The East African country of Uganda is famously home to half the world’s population of mountain gorillas, as 340 live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. But that’s not all. The Pearl of Africa is also home to vibrant handicraft markets and galleries, thanks to skills passed down through the generations. Buy these crafts in Uganda and you’ll return home with a distinctive keepsake from your trip – and a story that reveals the nation’s rich culture.   


Thanks to Uganda’s abundant rainforest, woodland and gourd trees, its markets brim with beautifully handcarved masks, sculptures and tableware made from wood or gourd at markets across the country. For a unique souvenir, treat yourself to a wooden sculpture of a mountain gorilla from Rafiki’s gallery at the entrance to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This project enables indigenous communities to earn an income from making crafts in Uganda, they’re discouraged from poaching the primates to sell for their meat or traditional medicine.


Drums have played an important role in marking milestones in Uganda, from the moment you’re born to wedding ceremonies and funerals, while farmers’ vibrant drumming gives thanks at harvest time. They also beat them to give thanks at harvest time or to warn of invasions. Today, drums are more likely to be played for entertainment or used for decoration. Artisans chisel tree trunks until they’re hollow, then nail parched monitor lizard skin on top to make engalabi. Musicians place the tall, narrow drums between their legs when performing. Usually made from pinewood, embuutu are smaller and deeper, covered in cow hide and decorated with pearls. Watch them being made and have a drum lesson in Mpambire, a town of 50 makers near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.


Ugandans use baskets to carry and store food or to decorate their homes. Artisans dry bukedo (banana leaf stalks) in the sun, wrap the fibres in raffia straw and dye them with turmeric, marigold or hibiscus before weaving them into coils. Beautiful and long lasting, the baskets are sustainable – and a conversation starter once you’re back home. Browse vessels in natural hues and spirited shades at National Arts and Crafts Village, next to The National Theatre in the capital of Kampala.

Bark cloth

The Baganda people in the south of Uganda are renowned for producing bark cloth. First, they boil the inner bark of young mutuba trees, then beat the fibres until they’re soft and stretchy as mozzarella. The artisans leave the fabric to dry in the sun till it turns the colour of arid savannah grass, then transform it into mats, tablecloths and clothes. The ancient craft is now on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. If you’d like to invest in a special memento of your time in Uganda, browse bark cloth displays in the open-air central market in Masaka, 80 miles south of Kampala.


Kitenge crafts in Uganda

Ugandans have practised batik – the method of drizzling wax on to cotton, which is then dyed – ever since the Dutch introduced the technique from Indonesia in the 19th century. Artisans use batik to create kitenge, flamboyant fabric locals wear as sarongs, headscarves and dresses. Shop for kitenge in Kampala Fair at 50 Bukoto Street or design your own attire with a tailor at Yimba Fashions, both in Kampala.

After buying crafts in Uganda, you may wish to consider trekking in neighbouring Tanzania. Read our tips on taking an African safari first.

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