By Kebba Jeffang
One famous business venture that is common in the Gambia Tourist Development Area (TDA), is wood carving of different designs including statures and animal faces. But according to Islamic scholars, this is declared forbidden by Islam. A Gambian wood carver who is closed to forty years now, said the belief has left a big economic impact on his business. Mr. Alpha Cham told this reporter on December 3rd 2017, when he met him at the Senegambia Craft Market.
Alpha Cham who was found carving at his stall in the busy market, said the business is also called ‘handy carved work’ because it is made by hand. Wooden carved designs were seen placed near him as he continued to carve.
“Religion is a challenging factor for this business because not everyone buys our products. We have some Gambians who need it but not everyone buys it. May be Government would need some of our works to decorate offices. Most people don’t buy artwork with faces. You know here, Islam is what many people believe in and they don’t put these craft works in their houses. So it is only the tourists who mainly buy them. When they are on holidays in the Gambia they always want to buy something made by hand from here,” he said.
According to him, this is the reason why the market is dependent on tourism. He said the business doesn’t perform well in the off-season, but described the venture as valuable work.
He called on Government to keep creating the conducive environment to enable high arrival of tourists in the country, to enable wood carving become a booming business in the country.
“The market is doing well because the tourist season has started now. That is why we are working hard on it because this is what we are surviving from. We generate our living from this and the business doesn’t have a fixed price. Sometimes we score more than D1, 000 from the sale of just one work while some cost over D2, 000. I have been doing this for more than 20 years now. Of course I have done something for myself and I am looking forward to building more from my work. It is out of this work that I am taking care of my family economically, addressing their needs as well as solving my own problems. Of course I am saving something too because I am growing a family,” he explained.
Cham implored on the youth to get skills and be able to do something for themselves; that young people should not only depend on travelling to Europe; that travelling is beneficial if one goes with skills.
“For me, I am proud of my skills because every day or week I reap the benefits of my skills to solve my problems instead of relying on people. I am carving wood and selling it to the tourists and I can tell you that I am really solving my problems,” he indicated, as he carves wood. “My advice to young people is to say that no one can stop migration, but you have to do something for yourself. It is very important and they can venture into any sector to make it if they are willing to do it. I am trained to do carving instead of depending on my brothers abroad because I don’t need things on a silver platter. We should learn how to live on our own to solve our problems by ourselves,” he said.
According to Cham, he works every day including Sundays to support his extended family in Albreda, Nuimi; that not much expenses is required in wood carving as all it takes is to buy pieces of wood and carve it.
“When I sell it, I gain impressive profit out of my work. When tourists come they normally buy things like this in the Gambia to decorate their houses. It is a very valuable trade. Sometimes my business is ordered in a larger scale by tourists and I get good amount of money from this,” he said.