You are on page 1of 31

Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art: From Ethnic Brands to Fair Trade Labels

Dillon Mahoney

African Studies Review, Volume 55, Number 1, April 2012, pp. 161-190 (Article) Published by Cambridge University Press DOI: 10.1353/arw.2012.0013

For additional information about this article

Access provided by Jawaharlal Nehru University (5 Dec 2013 03:07 GMT)

Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art: From Ethnic Brands to Fair Trade Labels
Dillon Mahoney

Abstract: This article explores recent changes in Kenya’s curio or handicrafts industry. In addition to a crisis in access to raw materials and a diversifying tourist market, the rise in the use of cell phones and the Internet during the early 2000s present unique challenges. Nonetheless, innovative Kenyan entrepreneurs are using these challenges to market and brand products in new ways—by representing modern global interconnectedness as “fair trade” or creatively promoting the authenticity of their products in other ways. Kenya’s artisans and traders have also adapted to diverse and complex tastes beyond the desire for an invented tradition of ethnic and “tribal” art. Résumé: Cet article explore les changements récents observés dans le marché de l’artisanat au Kenya, appelé aussi “curio.” En plus de la crise récente d’accès aux matériaux bruts et d’un marché touristique plus diversifié, l’utilisation de plus en plus intensifiée des téléphones portables et de l’Internet depuis le milieu des années 2000 présente des défis bien particuliers. Et cependant, certains entrepreneurs kenyans innovants contournent ces obstacles à leur profit en valorisant leurs produits de nouvelles façons. Ils utilisent la tendance de la globalisation et du concept d’inter- connectivité pour se déclarer participants d’un “marché équitable,” ou pour promouvoir autrement et de manière créative l’authenticité de leurs produits. Les artisans et les commerçants du Kenya se sont également adaptés aux goûts plus complexes et plus diverses qui se dessinent, au delà de la simple attirance pour une tradition inventée d’un art ethnique ou “tribal.”

During the Christmas season of 2010, I was delighted to find so many of the Kenyan arts and handicrafts I had studied since 2001 readily available for
African Studies Review, Volume 55, Number 1 (April 2012), pp. 161–90 Dillon Mahoney is an instructor at Rutgers University, where he teaches cultural and linguistic anthropology. He conducted ethnographic research in Kenya over the course of twenty-six months between 2001 and 2008. His research specialties include popular culture, tourist art, the informal economy, and digital technologies in Kenya. E-mail: 161


African Studies Review

purchase in a small boutique a few blocks from my New Jersey apartment. The store sold a variety of small crafts and handmade toys, as well as carvings from places as distant as Kenya, Bali, and Mexico. While nearly all the items from Kenya carried a “Fair Trade Product of Kenya” sticker, small cards attached to the assorted toys, crafts, and carvings also described them according to their raw material, ethnic group, or the NGO that specialized in making and exporting a particular product line. Handicrafts labeled with ethnic identifiers were regularly produced by the Kenyan curio or “tourist art” industry even before the onset of mass international tourism in the late 1960s. While such carvings have long been termed “nontraditional” for their relatively recent economic origins (Crowley 1970:47), ethnic labels and brands such as “Kamba woodcarving” and “Kisii soapstone” presumably bring a competitive edge to the product by making the art to which they are attached appear to be in its “natural” setting, or “closer to the context of its creation or use and therefore less likely to be inauthentic or fake” (Steiner 1995:152). But in preparation for the 2010 holiday season, the front of the small New Jersey shop was dominated by a display of white soapstone sculptures that seemed abstract at first glance, and had little of the ethnic or “tribal” imagery that often characterizes African art produced for Europeans and North Americans. Instead, these top-sellers stood out for their lack of detail or colorful design, and in general had hardly any distinct features at all, consisting most of elongated, vaguely humanlike structures attached to one another. Some were balanced images of two torsos embracing, while others appeared to be hollowed-out domes formed by interlinked human bodies. While some were accompanied by cards that said “Kisii soapstone” (as much an ethnic as a regional or material marker), these carvings were different from the decorated bowls, candlesticks, and human and animal figurines more typical of soapstone carvings made in Kenya over the last several decades. These new carvings, designed largely for the global handicrafts market, depicted a type of abstract interpersonal connection of bodies in space—a motif also increasingly popular on the beaches and roadsides that make up the real contact zones of Kenya’s coastal tourism and export hub of Mombasa—and where since 2001 I have conducted research with more than eighty artisans, traders, and exporters who work in the port city’s handicrafts production networks.1 Such changing motifs of Kenyan art were precisely what one would expect from an East African industry founded on innovation and adaptation. Since the early 2000s, Kenyan traders have increasingly accessed the international market through the use of cell phones and the Internet. My focus of study evolved, therefore, from an investigation of roadside art traders in Mombasa’s Old Town to a much larger project exploring how art traders and particularly international exporters were making use of these new technologies in their daily business routines. My interest has been largely on the economic foundation of East Africa’s art industry and how

What all my customers want right now is fair trade. Africa or Kenya may no longer appear in the imagination as necessarily “tribal” in the sense created by the image of the Maasai warrior. Yet as more Kenyan traders use new communication technologies and shift from the local roadside economy to international business networks (see Mahoney 2009). through “fair trade. While conducting research in Mombasa. As a result.” or simply real about an “Africa” politically constructed as a binary opposite to the “rationality” and “modernity” of the West (see Graburn 1976.” This is not to suggest that such changes are new—African art has.” and thus. “Ethnic” and “tribal” labels have long appealed to transnational elites’ understandings of what is culturally “authentic. been changing since long before European contact (see Bascom 1976:303. tourists and their tastes are diverse and ever-changing. there has been increasing emphasis on labeling that explains something about the producers as well as the motifs. “fair trade” had gained brandlike name recognition in Kenya. As I will discuss further.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  163 those economics shape the aesthetics of the arts and crafts eventually sold. as Sally Price put it. Steiner 1994.” They are not purchased as art and are commonly referred to as “toys” or “souvenirs. are unable to “push back” and produce “the ultimate tourist commodity—experience. “You know. and the “NGO aesthetics” that still saturate the symbolism and labeling of Kenyan crafts. I often got the impression that the real challenge to Kenyans selling curios and working in the tourism industry was keeping up with this changing market. 449). in the words of Bruner and Kirschenblatt-Gimblett (1994:435. legitimate tribal and traditional motifs now seem insufficiently “old” and “traditional.” “traditional. made of garbage or recycled goods. fair trade was largely seen as a type of explanatory label that added value to a commodity by telling the eventual buyer something more about who made the product. Those are not the hot commodity right now. “art adjusts” (2007:603). but . Nevertheless. I do not wish to suggest that international tourists visiting Kenya have stopped purchasing souvenirs and toys decorated with “tribal” images. Mombasa. But the binary model of African tradition and Western modernity is increasingly impractical when applied to complex local situations. I am particularly interested in what Price has referred to as “shifting authenticities. Biebuyck 1969).” At the same time. As a male Kenyan art exporter in his early thirties told me in September 2007. Phillips & Steiner 1999). Africa continues to be constructed as lacking modern technology and in need of Western help and patronage. For tourists to the Kenyan coast whom I have interviewed. although I found its meanings and associations for the producers in the global South to be somewhat unclear and ambiguous. But not the tribal carvings” (interview. 18.” ethical buying movements. 2007) As in the West. Sept. these tribal carvings that Kambas make. as much in New Jersey as in Mombasa. handmade things. I argue that this shift has come about not just because of a changing market. of course. for example. The exporter’s comment suggests that among his clients (many of whom owned crafts stores in the United States or Great Britain).

Such changes. tourists. While it is nearly impossible to calculate the number of carvers. For example. This was primarily because African art in North America and Europe is generally understood to represent a romanticized. But while “ethnic and tourist arts” (Graburn 1976) have received considerable attention from anthropologists interested in globalization (see Marcus & Myers 1995. and Western buyers carries the ideal prized by the transnational elite that focuses on equality while ignoring inequality. Cunningham. there is. which I term the “art of connection. Obunga (1995) estimated in the mid-1990s that there were sixty to eighty thousand active carvers in Kenya who were supporting more than four hundred thousand dependents (cited in Choge et al. decorators. I argue. & Ellery 2005:31. no obvious “art of disconnection. I still found that my research emphasis on the ever-changing commercial aspects of the African art trade seemed surprising and counterintuitive to many Americans with whom I discussed my project. including their functions and aesthetics in the context of localized settings (see Steiner 1994:7. African art studies have tended to focus on the forms of the art. I am particularly interested in the emergence and popularity of the motif of interconnected people described above.” I argue that the symbolism of egalitarian and transparent connection promoted by Kenyan traders. demonstrate the importance of innovation and adaptation by Kenyan artisans and traders who must keep pace within a competitive global market and adjust to a diverse consumer base. Rather than discussing the economics of regional art industries. sanders. Amid this constellation of issues. Phillips & Steiner 1999). for example. and vendors working in the woodcarving industry. African Art as Global Cultural Commodity Kenya’s curio industry has been economically substantial for more than a half-century. Price 1991. Kenyan artisans and traders must adapt not only to a variety of international tourists and export markets.164  African Studies Review also because of the desires and political sensibilities of the Kenyan traders and exporters themselves. The woodcarving component alone was estimated during the mid-1990s to generate as much as US$20 million annually (Choge. Choge 2002).” This symbolism of unhindered and egalitarian connection is also precisely the economic and sociocultural ideal branded through the fair trade sticker. . 2005:33). Nash 1993. precolonial ritual setting that is ostensibly free of the political and economic pressures that structure the contemporary world. The rest of this article highlights the recent diversification and changes in Kenya’s tourist art to better understand the politics of social change expressed symbolically through Kenya’s tourism and curio industries. but also to increasing environmental pressures and a recent rise in domestic tourism in Kenya. citing Obunga 1995.9).

even these are included under the broader term sanamu. arts. whose owners supplied wood to the carvers and managed the workforce. 2004. Elkan (1958:318–19) noted. It was common practice for Europe’s elite to arrange the objects gathered from the conquest and exploration of foreign lands into “cabinets of curiosity” or “curio cabinets. and tourist art are all used synonymously as translations for the single word sanamu (Swahili for “art”). Sidney Kasfir (1999. & Little 2000). 2007) has provided extensive evidence of how the new African art that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s involved a great deal of cultural brokerage by a rather small number of African traders and Western supporters. rather than individual artisans. lost past. and modernity. the “curios” (sanamu.” or objects that were considered “worthy neither of scientific investigation nor aesthetic appreciation” (Steiner 1994:108). batiks. crafts) sold today in Kenya can also reflect cultural hybridity and change. and an African as much as a Western understanding of difference. handicrafts. when placed in the home and the curio cabinet. that the woodcarving industry of the 1950s was organized around workshops. which refers to almost any type of art made by an msanii. The object is assigned meaning.” In Kenya today (and in this article). or an artist.2 Bennetta Jules-Rosette (1984:107) suggests . the primary term used in Mombasa for the variety of soapstone and wooden carvings. the words curios. Stone. as the artifact is removed from the public space of the museum to a private domestic space. Haugerud.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  165 Yet the economic history of Kenya’s curio art is deeply illuminating of the social and cultural politics involved in global processes and a fertile ground for the ethnographic study of how meaning is produced within an international commodity chain (see Appadurai 1986b. While the term vinyago is often used to refer to larger carvings (which do make up a major component of Kenya’s curio and handicrafts industry). The introduction of the term curio. as it applied to Kenya’s commodified carvings and crafts. for example. Such cultural brokerage led to change and innovation that was promoted mostly by European intermediaries and the workshop owners and cooperative managers who. and jewelry sold throughout the tourism industry and exported from Kenya. tradition. baskets. Steiner 1994). One way to construct an ethnography that pushes beyond earlier anthropological preoccupations with bounded social systems or the “tribal unit” has been to follow the change of a commodity’s meaning through its “social life” (Appadurai 1986a. The man popularly regarded by older carvers as the originator of Kenya’s woodcarving industry is Mutisya Munge. have long run and directed the production of arts and crafts. who only became involved in carving commercially when he returned to his home village of Wamunyu after serving in the East African Carrier Corps during the First World War. crafts. So while the curio cabinets of North America and Europe are generally reserved for artifacts from a long. for example. is traceable to the initial categorization of African art by Europeans as “curiosities.

but also witnessed the potential revenue that could be earned by selling carvings. as many Zaramo had begun doing before the war with the help of Lutheran missionaries (also see Elkan 1958:315). and European and North American crafts stores began to take huge losses in the 1990s. which included nonethnic decorative animal carvings and functional items. for example. Mahoney 2009). however. Kristina Dziedzic Wright (2008. Some Kenyan artisans at the beginning of the twentieth century were clearly making crafts that did not conform to ethnic or community traditions but rather to the British imagination. . Hobsbawm & Ranger 1983). such as Maasai figurines. During the 1980s Changamwe’s Akamba Handicraft Industry Co-operative Society first began making an official marketing distinction between “ethnic” artifacts with tribal imagery intended for the local market and the quite different export goods. wrote that the Kamba carvings “have an exotic but suspiciously uniform look about them and at the back of everyone’s mind there lurks the suspicion that really they are all mass-produced by machines” (1958:314). while export products did not need to explicitly market the carvings’ exact origins. and crafts emblazoned with abstract geometric designs (see Jules-Rosette 1984:210).” The novelty such products had held through the 1970s seemed to have faded. and models of elephants and leopards” (1958:314). Elkan describes Kenya’s woodcarving industry of the 1950s as characterized by its unique array of “salad-servers crowned by Masai or Nandi heads. This distinction rested on the assumption that tourists to Kenya wanted items with more “local color” (Jules-Rosette 1984:210). 2009) has also described the emergence of coconut crafts made on the island of Lamu on the northern Kenyan coast.166  African Studies Review that Munge did not simply learn to carve from Zaramo artisans in Tanzania. but in the sense that they are the product of economic histories that emerged as a result of interactions with Europeans and others (see Hobsbawm 1983. Kenyan carvers and traders have long been aware of such skepticism as well as the diversity of their customers and their changing expectations. and bags. Such products include carvings of animals. The ethnic and “tribal” arts of Kenya’s tourism industry are traditional. largely because Kenyans and neighboring Tanzanians and Ugandans. have been regularly producing a variety of images other than the oftstudied “ethnic and tribal arts” of the 1960s (see Wright 2008. paintings. just as the fair trade coffee and foods movement was gaining popularity. Jules-Rosette 1984. Elkan. As Redfern and Snedker (2002:6) have discussed. baskets. has adapted and survived. albeit with mixed stories of success and failure. The Kenyan curio industry. by the 1980s many of the crafts that had been sold on the global market of the 1960s “began to look tired and old fashioned. the “tribal” and “traditional” nature of such carvings was already being questioned. But even in the fifties. again signaling the importance of creativity in materials and designs in response to an evolving tourism industry and consumer base. during the decades since independence. figurines of warriors bearing spear and shield.

that Clifford’s model. they are satisfied when items are produced well and in a way that feels comfortable to the Western consumer. therefore. like MacCannell’s.” as the circulation of images representing Africa changes. precolonial cultural artifacts. Davis found in Niger that the Western neocolonial habit of collecting objects considered authentically “exotic” is giving way to a taste for more hybrid “modern” objects as well as complex cross-identifications between Tuareg artisans and their customers. Davis calls such changes evidence of a new process. so do tourists’ and art buyers’ understandings of what Africa really looks like. but also an interaction or an experience. or how it is really experienced. According to this model. in particular. and domestic tourists. is incomplete. Indeed. however. modern context and interaction and connection that much of the art market is turning. as long as it is a good one .” in which works of art and cultural “artifacts” are subject to appraisal as authentic or not within the greater Western quest for modernity. she discusses how “creativity and novelty have become crucial in the competitive and faddish Western market” (1999:489). His argument. The Kenyan case. I agree with Davis (1999). This reality is precisely what has opened up a new space for innovative African traders and artists. is focused almost solely on the white Euro-American tourist and tourists more generally as a homogeneous population with static assumptions about what an authentic culture should look like. . Dean MacCannell argues that tourists are doomed to failure in their quest for authentic cultural experiences since tourism industries are created for them and thus by definition lack the natural or pristine elements that tourists desire. . the imagined experience of evolutionary distance and their own modernity. age and exotic qualities create distance between consumer and producer. and for Western consumers. He has found examples in Kenya. It is to this immediate. “entirely dis- . who argues that most tourists are not necessarily seeking an authentic experience. This suggests that. this market includes long-term expatriates.” and are “willing to accept a reproduction. Resonating with my own findings from Kenya. return tourists. In his classic 1976 work The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. In the Kenyan case. while tourists may not view ethnic labels. and commodities as completely authentic. face-to-face encounters between artisan and art buyer privilege the immediate context of production over an exotic or traditional “authentic context” (Davis 1999:486). it is not sufficient to explain what long-term ethnographic fieldwork has revealed. where tourists “realize that the native performances on their tour itinerary are constructions for a foreign audience. My findings resonate more with Bruner (1991). ” (1991:240). challenges the simple model of what Clifford (1988) calls the “art–culture system. however.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  167 Because much of the value of ethnic and tourist art rests in the consumers’ expectations and understandings of “authentic Africa. Part of what is missing from Clifford’s model is the recognition that much of what is being commodified through Kenyan curio art (and African art more generally) is not simply an object. images.

that I have found nonethnic products competing for shelf and suitcase space not only because of tourists’ desires. It is perhaps not surprising. for example. young Kamba-speaking men who have migrated to Mombasa often try to use ethnic connections and affiliations to find employment around Changamwe’s Kamba woodcarving cooperative. Tuareg artisans appeal to a contemporary political consciousness that drives expatriates to develop egalitarian relationships with local people. Ethnic and Modern Subjectivities Both Sidney Kasfir (2004) and Kristina Dziedzic Wright (2008. national and local ethnic politics seep into the relationships among curio vendors working along Mombasa’s roadsides or in carving cooperatives. she found that the “modern” artisanal objects represent a striking transformation in the relations between Westerners and non-Westerners. or Swahili). and the licensing of businesses—all issues central to the livelihoods of my research participants. I wish to turn now to the hybrid and modern appeal of contemporary tourist art and handicrafts in Kenya. sympathetically. equality. Kisii.” In the case of Tuareg artisans in Niger. particularly when traders discussed innovation and new motifs. In Kenya I have found a similar transformation in social relations and global political consciousness that reveals the value of creating the comfortable illusion of familiarity. Kisii. despite the constructed nature of the ethnic groups in question and the ostensibly ethnic traditions of African art. while it promotes an ethically comfortable affiliation with local people who seem to share.168  African Studies Review tinct from that which imbues exotic objects with appeal in the West.3 The vast majority of traders are Kamba. land ownership. Inspired by such findings. sense (such as Kamba. and connectivity in neocolonial settings. then. but also because traders work to create a distance between their tourism-related . Maasai. For Westerners. It is precisely this hybrid nature of “global crafts” that generates heated debates about their artistic merit and authenticity. Ethnic tensions in Mombasa primarily involve issues of migration. I found a similar language and awareness of ethnic difference in Mombasa. their condition of displacement in southern Niger (1999:499). including “Swahili” woodcarving from the town of Lamu on the northern Kenyan coast. A material world assembled with Tuareg-style Western objects offers Westerners the comfort of familiarity. 2009) have discussed the emergence (or reemergence) of new craft forms. Almost inescapably. Intellectual property was often spoken of in the collective. Both found that ethnic identity plays an important role in the positioning of artists and art vendors. For example. or Kikuyu in background—all broadly constructed ethnolinguistic groups not generally considered “indigenous” to Kenya’s Coast Province (although levels of indigeneity were highly contested). or ethnic. even if they have no direct connection to Wamunyu or the families that had originated the tradition in the early twentieth century.

Sept. and 2007). “tribalism” was the opposite of what many tourism-dependent Kenyans wanted for the future. they get disappointed. changing. ‘I never thought it would be this way.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  169 businesses and the violent realities of ethnic politics in urban Kenya. 2002.’ So I think we bring a very different reality” (interview. His job—the production of this “very different reality”—was to find overlap and points of collusion between tourists’ expectations and his own pursuits out of the political and economic context that shaped his strategies and marketing techniques. unchanging. They appealed to tourists on their own terms.4 Kenyan art that showed the nation to be modern. More than simply a changing consumer base. As an exporter told me in 2005. and epitomizes the most picturesque.” particularly during the 1990s and 2000s. while social constructions. The masculine image of the Maasai warrior or patriarch is still prominent in the Western imagination. and people are getting cell phones. Many traders were also multi­ ethnic and feared being cornered into a particular political or economic position. and symbols that were often politically sensitive. traders were aware that they could lose their symbolic capital and attraction by appearing too modern. 2005). and they say. and neither “tribal” nor “traditional” in either a cultural or economic sense. Many art dealers who identified themselves as modern. and potentially “authentic” representation of “tribal Africa” (see Hodgson 2001. brands. Such Western stereotypes. the desire for interactions with and photographs of “tribal” Africans has replaced the need for wooden caricature. have not been lost on Kenya’s art traders. Simultaneously. when a return of multiparty politics in Kenya contributed to cyclical spikes of ethnic tension around election years (1992. While ethnic identities and knowledge of indigenous languages was often useful to savvy entrepreneurs. the politics and context of the interaction between Kenyans and tourists in Mombasa have shaped the symbolic value and meaning of the art. Mombasa. traders and migrants who had experienced discrimination and political targeting by other Kenyans because of their ethnic backgrounds often welcomed a shift in how they were portraying Kenya to cautious tourists from overseas. “When [tourists] find that there is Internet everywhere. One male exporter in his thirties commented in 2005 of the symbol of the Maasai warrior as “authentically African”: . entrepreneurial. as modern or worldly with a global identity. While politicians drew on ethnic differences and images to divide and rule Kenyans or foment political violence. The symbolic value of the “tribal” Maasai has not completely vanished. 1. Spear & Waller 1993). or capitalistic. 1997. and new represented Kenya as welcoming to tourists without playing on labels. urban Kenyans were wary of presenting themselves as “tribal” or “ethnic. finding more security in representing themselves as modern Kenyans rather than migrants and outsiders. If anything. Kasfir 2007. This was particularly the case for individuals who were striving daily to downplay their ethnic identities.

Mombasa. several innovations emerged in soapstone and wood carvings out of collaboration between Kamba and Kisii carvers who were hired during the 1960s and early 1970s to copy West or Central African art for export or sale locally in Kenya (Miller 1975:29). As Sally Price (2007) has also noted. For example. especially those with close connections to producers (through family. “I would take authentic and modern just in one category. they come and marry Maasais because they have this whole symbolical. developing new motifs and ways of marketing the art that they feel express their place in modern Kenya and the transnational. creative.” But the Maasai. alternative materials. since artisans themselves have for decades learned from one another across eth- . and handicrafts]. They want to be modern. and they tell me that point. curios. 2005) Like the Maasai. Kenya’s curio and handicrafts industry has survived and thrived because of carvers’ innovation and transethnic sharing. Many exporters and intermediaries. and innovative nature of their businesses. but in order to be modern. these monoethnic labels have also been deceptive.” Value. are blending the desires of international buyers with their own notions of modernity. the result can be innovation in artistic forms. It’s not something fake.S. Most people from my experience.” For him. A real African. has emerged not from the reproduction of images from the precolonial past. 10. but rather from being explicit about the contemporary nature of African innovation and creativity. For example. [pause] “this is like a real Kenyan. it’s not like they like being that way. by being these Maasai they can get the money to be modern. they are really looking for something that is very unique. You talk to some of those people from U. Sept. for example). Kenyan art traders with dreams of becoming wealthy entrepreneurs and living the lifestyles they see portrayed in international media are trying to create new possibilities for self-representation to a diverse international audience. As he explained: I would just take authentic and modern together with [Kenyan] artwork [arts. and new interpretations of the art itself. (Interview. international economic environment. While curio art in Kenya has long been sold or marketed using very specific ethnic brands to increase value. Innovation and the “Art of Connection” Since Mutisya Munge carved his first wooden animals and figurines. It’s really Kenyan.170  African Studies Review Usually women from outside [of Kenya]. in this case. “We don’t want stuff that has been in the market for more than ten years. as the exporter quoted above told me quite directly. when artists once dubbed “primitive” find themselves operating in an expanded. what was most authentic on the curio market was what was new and had been least copied.

a Kisii vendor from outside his roadside kiosk in 2001 (April 20.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  171 nic boundaries. While he had grown up carving.” with “geometric balance. abstractly organized around a single soapstone base. For example. Due to its cheap price compared to wood. for example. indeed. to find simplified carvings of a “mother and child. During my time in Kenya. soapstone has also long been a practical medium for stylistic experimentation. any experienced soapstone trader can easily differentiate between a Kamba-style and a Kisii-style soapstone elephant. One form of soapstone sculpture that came to prominence beginning in the 1990s represented social connectivity through the carving of simplified. 2001). Such carvings were also a practical way to lighten the heavy soapstone by hollowing out most of the material. abstract individual stretching down to embrace a shorter figure who was looking and reaching up (see see figure 1). The Kamba and Kisii styles were entirely different. Unlike wood. interconnected people.” referring to a town and region as much as an ethnic group. Other forms emerged with time. surfaces” (Miller 1975:30–31). the main economic issue with soapstone is its weight. Even ten years ago you could not find those. This was also adapted into the “family” motif. By the mid-1970s. inspired by similar Kamba woodcarvings but with their own unique style. unlike the detailed and precise realism of Kamba animal carvings.” depicting two individuals embracing. born and raised in the rural town of Tabaka near the soapstone quarries. But after finishing school. the offer from his uncle to manage several of his kiosks outside of Mombasa’s Fort Jesus was too promising to pass up. I frequently found myself helping visiting friends or relatives seek out sculp- . such as “thinking men or women with bare breasts. the emerging Kisii animals were “simple” and “nearly abstract. usually undetailed. he told me that most young men like him ideally wanted to work in the formal sector rather than in the soapstone or tourism business. which was a major reason that so many Kamba carvers (or at least carvers trained in the Kamba animal-carving tradition) found employment carving soapstone animals for Kisii exporters and wholesalers to diversify the types of animal motifs they sold. which depicted all combinations of parents and children. artists from around the town of Kisii in southwestern Kenya were regularly carving small soapstone animal figurines. finished his secondary school education before going to work for his uncle selling soapstone in Mombasa. But small carvings of human pipe smokers or water-bearers made from soapstone began appearing on the Kenyan market by the early 1970s (Miller 1975:31). one of the most important seeds of innovation.” I was told during an interview in Mombasa with Dennis. Indeed. or “the lovers. even if they are both marketed eventually as “Kisii soapstone. and smooth. Dennis. Having literally grown up next to the soapstone quarries. It was common. he and many other such young men brought fresh energy to the industry and new ideas for how to develop the newest and most innovative carvings. This transethnic sharing is.” depicting a tall.

the modernity of these crafts was quite simply their newness and novelty. showing mother and child—of soapstone. reflecting the presence of sex tourism as much as wildlife tourism in Kenya. smooth stone sculptures as a type of “modern art. leaving simplified yet abstract representations of interlocking human bodies that lacked spe- . Sexualized sculptures of abstractly carved naked women or of interconnected lovers (often with enlarged or pronounced sexual organs) were also a popular item among tourists.172  African Studies Review Figure 1: Family motif carving. Many tourists with whom I spoke derived the “modern” interpretation from the features having been smoothed away. tures matching the number of children in their own families. Maybe not ironically. I have heard both tourists and Kenyan vendors refer to these plain.” For African traders.

cific ethnic. Even in the sexualized carvings. the individuals were left so as to not appear necessarily African or European—the particular combination desired was left in the mind of the interpreter-consumer. ” (1976:16). or a “Makonde” style soapstone carving (though this piece was carved by a Kisiispeaking carver). Graburn has noted the importance of simplification in ethnic and tourist arts. “Simplification is aided by the fact that the buyer does not know the meaning of the omitted detail. I argue that this simplification is central to the connection motif because it aids both buyers and traders in creating a flexible and open space for interpretation that still revolves around the most basic human act and desire being represented— that of connection and interaction. racial. and often even gender identifiers (the exception being the sexual carvings). .Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  173 Figure 2: The art of connection. writing. demonstrating inter-personal connectivity. . .

some of wood but most of soapstone. all of which represented egalitarian connection (see figures 3 .174  African Studies Review Figure 3: Motif depicting social connection. and appendages. the figures were interlocked within a larger dome or column of human torsos. similar style. Out of this basic design came a variety of other motifs of varying sizes and styles. heads. some upside-down. In another. This example is of rosewood. with some upright. and others elongated until one figure’s legs became another’s arms (see figure 2).

” In this case. The Kenyan government’s Handicraft Unit made the same observation of innovation and adaptation. I interpreted these as a literal representation of the human interconnectedness desired by both tourists and Kenyan traders. these sculptures literally represented the very contact that makes contemporary tourism experiences “real.” referring to one major source of inspiration—complex Makonde woodcarvings made by peoples of Mozambique and Tanzania (Kasfir 1999. and 4). the sense of global connection was being sold to her through Kenya’s tourism and curio industries. This example is of carved but unpolished soapstone on the shelf of a wholesale shop in Mombasa.”6 In Tabaka in Kisii Dis- . Rather than play on dubious tribal imagery.5 By the early 1980s. “Unlike other woodcarving Societies in Kenya. since tourism has become a global experience. or [an experience] of togetherness. Meanwhile. reporting of the Makindu carvers.” most Kenyan dealers referred to the complex carvings of interlocking people as “Makonde. Mahogany ‘Itula’ and White Ebony.” As one American tourist in her twenties told me in 2006 of a small carving she had purchased of interconnected people holding up a globe: “This is the future here. Kingdon 2005). while I did hear traders refer to these sculptures as “modern. the group not only specializes in sculpture carving (Makonde Carvings) but also use variety of wood species such as Olive Wood. see Jules-Rosette 1984:126). Ebony. the Kamba carvers of the Makindu cooperative in Kenya specialized in copying Makonde carvings (which they called kisanza. marketed to satisfy her desire for an egalitarian world order rather than a stereotypical assumption about an Africa represented by “primitive” or “tribal” art.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  175 Figure 4: Collection of sculptures depicting connected family groups.

at the site of the quarries and most soapstone carving. such sculptures appear to represent the free mobility dreamt of by traders and romanticized by the transnational elite. and Shona carvers from Zimbabwe. the Makonde.176  African Studies Review Figure 5: Sculptures depicting social connection and equilibrium. and polished so as to reveal no race or gender. Representing a blank slate for interpretation. who could have numerous understandings of a given object’s meaning. I was told by carvers and a workshop manager that motifs of interconnected people had been regularly produced since the early 1990s and developed out of the sharing of knowledge between the Kisii. smoothed. which traders and travelers together celebrated as part of their greater transnational mobility made possible through international tourism and the use of new technologies. These new art motifs were not ethnic. . modern connections developing in Africa and Kenya. The intriguing sculptures had the potential to represent the new. which had a firm ethnic label and played on notions of Africa as “exotic” or “grotesque” (Graburn 1976:18). trict. these sculptures elicited a creative interpretation from both the buyer and the vendor. By hiding inequality and stressing connection over disconnection. but the product of interethnic cooperation and sustained connection. But unlike the intricate Makonde carvings. the soapstone versions were highly simplified.

Nairobi. providing an essential flexibility to marketers and intermediaries who are responsible for producing an illusion of connection and transparency within an international commodity chain characterized by its complexity. muhugu (Brachylaena huillensis). or mpingo in Swahili— frequently mistakenly called ebony in English). inexpensive.” and often called “Makonde” by traders.7 Such ambiguity of origin appears to be much more the rule than the exception. although the amount was strictly .Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  177 The case of sculptures appearing abstract. As for the “art of connection. But the trees most prized by buyers and carvers alike have been in a state of rapid depletion for decades (Belcher.” the motif itself does the work of producing this very same illusion of transparency and connection. Kenya’s difficulties in this respect are compounded by the fact that most of the preferred wood for carving comes from slow-growing and endangered species such as rosewood and African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon.8 As early as 1974. The Wood Crisis and the Environmental Impact The environmental impact on innovation and changing aesthetics in Kenyan tourist art and “global crafts” more generally has been significant. Unlike soapstone sculptures. Such is typical of the global handicrafts business more generally. which are valued for their fine grain and the fact that they rarely crack in the cold climates of the northern hemisphere (Cunningham 2005:13). woodcarvings are light. Since the earliest days of Kamba woodcarving. As a result. muhugu and African blackwood could still be cut in Kenya. to become exhausted in the readily accessible areas of the country. had seen an earlier boom in urban woodcarving than Mombasa. it became common for traders either to move to Mombasa to access coastal forests or to import wood from Tanzania and Malawi. and attractive to souvenir-seeking travelers. all of which could be found in the Central Province forests around Nyeri and Mount Kenya.” marketed as “Kisii. woodcarvers I interviewed at the woodcarving cooperative in Mombasa still preferred muhugu. During the 1960s and 1970s. a United Nations study found that it would take only five years for the type of wood most commonly carved by the Kamba.9 Despite these constraints. labeled “modern. Cunningham. now central to tourism and tourist art industries. rosewood. & Campbell 2005:1). particularly during the Second World War and largely because of the soldiers stationed in the city. But by the early 1980s government regulations limited carvers to purchasing only three logs per month from the Karura and Ngong forests (Jules-Rosette 1984:120). in fact. traders have traveled long distances to obtain the best wood. demonstrates the pervasive ambiguity central to the politics of labeling ethnic or “tribal” identity in Kenya’s curio art. For a period beginning in the 1980s.” carved by “Kambas. Mombasa’s Akamba Industry was repeatedly involved in negotiations with Kenya’s forestry department over access to cheaper wood. teak. and African blackwood (“ebony”).

Mombasa.000 worth of carvings from Kenya each year. Höft. He had run a profitable woodcarving workshop in Nairobi before coming to Mombasa in 1998 primarily because. and splits and splinters in cold and dry climates (Obara. Nov. By leaving the outer bark on the endangered. 2005). the birthplace of Kamba woodcarving. Then in the mid-1990s the government applied strong restrictions and regulations on the cutting and use of muhugu from the central Kenyan forests (Schmitt & Cunningham 2002). Take the case of one woodcarving trader originally from Wamunyu. The resulting spike in the price of raw material for carving increased competition just as Kenya’s tourism industry. While increasing the value of genuine African blackwood. and markets. Neem. 2005. the major legal alternative to mahogany. 20. 2005). 26. In a related trend. for example. Schmitt & Cunningham 2002.178  African Studies Review limited by the government. the practice of painting neem black brought an additional challenge to the vendor—to visually demonstrate that the wood was authentic. Schmitt & Maingi 2005).S. Other than shifting to soapstone (a common strategy for many Kamba carvers). Sept. traders adapted styles that portrayed the authenticity of the wood to maintain a higher price for the carvings. harder to carve. which was buying an estimated $250. & Höft 2004:98). mango. Such moves only increased pressure on coastal forests. or simply “good. which pushed certification as a means to limit the destruction of East Africa’s remaining coastal forests (Schmitt & Cunningham 2002:260–61). as the rare hardwoods became more expensive and harder to find. Mombasa. The Good Woods movement has also been helped by the “ethical sourcing” of groups like the U. as he told me in 2005. was not available around Nairobi. It is no coincidence that it has largely been since 1998 that neem has surpassed muhugu as the most commonly carved species among Kenyan woodcarvers.” Since the mid-1990s NGOs have emerged on the Kenyan coast to help persuade woodcarvers to carve the “good woods”: neem. even if it is much lighter in color. or jacaranda (Choge et al. As neem became the most common type of wood found on the Kenyan market—making up 80 percent of what was carved in Mombasa’s Kamba woodcarving cooperative in 2005—much of this very soft and light-colored material was painted black and marketed as “ebony” (interview with head of Records and Books at Akamba Woodcarving. and the international crafts industry fell into several years of recession in the early 2000s. one way to deal with this environmental pressure was to carve wood newly certified as environmentally friendly. workshops. non-neem types of wood and revealing the separation between the darker . the national economy. The major certification effort has come from the World Wildlife Fund and the Kenya-based Good Woods Project. almost all the wood cut from around Nairobi was being cut illegally (interview. so he came to the coast along with many other curio traders at the time to access cheaper wood.-based Mennonite Central Committee. largely from Kamba cooperatives (Schmitt & Cunningham 2002:261).

artisans and vendors made the identity of the wood explicit. muhugu. appealing to a material rather than “tribal” or “traditional” notion of authenticity. innovation in marketing Kenyan carvings and handicrafts did not only come in the form of materials used and forms produced.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  179 Figure 6: A curio vendor polishes a large sculpture of African blackwood. or African blackwood—woods that were. and bark. light outer wood. in which the lighter outer wood has been left in a spiral to demonstrate the authenticity of the wood. Fair Trade and Marketing Ethics As the case of “Good Woods” certification shows. ironically. Figure 7: Carved African blackwood revealing the separation between dark heartwood. a prominent motif was soon found throughout East African curio shops and markets. Such performance of the wood’s authenticity was typically practiced with the darker and more valued hardwoods—usually rosewood. But as a result of the crisis of value caused by the proliferation of neem and the practice of painting. April 2001. but also in the explanatory labels and explicit markers applied to the products at the points of sale. not “good” according to the conservation NGOs (see figures 6 and 7). export. and import. While the first independent fair trade crafts store opened in Europe in . core and the lighter periphery.

26. partially because of such organizations. it was in the 1990s that the movement took a more bureaucratic form and shifted away from “alternative” trade (alternative to a free market price) toward labeling and certification of products as produced under “fair” conditions (Redfern & Snedker 2002:9–12. As Raynolds and Long (2007:19) point out. for none of these producers to become directly connected to his buyers. and inquiries. Tanzania. It was essential. His job entailed communicating with production cooperatives and workshops located from Nairobi to Kisumu in Western Kenya to Dar es Salaam. who were able to use the “fair trade” label to maintain a high price for their products—authentic or valuable not because of “primitive. Mombasa. Sept. his job involved daily visits to one of Mombasa’s chronically packed and slow Internet cafés to check his e-mail for new orders.S.S. however. “I know these were made by .-based company even had a Mombasa cooperative place price tags with bar codes and “Fair Trade” on items before shipping rather than pay their employees in the United States to do the job. all of the products. 2006) was that if he did not satisfy his buyers with new products that would sell on the European and American crafts markets. Low & Davenport 2005:144). he would lose his intermediary role to competitors. In the eyes of many exporters with whom I spoke. One U. and European fair trade labeling groups began organizing under an umbrella group called the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) in 1997. March 23. pointing out some handmade items he was packing. 2005).-based fair trade crafts store as well as for several smaller outlets and clients in North America and in Europe. As a final step before shipping his orders. The product certification aspect of fair trade came out of a late 1980s strand of the larger movement. admitting he did not actually understand the labels’ significance. updates. the fair trade certification system has since the late 1990s become much more industrial and bureaucratic.” as the exporter mentioned above told me. tribal” symbolism but for the assumptions that the production process was fair and ethical (Reichman 2008:103). therefore. regardless of their origin or how they may have been originally marked. often printed with “Fair Trade.” to be applied to all products before they were shipped. Mombasa. for example. he told me (interview. fair trade labels functioned like other such labels—such as “handmade in Kenya”—to attract customers.” the Head of Exports at the cooperative told me (interview. one Kisii man in his late twenties who worked for a major U. “Besides. But many intermediaries did understand. lest his own intermediary position become unnecessary. “Apparently the fair trade stickers keep them from paying someone on their end. The 1990s rise in international fair trade labeling and certification was. As a full-time exporter. The danger.180  African Studies Review 1969. Take. timely for Kenyan intermediaries and exporters. were relabeled with the ordering company’s Web site and “Fair Trade product of Kenya” stickers. It was common at Mombasa’s Akamba Industry and other workshops and cooperatives for international buyers to send their own stickers. which he was sent ahead of time by his employers (see Figure 8).

infantilized. marketed. of course. 2006).Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  181 chokoras (street kids). On the back of these cards is printed in bold: “Your purchase makes a difference. But that was also the economic foundation of his business. is that they offer (like fair trade marketing) a highly simplistic understanding of development. but instead take advantage of a Western call for a global community without boundaries—an idea that is manifested and engaged with in numerous ways through popular culture and the advertisements of companies like The Body Shop and American Express (Kaplan 1995:46). particularly for young travelers who encounter their African “Other” for the first time. art.” and just “Women and Children. it has dramatically increased the opportunities and potential for performing marginality though these same NGO aesthetics. Children. The changes in the marketing of both tourism and tourist art represented by the fair trade label point to a larger change in the way that Africa and the countries of the global South are being viewed. Such programs.” Fair trade and “Trade Not Aid” movements do not generally exploit “tribal” or “primitive” constructions of Africa. emasculated. and Orphans. he pointed out explanatory labels with phrases like “teenage mothers and girls. underdevelopment. For example one major dealer in Kenyan fair trade handicrafts based in the United States markets Kenyan woodcarvings in their U. do not note the environmental effects of the overcutting of muhugu. knowable. March 23.” which from his tone implied that their production was anything but fair in his eyes (interview. Simpson (2004:683) argues. On that day. and social inequality. the same is true of an array of products and explanatory labels that describe an interaction between a deserving producer and a charitable consumer. Mombasa. which were literally overflowing with boxes of handicrafts sent to him from all over East Africa. and represented clearly as in need of outside help. with enthusiasm and good intentions becoming more important than understanding the historical and political roots of poverty.” all of which promoted the same “NGO aesthetics” of Africa as vulnerable. I could not find a single production group with an ethnic or “tribal” brand.” “Empowering Women. make development do-able. “the hedonism of tourism with the altruism of development work” (2004:681).10 The problem with such programs and travel trends. and souvenirs. Since fair trade has a specific mandate to help “disadvantaged producers” (Raynolds & Long 2007:28). Walking through the musty and humid rooms of his two-bedroom apartment. shops with small cards that read “Muhugu Wood from Kenya.” These cards. He knew from experience about the potential for young Kenyans to be exploited by businesses that paid small amounts of money or food for several days of work. and consumed in the twenty-first century. The message from fair trade and . as well as unscripted gap-year traveling to Africa by Western students. Fair trade marketing has become similar to volunteer tourism programs. and understandable. as Kate Simpson put it so aptly. which combine.S. While transparency markers like fair trade stickers add value when placed on hand-made Kenyan carvings.

2009).-based employers’ Web site before shipment through Mombasa’s seaport. 1. largely due to an “outward tourism orientation” and the lack of concessionary rates for Kenyans with low incomes. the DTC had little impact. volunteer tourism alike is that while Africa may not be “tribal” or “primitive. the impact of the domestic market in Africa is underrepresented in the tourism and tourist art literature (personal communication. but also because of the growth in Kenya’s domestic tourism industry. The Kenyan government. As Sindiga (1996) has argued. In the mid-1990s tourism offices were almost nonexistent in Kenya and the government provided little infrastructural support for domestic tourists. who . who has spent decades studying West African carvings and their markets in Europe and North America.182  African Studies Review Figure 8: An exporter and two local hired men unpack a shipment from a Nairobibased production organization to relabel the crafts (baobab trees made from banana fibers) with fair trade stickers carrying his U.S.” it is definitely poor and greatly in need of consumers’ help. The Aesthetics of Domestic Tourism The changes in Kenya’s curio and handicrafts industry are not only due to movements originating outside of Kenya such as fair trade. Feb. created the Domestic Tourism Council (DTC) in 1984. According to Christopher Steiner. recognizing the importance of promoting domestic tourism.

pointing to a yellow plastic bag under the table from which he was selling some cassava chips. those are spenders. As a result. Business is good” (interview. consisting mainly of practical items such as drink coasters. 2006). But domestic struggles over cultural authenticity have been debated primarily in music rather than in tourist art. When I asked him in January 2006 what happened to his inventory. “But it was upcountry tourists. pointing out some of the white tourists walking past. explore. Tourist art. upcountry Kenyan tourists visiting Mombasa do buy curios. “That’s full of beads and materials for making necklaces. But as one trader told me from the hotel shop he managed for its Indian owner: “You know. which. But I’m taking a break right now. Tourism supports this cultural imagination. Mombasa. Even all of my beadwork. “launched to create awareness and desire” among Kenyans. They spend a lot” (interview. “But none of them. “They were the ones doing business. Mombasa. as Kenyans increasingly see the Western-style consumption of leisure as a way of being modern. Kenyans’ conceptions of modernity are part of a cultural imaginary that is apparent in the Kenyan popular cultural industry that targets students and urban Kenyans. During the years I spent conducting research with curio traders in Mombasa. 8. like Christmas. and later in 2004 began their “discover. . those Kenyans who just come for a short time. “not even one of them bought from me. experience” campaign. was traditionally not for Kenyans. he proudly said that he had made very good money selling it all. it remained a common myth that Kenyan tourists did not buy curios. I kept up with one trader from just north of Mombasa who set up a table at the public beach on Mombasa’s North Coast to sell curios just before Christmas in early December 2005. Each day his location at the public beach was packed with thousands of Kenyans to whom he actively marketed his small functional soapstone items. during the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons. The domestic tourism boom in Kenya since the late 1990s has largely been a product of a revived national economy and the active promotions from the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB). Within a few weeks he had sold all of his stock. and small dishes. But despite assumptions by many curio vendors to the contrary.” he said.” The KTB initially undertook research in 2002 to understand the market conditions and potential of domestic tourism. aimed “to develop a culture of holiday travel for Kenyans” and to “create curiosity and begin to change attitudes. much of the steady rebound in tourism in Kenya since 2003 (with a dip in 2008 following election violence) has not only been because of international tourists but also because of Kenyans learning to be tourists in their own country (see Mugambi 2007).” he said. after all. boxes.” he said. according to its 2005–6 Marketing Plan. Jan.” he told me.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  183 were mainly limited to groups of young Kenyans traveling with groups from schools. Sindiga even called for certain “structural adjustments” (literally and not necessarily of the neoliberal type) to aid in product diversification and reduced rates for Kenyans.

Children who have been to school they already know. the examples of fair trade and environmental certification. An exploration of how artisans and traders of tourist arts and handicrafts adapt to a changing market moves beyond theories of a homogenized population of authenticityseeking tourists (MacCannell 1976) or a global “art-culture system” (Clifford 1988).” You see? They had the mentality. however. He gave the example of beaded sandals and embroidered African shirts. a hotel like Nyali is a hotel for whites. international tourists tended to buy all the same products that Kenyan tourists bought. As others have argued. it was just a mentality. But they thought this was just for whites. the way forward for handicrafts industries more broadly is better product development. “if I go to. We get every kind of person [buying from the shop]. there are many changes. many are scrambling to adapt to a Kenyan consumer base that has already helped lead the revival of Kenya’s tourism industry. Mombasa Beach.” But because of how we have developed. “okay I have no difference from a white person. a little bit I think it is because we have been to school. from what he had seen in his hotel shop. it is high class people. overlapped with those of foreign tourists. an international tourist observing a Kenyan tourist wearing such clothing would want to do so as well in order to get “the real Kenyan experience. is a complex process for a commodity whose value is so negotiable and insecure. Despite hesitation by some traders. since Kenyans’ aesthetics.” As he put it: You know. You know. the mentality of people in the past. such as beaded sandals. but also authentic in that they were used and consumed by modern Kenyans. as well as the importance of nuance and innovation in . simple jewelry. the carving of figures to reveal the type of wood. This. and lightweight shirts. 7. is only slowly opening itself to the domestic market and did not produce many products aimed specifically at Kenyan tourists. The Kenyan curio industry.184  African Studies Review Oct. and the production of abstract sculptures showing human interconnectedness all demonstrate the diversity of genres and motifs.” So it was not economical. they were thinking “okay. While it is easy to make assumptions about tourists’ desires. Conclusion Kenya’s curio industry has been in a state of adaptation and innovation since its inception in the early twentieth century. For him. um. Because those people who afford to come to Nyali now. As he explained. Success for such a businessperson came from adapting to the Kenyan tourists. innovation. In his opinion. different. marketing mainly to Kenyan tourists attracted foreigners looking for items that were new. and adaptation to a changing market (Randall 2005:61). in his opinion. But now those matters have stopped. 2005). however. yes. it is not that they did not have money.

it also shows the paternalistic imbalance in how market-based approaches are applied. but who also use fair trade labels as a form of branding. Kenya’s cultural industry is shaped by tourism (international and domestic). local traders. the often contentious interplay between local and national politics. As I have discussed. the global crafts business. July 2003. Such scenes would only become more common.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  185 Figure 9: Domestic tourists at Kenyatta Beach on Mombasa’s North Coast. The story of fair trade and the “art of connection” does not just demonstrate how North American and European buyers promote fair trade as a way of showing their concern for social justice. While the continued importance of the fair trade label in connection with African crafts reveals a continuation of the West’s paternal obligation to market solutions to Africa’s problems. There is an important space of innovation between both the optimistic and pessimistic analyses of African tourism and tourist art.” because they demonstrate a social ideal held by carvers. I am particularly interested in the depictions of human connection I have called the “art of connection. The story told here is not one of a deterministic or structured history of . especially during the Christmas and Easter holidays. and environmental changes that affect access to and the value of resources. I wish to suggest that the shift in emphasis toward simplification and transparency that is central to the “art of connection” is also at the heart of the symbolism encapsulated by the fair trade label. the ways such labels and other innovative symbolic markers have been adapted to the global market by Kenyan traders reveals a complex power dynamic within the industry. and exporters who want to be modern citizens of the world.

much of the shift from ethnic brands to fair trade labels is about a shift away from a local market that long relied on “tribal” images to give Kenya that so-called authentic Africa feel. Chibnik. edited by Brian Belcher. “Changing African Art. Dorothy Hodgson. David Hughes. Christopher Steiner.. 1998. Indeed. 303–19. Ben Neimark. “Study of the Economic Aspects of the Woodcarving Industry in Kenya: Implications for Policy Development to Make the Industry More Sustainable. ed. Bruner. Biebuyck. N. Daniel P. and Boaz Moseti for helpful discussions of material presented here and for comments on previous drafts. . Fulbright-Hays. “Livelihoods. Arjun. Carving and Conservation. I would like to thank Angelique Haugerud. 1986b. Belcher. edited by Nelson Graburn. and Princeton University’s Program in Urbanization and Migration. 1994. 1991. ed.” In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Drew Gerkey. Emmanuel Ndiema.186  African Studies Review change. Portsmouth. Edward M. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1–9. 2002.. William. 2003. 1969. London: Earthscan. edited by Arjun Appadurai. 2005.” In Carving Out a Future: Forests. Berkeley: University of California Press. “Transformation of Self in Tourism. with new ideals of enacting and representing global citizenship through their businesses and the images they broker and sell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Crafting Tradition: The Making and Marketing of Oaxacan Wood Carvings. funded by grants from Rutgers University. Bravman. 1800–1950. Austin: University of Texas Press. but rather one of innovation and adaption that pushes the envelope of what is possible in the future for the production of arts and crafts in Kenya and for the larger representation of “Kenya” and “Africa” to a global audience. Michael. Anthony Cunningham.H. Bill. 3–63.” Cultural Anthropology 9 (4):435–70. and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. “Maasai on the Lawn: Tourist Realism in East Africa. Simon K. Acknowledgments This article draws on fieldwork conducted between January 2001 and August 2008. Louisa Schein. Livelihoods and the International Woodcarving Trade. Appadurai. Bascom. Nora and Marilyn Mahoney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.” MSc thesis. Edward M. 1986a. Tradition and Creativity in Tribal Art. Bruner. “Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value. Brian. Kenya. Choge. References Appadurai. and Bruce Campbell. Arjun.” In Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World. 1976. Anthony Cunningham.” Annals of Tourism Research 18 (2): 238–50. and Bruce Campbell. to a global export market that is largely controlled by technologically savvy businesspeople from around the world.: Heinemann. Making Ethnic Ways: Communities and Their Transformations in Taita. University of Natal.

1988. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. The Predicament of Culture. “The Contemporary-Traditional Art Market in Africa. “Postcards from the Edge: Maintaining the ‘Alternative’ Character of Fair Trade. and Eileen Davenport. Eric. Brian Belcher. Angelique. New York: Shocken Books.” Transition (69): 146–58. and Bruce Campbell. 1995. Haugerud.” In Carving Out a Future: Forests. James. Brian Belcher. Md. London: Earthscan. 2000. The State University of New Jersey–New Brunswick. Nelson.” Sustainable Development 13: 143–53. “Tourist Aesthetics in the Global Flow: Orientalism and ‘Warrior Theatre’ on the Swahili Coast. Dorothy.” In Carving Out a Future: Forests. Elizabeth A. 1–14. Caren. Livelihoods and the International Woodcarving Trade. 2001. Hobsbawm. “Metamorphosis in the Culture Market of Niger. “African Art in a Suitcase. Dillon.: Rowman and Littlefield. 1976. 2009. “The Art of Connection: Negotiating the Digital Divide in Kenya’s Curio Industry. 53–65. Lanham. 2005. 2005. Clifford.D. . Jules-Rosette. Anthony. Ethnicity. and the Cultural Politics of Maasai Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. edited by Anthony Cunningham. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. Angelique.” African Arts 4 (1): 43–49. Hobsbawm. Daniel J.” Social Text (43): 45–66. Anthony Cunningham.. London: Earthscan. Low. Walter. 2007. _________. 2005. “Sculpture and Identity: The Makonde African Blackwood Carving Movement. “Introduction: Inventing Traditions. 1996. 1984. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Simon K. Priscilla Stone.” American Anthropologist 101 (3): 485–501. 1958. edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. _________. 2005.. and Peter Little. Dean. 1983. eds. “‘A World without Boundaries’: The Body Shop’s Trans/ National Geographics.” Visual Anthropology 17 (3/4): 319–43. Rutgers. 1999. 2004. Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World. 1983. 80. Once Intrepid Warriors: Gender. Bennetta. MacCannell. London: Earthscan. and Bruce Campbell.” In Carving Out a Future: Forests.” Africa 28 (4): 314–23. and Terence Ranger. Cunningham.” In The Invention of Tradition. Eric. 1995. Haugerud. William. London: Thames and Hudson. Graburn. Crowley.” Ph. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. New York: Plenum Press. 1970. The Messages of Tourist Art: An African Semiotic System in Comparative Perspective. Contemporary African Art. 1999. Brian Belcher. Elkan. Zachary. African Art and the Colonial Encounter: Inventing a Global Commodity. 11–29. “The East African Trade in Woodcarvings. eds. Sidney L. _________. Kasfir. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Berkeley: University of California Press. “Global Overview: Tradition. The Culture of Politics in Modern Kenya. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Hodgson. Davis. Commodities and Globalization: Anthropological Perspectives. M. edited by Anthony Cunningham. and Bruce Campbell.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  187 Choge. edited by Anthony Cunningham. and William Ellery. Livelihoods and the International Woodcarving Trade. 1976. Kingdon. diss. Livelihoods and the International Woodcarving Trade. Mahoney. Technology and Trade. Kaplan. ed. 31–42. “Chasing the Wooden Rhino: The Case of Woodcarving in Kenya.

“Creating Market Opportunities for Small Enterprises: Experiences of the Fair Trade Movement. Mugambi. Berkeley: University of California Press.” American Political Science Review 91 (3): 599–616. . “Neem (Azadirachta indica) A. 229–48. Class. New York: Praeger. Grimes and B. 15–32. Primitive Art in Civilized Places. Judith von Daler. Obunga. 15–31.” SEED Working Paper No.” Technical Project Report for the WWF/UNESCO/Kew People and Plants Initiative. 2008. eds.. Oucho. Undercurrents of Ethnic Conflict in Kenya. 259–64. Ruth. George. 2002. 1995. Livelihoods and the International Woodcarving Trade. 30. Berkeley: University of California Press.” In Carving Out a Future: Forests. 1991. _________. Nyangira. and Michael A. Murray. 1993. 1998.. “Reducing the Ecological Footprint of the ‘Wooden Rhino’: The Case for Certification of Kenyan Woodcarvings. Schatzberg.” Economic Botany 58(1):98–111. edited by Laura T. 143–58. Juss. Crafts in the World Markets: The Impact of Global Exchange on Middle American Artisans. and Robert Höft. and David R. Albany: State University of New York Press. Daniel. ed. Price. 1999. 2005. Brian Belcher. “Citizenship Amid Economic and Political Change in Kenya. “Citizenship and Ethnicity: An Examination of Two Transition Moments in Kenyan Politics. Nash.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 31 (1): 102–17. London: Earthscan. Andy. Sally. 2000. Phillips. and Politics in Kenya. Nairobi: National Museums of Kenya. Reichman. and John Wilkinson.’” In Artisans and Cooperatives: Developing Alternative Trade for the Global Economy. Schmitt.” Daily Nation. edited by Patricia Shanley et al.” Africa Today 45 (3/4): 351–68. Ndegwa. London: Earthscan. R.” American Ethnologist 34 (4): 603–20. _________. 2007. eds. and Anthony B. Boston: Brill. Alex O.” In The Political Economy of Kenya. Kathy.” In Tapping the Green Market: Certification and Management of Non-Timber Forest Products. “Ethnicity. John O.. Martina G. 2007. “Justice at a Price: Regulation and Alienation in the Global Economy. edited by M. and Bruce Campbell. 2007.. Susanne F. “Tourism Again Tops in Foreign Earnings. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press. Raynolds. and Christopher B. “Fair/Alternative Trade: Historical and Empirical Dimensions.” In Fair Trade: The Challenges of Transforming Globalization. 2002. 1995. Kaburu.188  African Studies Review Marcus. M’Closkey. Maingi. and Fred Myers. Susanne F. Schmitt. Nicholas. London: Routledge. Obara. (Meliaceae) and Its Potential for Sustainable Woodcarving in Kenya. June. Steiner. Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds. Geneva: International Labour Office. edited by Kimberly M. edited by Anthony Cunningham. “Sustainable Development of the Woodcarving Industry in Kenya. Cunningham. 2002. Lynne Milgram. February 1. Höft. “‘Part-Time for Pin-Money. “Into the Mainstream: Shifting Authenticities in Art. Miller. Art in East Africa: A Guide to Contemporary Art. G. Douglas L. The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology. New York: Africana Publishing Co. Long.. “Certification of Woodcarving. Stephen N. 1987. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2004. Laura T. and Paul Snedker. 1997. Raynolds. Redfern. 1975.

Sindiga. 2009. nearly all of whom were displaced in municipal demolitions in January 2002. “‘Doing Development’: The Gap Year. which enlarged the eventual sample of participant handicrafts traders (mainly regional and international exporters and cooperative staff) and some carvers and producers to 84.Changing Strategies in Marketing Kenya’s Tourist Art  189 Simpson. irrespective of ethnic difference. and Richard Waller. Elkan (1958). Throup. Kristina Dziedzic. 4. 1994.” Journal of International Development 16 (5): 681–92. 2004.: Edwin Mellen Press. which was reflected as well in the differences among the various ethnic cooperatives. Wright. Christopher B. 151–65. Kate. Art. African Art in Transit. Berkeley: University of California Press. Multi-Party Politics in Kenya: The Kenyatta and Moi States and the Triumph of the System in the 1992 Election. Kenya. Jules-Rosette (1984). lingering frustrations and animosities surfaced. Thomas.” In The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology. David W. London: James Currey. Lewiston. Kingdon 2005). 1996. and Kasfir (1999) all mention Munge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1993. 3. I found that discussions of national politics often took on an ethnoregional bias.. Steiner. especially in 1997 and 2007. Oucho (2002). although which particular groups were targeted depended on nuances in national politics. at times in the form of the targeting of businesses run by people of noncoastal ethnic backgrounds.” The Journal of Modern Craft 1 (3): 323–43. Notes 1. Spear. were not indigenous to the coast and many feared being targeted as migrants to Mombasa. “The Art of the Trade: On the Creation of Value and Authenticity in the African Art Market. In all cases. “Domestic Tourism in Kenya. see Haugerud (1995). Woodcarvings made by Makonde carvers of present-day Mozambique and Tanzania were common before the onset of European influence (Kasfir 1999:109– 110. “Cleverest of the Clever: Coconut Craftsmen in Lamu. _________. It was several decades after the conquest of the Makonde by the Portuguese in 1917 that European patronage of the woodcarving indus- .Y. 1998.” Annals of Tourism Research 23 (1): 19–31. 2008. Bravman (1998). and Charles Hornsby. Nyangira (1987). The longitudinal study of their business and personal strategies following the demolitions developed into a larger study based on snowball sampling from the initial 29. _________. and Throup and Hornsby (1998). regardless of whether they or their families were born in Mombasa. Isaac. Kenya. Volunteer-Tourists and a Popular Practice of Development. 1998). For more on Kenyan ethnic politics through the early 2000s. eds. and Tourism on an Indian Ocean Island: An Ethnographic Study of Jua Kali Artists in Lamu. Many of these groups. 5. N. edited by George Marcus and Fred Myers. Being Maasai: Ethnicity and Identity in East Africa. London: James Currey. See Mahoney (2009:ch. Ndegwa (1997. Culture. 1995. 2. The project began with a survey of all 29 curio traders working outside of Mombasa’s Fort Jesus. 3). Migrants from a variety of backgrounds were targeted in political violence in Mombasa and on the coast.

have essentially put Navajo weavers out of business. May 5.” produced by the Development Planning Division. Kasfir (1996:154–55) similarly describes how in much of West Africa. D. 10. Mombasa. Nairobi. Okwiri of the Handicraft Unit. box 509. Nov. Ministry of Co-operative Development. document 15 in file “Handicrafts Development Plan—Ministry of Co-operatives 1972–1984. 1980. and mawingu forms. document 136 in the file “Monthly Reports Mombasa—Department of Cooperative Development 1957–1967. 9.190  African Studies Review 6. many of the same pieces are thought to come from Ghana. would make Makonde carvings famous internationally (Kingdon 2005:52–53). Commissioner for Co-operative Development.” while in Kenya.” Kenya National Archive. 7. See “Monthly Report for April 1964” by W. Mwasi. Kenya National Archive. Nairobi. 8. serial number TR/10/24. were often marketed as Zapotec or Indian. Kingdon differentiated the various types as shetani. serial number TR/19/292. or spirit figures invented by Samaki Likankoa in the 1950s. to Ag. and the third more abstract forms. try and the developments of the shetani. said to be originally inspired by cloud formations. generally carved by Spanish-speakers of no particular indigenous background. 28. shelf 6749. the first representing demons or spirits. box 489. January 1978. box 413. objects based loosely on traditional symbols but embellished and carved for the tourist and export market are called “nyamanyama” or “Kenya. ujamaa. serial number TR/20/29. O. Nairobi. while they most likely come from Senegal. by copying Navajo designs. Chibnik (2003:242–43) has discussed how Oaxacan woodcarvings. shelf 6717. M’Closkey (2000) also writes of how Zapotec artisans. See Simpson (2004:681–82) for an in depth look at gap-year traveling as well as volunteer tourism programs.” . shelf 6743. See page 12 of the document “Handcraft Co-operatives: A Survey on Potentials for Expansion and Development. 1964. “Gap-year traveling” refers to the increasingly common phenomenon in the United States and Western Europe for students to take a year off after high school or college to travel and “see the world.” Kenya National Archives. Co-operative Officer. See letter from F. the second interconnected people.