Browsing through Nyambura Wahu’s African Corner store in Lamu, shelves are filled with vibrant jewellery, cutlery, masks, bags, sandals, fabric and more, and there is good traffic from locals either stopping by to say a cheerful hello or tourists looking to bag some souvenirs.
In a business community that has been said to be very close-knit, Nyambura has since come a long way from selling beaded jewellery in Westlands to running a popular store and being considered part of the community in Shela.
“I ended up in Lamu in 2012. I was born and bred in Nairobi and decided to come look for better opportunities to sell my jewellery. A friend suggested I come check out Lamu and I was brave enough to save and come down by bus. I really wasn’t looking to settle here at the time,” she says.
“I started out in Lamu Old Town which wasn’t very touristic at the time. Shella village had few shops offering what I had. I started with a small space, business picked up fast and I was able to expand in only six months,” she explains.
Her store is so called because it stocks goods from all over the continent, particularly East and West Africa.
“I do all the jewellery, key rings and other products are all bought from other artists. The art is from Cameroonians and small soapstone carvings from Kisii. The most expensive would have to be the Bakuba cloth from Congo and the mud cloth from Ghana,” she says.
In Mali for instance, Bogolanfini is a traditionally handmade cotton fabric dyed with fermented mud. The cloth is woven in narrow strips then sewn together by hand to make a larger fabric, a process that can take up to one month.
The cloth is treated in ink from leaves and branches of an indigenous tree then dried and painted with mud fermented over months. This is left to dry and cure, rinsed and repeated severally to deepen the colour, and each is often designed with symbols telling a story of the community.
“Our mud cloth is from Ghana and goes for Sh9,000 for two metres and Sh15,000 for 3.5 metres. The other item that costs Sh15,000 is a beaded lizard, also from Ghana,’’ she says.
Other than fashion, African Corner also stocks soaps made from moringa, coconut and baobab. She also has Moringa energy bars which are nutritious and great for malnourished children.
“We also have other unique items like a fertility doll from Turkana- the community believed that if you couldn’t bear children and you got one of these, it would happen for you. There’s also a bigger fertility doll from Cameroon,” she says, pointing to what looks like a voodoo doll.
“Our prices however vary, from really affordable earrings under Ksh 1,000 to black and white baskets from Rwanda and more.”