The Maasai Market has endured the test of time and numerous re-locations by the Nairobi City Council to become the premier market for
African artefacts and curios in Nairobi for the many tourists who throng the city as the main start point in their exploration of Kenya’s tourist destinations.
Although it borrows its name for the one Kenyan Tribe that has retained their cultural identity and pride, Maasai market has a variety of artefacts and curios from all over Kenya and Africa ranging from ornaments to functional kitchen items, beddings, clothings, artefacts and a lot more.
What I love about the market is how easy the Jua Kali artisans are able to pick on trends and provide an artistic alternative with the best examples being Candle holders, ladies bags, clutches, wall hangings, wallets, Sandals, clothing and utensils such as bowls, table cloths, spoons etc. Some might choose to call it copying but I call it perfecting an art.
I have a particular weakness to many of their items which, although sometimes not given a good finishing touch, are unique and make one’s home or dressing seem very elegant. Their pricing is particularly very affordable compared to shops on Biashara steer or those in upmarket malls.
Below is a schedule of where to catch these Jua Kali artisans and find that unique wedding gift or items for your home or wardrobe.
Monday -There is usually no market on this day.
Tuesday – Kijabe Street Park next to Nairobi River and Westgate (suspended )
Wednesday – Capital Center along Mombasa rd
Thursday – The junction Mall along Ngong road
Friday – The Village market along Limuru road
Saturday -The High court parking in the city Center opposite Re-Insurance Plaza
Sunday -Yaya Center along Valley Road in Hurlingham
And now, some tips that will come in handy as you stroll through the markets.
– Be very specific on quality and don’t buy that item from the first artisan who sells you if the finishing has not bee well done, chances are, there is another who has perfected the item quality – a good example is for items such as hangings, ornaments or kitchenware
– Be the typical Kenyan even if you are a Mzungu(foreigner), in other words haggle till you run him/her out of breath. Kenyans have perfected the art of haggling except in 5 star hotels. This is how it works
a. Identify and settle on the item you want. Never ask for the cost of something before you have made up your mind that you actually want it. This applies as much to Maasai market as it does to Gikomba, Toi Market and the street vendors that have taken over the Nairobi down town streets.
b. Ask how much it is nonchalantly
c. Act shocked
d. State matter of factly that you have half of that amount
e. Proceed to state the way that’s the only amount you have and you were actually looking for something else
f. Depending on how much time you have, sometimes you will only add at most Ksh. 50 or Ksh. 100 above your stated amount.
– Take a walk around the market first before settling on what to buy. On various occasions, I have bought an item only to walk several meters to realize that, the next artisan was more creative in their use of colours, function etc and their item is cheaper.
– Insist on using Kiswahili if you know it or take some basic lessons on purchase terms. This will determine whether you will be given the cost in Dollars or using the dollar as the exchange rate.
– If you are a foreigner, do not allow yourself to be guided. There are some self appointed guides who will seem like they are good Samaritans offering to show you the best items asking you what you are looking for and trying to engage in small talk. Be very weary of them, they will get a cut/commission/tip from you then proceed to extort any artisan you bought from.
– Make sure you have changed your money into Ksh. first before proceeding to the market.
– Refrain from buying the cliché tourist items like Safari Hats, & Safari T-Shirts. They will be costing a fortune. Get something else that says you were in ‘Africa’ without having it scream the words.
– Take time to engage the artisan on whether they are the ones who have made the item. They love to talk about their work and being appreciated, chances are, they will give you a discount.
– From experience, the markets at Kijabe Street and High court parking have the best rates as they are perceived to be for the Kenyans as opposed to those in up-market venues. Its all about perceptions though the items are the same.