Women and Art in Tanzania

So I thought I would write a little something of my recent journey to Tanzania.... Africa has been a place I have wanted to travel to my whole life. I have always wanted to go and help the people in whatever way I could.... The last month I have been able to travel across tanzania, meeting the people, seeing the animals, and experiencing the climate. In the first two days I also had my introduction to the artwork. Art is all over Tanzania, but is not looked at at art. It is decorative or functional products. Stores like Wall-mart are scarce, if they exist at all (I didn't see any?) and so the products you may buy there for your home are replaced by these hand carved ebony figures and hand woven baskets. There is coiled pottery. Hand beaded items. Sewed clothing on hand died fabric. The ebony carvings are by far the most impressive. 
One day we were at a market filled with carvings when my friend was about to faint. A lady led us behind the market storefronts where there was numerous men, sitting on the ground shirtless carving away. That was the closest I've have ever been to a sweat shop. I met a college aged student who was working at one of the stands. He introduced me to his father. I shook his rough beaten hand as he looked up from the ground, where he was working on the latest piece. My new friend then took my hand and unveiled a piece his father had been working on for two years. It was an intricate carving of daily scenes layered, standing about 7 feet tall. It was carved all from one tree. It resembled a carving I had once seen in a museum, yet there it lied. That piece will never sell for what it is worth. I asked my friend the word for artist in swahili, instead he told me the word for worker. 

Another topic I would like to address briefly is the gender roles in Tanzania. I will not get in to detail, because I will just give myself a headache but I think it is something important to be shared here. As you know I am a pretty strong female- I don't like tradition much and I don't think a society should tell me my "duties" in life. In Tanzania women do not have the option of living by that philosophy. Women there have expectation put on them, and societal disadvantages to keep them "where they belong". For example, a wife may be abused, so she may leave her husband and return to her family. Her family may tell her to go back to him and work things out. It is believed to divorce is disobeying the bible, so it is almost out of the question. The woman wants to leave but has nowhere to go. She thinks of getting a job, but can not because she has little education, once again due to her gender. Schooling is expensive, so she is stuck with no option but to take care of her husband, and try to not make him angry. It is appalling. 
I came back to america with this desire to cook. Not because I am a female and belong in the kitchen, but because I can but do not have to. This seems odd, but in America feminists of the past have removed us so far from what is our gender roles that we have the privilege to choose what we want to do. There are still hurdles to be crossed but honestly I encourage women in America to realize how far we have come, to not go against the grain just because they can, but instead use that energy for all of the women in the world who do not know there is other options. They may discover our ways and not agree. That is fine, but to live without knowing any other way is such a tragedy. 

Sorry that was so long.... I really just brushed the surface....

1 comment:

  1. First of all, I am glad you had a wonderful trip and made it back safely! Also, if you have photos, I think we would all love it if you posted some.

    I think that the gender roles are still played out similarly all over the world, including in the United States. I have heard that many women stay in abusive relationships because they have no where else to go. Women have more options and opportunities in the U.S, yet this still happens, plus often women see it as their cultural 'job' to keep the breadwinner content. Our countries dynamics are slowly changing, but the idea of a male head of household still seems to reign supreme.