The curio business in Victoria Falls began shortly before the arrival of the railway line in 1905. On the Zimbabwean side, the first curio shop was set up in 1903 by Percy Clark - Clark's Curios - and, shortly thereafter, the Lozi chief Lewinaka opened a craft shop on the Zambian side, selling many of the items manufactured by his people for their everyday use.
There is a strong carving tradition on the Zambian side of the river, with research in the 1970s showing that the majority of wood carvers were of the Leya tribe from the immediate Falls area, the Lozi from western Zambia and the Lunda-Luvale people of the north west.
Traditional carving of animals and the geometric decoration of utilitarian objects predate the arrival of tourists at the beginning of the 20th century. By the 1930s, masks and drums became more common. As the curio business became more sophisticated, dealers brought samples from elsewhere, and the carvers produced objects that were less directly related to their own lives and customs.
Today, the objects on sale are broadly pan-African. Nowhere is this more evident than in the craft village on the Zimbabwean side of the border, where some of the shops and traders deal with African art and artifacts from across the continent. The most authentic wooden carvings are headrests or pillows, stools, decorated bowls, sticks, spoons, snuffboxes and drums. Makenge baskets are a local speciality as they are made exclusively in western Zambia.
On the Zimbabwean side of the river, there is more of a tradition of stone carving, which is part of the Shona tradition. Soapstone is the favoured medium, and many of the sculptures are an expression of the spiritual and mystical world. There are also more derivative representations of animals and birds.
One of the world's largest verdite deposits is close to Victoria Falls. Hence many of the sculptures available are made in this attractive, soft-green stone.
When buying curios, prices are generally negotiable and how expensive an item is has more to do with the skill or the reputation of the craftsman than the value of the material. Generally, all currencies are acceptable.Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.