malawian woodcarver

Woodcarving at Lake Malawi

In the morning, I opted to go for a woodcarving lesson in the local village outside of Kande Beach camp. I wanted to gain an understanding of the work that goes into the beautiful chiefs’ chairs, three-legged tables, bowls, salad spoons, necklaces and keyrings they hand craft.

I asked to make something simple, so set about making a personalised keyring with the help of the local craftsman (who was at the time making a Big 5 chair) and one of the beach boys. We used teak wood for the keyring, but they also use ebony and mahogany.

Marking the teak rectangle out in pencil, I chipped off the four edges to round them and carved deep grooves into the wood. Being new to a woodcarving, I struggled especially with the corners so was glad of the local craftsman’s assistance to chip out perfectly rounded lines! Before long I had my name on one side and a giraffe on the other, and once it was properly sanded it looked much better – even if my carving wasn’t perfect!

To my surprise, I learnt that the boys polish their wooden creations using Kiwi Dark Brown shoe polish – I had never imagined they used that! It’s applied using a toothbrush or similar, left in the hot sun for a few minutes and then buffed to a shine with a cloth.


I was actually pretty impressed with the finished article. I asked them to make me a set of salad spoons featuring a giraffe and elephant, with my name on the back. The general rule with pricing is whatever they ask, halve it and perhaps a bit less. I didn’t haggle as hard as I could have – I got to a price I was happy with and agreed on it. They are not wealthy and I don’t mind helping them.

My wooden pieces are prized, not only for the relatively rare wood they are crafted from but also the expert carving ability of the Malawian who made them. Wood in general is one of the most readily available natural resources in Malawi, with skills passed down by family members and taught in Expressive Arts classes at school. There are markets everywhere aimed at quite a low number of tourists, and it was in Malawi I saw the most spectacular and elaborate woodcraft designs, mostly depicting wildlife or village life.

Back at camp, I spent the afternoon and evening enjoying the lovely weather and camp – relaxing in a hammock, sitting in the sun around the bar and chatting to our group.


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