.


Beyond the car park next to the immaculate structure is a shade full of people doing their day to day business. Just as in Blantyre City, there are such places spread across the country where this sort of business is done.


This is not just another market in town and the tourists are not just there by chance.  They are trying to catch a glimpse of what is being exhibited inside the shade, in an effort to find something to purchase as a souvenir of their visit to the warm heart of Africa.


On exhibition are pieces of artwork made in a variety of forms, such as beads, human and animal statuettes and many other forms synonymous with Malawian people, tribes and culture. These are not mere artistic creations but are famously called curios (Ziboliboli).


These curios are one of the major items that attract tourists to Malawi and according to Zakeyo Hawa, one of the curio merchants in the city of Blantyre, these vacationers are their major customers because they are the ones who see the value of the pieces.


"[Foreign] tourists are the ones that give us business because they know that these are items of great value where they come from, unlike many Malawians who think these things are expensive and only made for tourists," says Hawa.


However, he says the tourists market is seasonal. Business is good mostly between April and August when it is summer time in the northern hemisphere, coming mainly from Canada and The United States of America.


"This is the time when many from these countries are on their summer holidays, hence the influx of tourists to this part of the world," says Hawa.


He says he has been in the curios trade for over 13 years. His elder brother introduced him to the business and since then he has not looked back as he knows exactly how important tourists are to the business.


"My brother brought me here in 1996 to assist him in his business.  Since then this is what has been supporting my life and I am enjoying it," reveals Hawa.


Hawa and his fellow curio vendors have also helped the country's tourism industry in attracting many tourists, as their places of trade are also good for sightseeing.


Local Malawians in the rural areas who sculpt the curios are mainly found in places where tourists go, such as along the lake shore areas, historical sights and national parks. These are primary places which tourists visit and the curio vendors are working hand in hand with the Ministry of Tourism in promoting the tourism industry in the country.

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