Most prized craftwork are wooden chests with silver inlay, but there are also silver daggers, silver and amber jewelry, earth-tone rugs of camel and goat hair from Boutilimit, Kiffa beads, hand-dyed leatherwork including colourful leather cushions and leather pipe pouches, camel saddles and sandals.
Made primarily by nomad women around Kiffa and Ayoun el Atrous, Kiffa beads are one of Mauritania’s loveliest craft items. Originally thought to be influenced by Venetian trade beads, known in the region since medieval times, Kiffa beads are traditionally made of millefiori glass, shaped into bright mosaic patterns. Ground glass is made into a paste using the maker’s saliva and layered with a needle onto a core bead. The bead is then fired, and the process repeated to build up a series of bright layers. It’s a slow process, and it takes around half a day to make a single (usually triangular) bead of around 25mm in length.
It's still possible to track down old beads (known locally as murakad or masnoura) in Kiffa and Ayoun el-Atrous, although the art appears to be dying out in favour of modern imported beads. Old Kiffa beads can be expensive – over US$50 per bead – but handpainted replicas can easily be found in shops in Nouakchott and elsewhere.
If you want to adopt the traditional Berber dress code, you can find boubous (alternatively known as a drâa) or mulafas (for women) – loose, flowing embroidered robes – at shops in the cities. Top things off with a houli (turban).