Made in The Gambia: A day with the silversmith

The Gambia is a country that is rich in talents and skills. We decided to get a closer look at one of them. Silver is very popular in The Gambia. If you look around, you will be able to see at least one ring and bangle on the hands of ladies and men. We are introducing an insight into the skills of gold and silversmith brothers, Mamat Ndure and Njaga Njie.

Their Story

Brothers are from an extended family of gold and silversmiths. They learnt the craft from their grandfather who was a silver and goldsmith. They started when they were still at school and after completing high school they ventured into the business and opened their shop. It is almost 30 years now since they started as silversmiths. 

˝Before we are 15, we have already started making things out of silver and gold,˝ we learned from Mamat. They brought together their family members and opened their shop. The younger ones in the family are also nurtured to gain the skills at a young age. 

Their shop at Serekunda is where all the jobs are done, after which is transferred to Senegambia craft market where they sale their products. They make many accessories like bracelets, bangles, chains, rings and many more. These things are made out of gold, silver, bronze or even copper; depending on the costumer’s wishes. They buy the raw materials from the dealers at Serekunda market. 

Gambians love gold and silver products. In the interview, Mamat reveals to us the belief of the locals. They believe wearing these products is good luck and can bring fortune. Sometimes, Gambians would put Juju in rings or bangles made out of gold and silver for protection and good fortune. Newborn babies also have to wear it for protection through their infancy.

Mamat reveals some of the challenges they face in running the business. Raw materials are becoming expensive and this has caused them to lose customers. Also, Covid-19 has left the mark since there are fewer visitors in The Gambia which used to be one of the top customers at Senegambia Craftmarket.

The Process of making a Bangle

Njaga Njie is Mamad Ndure’s brother and business partner. He works at the workshop in Serekunda with the rest of the silversmith team, which is formed mainly by their nephews.  

We met him making identical bangles for twins Adam and Awa. We joined in for the whole process and to learn each step. 

He began by measuring the silver rod to get the right amount of silver to make two bangles. Also, measurements have to be made, to get an idea, how much raw material has been lost during the process of melting which is the next step of the process. 

After measuring and recording his material he puts it in a small iron pot, he then adds a chemical called brass, which makes it easier to melt the silver. He puts it in the fire to melt. The melting process lasted for 10 mins.

Silver melt was then poured into the iron mould, which was previously coated with wax, to ensure that the silver does not stick to the mould. From there silver plate is put to water to cool down a little. From there Njaga used a hammer to thin it out. When the silver cools down too much it is very hard to shape it with a hammer, so it has to be heated again a few times until it is shaped with the hammer. This process takes just under one hour. After that bangles are heated again and put in acid to get back their original colour. From 46.3 grams of raw material, only 45.5 grams of silver is left. 

Bangles were then ready for fine shaping and designing with the saw and different types of files. The last step of the process is cutting out the name from the silver plate to add it to the wide part of the bangle. After the name is cut with the saw it is attached to the bangle by heating it up and pressing it to the final piece. By using sandpaper, bangles get fine shape with a nice shine. 

Do you want a unique piece of jewellery?

You can find Mamat’s and Njaga’s unique hand made jewellery at the Senegambia Craftmarket at shop number 33. If you want to see the whole process yourself, CONTACT US to arrange a visit to their shop at Serekunda.

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