Brooklyn’s most interesting jeweler doesn’t have a workshop here. It’s in Niger. Leading a nomadic lifestyle once commonplace among his Tuareg people, Aboubakar Allal spends five months every year in Agadez, Niger, molding silver and ebony and leather into works of wearable art. He then sells them to Fort Greene hipsters and stroller moms on the corner of DeKalb and Carlton avenues, outside of an African restaurant called Madiba.
It’s an unusual riff on the age-old trading routes of his Tuareg family, which, until the 1970s, crisscrossed the Sahara Desert, selling cereals from the south for salt from the north, and hawking hand-made jewelry along the way. Allal last crossed the desert as part of a 60-camel caravan in 1977, when he was 14.
“I had a friend working at Madiba and he liked my jewelry and he suggested, ‘Why don’t you sell it here?’” explained Allal. “He talked to the owner, and he said yes.”
That was in 2002. Ever since, Allal can be found on this corner on days when the weather is bearable, selling unique silver pendants inlaid with ebony, leather dyed red and yellow and cut into geometrically shaped earrings, silver and garnet pendants.
“Aboubakar is a very talented person,” said Alex Orozco, the restaurant’s manager. “And we are proud that the community of Fort Greene and others who come here can have a piece of Niger."
That afternoon, a visitor shelled out $20 for a pair of silver and blue-crystal earrings representing a town called Ingall, where the Tuareg gather every year.
Allal’s prices are so low, the buyer almost feels guilty. Even so, with the money he earns outside of Madiba, Allal supports his wife and seven children in Niger, and himself, in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
It might not seem the most lucrative of vocations, but Allal said it beats his former career as a French and Arabic teacher in Niger, where he earned $140 a month.
“There was a lot of dryness in my country, and people were suffering,” said Allal. “My family had made jewelry from generations ago. My father did it and taught me [when I was 8]. So I decided to do this for a living.”
©2007 Community News Group
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