Friday, June 29, 2012


Toys are different in Mozambique.

A Mozambican friend once said-- "I think that children in developing nations are smarter because they learn how to make something out of nothing.  They know how to make toys out of dirt."

I think of this sentiment whenever I walk down the path after a rain and find a child, hard at work, sculpting a sandcastle with a broken mug and a stick.  I know that all children are innovative, but the truth is-- children in Africa make the most beautiful, hand-made toys that I have ever seen in my life.  I started taking pictures of children's toys in April and have been enchanted ever since.

Most toys in Mozambique are made of wood, wire, or twine.  Wheels and hoops are popular, as are toy cars and hand-woven balls.  Common toys tend to be representations of everyday objects, like guitars, drums, motocycles, airplanes, houses... and even little sisters! 

This is my favorite blog post, and has been my pet project for the past few months.

Enjoy the pictures!

The Galimoto:  Toy cars made from boxes, sticks, wire, etc.  The car is driven by a stick, which is sometimes equipped with a steering wheel.  Almost anything can be turned into a toy car.  We have seen cans with wheels, cereal boxes with wheels, and yams with wheels, too. 
Wheels and Hoops:  Probably the most popular toy in Mozambique.  Made from bike wheels, rubber tires, and other circlular things, a hoop toy is usually propelled by a running boy with a stick.  Some larger, heavier wheels require a little more creativity.  An empty can or plastic jar is placed in the center of the tire and two large sticks propped within the jar are used to drive the wheel forwards.  
Little Bicycle Man:  Made out of wire and tape, this little bicycle man
actually pedals when pushed along on his stick!
Balls:  To build a football, you will need one condom balloon, 50 million meters of twine, and two or three plastic bags.  A  Mozambican football can last forever, as it can be strung and restrung indefinitely.
Musical Instruments:  From left to right-- oil-can drums (on our front porch, no less), a vodka-bottle guitar, and a single-string guitar made from bamboo, a piece of twine, and a discarded water bottle.
Propellers:  Sticks and mango leaves.  Kids will run up and down the yard with these, making them spin like airplane propellers.
Toy lanterns:  These wire-and-can lanterns serve two purposes.  They are a good way to transport charcoal from one stove to another, and they also look pretty.  Unfortunately, the kids like to swing them around.
Toy Babies:  Children are responsible for taking care of their younger siblings over the course of the day.  It is not uncommon to find the youngest child in the family taking care of a pretend baby.
Toy Marketplace:  The two boys on the far right are playing pretend, selling mountains of dirt in exchange for pebbles and bottle caps.
Swing:  Two sisters under a mango tree
Seni's Condom Slingshot:  From left to right-- the materials (whittled stick, expired condom, twine, and hair bands), the slingshot in action, and the carnage
Junio's and Joaquim's Rag-and-Thread Slingshots:  Made from bits of thread and old clothing
Toy Tops:  To start the spin, the wooden top is wrapped with a piece of twine on a stick.  The stick is whipped and the twine unfurls, forcing the top to spin.  To keep it going, the player will follow close behind as the top spins away, whipping at it until it eventually falls.  Boys will play "War" with their tops, sending their own toy spinning towards that of their opponent.  The winner is the last top spinning.
Mud-Clay Phone:  Seni made this cell phone using mud, a piece of wire, and his own two hands.  It is complete
 with a removable dental-floss cord, charger, and plastic screen (with newspaper underneath)
Toy House:  Sticks, canvas, and twine
Toy House:  Boys making a house out of mud and pebbles.  Note the skeptical look on the face of the boy
 to the left.  That's pretty common.  He smiled at me, though, when I showed him his picture.
Mud-Clay Cars:  While I originally meant to take a picture of the boy in the red shirt and his four clay cars,
his entire family joined in for the photograph.
Mud-Clay Cars:  Complete with four little spinning wheels.
These cars are at least fifty percent spit and sand, by the way.
Bamboo Guns:  I found these seven boys playing war at the high school at around sunset.  Each of their guns was hand-made and unique.  The largest gun boasted five barrels (pictured above).  The smallest was an eight-inch pistol (below)
Bamboo guns:  Mozambican boys love John Rambo
Home-made Trampoline:  This has been a big fad in our neighborhood, recently.  A tire is set up at the edge of a pit filled with sand, straw, or canvas bags.  Then, boys take turns running at the pit, leaping off of the tire, and doing flips.  They're really good about taking turns and not landing on top of each other, but they do make fun of the little ones when they fall down and hurt themselves.  
Sandbag Trampoline:  I caught this boy practicing flips in the fields by the market.  He was launching off of a sandbag and into a bed of straw.
Toys from America:  Dan and I try not to introduce too many toys from the United States, but when we received these balloons in a care package from my mother, we couldn't resist.  One big bucket of water bought them one big balloon, each.    They played with them for nearly two hours.  
Childhood toys in America:  I found these two pictures of me and my brother and sister while sifting through
a set of old photographs.  It made me smile to see that all children are alike, all over the world.
A good imagination is the best possible toy.


  1. Hello Lisa!

    On behalf of the Peace Corps' Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services, congratulations on creating a great blog. We especially like this post about toys. Your pictures are incredible, and we truly enjoyed looking through them all! We love the creativity displayed by the kids with their toys, and the insight you've provided into the culture of Mozambique. Keep up the good work!

    Tim Slattery
    Peace Corps Program Support Assistant

  2. This was a lovely post, and the pictures are great Lisa. My only concern is that I am skeptical the handmade footballs require enough twine to stretch 13% of the distance to the moon.

  3. Hi Lisa

    My name is Jacqui Taylor and I am a graphic designer currently working on a book called "Moçambique Mosaic". It is a comprehensive look the material culture of the country written by Henrik Ellert.

    I was having a look for images of toys made in Mozambique when I came across your blog. What perfect shots!

    Henrik and I were wondering whether we might use some of your images of toys (and other subjects) in the book? We would credit each photo with your name and also place it in the acknowledgements. If more than 5 photos were used we would undertake to send you a copy of the book once printed.

    You can contact me through my website. to verify who I am and, hopefully, contact me.

    I look forward to your response.

    Best regards

    1. Hi Jacqui!

      It was nice to get this message from you. I would love to talk to you but I can't seem to find a way to contact you through your website. My email is Feel free to contact me through email.

      I am excited about your project and look forward to hearing from you.


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