Made in the Gambia: Leatherwork

Leatherwork is one of the oldest industries in The Gambia. Tanners once held an important role in the traditional Gambian society. In the caste system of certain tribes, before the colonial times, leather workers represented their own class. The art of tanning was a family heritage, and the class of leatherworkers benefited society greatly through their skills. They would provide clothes for the people and were even believed to have the power to create jujus for protection.
In the past, the profession of tanning belonged to men as well as women. While men usually worked with the heavier skins of the cattle, women worked with the skins of goats and sheep. Known for leather production were areas of Nema in Kiang in the Lower River Division, Barrajally and Bakadaji in Niani, Bantanto and Fulabantang in Fulladu in the Central River Division and in some, leather is still produced up to this day.
In the days of the Portuguese trade, leather was one of the leading products of goods trade since it was being produced in abundance. The exchange of leather continued in significant amounts up to the end of colonial times. Today, leather is mostly exported to some of the West African countries.
The importance of the leatherworkers was great in the traditional society since they produced many articles for everyday use. Shoes, slippers and sandals made walking easier and gradually stopped people from walking barefoot. Sheats offered protection for weapons and knives. Handbags enabled carrying essentials such as water on long-distance travel. Leather was also used in the making of many instruments, which were used for entertaining and celebrations. They also used leather to make ornaments and protect their jujus, which you can see up to this day.
As those products were highly requested, leatherworkers had many economic benefits from it. Later on, with the import of the greater amount of cheaper material products, their sale to the local people reduced, but on the other side increased due to the arrival of visitors, who valued hand made products even more.
Mr Papa Ngum is one of those who still maintain the skills and knowledge of the leatherwork in The Gambia. He has been doing this art for 17 years of his life, being taught by his father. He creates many products from leather using different crafts to make his work presentable.

Mr Ngum purchases already processed leather from the main markets and makes beautiful artistic products, such as bags, wallets, shoes, belts and more. 

We were able to witness one small part of making a handbag, which in total can take the whole day to finish.

After the design of the bag is determined, Mr Ngum selects the type of leather he will use. He cuts out pieces that he will later glue and sow with the machine together. Today, imported glue is used, but leatherworkers used sticky gum from certain types of trees in the past. Pieces of leather would be glued together facing outwards, which enables the leatherworker to cover what is going to be the inside of the bag with beautiful African patterned material, then glue ends nicely and put a stitch to it. He is stitching the bag with the sewing machine, using a stronger thread and needle. After all the parts are sewn together, handles are made and sewn to it, and the bag is ready to be turned around and reveal the final shape. The leather product then has to be adequately maintained to retain the softness and shine.

If you want to buy leather products, you are welcome to visit any craft market in The Gambia. Mr Papa Ngum has his stall at the side entrance to the Senegambia craft market, with the number 39. You can also contact him on +220 798 1968.

Are you planning to visit The Gambia?

We live in The Gambia and we are happy to help you to plan your holidays. By choosing us, your time, your most valuable asset will be fulfilled with creative suggestions about where to go and what to do. You will know you are making the right choice because we are spending a lot of time on the road ourselves; scouting out new places, deepening relationships with locals involved, and finding places to eat, enjoy and stay.

Your questions and requests will be considered individually by one of our experts. You will receive special benefits that you can’t get on your own or are not available on automatic booking systems. We will provide you with a wide range of information about activities you can choose to make your stay more vivid. You will have the assistance of a person, which will be there for you, will provide information to the details and use all the knowledge to make your trip memorable.

Get everything set for your vacation and travel without worries.

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