Follow CGSP on Social Media

Listen to the CGSP Podcast

[STUDENT xCHANGE] The Impact of Rising Tourism on Kenya's Traditional Handicrafts Sector

The following article was written by Ding Peixuan, 21, an English major at Northwest University in Xi’an, China. This article was produced in partnership with China House for the CAP Student xChange.
According to the “Business Daily” report, “Kenya 2018 Tourism Performance Report” shows that in 2018, the number of people entering the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi reached 1.34 million, of which 73% were tourists and 13% were business travelers. The source countries are the United States, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom, India, China, Germany, etc. Kenyan tourism has maintained a momentum of recovery and development. According to Kenya’s tourism department, Ken’s tourism industry performed well in 2018. The positive factors included the improvement of airport services in Kenya, the opening of direct flights and the recovery of several international routes, and the cancellation of travel warnings to Kenya by Western countries.

The direct contribution of Kenya’s tourism to GDP (at current prices)

Development status of traditional handicraft industry in Kenya
Traditional handicrafts are more common in Kenya, mainly in traditional costumes, accessories and all kinds of sculptures, such as Masaibu, traditional wooden carving masks, black wood carvings and soapstone carvings. However, due to lack of education and economic factors, traditional handicrafts have also had insufficient development momentum in recent years.
The Kenyan Bomas Folk Culture Village was established by the Kenyan government in 1971 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Tourism Finance Corporation (TFC) to maintain and promote the rich cultural values ​​of Kenya’s ethnic groups, which is expected to maintain Kenyan culture. The authenticity of value, with the increasing interest in cultural heritage, as the primary institution for the protection and management of cultural resources, will certainly play a greater role in the development and promotion of cultural tourism in Kenya. Lilian, the head of the Bomas of Kenya, mentioned that the current schools do not offer courses related to traditional handicrafts, which has led to the gap between primary and secondary school students. Before 1999, the school offered traditional handicraft-related courses, but then introduced a new education system that focused on students’ theoretical knowledge, such as mathematics, writing, etc., so there were few handicraft courses.
In addition to the lack of education, there are other external factors that cause the younger generation to often not engage in traditional handicraft industries, such as economic factors. In Kenya, fewer and fewer young people are engaged in the carving industry, usually older, and the younger generation is on the fault. Many of the factory’s young craftsmen were trained by the factory itself, and it is difficult to find such young craftsmen in the market. When repairing the Inner Railway, many craftsmen would rather pick up the railway to repair the railway. The industry is more sophisticated, the return on investment is small, and they advocate instant consumption, resulting in fewer and fewer young people will choose this industry.
Impact of Kenya’s inbound tourism on traditional handicrafts
Tourism is a pillar industry in Kenya. Many traditional handicraft shops can be found in major shopping malls in Kenya, such as YaYa center, the Hub Karen and many more. The author interviewed these traditional handicraft store customers a large proportion of tourists, up to 60%. Similarly, in the main market of traditional handicrafts in Kenya, the Marseille market, some stall owners even said that the proportion of tourists can reach as much as 70%. Such an active tourism market provides an opportunity for companies engaged in traditional crafts.
Kazuri, in Swahili, means “small and beautiful”, which began in 1975 as a small workshop that produced traditional handmade ceramic beads. The founders started with two single-parent mothers and women, and many people from the villages around Nairobi joined in. Today, Kazuri has grown tremendously, and now more than 340 women are skilled in making ceramic beads and splicing beautiful and artistic jewelry. . In the initial period, about 70% of their sales customers were tourists, which also made Kazuri gradually develop into a certain size. Foreign tourists will have the idea of ​​importing these beads into their home country because they like these beads and the stories behind him. With the development of tourism, tourists are increasingly demanding products, and Kazuri is growing in size. Many women do not make these traditional beads when they first come to work here, and this company can provide them with learning opportunities and encourage them to create, thus promoting the inheritance and development of traditional skills.
At the same time, among the consumers in the Marseille market, the proportion of tourists can reach up to 70%. Moreover, the number of tourists has increased in recent years, greatly increasing the demand for traditional handicrafts, and its consumer structure has also attracted young people to engage in the traditional handicraft production industry.
In order to develop and inherit traditional handicrafts, in addition to preventing the loss of traditional handicraft production skills, on the other hand, we cannot ignore the inheritance of its cultural connotations. However, due to the influence of the tourism industry, the local traditional culture was seriously lost, and some cultural symbols have also degenerated.
Africa is one of the most prominent and typical areas of the world’s mask culture and is closely related to traditional religions and ceremonies. Despite the fundamental changes that have taken place in traditional African society, many tribes still practice traditional religious beliefs, and masks continue to be used in certain traditional religious ceremonies. [1] African traditional masks are popular with tourists because of their exaggerated and strange shapes. In the Marseille market in Nairobi, the author interviewed a stall owner selling traditional masks. According to the stall owner, the masks were not made by her but collected from different places in Kenya. The history of these masks ranged from a few decades to a few hundred years. Since the stalls only collected these masks, he did not know the cultural symbols and cultural connotations behind these masks. Therefore, when tourists take these masks away, the traditional factors and culture in this mask have disappeared.
In addition to this loss of culture, in fact, tourism will, to a certain extent, lead to the loss of cultural symbolic meaning. The staff of the Nairobi National Museum said that despite the government’s policy in 2004 to encourage Maasai to make Ma Saizhu, the industrialization made traditional handicrafts lose his original meaning. “The person who bought him is not because of his original meaning, but because of his good looks.” He also said that some of the patterns that were previously only available to the patriarchs, because the consumer’s needs also began mass production, resulting in this Wenhuafu The number has lost its original meaning
Although tourists are the main force in the purchase of traditional handicrafts, the national background of tourists is very different. Many handicraft shop owners said that most of the customers are from Europe and the United States, and Chinese tourists rarely buy such handicrafts, which is related to aesthetic orientation. Cultural communication like this is in fact very limited in scope.
The impact of inbound tourism on Kenya is complex. On the one hand, tourism has contributed to the inheritance and development of traditional Kenyan handicrafts. For example, the needs of tourists will encourage more young people to join the industry. At the same time, the promotion of the merchants also makes the tourists have a certain understanding of traditional handicrafts. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the limitations of tourism. For example, the resale of traditional handicrafts has caused the loss of its cultural connotation, and some cultural symbols have deteriorated.
Research on the inheritance and development methods of traditional handicrafts
Contemporary art in Africa usually takes the form of painting, sculpture, old material creation, color design, and so on. Artists at the Kuona Trust and Circle Art Gallery in Kenya used different forms to demonstrate their identity, political expression, environmental thinking, and social issues. Their styles and media use are very different, and they all accept the unique modern culture while retaining their own unique cultural characteristics. Therefore, we must adhere to innovation and innovative expressions. Under the influence of various civilizations, we will have the choice to learn from and exchange, maintain a positive and active open attitude and realize the innovation of traditional culture.
The cultural industry is an effective way. Kazuri and Amani Ya Juu, two social enterprises in Kenya that produce traditional handicrafts, teach the skills of making traditional handicrafts to women entering the company. Kazuri mainly deals in ceramic beads, such as earrings, necklaces, hair clips, etc. The design is based on African style. “Most of us get inspiration from African animals like lions, giraffes, and zebras. They show African animals to many countries, many of whom have never seen them. If you have such a necklace, even those who have not seen zebras You can also know the image of the zebra.” This animal-inspired jewelry also enriches the patterns and colors of traditional crafts. Amani ya Juu means “peaceful supremacy” in the local language. In 1996, the founder Ms. Becky moved to Kenya after fleeing the Libyan war and found that countless women became refugees because of the war. In order to help them get out of the trauma caused by the war as soon as possible, and to let them find a job to settle down, Amani ya Juu was born. At the same time, since the 1990s, African cultural and artistic products have appeared to be popular in the international market: in New York, Paris, London and even Tokyo, there are some specialty stores of African art, which makes African art become A “travel art” or “popular commercial art.” [2] This cultural industry has transformed the national cultural and artistic works of Africa into commodities on the international cultural market, which has effectively promoted the inheritance of traditional handicrafts.
In Kenya, social enterprises are an emerging social innovation model that has gained increasing recognition and support in Kenya. These social enterprises have effectively filled the government’s vacancies in public services, such as the work of single mothers. At the same time, these social enterprises also promote the inheritance of traditional handicrafts by means of “one person teaches one person”. However, Kazuri’s marketing manager has stated that the Kenyan government has not yet introduced a policy to support social enterprises. The founder of Circle Art Gallery also stated that “South Africa and other countries have more developed economies, the government supports the art industry, the art education system is complete, there are professional colleges to train artists, and Kenya has nothing. It really does not receive much attention. Therefore, the government can, to a certain extent, insist on providing convenient services for social enterprises in the form of dialogue, such as consulting services, training, research, related resources, and business networks, in order to provide support for enterprises in Kenya.
For most handicraft producers, due to limited sales channels and poor production infrastructure, most traditional handicrafts are limited to the local market, and handicrafts lack sales channels. To solve this problem, in addition to local markets and stores, an e-commerce platform for selling traditional African cultural products has also developed. E-commerce connects African artisans and global buyers through mobile phones and the Internet and coordinates independent craftsmen to form a production model that responds promptly to customer needs. A small craftsman in Kenya can sell his products to department stores, independent boutiques and online retailers through e-commerce platforms, greatly increasing the autonomy and income level of artisans. The craft e-commerce platform soko can provide artisans with international transportation services to 45 countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Brazil, and has distributors worldwide (including Hong Kong, China).
At the same time, adhering to traditional handicraft education is also an important method. The Euphrasia Women’s Center in Kenya teaches a variety of vocational skills to provide employment placement assistance in occupations such as clothing, weaving, baking, and beading to help students earn income. Practical training, coupled with the education and support that women receive, has enabled more and more students to come to this place to learn skills, including traditional handicraft education. In this way, the center promotes its students to set up their own studios or find jobs every year, which stimulates the enthusiasm of some people. However, handicraft education should not be limited to traditional art schools, but at the same time, finding jobs should also be popularized in primary and secondary education. It is now difficult to find traces of traditional handicraft courses in Kenyan primary and secondary schools, and the introduction of traditional craftsmanship courses is an important tool. In the process of art theory education, starting from the reform of teaching content, teaching methods, and means, according to different content, adopt different teaching methods, pay attention to its cultural history, cultural roots and development path, and combine it with the inheritance of traditional culture. Effectively display the knowledge structure of the teaching content, help students to thoroughly understand the background meaning of culture and the art form as a means of presentation.
As a pillar industry in Kenya, tourism plays an important role in its national economy. On the one hand, the inbound tourism industry has rapidly developed and expanded the cultural industry, and the traditional handicraft styles are more abundant. On the other hand, the cultural loss is serious, the scope of communication is limited, and cultural symbols are deteriorating. The development and inheritance of traditional handicrafts need to be based on the preservation of national traditions, actively combining with modern civilization, innovating development forms, retaining their own cultural characteristics, promoting the development of social enterprises and promoting the healthy development of traditional Kenyan handicrafts.

What is The China-Global South Project?


The China-Global South Project is passionately independent, non-partisan and does not advocate for any country, company or culture.


A carefully curated selection of the day’s most important China-Global South stories. Updated 24 hours a day by human editors. No bots, no algorithms.


Diverse, often unconventional insights from scholars, analysts, journalists and a variety of stakeholders in the China-Global South discourse.


A unique professional network of China-Africa scholars, analysts, journalists and other practioners from around the world.