Are you smitten by the diverse cultures around the world like me? For y’all who are eager to learn about world culture and tradition, here are some of the most fascinating traditional arts and crafts from around the world that let you explore the global culture.
Traditional Handicrafts of the World: An Introduction
The age-old arts and crafts are deeply ingrained in the social, cultural, and economic fabric of the world.
The traditional indigenous crafts offer a window into the past and present of the country or region or city or town or village or place they sprung from.
What is a handicraft?
A handicraft is an object or item crafted in a traditional way using hands. It takes a lot of backbreaking work and time to create a single piece and thus, holds a great aesthetic value when compared to machine-made products.
Artisans use unique art forms to express themselves. They narrate their thoughts, emotions, values, and historical, religious, and cultural essence of the society or community they belong to through their work. An art piece is largely influenced by kin, ethnicity, and era.
The craftsmen pass their unique artistic skills and secrets from one generation to the next to preserve their culture and tradition.
Traditional arts and crafts play an important role in the economic development of the local communities. Unfortunately, globalization poses challenges for the handicraft industry. The demand for low-cost contemporary machine-made products over high-quality and high-cost handmade products has grown exponentially in recent times fostering survival challenges for traditional craftsmanship.
UNESCO defines traditional craftsmanship as the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage. It attaches great importance to expertise and recognizes the world’s unique creative skills in an attempt to safeguard living craft traditions.
As responsible travelers, it’s our moral obligation to support artisanship and local communities. How?
Well, we all love to bring back a piece of the destination we visit in the form of a beautiful souvenir. Isn’t it? And to bring home a unique, authentic, and meaningful memento, buying handicrafts from local artisans is the way to go.
A cheap machine-made item can never reflect the cultural heritage of the destination the way a handmade piece can. A handcrafted product embodies the soul of the destination.
Every time you buy directly from the local artisans, you inspire and empower them to continue creating art by generating sustainable income opportunities for them making the best possible impact on the world.
This way, you connect with artisans in a meaningful way, promote a positive cultural exchange, learn the craft yourself, create authentic experiences, and most importantly, deliver the economic benefits of tourism to local communities.
Traditional Arts and Crafts from Around the World
From tattooing, paper folding, woodcraft, textiles, and weaving to leatherwork, glassblowing, painting, ceramics, and pottery – here are some of the mesmerizing cultural crafts from around the world that are bound to leave you curious.
Asian Arts and Crafts
1. Origami, Japan
Alyse from The Invisible Tourist
With its origins believed to date back around 1,000 years, the art of folding paper models — origami — has become synonymous with Japanese culture throughout the centuries. It is by far the most notable and far-reaching of all the Japanese traditional crafts.
This practice likely came about after the invention of paper in China in the 2nd century. Prior to paper’s invention, folding small models were once done with cloth or leather.
The term origami is derived from the Japanese words ori (to fold) and gami (paper). In its earlier days, origami was originally used for ceremonial and decorative purposes, and over time has spread throughout the world evolving into a favorite children’s past-time.
In today’s modern Japan, it’s still possible to learn these traditional Japanese origami folding techniques during a geisha experience in Tokyo. In just a few moments, she will guide visitors step-by-step through the folding process until reaching the end result of a flapping paper crane.
Hands-on Experience: At Tokyo’s EDOCCO (Edo Cultural Centre) located within the grounds of Kanda Myojin Shrine, visitors can take part in a workshop where a geisha will not only teach them origami but also Japanese calligraphy, dance, the opportunity to try on kimono and briefly make tea in the traditional way. It’s a wonderful and unique opportunity to learn from one of the masters in this craft!
2. Toy making in Channapatna, India
Raksha from Solo Passport
Culturally rich and diverse, India beautifully preserves its time-worn culture in the form of its incredible array of traditional arts and crafts.
The art of making indigenous toys is one of the many unique traditional arts and crafts of India.
Protected under the World Trade Organisation as a geographical indication, Channapatna is a town in Karnataka known for its wooden toy making. The town is fondly known as Gomegala Ooru which means toy town in Kannada.
These wooden toy-making techniques are passed on through generations and their origin can be traced back to the 18th century during the reign of Tipu Sultan. It is believed that Persian traders got this toy-making into Channapatna and taught the locals.
The bright and colorful toys are made completely using natural resources. They are made from special woods like Aale mara meaning Ivory wood and Dhoodi wood meaning milk wood.
Vegetable and natural dyes are used to color these toys. And the process of making these toys involves a series of steps, including choosing the right wood, seasoning, cutting, processing, carving, coloring, and polishing.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: The art of making these toys can be seen in the town of Channapatna, which is around 60 kilometers from the capital city of Bangalore in Karnataka state. There are many factories where the artists exhibit the process of making the toys for a minimal fee. Tourists can purchase the toys from local street vendors or at the factories in Channapatna.
3. Thangka, Tibet & Nepal
Ipsita, Nomad En Route
Thangka is a Tibetan-Nepalese Buddhist art form, resembling the Chinese Scroll Paintings. On the cotton or silk canvas diluted in yak fat, the Thangka paintings impart the teachings of Buddha, Boddhisattvas, and other Lamas.
Traveling back to the 7th century A.D., this Asian art form is deemed to be part of the Abhidharma, also called the “Art of Enlightenment”.
A thangka could illustrate a deity, or a mandala (geometric figure with symbolic significance used as a facilitator in meditation). The intricate and ornate thangka paintings consume months of painstaking hard work.
Besides a mastered dexterity in painting, the artist must have an understanding of Buddhist iconography and scriptures.
Thangka painters in Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu, developed the most state-of-the-art style called Pauba. With its close-tied relationship with Tibet in relation to Buddhism, Nepal now bristles as a nucleus for Thangka art.
However, thangka itself is traditionally considered as a Nepalese invention carried forward to Tibet by Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal who married Sron Tsan Gampo, the Tibetan ruler, around 620-632 CE.
Because it can be folded and transported quite easily, thangkas became a medium of communication among the nomadic monks of medieval Tibet who traveled rigorously between rural communities and Buddhist monasteries to dispense religious instructions.
Besides Nepal and Tibet, Thangka Paintings are sold in all Tibetan-influenced parts of Asia. In India, Thangka painting is practiced in Dharamshala (where the present Dalai Lama lives), Sikkim, and other Northern Indian States.
Hands-on Experience: You can attend the workshop in Boudhanath and take home the self-made traditional Buddhist thangka painting as a remembrance of Nepal.
4. Kalinga Tattooing, Philippines
Soline from On the Road Diary
Apo Whang-Od is a traditional tattoo or batok artist from the Kalinga ethnic group that lives in the mountains of the Philippines. She learned the art of tattooing at 15 and is now 106 years old, still performing her art.
Travelers from all around the world visit this region from the Philippines to get inked by this legendary woman.
By continuing to tattoo people, she is keeping a 1000-year Filipino tradition and she receives an Intangible Cultural Heritage award in 2018.
She tattoos with a needle attached to a bamboo stick and ink made of soot and water. She will not live forever, but she has taught this art to her nieces in order to perpetuate the tradition and hope that travelers will still come to the village when she is gone.
The village is located in the middle of the mountains and rice fields in the north of the country, not far from Buscalan. You will be amazed by the stunning natural landscapes.
To learn more about this incredible art and Filipino tradition, here is a full article about Apo Whang-Od.
5. Bamboo Umbrellas, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Babs from Mums on FlipFlops
Have you ever heard about bamboo parasols in Thailand? This traditional craft is practiced in Bo Sang, a village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai.
This village has been making traditional parasols for centuries and continues to be one of the most renowned centers for this unique art form.
Each part of the bamboo parasol is meticulously hand-made. The Saa paper cover is the traditional way to finish these umbrellas but nowadays there are silk and cotton ones available too. Typically they’re finished with beautiful floral paintings.
The craft of creating bamboo parasols is believed to have originated with the Buddhist monk Phra Inthaa, who traveled to Burma and received a paper parasol to shelter himself from the sun.
He quickly realized this product would be an excellent way to supplement the income of his poor farmer’s village. He went to study the craft and taught it in his village when he came back.
Pro Tip: Make sure to plan your visit during the 3-day Bo Sang Umbrella Festival in January.
Hand-on Experience: The Bo Sang Umbrella Center is the place to go if you want to experience this traditional artwork firsthand. Here, you can witness experts specialized in each part of the umbrella-making process working on them. You can also get your own unique umbrella painted – or alternatively, your smartphone cover which will be a hit if you’re traveling to Chiang Mai with teenagers.
6. Batik Fabric, Indonesia
Katie from Katie Caf Travel
In addition to its volcanoes and waterfalls, Indonesia and Bali are also known for their rich cultural heritage. It’s known for its incredible range of traditional arts and crafts.
Textiles, especially, are one of the most notable traditional Indonesian crafts, and out of the variety of textile techniques in Indonesia, Batik remains the most famous one.
Batik is a textile dyeing technique that involves applying wax to the fabric to create resist areas that prevent dye from penetrating.
There are two primary methods for creating batik patterns: drawing lines and dots of wax on the fabric using a canting tool or applying wax with a copper stamp called a cap.
When the fabric is dyed, the areas with wax resist the dye, creating intricate and unique patterns.
Although Batik is present in some form or another in a variety of different cultures, the practice is mainly associated with Indonesian artisans.
In recognition of its cultural significance, the Indonesian Batik was designated a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009.
Indonesia is also known for its weaving textiles, which depict patterns, symbols, colors, and characters specific to the tribe that is weaving the fabric.
One of the more interesting aspects of Indonesian textiles is that you can see how the geography of the island nation affected the development of distinct styles within different communities.
If you travel to several different traditional villages in Indonesia, even if they speak the same language you might find their traditional weaving: from colors, patterns, and characters depicted, entirely different.
Hands-on Experience: In Ubud Village, which is known as the cultural heart of Bali, you can visit the workshop “Threads Of Life”, where they teach classes on traditional fabric-making methods, including Batik.
7. Ikat Silk Fabric, Uzbekistan
Ellis from Backpack Adventures
Uzbekistan is a land of arts. One of the most impressive ancestral crafts in central Asia is the old and long process of making ikat. Ikat is a traditional fabric dyeing technique that involves 37 steps, including resist-dyeing yarns before they are woven into beautiful fabrics.
Uzbekistan is known for producing some of the world’s finest and most intricate ikat fabrics. They are renowned for their vibrant colors and bold designs. The patterns range from simple geometric shapes to more complex pictures featuring flowers, animals, and other motifs.
The colors are also distinctive, with bright hues of red, blue, yellow, and green dominating many designs.
In Uzbekistan, ikat fabrics have a long and rich history, dating back to the Silk Road era. The city of Margilan in the Fergana Valley is particularly famous for its ikat production, where the craft has been passed down through generations of artisans.
Today, Margilan is home to several workshops and factories that continue to produce ikat fabrics using traditional techniques.
Ikat fabrics from Uzbekistan are highly valued and sought after by designers and collectors around the world. They are used to create clothing, home decor items, and other textiles, and are prized for their beauty, durability, and cultural significance. It is one of the best souvenirs to take home with you.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: You can witness the entire Ikat making process and meet the artisans at Yodgorlik Silk Factory in Margilan.
Traditional Arts and Crafts of Africa
8. Leatherwork, Morocco
Stephanie from The Unknown Enthusiast
The leather tanneries in Fes, Morocco have been an integral part of the city’s economy since the city was established, with the main tannery in Fes, the Chouara Tannery, dating back to at least the 12th century.
The tanneries are open-air and hold many large white vats filled with white or colored liquids. The washes in the vats include limestone and pigeon poop, used to soften the leather, which is then scraped and dyed.
Natural colorants are used to dye the leather pieces – for example, saffron is used for yellow, henna for orange, poppy for red, etc.
What’s notable about the tannery is that the mechanics of production have not changed or improved since medieval times, and conditions down in the tanneries are challenging, with the harsh chemicals and terrible smells.
In fact, National Geographic named the leather tanneries of Fes as the second hardest job in the world. Workers are paid very well for their labor, though.
While the Medina of Fes is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the tanneries themselves are not specifically on the list.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: Travelers can visit the several terraces overlooking the tanneries, and observe the workers softening and dying the leather. You can also buy a vast variety of leather items from the tanneries directly, or from shops in the medina. The tanning process definitely works – the leather pieces we saw in the shops of Fes were incredibly well-crafted and soft, and make an excellent souvenir from Morocco.
9. Pottery, Safi, Morocco
Jenny from Explore Essaouira
Colorful ceramics adorn markets and road stalls around Morocco and are a central part of Moroccan life, both for cooking (think of tagines) and home décor.
They are made from the rich clay found in Morocco and created using traditional pottery techniques that date back to the 12th century. Indeed, Morocco is renowned worldwide for its pottery, and taking part in a traditional pottery class is one of the top things to do when visiting Morocco.
Whilst Marrakech and Fez are well known for their ceramic factories, it’s actually the little-known industrial town of Safi that is the leading pottery center in Morocco.
Indeed, it’s in Safi where you’ll find the National Museum of Ceramics, which is located in a 16th-century Portuguese fortress and displays the finest examples of ceramics in the country as well as providing a history of the craft (only in Arabic and French).
Immerse in a Learning Experience: Head to the Pottery Quarter in Safi and witness the process of making the ceramics, from pounding the clay with bare feet to crafting on the pottery wheel to clay creations being placed in the kiln and glazed, to being hand-painted, glazed, and then put in the kiln again.
The process takes place over weeks, and mostly follows traditional techniques, except that with today’s process a modern kiln is used, powered by gas, rather than the old clay kilns. The old kilns are still dotted around the Pottery Quarter but are never used. Modern kilns are much easier to regulate temperatures and minimize waste.
European Arts and Crafts
10. Murano Glass, Italy
Jo from World Wild Schooling
If you’re a lover of art and culture, then witnessing the age-old tradition of glass-making in Murano is a must-do when you visit Venice. Murano, an island located just a short boat ride from Venice, has been famous for its glass-making since the 13th century.
There are two different glass-making techniques that you can experience as a traveler. The first technique involves blowing glass to create art pieces. It is a complex process that involves heating the glass until it reaches a molten state, then blowing air through a tube to shape it into beautiful objects like vases and sculptures.
The second technique involves assorting glass beads to make Murano glass, which is also a part of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage. Murano glass refers to the art of glass making that originated on the island of Murano, known for its unique and intricate designs, colors, and textures.
The tradition of glass-making in Murano dates back to the 8th century when Venetian merchants brought glass-making techniques from the East. Since then, art has evolved and transformed into the beautiful glass objects we see today.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: You can witness the art of glass making in Murano by visiting the numerous glass factories and studios on the island. You can watch artisans create beautiful glass pieces, and some studios even offer workshops where you can try your hand at blowing glass or assorting glass beads.
If you’re interested in purchasing Murano glass, there are plenty of shops on the island selling a wide range of glass objects. However, be sure to look for the official “Vetro Murano Artistico” trademark, which guarantees the piece’s authenticity.
So, immerse yourself in this cultural experience and witness the beauty of Murano glass-making when you visit Venice.
11. Lacemaking, Slovenia
Dzangir Kolar from Dr Jam Travels
Idrija lace is a type of bobbin lace. It got its name from the town of Idrija in Slovenia, the main and oldest Slovenian lace-making center, characterized by exceptional precision, beautiful motifs, and a rich history.
The first records of lace in this part are from the 17th century. Lace from Idrija become wider known in the world when Franc Lapajne opened a lace company in 1875. One year later in Idrija lace-making school has been opened by Ivanka Ferjančič and it operates continuously for almost 150 years.
If you would like to learn how to do it, they would be a perfect place. For this technic, you need a cushion in a basket as a base. You put chart tape on it and then with the use of pins and up to 8 pairs of bobbins with tread (linen or cotton) make lace according to the tape below.
Technic is same for 300 years. In time some specifics changed, from broad to narrower lync. Nowadays we can find traditional patterns (flower, cradle, heart) and some new ones. Idrija lace has received international recognition and protection of geographical origin.
Also “Lacemaking in Slovenia” is on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Today this is mainly produced by older ladies in pension or younger girls as a hobby.
You can find a few shops in Idrija and in the capital Ljubljana where they sell their products.
Recently they cooperate with the Department of Textile and Clothing Design of the Faculty of Science and Technology (NTF) of the University of Ljubljana to incorporate lace into new trends.
Hands-on Experience: Idrija Lace Festival takes place every summer organized by the Association of Lacemakers of Idrija, where you can see a big display of these products. You can learn everything about lace-making and attend workshops too. Idrija Lace School too host workshops through the year.
12. Azulejo Tiles, Portugal
Marga from Discover Portugal
Did you ever wonder where the beautiful tiles in the Portuguese and Spanish cities came from? Azulejo is a form of decorative tilework that has a rich history in Portugal and Spain, where it has been used for centuries to decorate the interiors and exteriors of buildings.
The origins of azulejo can be traced back to the Islamic ceramic tradition of the Middle East and North Africa, which was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in the 8th century. The word “azulejo” itself comes from the Arabic word “al-zulayj” meaning “polished stone.”
Initially, the tiles were made of simple geometric shapes and were used to decorate mosques and other Islamic buildings. During the 17th and 18th centuries, azulejo became more elaborate and decorative, with intricate patterns and scenes painted on the tiles.
In the 19th century, azulejo production became more industrialized with the introduction of new techniques and technologies for mass-producing tiles. This made azulejo more affordable and accessible, becoming a popular form of decoration for public and private buildings.
Today, azulejo remains an essential part of the cultural heritage of Portugal and Spain. And the best thing is, you can make a tile yourself!
Hands-on Experience: There are many azulejo workshops in Lisbon or Porto, for example, where you will paint and decorate your own tile. You can pick or draw a design, learn how it’s transferred to the tile, and afterward, it will be baked and sent to your home address (or you can pick it up). If you like to know more about the Portuguese heritage, visit the Popular Art Museum in Lisbon.
13. Pottery, Andalusia, Spain
Cristina from My Little World of Travelling
Andalusian pottery is one of the primary art forms in Southern Spain. It has changed a lot since the very beginning, but some techniques remain the same.
Pottery and ceramics in Andalusia date back to the 10th century. It has always been present in decorating palaces and historic buildings in the form of colorful and unique tiles (called azulejos in Spanish). You can see these tiles in many attractions across Andalusia.
There are many different types of pottery, but Nasrid pottery is the next most significant in this part of Spain. It originated in pottery workshops of Granada and extended to other Andalusian cities.
Andalusian pottery is well-recognized because of its beauty and quality. Although you won’t find it in the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it’s also well-known in Spain and other parts of the world.
Pottery is much more than beauty. The patterns in tiles and other ceramic objects also represent Spain’s history and culture.
Hands-on Experience: If you would love to attend a ceramic workshop, you can find many places in most cities. However, one of the best places to see colorful pottery is Mijas Pueblo in the province of Malaga. You can also take a ceramic lesson there.
14. Toledo Swords, Spain
Faith from 3 Tickets Please
For over 2,000 years, Toledo Spain has been the place of swords. Famous since Roman times, Toledo was once full of artisans who learned and passed down the traditional art of sword making. Today there are only two artisan sword makers left in the ancient walled city. But for those who want to learn more about the art, there is still an opportunity to experience this art from the past.
Toledo is an easy day trip from Madrid and is not to be missed. The city itself, with its remaining walls and medieval architecture and layout, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the city’s medieval roots that make its artisan craft of sword-making so unique.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: While mass-produced swords drove out many sword makers, you can still experience this art at Antonio Arellano’s sword workshop. The workshop offers daily tours, but book in advance. With so few opportunities to experience the craft, workshops fill up fast.
If you are not able to book a workshop, try walking through the old Jewish quarter of the town where authentic antique stores still remain. These shops, which were also passed down from generation, still have treasures to be found. Who knows you might just find an antique sword forged in Toledo’s fires.
15. Fan Making, Valencia, Spain
The fan is a beautiful and intricate art form that has been a part of Spanish culture for centuries. It is believed to have originated in China and was brought to Europe by Portuguese traders.
Traditionally made from wood, silk, or lace, the Spanish fan is adorned with intricate designs and patterns. These designs often depict scenes from Spanish life and history, as well as natural motifs like flowers and birds.
Valencia is often regarded as the birthplace of the Spanish fan. During the 18th century, the city became renowned for its production of hand-held fans made from wood and silk. Valencia’s humid climate made it an ideal location for the manufacture of these delicate objects.
Valencia continues to be a hub for fan-making. In fact, one of the best souvenirs from Valencia is a handmade fan from a specialist shop or market. These fans come in all shapes and sizes, from simple, hand-painted designs to intricate creations.
During the 19th century, Spanish fans were used as a means of communication between lovers, with different fan movements signifying different messages. Today, the Spanish fan remains a symbol of Spanish culture and a cherished souvenir for visitors to Spain.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: Visit Abanicos Vibenca workshop to learn more about the art of Spanish fanmaking.
16. Cuckoo Clock, Black Forest, Germany
Diana from Travels in Poland
The German Black Forest cuckoo clock is one of the most iconic and enduring symbols of Germany.
This centuries-old tradition, which hails from the Black Forest region in southwestern Germany, is an exquisite representation of the region’s skilled craftsmanship and cultural heritage.
The origin of the cuckoo clock can be traced back to the 17th century, with the first known example dating to around 1730.
These early clocks were intricately carved wooden creations, with detailed scenes inspired by the surrounding Black Forest landscape. Over the years, the design evolved, and the cuckoo bird, which has become synonymous with these clocks, emerged as a prominent feature.
Traditional cuckoo clocks are meticulously crafted using a combination of hand-carving and clockwork mechanisms. The clocks’ cases are usually made from local linden or spruce wood, which is carefully carved and then stained or painted to bring out the natural beauty of the wood.
The clock movements are typically driven by weights and a pendulum, with the characteristic cuckoo sound created by a pair of bellows and a whistle.
A visit to the Black Forest region is a must. The town of Triberg is home to numerous artisan clockmakers.
Hands-on Experience: In Hornberg, you can take part in a workshop where to not only observe the intricate process of creating beautiful timepieces first-hand, but also take part in their manufacturing. You can admire the clockmaker’s work and get a one-on-one experience with the best Black Forest cuckoo clockmakers.
While the German Black Forest cuckoo clock is not currently inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, it remains a treasured art form that holds great significance in the region.
17. Bog Oak Sculptures, Ireland
Cath from Travel Around Ireland
If you are interested in fascinating traditional art and craft from around the world, then the beautiful bog oak sculptures of Ireland will be right up your street. These special and rare works of art closely tied together Ireland’s landscape, history, and craftsmanship.
Bog oak was formed under peat bogs when ancient oak forests were buried and preserved from decay by acidic and anaerobic conditions over thousands of years. Their preservation is a form of fossilization and the wood is very hard when unearthed.
Bog oak can be found in Ireland, as well as England, Eastern Europe, and Russia. It is found in ancient boglands, often by surprise. In Ireland, bog oak is carved and sculpted to produce unique sculptures and jewelry, many being unique pieces.
They make great gifts or souvenirs from Ireland and each piece comes with a certificate indicating the age of the piece, many being more than five thousand years old.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: One of the best companies for bog oak in Ireland is Celtic Roots. Located in County Westmeath, the founder, Eibhlín offers unique tours where guests can visit the bog, see the oak found in the bog and even get a small piece as a memento.
If you can’t make it to Ireland, there is an online shop where you can choose your own unique piece of Ireland. And each piece comes with a certificate of authenticity which also indicates how old your piece of bog oak is. These truly are unique arts and crafts.
Traditional Arts and Crafts of Americas
18. Alebrijes, Oaxaca, Mexico
Julien Casanova from Oaxaca Travel Tips
In San Martin Tilcajete, a small town outside of Oaxaca City, many of the residents carve mythical animal figures of copal wood. These colorful sculptures, called alebrijes, were featured in the movie Coco.
One of the best day trips from Oaxaca City is a visit to an alebrije workshop where you can meet the artists. At the workshops, the artisans give visitors a tour while explaining the entire process, starting with the carving of the copal wood.
The carvings typically depict animals – owls, hummingbirds, rabbits, dogs, cats, turtles, snakes, monkeys, coyotes, iguanas, and many more including mythical figures of the artists’ imagination. The animal that is chosen is often inspired by the shape of the piece of wood itself and is only limited by the artist’s creativity.
After the pieces are carved and the wood left to age, they are intricately painted with Zapotec patterns using paints made of natural ingredients.
Hands-on Experience: While you can visit many of the alebrije workshops on your own, you can also book a tour to try your hand at painting your own alebrije to take home. Whether you decide to paint your own or purchase one of the masterfully created artisan alebrijes, this is a wonderful traditional craft to bring a touch of Oaxaca into your own home.
19. Molas, Panama
Melinda of Mel on the Go
A Caribbean paradise in Panama, the San Blas islands are an untouched region and tribute to nature.
With pristine waters and isolated islands populated by palm trees, the region is governed by the Kuna Yala tribe. Visitors to the San Blas commune with the locals through their molas.
Molas are a centuries-old textile artwork of the Kuna tribe. Mola means shirt and they were traditionally worn as clothing.
God, Nature, and the Cosmos are the holy trinity of the tribe, and molas are full of natural imagery. Popular mola subjects derive from nature, ranging from the sun and ocean to animals. And the colors are so vibrant and varied, you will want to take a few home!
Molas are hand-made by cutting fabric and layering the pieces to make a unique and beautiful textile. Visit a village in the San Blas and you’ll see people sitting in their yards crafting molas.
In the San Blas, the Kuna row through the waters with their wares, and they sell molas in markets from Panama City to the mountains in Boquete. Also, you can visit Panama City’s tiny Mola museum.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: While you can buy molas across Panama, the best place to learn more about the craft is the San Blas Islands. After all, it’s where they’re made.
Once you’ve purchased your molas, you can convert them into wall hangings, throw pillows, blankets, or clothing. These colorful textiles are a wonderful reminder of a beautiful culture and place.
20. Wayuu Indigenous Handmade Bags, Guajira Desert, Colombia
Adam McConnaughhay from Cartagena Explorer
One of the more unique and fascinating traditional crafts of the world is the art of crafting elaborate handwoven bags by Colombia’s indigenous peoples on the Caribbean coast.
Known as mochilas in Spanish, these bags can be carried as a purse, handbags, or satchels. They often have colorful and neat designs woven into them and are durable and long-lasting. Each is also entirely unique.
The mochilas are handwoven in a style similar to crochet. Even a small bag can take several days to produce, especially if it has multiple colors and patterns. Larger and more elaborate ones can even take weeks.
Traditionally, they are woven by women. It’s not entirely clear when the practice emerged, but according to Wayuu legend, a spider taught people to weave thousands of years ago.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: While you can find mochilas for sale in boutique stores, airports, and even in street markets in Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, and other cities of Colombia, a truly unique experience is to go straight to the source in the remote and rugged Guajira Peninsula.
This desert in the north of Colombia is off the country’s beaten tourist path but offers some of its most unique landscapes and travel experiences.
In the tiny town of Cabo de la Vela, you can find small shops and vendors that sell mochilas made by local artisans.
There are several pretty beaches nearby and the area is also popular with kite surfers. For the truly adventurous, it’s possible to venture further into the desert and reach the most northern point of South America at Punta Gallinas, where sand dunes run into the sea.
Here you can spend the night in chinchorros, or elaborate hammocks made from the same techniques as the mochilas. These are also some of the most terrific traditional crafts around the world to take home.
21. Pottery, Ráquira, Colombia
Michelle Schomp from Passport Explorers
Ráquira (meaning City of Pots) is a small town in Colombia famous for its pottery and handicrafts made of clay. We turned to Michelle Schomp, from Passport Explorers, who has been traveling with the world full-time for over 7 years, to weigh in on Ráquira’s ceramics.
As you walk the colorful streets of Ráquira, you’ll see shop after shop full of traditional handicrafts in every direction. The majority of these crafts are local ceramics, a tradition that dates back to pre-Colombian times.
People travel out of their way to Ráquira in order to learn the art of pottery from local artisans who have been perfecting their skills for decades.
While visiting Ráquira, you may notice many ceramics are also made by molds to fulfill the demand of shoppers. Yet, much of the production is still done by hand. The clay used to create the beautiful pottery is all taken from the region, which is rich in various shades of clay.
Hands-on Experience: You can plan to partake in a ceramics workshop while visiting to try your skills on a pottery wheel; shaping, cutting, and decorating various ceramics. You’ll find it looks easier than it is!
As you continue walking through the main plaza and streets, you’ll see clay sculptures and pottery in every window. This is what draws people to Ráquira; to be surrounded by traditional Andean ceramics and local artisans in every direction.
22. Textiles from the Sacred Valley, Peru
Alex Trembath from Career Gappers
The mountainous city of Cusco in Peru is best known as being a gateway to visiting Machu Picchu, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. But when you spend time in the city, you will soon discover that one of its defining features is the array of multi-colored textiles on display in market halls, outside shops, and in cobbled plazas.
These hand-woven textile products, typically made from llama or alpaca wool, have their roots in the centuries-old traditions of the indigenous Quechua communities that live in the nearby Sacred Valley.
The traditions are kept alive today by a series of rural women’s weaving co-operatives, which have helped to establish new economic and educational opportunities linked to the increased volume of tourism in the area.
Immerse in a Learning Experience: The Ccaccaccollo indigenous community lives in a village about 15 kilometers outside Cusco, close to the ancient ruin site of Pisac. You can visit the weaving co-operative here and see local women apply their craft using large wooden looms, as well as learn about their techniques, such as how they use natural dyes to create the bright, vibrant colors that make the textiles so unique.
Tour operator G Adventures has a partnership with the Ccaccaccollo community and includes a visit to the weaving co-operative on its Inca Trail tours. But it is also possible to visit independently if you are not planning to do the trek. From Cusco, simply take a colectivo towards Pisac and ask to stop at Ccaccaccollo.
Traditional Arts and Crafts of Oceania
23. Aboriginal Art, Australia
Chris Heckmann of Around the World with Me
If you find yourself driving through the endless, yet beautiful Australian Outback, picking up an aboriginal painting from a local artist is a must. Aboriginal Australians have a long history of art and painting.
For as long as they lived in Australia – some 50,000 years or so – the Aborigines have painted. These paintings were historically in caves and on sandstone rocks and were used to tell stories in the absence of any written language.
Modern contemporary aboriginal art is a bit different though, while maintaining its historical meaning. Having been introduced to canvas and Western painting supplies in the 20th century, the aboriginal artists began making splendid artworks that could be sold to tourists and locals alike.
Aboriginal art is characterized by painting hundreds or even thousands of little dots across the canvas. The story-telling focus of the paintings remains, though desert landscapes are also popular among today’s artists.
Aboriginal paintings can be found all over central Australia. If you’re coming to the Outback to visit Uluru and Kata Tjuta, you’ll have ample opportunity to pick up a handmade painting from a local artist, especially if you’re stopping by the city of Alice Springs or the opal mining town of Coober Pedy.
Hands-on Experience: You can an aboriginal art workshop at Ayeye Atyenhe Art in Alice Springs. Proceeds from art sales go directly to the artists and help maintain the Aboriginal communities. When you get home you’ll have a beautiful new painting to frame in your home and it will forever remind you of Australia and aboriginal traditions.
Hope this article that weighs on traditional art from around the world and its importance inspires you enough to promote the revival of handmade arts and crafts. And you know now how! After all, the world needs art and creativity to survive.