15 May 2009

Etainerie y’ihuye – The Tinsmith of Butare

A recent article for our community newsletter:

The tinsmith workshop in Butare, Rwanda, is just over the border along RN 1. It was established many years ago by a Benedictine monk. It closed in 1994 but became operational again in 2003. The shop is completely run and managed by Rwandans. They create serving dishes, goblets, candlesticks, vases, and a variety of whimsical animal figurines.

The workshop uses pewter, which is an alloy made of 99% tin. Pewter is soft and can easily be molded.

You can take a tour of the tinsmith shop to see for yourself how these silvery creations are made. The first stop is the molding room, where molds are made from clay and liquid metal is poured in to them to create the desired shapes. It only takes a few moments for the metal to harden and cool. Then the shapes are removed from the clay mold.

Different pieces are created, such as two halves of an elephant body and its trunk, and then welded together in another part of the workshop. Before being welded the edges are smoothed down.

After welding, the objects are polished and cleaned. Then they are brought to the shops. When you decide what you want to buy (and it can be a hard decision!) your pieces are brought back to the workshop for a final polishing before you can take them home.

Items are also often available for sale in boutiques in Kigali at the Hotel Novotel and Hotel Mille des Collines.

The workshop grounds are a nice spot for a picnic lunch and if you leave from Bujumbura early enough in the morning, you can make this round-trip in one day. There are some hotels in Butare and an overnight trip with a leisurely drive back the next day with shopping stops along the road would make for a nice weekend excursion. Butare is also home to the National Museum of Rwanda, a must see for anyone traveling through the region.

The shop is open every day except Wednesday and Sunday. Tel: +250-08640923; email: abmabuye@yahoo.fr

Written with information from Magic Safaris.com and wikipedia.

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