Swahili wall carving and Zidaka

2 August 2010

Among the most intriguing architectural elements for those who visit the coast of Kenya for the first time, we can certainly include what might be improperly called wall carving, and decorative wall niches “zidaka”. These elements are mainly found in old Swahili houses in Lamu and more rarely in the houses of Malindi, Watamu and Kilifi.

Often Lonno Lodge customers ask us information about the type of mold used to create these decorations; in fact no such a tool is provided, but only a small piece of wood with which you draw the construction lines and a small trowel to carve the mortar, and of course a great craftsmanship.

The secret lies in the plaster, applied in several layers on successive days, and carved from time to time when it is still sufficiently plastic. The plaster is a mixture of fine sand and lime. In Lonno Lodge we have also added coral dust, to get as closer as possible to the tradition that included also crushed shells to increase hardness.

Some old rituals were also associated to “zidaka”, such as marriage. When the wedding day was approaching, they began working at carving the stucco, and this is known in Swahili as “fola la Wazo” or “fola la kuwaza “, the stucco’s feast.

These niches were used to expose the Chinese ceramics and European oil lamps or sprinklers of Arabic essences.

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