Tucked away in a dusty little shop in Aberdeen you can find the most amazing wood works. Traditional masques, paramount chief chairs and wooden representation of tropical animals are glimmering in neat rows, carved with care and attention by Mohamed Kargbo. The store is not one found in any tourist article, but that does not mean that it’s not worth a visit.
Mohamed Kargbo is the artist and owner of the store, which functions as both his gallery and his workshop. He has been carving for a couple of decades and knows everything about different types of wood and the meanings behind the carvings. The paramount chief chairs for example, have narratives carved in them. The Limba chair depicts a scene of a poyo tapper and his wife and child who are awaiting his return.
Apart from chairs, he sells small statues of symbolic Sierra Leonean figures. One example is the statue of Bai Bureh, a national hero who is famous for the Hut Tax War. But it’s not just grand characters, part of the collection is a woman pounding a mataodo (wooden pestle & mortar), or a hunter carrying game on his shoulder. They are icons of daily traditional life and society.
Perhaps the most impressive pieces are the traditional tribal masques. Every tribe has their own masque which, when pinned to the wall of a house, can provide protection to the inhabitants. The double-masque has an interesting story behind it. Whenever a twin is born a two-headed is carved. This masque must always remain in the house of the twins to watch over them.
All the items displayed in his shop are for sale, but they also serve as guidelines for pieces that he can create. You can choose the type of wood, the designs and the size.
Larger pieces can sometimes take up to a month to make. The entire process of carving, polishing and the anti-termite treatment are time consuming, so bear that in mind when you are on a short visit.
A chair costs about 1 million leones (130$) , a tiger 500.000le (65$) and a set of masques 1.2 million leones (150$). These prices are negotiable and depend on the quality of wood, size, and the complexity of the design. Mohamed hires other wood carvers the moment he has an order; many families are fed by buying one piece!
Want to have a look? Mohamed speaks little English but can make himself understandable for English speakers. Also, keep in mind that all prices are first prices, meaning that you should negotiate to get the real price.
As for now, Mohamed has no contact details, but his shop is open daily from the morning to the evening (no specific times).
Address: 86 Sir Samuel Lewis Road, Aberdeen, Freetown
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Esther Kamara is a Dutch-Sierra Leonean that was born and raised in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam she moved to Freetown, where she now works as a freelance writer and artist manager. Her brainchildren are otherworldly short stories and peculiar drawings of non-existing characters.