The Maasai Market: A Uniquely African Cultural Shopping Experience…

If you're looking for authentic African cultural items to buy as souvenirs, gifts or simply for decoration, then the Maasai market is the right place to visit...

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The portrayal of diverse cultures in a Maasai market.

Nairobi city is not only a major hub for business, politics, education, entertainment or international meetings but also at the heart of Kenya’s cultural heritage. With plenty of museums, theaters, monuments, art galleries and open-air markets all within the capital, visitors to Nairobi can directly adventure every detail about Kenya’s history, traditional and cultural heritage all in one place without venturing outside the city. Unique among these is the Maasai market!

Why you should go there…

You'll find these skillfully painted wall portraits
You’ll find these skillfully painted wall portraits

The Maasai market is a special place for you to come face-to-face with the locally diverse cultures and interact with the people who uphold and preserve them. Sometimes the tour guides or the internet won’t tell you everything about Kenya’s unique culture but at the Maasai market, you’ll obtain first-hand information from the skilled locals who exhibit their heritage to earn a living. It is the ideal place where many visitors to Nairobi come to buy cultural stuff for keeping as souvenirs but locals also come to get something to remind them of their cultural background. You can also buy authentic items to present as gifts to your beloved ones or use them to decorate the interior of your house.

Many times after buying the items, I ask the vendors how they’re made and it’s pretty marvelous to hear them explain the intricate processes considering they’re the ones who make them, so they’ll tell you how to use it to your satisfaction. Mirrors are there, so if you buy a fabric and wanna try it out, you’ll be made to look your best. Items sold here are made of wood, clay, sticks, metal, stone/rock, cotton, leather, banana fibres, animal bones/horns, etc and such raw materials are readily obtainable from every part of the country. So while you’re deeply interested in Kenyan history and culture, you’ll also get to use the same items that the people of Kenya – ancient and contemporary – use in their daily lives.

How it does look like…

Traditional kitenge in various colors and designs on display at the Maasai market.
Traditional kitenge in various colors and designs on display at the Maasai market.

Though patronized mainly by foreign tourists, the Maasai market maintains a common scene typical of the conventional open-air markets found in many parts of Africa. The market’s arrangement allows visitors to explore its vastness while perusing through the diverse cultural regalia on display without having to check each of the items. The first time I went to a Maasai market I was so astonished by the vibrant atmosphere, the colorfully patterned items on display and all this showcased to me Kenya’s rich cultures at a glance.

Items for sale are either spread out on the ground or hang from the supportive structures above the ground but my main impression was the grid layout. The pathways through the market are so narrow and visitors should sidestep the traders’ items that are laid on the ground. Like I did, you’ll find it quite interesting that your eyes will be restless since you have look at the hanged and the laid down items at the same time while you’re lost for a choice, so the adventure seems to be more than enough. Contrary to the market’s name, you’ll find items from various tribes and not just from the Maasai.

Popular items you can buy there…

Various ornaments on display at the Maasai market
Various ornaments on display at the Maasai market

The Maasai market is the right place for you to buy genuinely handmade art crafts and fabrics woven or sketched by some of Kenya’s talented traditional designers. Traders in Maasai market essentially sell items that are known to be in high demand from tourists and local buyers who want to have a piece of their culture.

These are the most popular items from which you’ll choose; handwoven baskets, walking sticks, hats, the multicolored Maasai shukas (traditional patterned blankets), kitenge fabrics (shirts, dresses and wrappers), colorful traditional beads, wall portraits/paintings, local sandals, framed artworks, cotton shirts, beaded or brass jewelry ornaments like rings, bracelets, bangles, armbands, necklaces, earrings and waist beads. Others include gourds, curios, kikoys, ladies’ handbags, fabric backpacks, tribal face masks, animals and people sculpted from stone or wood, and children’s toys. You’ll also find national flags, keychains, wood-carved bowls and spoons, unique soapstones, handbags, headbands, money purses and belts made from leather. Whatever piece you end up buying, it will always be a fine reminder that you always have a piece of Kenya with you.

The handwoven baskets
The handwoven baskets

The advice in handy…

While you’ll enjoy every moment of your time in the Maasai market, you’ll also need to be mindful of your personal safety. Keep your treasured belongings out of public view and never accept personal help from strangers inside the market who purport to take you to places where prices are cheaper. Before settling on an item first stroll around the market to observe similar items and their prices. No vendor accepts electronic payments, therefore, go with cash or use M-Pesa payment. Remember, the Maasai market being a place frequented by foreign tourists, the prices are always exorbitant and but so long as you keep bargaining until you reach an affordable price, you’ll have everything you want cheaply.

If you can, go there with a local who not only speaks Swahili but is also familiar with local items and prices. He or she can distinguish a genuine item from a fake one and will skillfully bargain the prices on your behalf. While you’ll be overwhelmed by the sight of wonderfully crafted items hang above the ground, you should also bear in mind the items that line both sides of the pathways. Some are fragile items, therefore you need to be careful not to bump into one. The market is always packed in the evening, so try to go there in the morning hours to avoid the congestion and shop while at ease.

Before you go…

The Maasai market operates from different locations within the city but on different days. There’s no market on Mondays but on Tuesday the market is along Kijabe street near the Textbook center, then on Wednesday it’s at Capital Center along Mombasa road, on Thursday it’s at the Garden City Mall and at the third-floor parking of The Junction Mall along Ngong road, on Friday it’s at Village Market along Limuru road and at Uchumi near Wilson Airport. The weekend is always the busiest and on Saturday the market is at Nairobi Law Courts grounds near the KICC building, and at Adams Arcade along Ngong road, and on Sunday you’ll find it at Yaya Centre along Argwings Kodhek road. No matter what brings you to Kenya, the Maasai market will always offer you with an extraordinary shopping experience for the right souvenir which is a piece of Kenya to take with you back home…

See you there, soon...
See you there, soon…

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