In the bustling commercial hub of Mtwapa, located in Kilifi County along the main road from Mombasa to Malindi, there are captivating pieces of art that catch the eye of many passersby.
Here, amidst the bustling activity of the town, Damasio Alberto Ntumuke, a 55-year-old Mozambican citizen, showcases his remarkable talent for crafting intricate sculptures.
Ntumuke’s specialization lies in crafting chairs, but not just any chairs.
These are chairs sculpted with astonishing detail, skillfully shaped to resemble the graceful curves of a beautiful woman’s figure.
These unique creations have become a striking attraction, drawing the admiration of tourists exploring the coastal town of Mtwapa.
Reflecting on his first visit to Mtwapa in 1992, Ntumuke was struck by the allure of the local women who left a lasting impression on foreign tourists.
Inspired by their captivating presence, he envisioned a way to make a living by crafting chairs that embodied the essence of these women.
Importantly, this allowed him to translate his inspiration into art without direct involvement with the women who served as his muse.
“I was inspired by how the women here fascinated foreign tourists visiting this town. I thought about how I could make a living from the beauty of these women without directly engaging with them. That’s when I decided to craft these special chairs,” Ntumuke explained.
According to Ntumuke, he learned the art of sculpting from his father when he was just 11 years old.
His father, a skilled craftsman, specialized in carving various types of sculptures, including masks used in the traditional dances of the Wamakonde people.
After setting up his workshop along the road, facing the Casuarina Hotel in Mtwapa, Ntumuke’s unique chairs began to draw the attention of curious onlookers and potential buyers alike.
He reveals that he sells each chair for prices ranging from Ksh 350,000 to Ksh 400,000, a reflection of the intricacy and artistry that goes into crafting these remarkable pieces.
The pricing may vary according to the season and demand.
“Most of my clients are Europeans or large-scale hoteliers along the Coast, and even some ordinary locals who are intrigued by these chairs,” Ntumuke shared.
Beyond crafting these eye-catching chairs, Ntumuke’s artistic repertoire extends to creating sculptures of different animals and intricate beadwork.
Crafting a single chair typically takes him about a month, underscoring the level of dedication and attention to detail that characterizes his work.
However, Ntumuke acknowledges that obtaining the specific wood required for crafting these chairs presents a significant challenge in his line of work.
To ensure durability and aesthetic appeal, he utilizes rare wood varieties such as Mvule or Mwarubaine, which are not readily available.
In most cases, Ntumuke sources this unique wood from neighboring Tanzania and other regions within Kenya, a process that incurs substantial expenses.
Nevertheless, Ntumuke’s creativity and artistic endeavors extend beyond the creation of chairs and beadwork.
He has tapped into the tourism industry, where visitors to Mtwapa pay to take photographs with his sculptures.
For those passing by who wish to capture a moment with his unique pieces, Ntumuke charges a fee of Ksh 100.
During peak seasons, this additional venture can yield between Ksh 2,000 to Ksh 3,000 in income, especially when national seminars or events are held in Mombasa and Kilifi Counties.
As part of his commitment to community development, Ntumuke has taken on the role of an artisan teacher, passing on his skills to young people interested in sculpting.
He encourages the youth to embrace creativity and seek innovative ways to earn a livelihood without resorting to shortcuts.