Malawian curios are known for being intricately carved. At every possible tourist location, dozens of stalls line the streets selling ebony, mahogany, and teak wood carvings of African scenes, masks, furniture and random ornaments. Perhaps Malawi ’s two most known types of carvings are chief’s chairs and three-legged tables.

Chief’s chairs consists of two large pieces of either mahogany or ebony wood (although it is becoming increasingly difficult to find ebony wood large enough to make a chair). The largest piece serves as both the carved back of the chair and the front legs. The second piece slips through the lower section of the first and serves as the seat and the rear leg. The carvings usually depict African scenes, wildlife, dancers or a collage of all three.

Three-legged tables are an amazing piece of work. A round table is carved from mahogany or ebony and detailed with a chessboard, a bao board (a traditional game of strategy), or various African scenes. All three legs are actually from the same piece of wood—the piece is carved in such a way that the legs nest together in a sturdy locking system. The table-top can then be removed and the three legs folded together for easy transport.

Paintings / Batiks

Batiks are one of the most popular art forms. Batiks in Malawi are painted on white cloth, one color at a time, using wax to block out spaces where the tint is not desired. The crackle finish common to batiks is still apparent, but instead of repeating abstract patterns, Malawian batiks represent specific scenes or individuals. Figures are generally highly stylized, and common themes are village life and nature.

Of course, there are oil and acrylic painters in Malawi as well. The most famous is probably David Kelly, who is known for his gorgeous oil paintings of nature scenes in Malawi .