Traditional crafts are alive at Lake Tana

“Do not insult the artisan for the trade he practices…” proclaimed Emperor Menelik II in 1908. Handicrafts have a history as long as Ethiopia itself, and many articles are created today using traditional methods and techniques handed down from generation to generation. Craftsmanship reflects the creativity, culture, heritage and the environment of Ethiopia.

Beautifully crafted, handmade products that are used in everyday life will enchant you as much as the exquisite illuminated manuscripts, icons and mural paintings in the many churches and holy places in the area.

Watch the nimble hands of a basket maker as she deftly twists coarse natural reeds into a delicate basket, carefully wrapping them in vibrantly coloured threads. There are several initiatives around the biosphere reserve, such as the Grace Centre in Bahir Dar, where women are supported in learning handicraft skills for a sustainable source of income.

The Weyto people are specialists in making tankwas, papyrus boats, as they have done for millennia. The boat builder cut stems of papyrus to length with a sickle. Strong experienced hands tie bundles of papyrus around a sturdy eucalyptus keel, forming an elegant boat shape. It can take anything from a few hours to a day for a skilled craftsman to make a tankwa.

Ceramics are the forte of the remaining Beta Israel in the Lake Tana area. They are skilled in pottery and fired ceramics, making fine black sculptures of birds, animals and humans. These small exquisite figures, some exceptionally graceful, some almost grotesque, are always a pleasure to behold.