Where It's At
Originally, the African American traders would crowd the streets
of 125th Street in Harlem, alive with tables of crafts, West
African clothing and every imaginable piece of ethnic and
western bric-a-brac. Now only a few street traders remain,
and the other traders are housed in the African Market
on Lenox Avenue, whilst afrocentricity has been replaced
on 125th street with Mac Donalds and other big name high street
What's in Store
The market is snaked in a kaleidoscopic display of vans, tables,
incense smoke, and brilliantly coloured imported print cloth.
Meander through this fantastic display and you will discover
an array of imported goods like Ghanian "kenti"
cloth, Kenyan baskets, Nigerian leather bags,
Meccan incense, West African trade beads, Tuareg
silver jewellery, Ecuadorian Handmade Sweaters &
Coats, African Masks, Artifacts, Carvings and
clothing. There is also an assortment of "trademarked"
American tee-shirts, sunglasses, handbags, and baseball caps,
almost all of which are manufactured in export processing
zones outside the United States. It's a great place to see
people meeting, chatting and bartering on goods.
A State of (Dis)order
It appears at first to be very disorganised with all kinds
of different traders side by side, not like the Bazaars of
the Middle East which organised into distinct quarters for
different trades. However, like its origins of markets in
West Africa, the markets is constructed with informal but
logical methods, where members of the same ethnic group sell
the same kind of goods. In the larger markets different people
from all over the region gather and will specialise in different
good - butter, pottery, cloths etc all situated in informally
designated spaces. It's a complex set of traditions and attitudes
which are reflected in the Harlem African Market, for example
Gambians occupy the north west corner of Lenox and 125th street
where they sell beads, leather bracelets and cowrie shells.
Further west, people are selling religious books, including
the Koran. Further out you'll meet Nigerians selling all kinds
of goods from around the world. No space is strictly "national"
in fact you'll find the caribbeans selling so-called "authentic"
African wood crafts.
Join the Party
The market has a festival atmosphere, but it is often crowded
with tourists mingling with Africans trading with one another.
You'll hear French and various West African languages spoken,
it's very much like an African quarter within Harlem.
Business is not always too legitimate in the market, many
goods are counterfeits at cut price or illegally imported.
But if you're prepared to go with what you find, you can bag
a real bargain.
In 1998 a new 1.3 million dollar open air market was constructed
to house the increasing amounts of traders. The Market is
open 7 days a week from the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Within the Market's 115 stores you will find a collection
unmatched in uniqueness and quality but you'll certainly discover
a rich and colourful side of ethnic New York.