Rich reds, vibrant greens, elegant black and gold -- the colors of holidays, the warmth of gift giving, the look of "Afrocentrism." For holidays and other special occasions (with a word about Kwanzaa later), people are discovering the joys of giving gifts with African or African-American distinction.
Clothing made from African fabrics; jewelry and accessories with cultural references; books, magazines and calendars geared toward African-Americans; arts and crafts; food -- these and other gift possibilities can be found in and around Baltimore.
Everyone's Place Cultural Center (1356 W. North Ave.) has been a hub of Afrocentrism for five years. It's a fashion boutique filled with beautiful prints and kente cloth outfits for men, women and children. There are kente shoes, bow tie and handkerchief sets, and lots of jewelry and accessories.
The "village" on the second floor is a hands-on place filled with musical instruments and a collection of "Warriors of Afrika." There are wood clocks with images of Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, and handmade, all-leather book covers with gold-trimmed Egyptian inscriptions. Paintings and prints range from $6 to $75.
The African World Book Center is a division of Everyone's Place that features catalogs on books for all ages, educational tapes and video listings. Catalogs are $1 each and orders are taken 24 hours a day (call 728-0877). A book club ($20 a year) offers several benefits, including a discount on all books, video and cassette orders.
There is an extensive children's section that includes books for all age groups, coloring and activity books, Afrocentric games, and a Fulani doll, which comes with a videotape and a book.
Another place to find Afrocentric gifts is Live It, Not Diet (900 Cathedral St.; the entrance is on Read Street). Owners Carlos and Pauline Taylor sell herbs and spices, vegetable mixes, herbal teas and drinks, and snacks and desserts. They also have ready-made gift baskets of food or toiletries, from $6 to $15.
Mondawmin Mall houses several Afrocentric businesses. Among them are the pushcarts that make up Kalimba Market, such as Art-Works and Fragrances Unlimited.
Lemon Tree on the first floor of the mall carries perfume oils from Tunisia. Incense, room deodorizers, hand-poured scented candles and toiletries fill the shelves. Jewelry by Sheila lines a display case, lamps illuminate the room and artwork graces the walls.
Pyramid Bookstore on the second floor of the mall offers books and audio tapes on Africa, the Caribbean, Islam, nutrition and metaphysics, in addition to greeting cards, incense, newspapers and posters. There are also numerous magazines focusing on Africans and African-Americans.
Pyramid also sells children's gifts, including a Huggy Bean doll line, coloring and activity books, and cassettes.
For the latest in culturally relevant casual wear, New Heritage in Mondawmin Mall is the place to go. Culturally oriented images are on T-shirts, sweat shirts and pants, and other clothing items and accessories.
Recently opened stores with an Afrocentric theme include Expressions at 222 N. Paca St., a part of Lexington Market. It carries leather goods and jewelry, clothing and artwork, greeting cards and more. Mijiza Creations, which also has a pushcart in Lexington Market, recently opened a cart in Mondawmin. It features ceramics, jewelry, beads and more. The Harmattan Gift Shop opened in October on the second level of Harborplace's Light Street Pavilion. It is supplied by its parent store, African Fashions and Cultural Store on Harford Road. Both carry fabric, clothing, incense and oils, sculptures and musical instruments.
Other Afrocentric gift ideas include memberships to museums and cultural arts centers, such as Great Blacks in Wax, the Lillie Carroll Jackson Museum and the Eubie Blake Cultural Center. Each has special membership plans and rates.
And now a word about Kwanzaa. It is considered a spiritual -- not religious -- observance, so that all faiths may participate. Gifts are opened only on the last day of the seven-day celebration of African heritage (Dec. 26 to Jan. 1). Many of the above stores carry Kwanzaa items or kits, including a Kinara, a seven-lamp candleholder, and a Mkeha, a straw mat, symbolic of African history and tradition. In essence, Kwanzaa teaches that there are many types of gifts to be given, and the best time to give them is year-round.