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Popular African Retail Goods Terms
African goods are available at many international retail shops and boutiques. While coffee and diamonds are major African exports, they are by no means the only items which are available. African goods encompass a wide range of items, from coffee and vanilla to clothing and accessories to masks musical instruments. Familiarity with specific terms can assist in finding the perfect African import.
Kaftan - Also called a boubou. This is a traditional dress or robe which buttons down the front. Different regions have different traditions and fabrics associated with this common piece of clothing. They can be exquisitely decorated, or appropriate for daily wear.
Gele - Also called a duku, dukhu, or tukwi. This is a woman's head scarf. In some areas, they are traditionally worn for special occasions or religious reasons. Retail stores offer head scarves as accessories for many occasions.
Tuareg Silver - Silver jewelry crafted by the Tuareg people. Pieces are decorated with symbols telling stories and history. Pendants are a particularly common type of Tuareg silver.
Paper Beads - A common type of bead made from rolled paper. Magazines are a frequent source of paper for these beads, though not the only one. These handmade beads are crafted into jewelry including necklaces, bracelets, and anklets.
Calabash - A type of drum. Musicians use different parts of their hands to bring out different tones and sounds. It is often played during dances.
Oud - A stringed instrument, similar to a lute. The body of the instrument is made out of a hardwood.
Nwantantay Mask - A highly abstract mask representing invisible spirits.
African goods are popular in some quarters. They include food, clothing, jewelry and art work. For example, wooden masks are used for decoration and handmade baskets for storage.
African art and artifacts are imported and sold through specialty retail stores. Many of the items are handmade. African clothing tends to be loose and made from bold fabrics. The same fabrics are used to make bags. Pottery is also boldly marked. Sculptures and carvings tend to be made of dark, tropical wood. Also popular are African drums and other musical instruments. Almost all African art items are hand crafted, although cheap, mass produced replicas do exist.
These products are popular as gifts, and African influenced fashion makes an appearance on the runway on fairly regular occasions. Hand crafted jewelry may be used as accents to more mundane clothing. African leather goods are also common, with South African leather having a good reputation. Leather is used to make bags, shoes and other accessories.
Trade maps show the origins of various African goods. Regional food is exported from Africa for use in traditional African cuisine that is prepared abroad. Retail stores in the United States, however, generally sell tropical specialties such as coconuts and mangoes or African spices. Some ethnic markets, including those which sell African goods, promote events which allow communities to gather in appreciation of different cultures.
The symbol of African art to most, however, is the African mask. Originating as ceremonial items, masks are now also displayed in many homes. Hand crafted originals can fetch large amounts of money.