KHARTOUM (SUDANOW)—A number of young men from South Sudan can be seen in the Mugrun (confluence) area close to the Sudan University in Khartoum West along the road linking the Fitaihab Bridge with the Popular Market in Khartoum South busy chiseling teak, ebony and mahogany wood from South Sudan into camels, lions, rhinoceros, crocodiles and boats statues of various sizes. The chiseled statues also include a figure of a southerner carrying a spear or some other fighting weapon, or a woman carrying water pot on her head and a group of southerners making a boat.
They complain of the low demand for their products in this dim part of the city to which they were moved from the populous area of Khartoum Sunut Forest (acacia) and along the road leading to the Industrial Area and Rimailah residential quarter.
The low demand is attributed to the poor per capita income due to the loss of the petroleum proceeds after the secession of South Sudan and to decrease in the number of members of the generations interested in such aesthetics, prompting many sculptors into deserting the craft.
Juma'ah Galwac, a member of the Nuer tribe of Upper Nile State on the border with Sudan, says this new place is environmentally clean and is provided with display stands and sunshades and, moreover, no fees have so far been imposed by the local authorities. All this is fine, he said but, he added, the chances of selling are slim for reasons, inter alia, of absence of parking lots for customers.
About the prices of his exhibits, Galwac said an ebony camel of a relatively big size is at SDG 200, a crocodile for SDG 250, a lion for SDG 150 and a rhinoceros for SDG 150 and the big size for SDG 200, while an ebony stick is for SDG 150-200 and a teak or mahogany stick ranges from SDG 90 to SDG 110.
John Majok offers a statue of a woman carrying a pot on her head for SDG 200 and a man with a spear and shield for SDG 250. He noted that the demand has recently become low but he ruled out the secession of the South as a reason but it was due to the living hardships and soaring prices of the basic commodities, arguing that nobody can buy aesthetics while his family members are in dire need of expensive food.
SUDANOW asked Malia Jim, a southerner, 50, who is engaged in chiseling a crocodile figure, about the economic viability and the proceeds he earns from this craft. "Not bad,: he replied, explaining that his daily income ranges between SDG 200-300 but sometimes it plummets to SDG 50 or 70.
Asked how he had gained this skill, Jim said he was fond of the wood craft since his childhood.
SUDANOW then moved to the fashionable Afranje Market in downtown Khartoum for striking comparisons on the exhibits, the prices and the demand for similar artifacts.
Mohamed Gassim al-Sayyed, a merchant of heritage exhibits, leather and wood handicrafts and portraits, introduced himself as a tourist guide, adding that his motive from this trade is to spread the cultural multiplicity of the Sudanese people and to keep this artistry and heritage for coming generations.
It seems that the purchasing traffic here is more active than in the Sunut market because the Afranje is closer to the hotels, foreign institutions and ministries, cleaner and safer for the tourists, government officials and delegates who visit the Sudan on formal occasions and otherwise.
We noticed during the visit the presence of a number of Sudanese and foreign customers who want to buy wooden artifacts and leather bags with more demand for sticks, boats and camel figures.
Sayyed said the tourist inactivity prompted trade stagnancy in this field which is frequented by the Sudanese intellectuals and by the Sudanese working in Arab and European countries and personnel of the diplomatic missions and UNAMID.
He attributed the poor purchasing activity to a decrease in the number of the foreign personnel in the oil companies, airports and major companies, the exit of UNMIS following the secession of the South and to the low living standard of the citizens.
The Afranje Market contains antiques which were about to disappear if not for the youths who revived them into fad such as the jirtiq perfumes and related tools used on wedding occasions and the china plate which sells for SDG 400-700, the leather wallet for girls and the Mahdist Jallabiyah (garment) of similar front and rear sides.
It is commonly believed that chiseling the wooden antiques was an exclusive craft of the southerners in view of the availability of the kinds of wood needed for the occupation. Yet, Sayyed informed us that the handicraft has long been inherited by certain families in the old quarters of Omdurman and in Kosti, White Nile. The southerners who are preoccupied in the industry are mostly from the Baria tribe of the State of Equatoria.
The prices vary from SDG 20 to SDG 2,000 for sticks made of ivory, ebony and bones and the exhibits vary in quality in Afranje Market where the shops increased from three to 30 in number. The prices are almost similar but are higher in Coral Hotel (previously Hilton).
Because we do not know Chinese, we could not chat with a group of Chinese who intended to by ivory bracelets which cost more than a thousand Sudanese pounds each and a leather handbag worth SDG 700 but the merchant managed to deal with them.
SUDANOW noticed two young women in the shop enquiring about the prices of portraits and handbags and asked one of them- Hanan al-Amin-whether she is fond of antiques and wooden and leather things. She responded in the affirmative but said she had to cut down the list of her shopping for lack of adequate money and for the high prices.
There was a consensus among the merchants that the trade was not affected by the secession of the South as the targeted customers are the northerners, Arabs and foreigners and as the raw materials are available.
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